Your Dog's Interest in You Might Be Genetic

Mia Persson
Mia Persson

The love affair between dogs and people is an old one indeed, stretching back at least 15,000 years. Dogs are our coworkers, guides, companions, and family members. But how did they get that way? A paper published in Scientific Reports proposes an intriguing possibility: dogs have a genetic predisposition to crave human companionship.

Previous studies have suggested a genetic component to the domestication of dogs. To further test that hypothesis, five researchers from Linköping University in Sweden assembled an enormous group of 437 laboratory-raised beagles and gave each one an impossible test. Each dog was brought to a room containing a box with three dishes, and each dish held a treat. To get the treat, the beagle needed to figure out how to slide the cover off the container. But there was a catch: one of the containers was covered with transparent Plexiglas and would not yield its treat no matter what the confused beagle did.

The dog was not alone in the testing room; each was accompanied by a seated researcher, who looked away while the dog wrestled with the puzzle box. The real test came when each dog realized it could not retrieve the last treat. At this point, some dogs gave up and started walking around the room. But others—many others—looked to or approached the researcher for help, a behavior that demonstrated their interest in people.

Each dog’s test was videotaped and its reactions coded and quantified. The researchers then identified the 95 most sociable dogs and the 95 least sociable dogs, and sequenced their genomes, looking for trends.

They found them. The most sociable dogs showed activation in two highly specific genomic regions. The presence of a single marker on the 26th chromosome of the SEZ6L gene was a significant indication that a beagle would have spent more time near and physically touching the researcher during the test. Another two markers on chromosome 26 of the ARVCF gene were strongly associated with seeking out human contact.

These genomic regions are not unique to dogs and, the researchers say, their role in socialization may not be either. Studies in humans have found a relationship between changes in SEZ6L and autism. ARVCF has been linked to schizophrenia, as have COMT and TXNRD2, which both hail from the same genetic neighborhood.

“This is, to our knowledge, the first genome-wide study presenting candidate genomic regions for dog sociability and inter-species communication,” the authors write. They acknowledge that more research is needed to validate their findings. Still, they say, “these results contribute to a greater insight into the genetic basis of dog-human communicative behaviors and sociability, increasing our understanding of the domestication process, and could potentially aid knowledge relating to human social behavioral disorders.”

A Same-Sex Penguin Couple Has Adopted an Egg at a Berlin Zoo

LisaStratchan/iStock via Getty Images
LisaStratchan/iStock via Getty Images

At first glance, king penguins Skip and Ping don’t appear to be too remarkable a sight when viewed by spectators at their enclosure at Germany's Zoo Berlin. But look closer and you may see one of them nurturing an egg under one of their skin folds. Skip and Ping, a same-sex penguin couple, have effectively adopted an egg and hope to raise it as their own baby.

A story by writer Liam Stack in The New York Times details their pursuit of parenthood. According to Stack, the penguins arrived at Zoo Berlin in April and were observed to have a degree of baby fever, trying to coddle everything from a rock to a fish. Taking note of their coupling, zookeepers passed on an unhatched egg laid by a female at the zoo. They immediately took to it, taking protective measures and growing ornery when employees got too close. Ping has taken to sitting on the egg in the hopes it will hatch.

That’s not guaranteed. Zookeepers aren't certain whether the egg was fertilized. If it is, it’s likely to crack open in early September, giving Skip and Ping an opportunity to expand their family.

Earlier this year, a same-sex penguin pair named Sphen and Magic began rearing a chick in Australia’s Sea Life Sydney Aquarium. The doting parents sang to and fed their adoptive offspring.

[h/t The New York Times]

Airlines Are No Longer Allowed to Ban Service Dogs Based on Breed

chaivit/iStock via Getty Images
chaivit/iStock via Getty Images

As the species of service and emotional support animals have become more diverse, airlines have had to make some tough decisions. Birds, monkeys, and snakes have been barred from boarding airplanes with passengers, but even more conventional pets like dogs have been rejected based on their breed. A new rule from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) aims to change that. As Travel + Leisure reports, the agency now forbids airlines from discriminating against service dogs of particular breeds, including pit bulls.

Last year, Delta banned all pit bulls from flying, regardless of whether or not they were certified therapy animals. United Airlines also banned pit bulls last year, along with 20 other dog breeds, including pugs, bulldogs, mastiffs, and shih tzus.

Under the new DOT guidelines, these policies are no longer legal. The statement reads: "The Department’s Enforcement Office views a limitation based exclusively on breed of the service animal to not be allowed under its service animal regulation. The Enforcement Office intends to use available resources to ensure that dogs as a species are accepted for transport."

The new rule applies specifically to service animals, or animals that have been trained to perform a job that's essential to their owner's wellbeing. Emotional support animals, which don't require special training and aren't covered by the Americans With Disabilities Act, don't qualify.

Even if a pet is a certified service animal, airlines still have the right to reject them in certain cases. Air travel companies can request documents related to an animal's vaccination, training, or behavior history. If they find anything in the papers that indicates they're not safe to fly, airlines can turn them away on that basis.

In the same statement, the Department of Transportation clarifies which species of service animals should be allowed on flights. Miniature horses are now included on the list of service animals airlines must allow to fly, while ferrets, rodents, snakes, reptiles, and spiders are the only species airlines can ban outright.

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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