Dog behaviour : Intricate picture of genetics, epigenetics, and human-dog relations
Sammanfattning: Dogs, Canis familiaris, share the lives of humans all over the world. That dogs, and the behavior of dogs, are of interest to many is therefore no surprise. In this thesis, the main aim has been to identify factors that affect dogs’ behaviours.The dog, Canis familiaris, is our first domesticated animal. Since domestication, various types of dogs have developed through adaptation to an environment shared with humans and through our selective breeding, resulting in a unique variation in morphology and behaviour. Although there is an individual variation in the behaviour of dogs, there is also a difference between breeds. Moreover, selection during the last decades has split some breeds into divergent types. Labrador and golden retrievers are divided into a common type, for show and companionship, and a field type, for hunting. By comparing the breed types, we can study the effects of recent selection. In Paper I, we investigate differences in general behavioural traits between Labrador and golden retriever and between common and field type within the two breeds by using results from the standardized behaviour test Dog Mentality Assessment. There were differences between breeds and types for all behavioural traits. However, there was also an interaction between breed and type. Thus, a common/field-type Labrador does not behave like a common/field-type golden retriever. Even though they have been selected for similar traits, the selection has affected the general behavioural traits differently in the two breeds.In paper II, we were interested in dogs’ human-directed social skills. Dogs have a high social competence when it comes to humans. Two experiments commonly used to study these skills are the problem-solving test, where dogs’ human-directed behaviours when faced with a problem are measured, and the pointing test, where dogs are tested on how well they understand human gestures. We compared the social skills of German shepherds and Labrador retrievers, and of common- and field-type Labradors. Labradors were more successful in the pointing test and German shepherds stayed closer to their owners during the problem solving. Among Labrador types, the field type had more human eye contact than the common type. Importantly, when comparing the two experiments, we found no positive correlations between the problem-solving test and the pointing test, suggesting that the two tests measure different aspects of human-directed social behaviour in dogs.A previous study has identified two suggestive genetic regions for human-directed social behaviours during the problem-solving test in beagles. In paper III, we show that these SNPs are also associated to social behaviours in Labrador and golden retrievers. Moreover, the Labrador breed types differed significantly in allele frequencies. This indicates that the two SNPs have been affected by recent selection and may have a part in the differences in sociability between common and field type.The behaviour of dogs cannot simply be explained by genetics, there is also an environmental component. In paper IV, we study which factors that affect long-term stress in dogs. Long-term cortisol can be measured by hair samples. We found a clear synchronization in hair cortisol concentrations between dogs and their owners. Neither dogs’ activity levels nor their behavioural traits affected the cortisol, however, the personality of the owners did. Therefore, we suggest that dogs mirror the stress level of their owners.The mediator between genes and the environment is epigenetics, and one epigenetic factor is DNA methylation. In paper V, we compared methylation patterns of wolves and dogs as well as dog breeds. Between both wolves and dogs and among dogs there were substantial differences in methylated DNA regions, suggesting that DNA methylation is likely to contribute to the vast variation among canines. We hypothesize that epigenetic factors have been important during domestication and in breed formation.In this thesis, I cover several aspects on how dogs’ behaviours can be affected, and paint an intricate picture on how genetics, epigenetics, and human-dog relations forms dog behaviour.
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