study connects oxytocin to dogs' ability to work with man
Golden retrievers have been used in numerous canine studies


According to new research recently conducted at Sweden’s Linköping University, the inclination of dogs to seek interaction with their pet parents is connected to genetic variations in their sensitivity to the hormone oxytocin. The study examined present-day dogs’ willingness and ability to work with humans versus their wild ancestors. While that willingness has evolved significantly over time, it doesn’t extend to the same degree with all breeds or even all dogs within the same breed.

Hormones & Behavior

Using 60 golden retrievers as study participants, the results of the research were published in the scientific journal Hormones and Behavior. In it the investigative team pointed to oxytocin, a hormone known to play a roll in social relationships, as the probable link to an increased ability in some animals to work more closely with human beings than others. Previous studies on the subject looked at canines’ ability to communicate in association to genetic material and the gene that codes for the oxytocin receptor.


canines and oxytocin
The evolution of wolves to modern-day companions

Animal Behavioral Studies

In order to test their theories, the scientists had to teach the dogs some new tricks. But before the animals were set to the task, they were divided into groups. One group would receive a snoutful of the hormone via a spray, while the control group received an ordinary saltwater mist. The team then taught the dogs how to open a lid in order to get at a treat. Once this was accomplished, they upped the ante by securing the lid so as to make it impossible to open and timed the animals to see how long and hard they’d try to remove it before turning for help.

Genetic Variants

At the outset, the dogs were swabbed for DNA samples to examine which variant of the oxytocin receptor gene each pooch carried. The results indicated that canines with a specific type had a stronger reaction to the oxytocin mist than other participants. This showed itself in an increased willingness to look for help from their owner after the hormone spray as opposed to the saltwater spray. The team suggests that their findings aid in our understanding of how canines have changed or evolved from their wild state to today’s domesticated pup.


role of oxytocin in canines and wolves
Wolves: the first piece of the puzzle

Call of the Wild

For comparison purposes, the group also analyzed DNA samples from 21 wolves, finding the same genetic variation within them. “The results lead us to surmise that people selected for domestication wolves with a particularly well-developed ability to collaborate and then bred subsequent generations from these," noted Mia Persson, PhD student and author of the paper. Domestication efforts are estimated to have begun between humans and wolves some 15,000 years ago, and selective breeding is still the mainstay of breeders today.

Source: Linköping University