The world of dogs has long been an inseparable part of human life. The bond and camaraderie between dogs and humans have evolved over centuries. But have you ever wondered what makes dogs uniquely capable of communicating with humans? A recent study published in Scientific Reports by Tonoike et al. (2022) has unraveled the mystery behind human-dog communication, shedding light on the role of genes in canine evolution.


  • In a groundbreaking study, Tonoike et al. (2022) have identified key genes associated with human-canine communication, unlocking the genetic blueprint of how dogs have evolved to understand and interact with humans.

  • The research reveals that during the domestication process, distinct behavioral differences between dog breeds and their wolf ancestors emerged, with a focus on genes related to cortisol, oxytocin, and the MC2R gene influencing canine social and cognitive skills.

  • Notably, the MC2R gene’s polymorphisms were found to correlate with a dog’s ability to make correct choices in a two-way test and exhibit problem-solving skills, highlighting the pivotal role of cortisol regulation in the domestication of dogs.

  • This study provides a deeper understanding of the intricate interplay between genetics and behavior in the evolution of human-dog communication, paving the way for future research to explore additional genes shaping the unique bond between dogs and humans.

Exploring the Origins of Human-Dog Communication

Dogs exhibit a diverse range of temperaments, activity levels, and abilities to understand human communication signals. Despite sharing a common ancestor with wolves, dogs showcase superior human communication skills. This research highlights that genetic changes likely occurred during the domestication process, resulting in behavioral differences observed as distinct phenotypes among dog breeds.

Genetic Traces in Canine Behavior

With advancements in technology, current research can examine the genetic relationships among dog breeds. It was found that during the domestication process, there were two population bottlenecks, associated with the early domestication from wolves to dogs and the formation of modern dog breeds. Genetic analysis revealed the existence of several ancient dog breeds with origins that can be distinguished from breeds with modern European origins. These ancient dog breeds showed less attachment behavior to their owners, indicating that this behavior might have been acquired during a relatively recent domestication process.

Vital Role of Hormones in Dog Domestication

Genomic research on global dogs and wolves suggests that early selection during the initial stages of dog domestication was for behavioral traits influenced by genes associated with crucial neural crest signal pathways. Global genomic analysis of dogs and wolves also indicates positive selection pressure on the adrenaline and noradrenaline biosynthesis pathways, renowned for their involvement in the fight-or-flight response. This genomic research has identified several genes that underwent positive selection during domestication, including genes related to endocrine regulation, such as genes associated with cortisol and oxytocin (OT) biosynthesis.

The Role of MC2R Gene in Canine Cognitive Skills

In this study, focus was given to the MC2R gene, involved in cortisol production. The hypothesis suggests that cortisol regulation of social tolerance and fearlessness towards humans might be the most crucial turning point in the dog domestication process. MC2R SNP2 and MC2R SNP3, two gene polymorphisms within MC2R, were found to correlate with canine cognitive skills in the two-way choice test and problem-solving test.

Oxytocin and Related Genes in Human-Dog Communication

Oxytocin (OT) is also considered a key hormone in the dog domestication process. Polymorphisms in OT and OTR genes are associated with dog behavior, including welcoming behavior and seeking proximity. Dog gaze towards humans, as a crucial social signal, is also known to be related to OT and OTR genes.

WBSCR17: The Sociality Determinant Gene in Dogs

The study notes the role of the WBSCR17 gene in dog social behavior, particularly in hyper-sociability with humans. Although not directly affecting the endocrine system, WBSCR17 is believed to be involved in brain development through neuron protein O-glycosylation. While these results differ from the current study, the role of WBSCR17 may be related to the early stages of domestication, such as ancient wolves approaching humans.

Differences Between Canine Cognitive Tests

This research indicates that the two-way choice test and the problem-solving test correlate with polymorphisms of the same gene. However, the two tests do not correlate with each other. This suggests that the biological basis of these tests may be genetically and/or evolutionarily independent.

Implications and Further Understanding

By understanding the genes involved in human-dog communication, we can open doors to further developments in animal behavior science. The study shows that the domestication process of dogs involves changes in endocrine function related to the development of canine cognitive skills. While this research provides crucial insights, further studies are needed to comprehend the developmental processes of dogs and wolves more deeply and to identify the roles of other genes that may influence canine cognitive skills.

Thus, these research findings provide a deeper understanding of the evolving relationship between dogs and humans over thousands of years, paving the way for more research into the uniqueness and complexity of this relationship.


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