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Being a dog lover is in your genes, study finds

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Posted May 20, 2019

The desire to own a dog is not a choice, it’s in your DNA, according to a new study involving researchers from the University of Liverpool.

A team of Swedish and British scientists have studied the heritability of dog ownership using information from 35,035 twin pairs from the Swedish Twin Registry. The findings, which are published in Scientific Reports, suggest that genetic variation explains more than half of the variation in dog ownership, implying that the choice of getting a dog is heavily influenced by an individual’s genetic make-up.

People’s affection to animals can be genetic. Image credit: Wikimedia

“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. Although dogs and other pets are common household members across the globe, little is known how they impact our daily life and health. Perhaps some people have a higher innate propensity to care for a pet than others.” says lead author Professor Tove Fall, from Uppsala University.

Co-author Dr Carri Westgarth, from the University of Liverpool, adds: “These findings are important as they suggest that supposed health benefits of owning a dog reported in some studies may be partly explained by different genetics of the people studied”.

Studying twins is a well-known method for disentangling the influences of environment and genes on our biology and behaviour. Because identical twins share their entire genome, and non-identical twins on average share only half of the genetic variation, comparisons of the within-pair concordance of dog ownership between groups can reveal whether genetics play a role in owning a dog. The researchers found concordance rates of dog ownership to be much larger in identical twins than in non-identical ones – supporting the view that genetics indeed plays a major role in the choice of owning a dog.

“These kind 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” says Professor Patrik Magnusson, Head of the Swedish Twin Registry at the Karolinska Insitutet.

“The study has major implications for understanding the deep and enigmatic history of dog domestication,” says University of Liverpool zooarchaeologist and co-author of the study Professor Keith Dobney. “Decades of archaeological research have helped us construct a better picture of where and when dogs entered into the human world, but modern and ancient genetic data are now allowing us to directly explore why and how?”

Source: University of Liverpool

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