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Gene linked to autism in people may influence dog sociability

DNA differences affect beagles’ tendency to seek human help

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9:00am, September 29, 2016
beagle in the lab

A LITTLE HELP  Beagles that encountered an impossible problem — an immovable lid covering a treat (shown) — sometimes sought help from a nearby human stranger. Variations in a gene previously linked to autism in humans may influence the dogs’ people-seeking behavior.

Dogs may look to humans for help in solving impossible tasks thanks to some genes previously linked to social disorders in people.

Beagles with particular variants in a gene associated with autism were more likely to sidle up to and make physical contact with a human stranger, researchers report September 29 in Scientific Reports.

That gene, SEZ6L, is one of five genes in a particular stretch of beagle DNA associated with sociability in the dogs, animal behaviorist Per Jensen and colleagues at Linköping University in Sweden say. Versions of four of those five genes have been linked to human social disorders such as autism, schizophrenia and aggression.

“What we figure has been going on here is that there are genetic variants that tend to make dogs more sociable and these variants have been selected during domestication,” Jensen says.

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