Is your dog super-aggressive or super-friendly? Is he an Alpha Male or your Hyper-social best friend? These differences might be what distinguishes your pup from nature’s wolves. Recent research and analysis of DNA show that genes in Canis lupus and Canis rufus are very different than those found in our household canines. In fact, humans may have more in common with our pups than wolf packs. But was that due to their evolving diets or genetics?
Older research pointed to dietary changes versus genetic evolution as to how our dogs transcended from wolf-ery to our ‘best friends.’ In Mark Derr's book, "How The Dog Became The Dog," the author believes that the changes started to occur in the eighteenth century, when humans began the drive to exercise full control over dogs to complete the domestication process of its wolf ancestors.
Journalist and physician David Brown noted in the Washington Post that a change in diet might have accelerated the canine evolutionary process. "Your dog’s willingness to eat (dog biscuits made from wheat), instead of going for a bone in your thigh, helps explain how its ancestors evolved from wolves into house pets," he said.
Research teams from Princeton, Oregon State University and other institutions combined behavioral and genetic studies to pin down changes in several genes that were associated with hyper-friendliness in dogs. The three genes, GTF2I GTF2IRD1 and WBSCR17 are also associated with the Williams-Beuren syndrome in humans, noted Bridgett M. vonHoldt, an evolutionary biologist at Princeton University and an author of the study.
Williams-Beuren syndrome leads to delayed development, impaired thinking ability and hyper-sociability. VonHoldt and colleagues wondered if changes to the same gene in dogs would make the animals more social than wolves and influenced dogs’ domestication.
Tying Diet together with Genes
The team also determined that in addition to contributing to sociability, the variations in WBSCR17 may represent an adaptation in dogs to living with humans. The previous studies revealed that variations in WBSCR17 were tied to the ability to digest carbohydrates — a source of energy wolves would have rarely consumed. Yet, the variations in domestic dogs suggest those changes would help them thrive on the starch-rich diets of humans.
So whether it’s genealogy or what they eat, there’s no doubting the fact that pet owners would much rather be cuddling up with their best friends than any those Canis lupus and Canis rufu roaming nearby forests — no matter how friendly those wolves in dog’s clothing try to fool us otherwise.