It turns out that humans and dogs share some of the same genes, specifically the ones responsible for sociability. Dogs are the oldest domesticated animal, and in the tens of thousands of years that they’ve been evolving alongside of us, they have learned, among other things, to come to us for help when they can’t solve a problem on their own. That’s something that wolves (who are closely related to dogs) don’t do. Wolves generally try and solve problems on their own.
Researches conducted a study in which 500 beagles were tasked with opening a tight lid to get a treat while a human was in the room. What researchers were interested in was whether or not the dogs would go to the human for help. The results varied and while it’s unclear just how many of them sought help from a human, over 200 of them had DNA samples taken so the researchers could see how their genes compared to one another.
They found that the dogs who went to the human for help frequently had a particular genetic variant. This implies that these genes are responsible, at least in part, for the dogs’ willingness to seek out help.
Researchers are also interested in how studying these genes, some of which are found in humans as well, might help us to understand disorders like ADHD or autism, both of which are considered “social disorders.” Interacting with each other has been essential to human evolution and survival, as it is only through working together that we’ve been able to make it as far as we have.
Identifying which specific genes are responsible for sociability could help scientists develop a treatment for social disorders. This type of treatment is still years away from being developed, but the more we understand about genetics and sociability, the closer we are to a cure.