The scientific reasons behind our bonds with dogs


In the past 15,000 years, humans have domesticated canines to form a strong partnership to help with hunting, self-defence and companionship. Even now, the population of dogs as pets has reached 10.1 million in the UK, resulting 24% of total population owning dogs. But why were canines chosen as the optimum species by humans? Furthermore, how have canines mutated and adapted to develop their hyper social behaviour?  


The initial link between humans and canines was found in the Williams-Beuren syndrome. The syndrome effects humans caused by the deletion of a specific nucleotide in the Williams-Beuren syndrome critical region (WBSCR) that alters the entire sequence of bases in a gene. The phenotype of this genetic mutation is both physical and behavioural: outgoing, engaging personalities, distinctive face features such as wide mouth, stellate iris pattern and widely spaced teeth, and their ability to perform well on tasks involving language, music and verbal short-term memory. In 2010, an evolutionary biologist Bridgett vonHoldt examined DNA from 225 wolves and 912 dogs from 85 different breeds. The connection between the Williams syndrome and domesticated canines became clear as most social dogs had the same gene deletion as the people with Williams syndrome. 


Further experiment was carried out as such. Each canine was given 2 minutes to open a lid of a box which contained a sausage with one human present. Results showed that 2 in 8 dogs were successful and 8 in 10 wolves. In addition, the dogs spend most of their time looking at the human for support whilst the wolves worked independently, solving the situation more quickly. In summary, this proved how dogs branched as new species from wolves with a unique characteristic, to befriend the human: the ‘survival of the friendliest,’ as the population of dogs are much greater than wolves in the present. 


‘The domestication of dogs was one of the most extraordinary events in human history,” evolutionary anthropologist Brian Hare says.