Bridgett vonHoldt: Genetic test for dog sociability

Thursday, Nov 8, 2018

Pet lovers seeking a better understanding of their four-footed friends might benefit from a new genetic test for sociability in dogs.

While studying the genomes of canines, Bridgett vonHoldt, assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, and her colleagues discovered genes in domestic dogs that are similar to those linked to hyper-sociability in a genetic disorder called Williams-Beuren syndrome. Further studies revealed that certain mutations in these genes are correlated to sociability in our canine companions.

VonHoldt has demonstrated that screening for these mutations can reveal which dogs are likely to seek out interactions with humans. The genes that carry these mutations may help explain why dogs are successful at coexisting with humans, according to the research team.

A genetic test could be of interest not only to dog owners but also animal shelter personnel who need to make adoption or health-related decisions for the dogs. Families may want to learn the genetics related to animal personality prior to adoption.

Genetic testing could also give trainers and breeders a way to determine an animal’s social tendencies. The test may make it possible to determine at an early stage whether a dog is suitable to become a service or guide dog.

The test, which requires collecting a cheek swab, could be added to existing genetic test kits marketed to dog owners.

“These gene mutations are always found in dogs and wolves that demonstrate human-directed social behavior." - Bridgett vonHoldt, Assistant Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Team members: Rebecca Kartzinel and Ilana Janowitz Koch, former postdoctoral research associates, and Emily Shuldiner, Class of 2016
Collaborators: Janet Sinsheimer at the University of California-Los Angeles David Geffen School of Medicine, and Monique Udell at Oregon State University
Development status: Patent protection is pending. Princeton is seeking outside interest for further development of this technology.
Funding: National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health

Contact: John Ritter, Director of Technology Licensing, jritter@princeton.edu or 609-258-1570