Dogs that have difficulties socializing with people have gene variants associated with autism and bipolar disorder in humans, according to new research.

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New research has found a relationship between five different genes and the ability of dogs to interact with humans. The study involved 190 beagles, with similar experience with human interaction, who were given the unsolvable task of opening a tight lid containing a treat.

The Swedish scientists performed their research on 190 beagles, all of which grew up in the same environment with the same amount of contact with people.

This fact reduced the impact of influence from coaches and how they are trained and makes it easier for certain genetic differences to break through, according to the researchers at Linköping University.

The test dogs were tasked to prove how social they were, as they were to open the lid to access food. But as it was locked, it could not be reached without the help from humans.

Usually, the dogs were searching for humans to solve the problem, but not all of the dogs did this. Some of them tried to solve the problem by themselves, although impossible. This is very similar to how a wolf would have confronted the same situation.

In their further research, the researchers then examined each individual dog’s DNA and it turned out that the dogs who did not adhere to social interaction with people had gene variants that in humans have been linked to autism, bipolar disorder, and ADHD.

One interpretation is that people have deliberately opted out dogs with these gene variants to eventually breed more social dogs. And it may be that the genes linked to autism in humans, in fact, have a broader function for social behavior.


M. E. Persson et al. “Genomic regions associated with interspecies communication in dogs contain genes related to human social disorders.” 2016. DOI: 10.1038/srep33439