For dog lovers, the fascination and interest in these furry animals might be embedded in their DNA.
A new study conducted by a team of Swedish and British scientists has revealed that humans' genetic makeup can actually influence how they perceive dog ownership and how they make choices whether to own a dog or not.
"We were surprised to see that a person's genetic make-up appears to be a significant influence in whether they own a dog," said study lead author Tove Fall, a professor at Uppsala University in Sweden.
Experts believe that the findings of the study, which were published in the journal Scientific Reports, could help understand what lies behind the powerful benefits of having dogs as the ultimate life companion.
Our Genetic Makeup Can Influence Dog Ownership
Dogs were tamed and domesticated by humans at least 15,000 years ago, resulting in a close relationship that has even become the subject of films and literature, such as Marley & Me (2008) and the classic Greek tragedy Odyssey written by Homer.
Today, dogs are common in society and are considered as great companions that boost the mental well-being and health of their owners.
To determine why there is such a strong kinship between dogs and humans, researchers from Sweden and Britain compared dog ownership with the genetic makeup of twins by using data from the Swedish Twin Registry, the largest registry for twins in the world.
The goal of the study was to determine whether dog ownership had a heritable component.
The research team investigated the genome of 35,035 pairs of twins. Identical twins have similar genomes, while non-identical twins share only half of their genes. Comparing the genes between the two groups helped researchers learn more about the role of genetics in biology and behavior.
What the study found is that identical twins own dogs 50 percent more of the time than non-identical twins, which suggests that genetics do play a role in dog ownership.
Prof. Patrik Magnusson from Sweden's Karolinska Institute, the senior author of the study, said that the findings demonstrate that genetics and environment play about equal roles in determining canine companionship.
The next step of the research is to determine the actual gene variants that influence the choice to own a dog or not, and how these gene variants relate to personality traits.
Why Dogs Are Powerful Companions
A study in 2016 revealed that having a dog as a companion can be quite beneficial to senior adults, especially when it comes to taking physical activity such as walking and jogging.
Another study showed that having dogs can lead to longer life because it can protect against cardiovascular disease. Researchers in Sweden found that having a dog was a prominent protective factor for people who were living alone.
Having a dog as a companion allowed the person to become physically fit and active and it also alleviated the person's feelings of social isolation, researchers said. In fact, a study in 2018 supported this case. Experts found that pets can provide valuable emotional support to humans who are living with mental health problems.
Carri Westgarth, the co-author of the original study mentioned above, explained that the supposed health benefits enjoyed by people who own dogs might be explained by their genetic dispositions. Fall, Westgarth's co-author, offers another perspective.
"Perhaps some people have a higher innate propensity to care for a pet than others," added Fall.
Photo: Takayuki Nakagawa | Flickr