Dogs have ‘happy gene’ that make them friendlier, different from wolves

Wolf dog on the Prowl, Alaska, Hybridization in the wild usually occurs near human habitations where wolf density is low and dogs are common. (Photo By: Education Images/UIG via Getty Images)
Caption
Wolf dog on the Prowl, Alaska, Hybridization in the wild usually occurs near human habitations where wolf density is low and dogs are common. (Photo By: Education Images/UIG via Getty Images)

Credit: Education Images

Credit: Education Images

It's been an ongoing mystery why the family dog is so much friendlier and affectionate than the average wolf, when, after all, dogs are descended from the more aloof wolves. Scientists have long wondered why their behavior is so different, and now they may be closer to finding an answer.

Explore>> Read more trending news

A genetic mutation that contributed to hypersociability "is a core element of domestication that distinguishes dogs from wolves," according to a new study in the journal Science Advances.

It’s the same gene that makes some people hyper-social, scientists said.

The study found variations in three genes are related to how canines socialize with humans, according to the Los Angeles Times, and a DNA analysis revealed the genes are very different in dogs and wolves

Scientists looked at the sociability of 18 domestic dogs and 10 captive human-socialized gray wolves using standard sociability and problem-solving tests, and found "domestic dogs spent a significantly greater proportion of trial time gazing at the human when compared to wolves when a human was present during the tests."

Explore>> Related: Wolf-hybrid dog confiscated, heartbroken family fights for pet’s return

Another takeaway from the study, researchers said, was that "adult dogs were more likely to engage in prolonged or exaggerated contact with humans than adult wolves."

"Many dogs maintain their puppy-like enthusiasm for social interactions throughout their life, whereas wolves grow out of this behavior and engage in more mature, abbreviated greetings as they age," study co-author and Oregon State University animal researcher Monique Udell told the Times.

“One might think of how a young child greets you versus a teenager or adult relative,” Udell said.

Explore>> Related: Golden retriever gives birth to rare, green puppy

Researchers also concluded that hypersociability, a central part of domestication that distinguishes dogs from wolves, may be what ultimately led to the quick behavioral divergence of dogs and wolves, speeding up dogs coexistence with people.