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Dog Ownership And Genes: Owning A Dog Is Deeper Than You Think

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According to a new study, the choice of getting a dog is largely influenced by an individual’s genetic make-up. A team of scientists from Uppsala University and Institutet, in Sweden, and the University of Liverpool, in the United Kingdom studied the heritability of dog ownership using information from 35,035 twin pairs from the Swedish Twin Registry.


The goal was to determine if dog ownership had a heritable component.


The study suggests that genetic variation explains more than 50% of the variation in dog ownership. This implies that the choice of getting a dog is largely influenced by an individual’s genetic make-up.


Dogs were the first domestic animal to have a close relationship with humans for over 15,000 years. They are common pets in our society today and are considered to boost the overall health of their owners.


The study co-author Keith Dobney, Ph.D., a zooarchaeologist and professor at the University of Liverpool commented on this. He said, “Decades of archaeological research have helped us construct a better picture of where and when dogs entered into the human world.”


Using “modern and ancient genetic data” can allow the scientists to “directly explore why and how,” he adds.


Genes most likely influence dog ownership.


The team compared the genetic make-up of twins with dog ownership. They used the Swedish Twin Registry, the largest of its kind in the world, for this. There are advantages of using a Swedish population to explore the genetics of this question. One of them is that Sweden has the largest twin group for this type of study in the world. Also, all dog owners in Sweden are documented.


The study, published on Scientific Reports, is the first to provide evidence that human genetic factors influence the choice to keep dogs.


However, the findings do not provide information about which genes are involved.


The researchers found a few things. “Additive genetic factors largely contributed to dog ownership, with heritability estimated at 57% for females and 51% for males”.


The lead study author, Tove Fall PhD, is a professor of molecular epidemiology at Uppsala University. Fall says, “We were surprised to see that a person’s genetic make-up appears to be a significant influence in whether they own a dog.”


As such, these findings have major implications in several different fields related to understanding dog-human interaction throughout history and in modern times. Dogs and other pets are common household members across the globe. Regardless, little is known about how they impact our daily life and health.


“Perhaps some people have a higher innate propensity to care for a pet than others,” she says.


“These findings are important. They suggest that the supposed health benefits of owning a dog reported in some studies may be partly explained by different genetics of the people studied,” Carri Westgarth adds. She is a lecturer in Human-Animal interaction at the University of Liverpool and also a co-author of the study.


The researchers used the twin studies to analyse the effects of environment and genes on biology and behaviour. Identical twins have the same genetic makeup. Whereas, in non-identical twins on average, only around 50% of their genomes are the same.


They discovered that twins who both owned dogs in adulthood were more likely to be identical than non-identical. This suggested that genetics was indeed a strong factor in dog ownership.


Patrik Magnusson, senior author of the study and Associate Professor in Epidemiology at the Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Karolinska Institutet, Sweden and Head of the Swedish Twin Registry expands on this fact. Magnusson says,

“These kinds of twin studies cannot tell us exactly which genes are involved, but at least demonstrate for the first time that genetics and environment play about equal roles in determining dog ownership.

“The next obvious step is to try to identify which genetic variants affect this choice and how they relate to personality traits and other factors such as allergy.”


“The study has major implications for understanding the deep and enigmatic history of dog domestication,” Prof Keith Dobney, PhD.

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