Are you a first time dog owner or did you grow up surrounded by fur-friends?

Did you break the mold by craving a Cavapoo when your parents didn’t own pets?

For a long time we’ve realized that those who own a dog in childhood are more likely to go on to be a dog owner as an adult. But is this because they know and understand dogs, or a much deeper, more primal, desire for canine companionship?

Researchers had a hairy hunch that some people have a genetic desire for dogs. They decided to prove the point and did! It it’s official: There is such a thing as a ‘Dog person’ and the desire to be a  dog owner is strongly genetic.

Heritability or Environment?

Here’s a conundrum to ponder. Let’s say you grew up with a much-loved family dog and now own dogs as an adult. So is your love of canines was colored by personal experience and an environment growing up around four-leggers. Or could it be you share dog-loving DNA with your parents, who passed on a subliminal urge to own dogs? This is the genetic or inheritable side of the argument.

To determine whether it is genetics or experience that can influence the decision to be a dog owner; researchers came up with a clever idea. They studied sets of twins. When two people share both their genome and their early-life experiences, it can help clarify which is having the greatest effect with regards to dog ownership.

The study [*] looked at over 50,000 pairs of twins in Sweden. They cross referenced these twins with the Swedish Dog Registry (it is a legal requirement in Sweden to register dog ownership) and then carefully analyzed the data. This analysis even took into account whether the twins were identical (sharing all of their genome) or non-identical (sharing 50%). Thorough stuff.

Being a dog owner is in your genes…don’t fight it.

It’s Official: ‘Dog People’ are a Thing

A previous study had hinted at a love of dogs being genetic. It looked at how people played with dogs and found that 37% of their behavior was down to genetic traits, whilst a mere 10% was influenced by environment and experience.

But this latest study of Swedish twins when further. It was able to trace dog ownership amongst identical and non-identical twins and follow the trends of dog ownership. This is super-sneaky because the twins share a common background, with the main difference being whether they share 50% or 100% of their DNA in common.

The results came back heritability is a thing. Some people are genetic predisposed to dog ownership more than others.

Why Should You Care?

Why is this interesting?

This raises some particularly juicy implications to chew over. Let’s start with a real corker.

Did Dogs Alter Human Evolution?

We have archeological proof that dogs have been linked to man for around 15,000 years (some people argue even longer, but the proof isn’t there.) This places dogs by the fireside of prefarming, hunter-gatherer man. The logic goes that dogs and early man had a mutually beneficial relationship. The dog hunted and protected, in exchange for warmth and food scraps.

But this has implications for human evolution. Could it be that those early cavemen who got on better with dogs, had a survival advantage? You could argue, with a barking dog to raise the alarm about an approaching bear that family is more likely to live.  And if so, they were more likely pass on their genes to the next generation.

It’s an interesting thought, isn’t it? After all, we have manipulated dog DNA to create breeds as divergent as the Chihuahua and Great Dane. Perhaps, all along dogs have subtly influenced our DNA.

Dogs as Therapy

Another interesting debate follows the benefit of dogs to human health and mental well-being. Statistics show that dog ownership is linked to lower blood pressure, better recovery from illness, and increased longevity. But sometimes the results from therapy dogs are disappointing.

Could it be that people, who don’t carry the dog-lover gene, won’t benefit from canine therapy? It sounds sort of obvious when you put it like that.

Dog or Cat Person?

Now all we need is for those scientists to look at cat ownership amongst twins.

It’s a thought isn’t it? Dogs are outgoing and sociable, and often linked to extrovert people. Whereas cats prefer to be sociable on their terms, and linked to deep-thinking, introverted people. So what does cat ownership mean in terms of the human genome? Sounds like a research project ready and waiting right there!  

Resources:

Dog ownership could be down to genes. Medical News Today

Evidence of large genetic influences on dog ownership. Nature.com