Structural variants in genes associated with human Williams-Beuren syndrome underlie stereotypical hypersociability in domestic dogs

(2017) Structural variants in genes associated with human Williams-Beuren syndrome underlie stereotypical hypersociability in domestic dogs. Science Advances. DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1700398

Abstract

Although considerable progress has been made in understanding the genetic basis of morphologic traits (for example, body size and coat color) in dogs and wolves, the genetic basis of their behavioral divergence is poorly understood. An integrative approach using both behavioral and genetic data is required to understand the molecular underpinnings of the various behavioral characteristics associated with domestication. We analyze a 5-Mb genomic region on chromosome 6 previously found to be under positive selection in domestic dog breeds. Deletion of this region in humans is linked to Williams-Beuren syndrome (WBS), a multisystem congenital disorder characterized by hypersocial behavior. We associate quantitative data on behavioral phenotypes symptomatic of WBS in humans with structural changes in the WBS locus in dogs. We find that hypersociability, a central feature of WBS, is also a core element of domestication that distinguishes dogs from wolves. We provide evidence that structural variants in GTF2I and GTF2IRD1, genes previously implicated in the behavioral phenotype of patients with WBS and contained within the WBS locus, contribute to extreme sociability in dogs. This finding suggests that there are commonalities in the genetic architecture of WBS and canine tameness and that directional selection may have targeted a unique set of linked behavioral genes of large phenotypic effect, allowing for rapid behavioral divergence of dogs and wolves, facilitating coexistence with humans.

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Differences in problem-solving between canid populations: Do domestication and lifetime experience affect persistence?

Brubaker, L. Dasgupta, S., Bhattacharjee, D., Bhadra, A., Udell, M. (2017) Differences in problem-solving between canid populations: Do domestication and lifetime experience affect persistence? Animal Cognition. DOI: 10.1007/s10071-017-1093-7

Abstract

Past research has suggested that a variety of factors, phylogenetic and ontogenetic, play a role in how canines behave during problem-solving tasks and the degree to which the presence of a human influences their problem-solving behaviour. While comparisons between socialized wolves and domestic dogs have commonly been used to tease apart these predictive factors, in many cases a single dog population, often pets, have been used for these comparisons. Less is understood about how different populations of dogs may behave when compared with wolves, or with each other, during an independent problem-solving task. This experiment compared the independent persistence of four populations of canines (two groups of pet domestic dogs, a group of free-ranging domestic dogs, and human-socialized wolves) on an independent problem-solving task in the presence of an on looking human. Results showed that wolves persisted the most at the task while free-ranging dogs persisted the least. Free-ranging dogs gazed at the human experimenter for the longest durations during the task. While further research is needed to understand why these differences exist, this study demonstrates that dogs, even those living outside human homes as scavengers, show comparatively low levels of persistence when confronted with a solvable task in the presence of a human as well as significantly greater duration of human-directed gaze when compared with wolves.

Social interaction, food, scent or toys? A formal assessment of domestic pet and shelter cat preferences

Vitale Shreve, KR,  Mehrkam, LR, Udell, MAR. (2017) Social interaction, food, scent or toys? A formal assessment of domestic pet and shelter cat (Felis silvestris catus) preferences. Behavioural Processes. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.beproc.2017.03.016

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Abstract

Domestic cats (Felis silvestris catus) engage in a variety of relationships with humans and can be conditioned to engage in numerous behaviors using Pavlovian and operant methods Increasingly cat cognition research is providing evidence of their complex socio-cognitive and problem solving abilities. Nonetheless, it is still common belief that cats are not especially sociable or trainable. This disconnect may be due, in part, to a lack of knowledge of what stimuli cats prefer, and thus may be most motivated to work for. The current study investigated domestic cat preferences at the individual and population level using a free operant preference assessment. Adult cats from two populations (pet and shelter) were presented with three stimuli within each of the following four categories: human social interaction, food, toy, and scent. Proportion of time interacting with each stimulus was recorded. The single most-preferred stimulus from each of the four categories were simultaneously presented in a final session to determine each cat’s most-preferred stimulus overall. Although there was clear individual variability in cat preference, social interaction with humans was the most-preferred stimulus category for the majority of cats, followed by food. This was true for cats in both the pet and shelter population. Future research can examine the use of preferred stimuli as enrichment in applied settings and assess individual cats’ motivation to work for their most-preferred stimulus as a measure of reinforcer efficacy.

Are Dogs Social Generalists? Canine Social Cognition, Attachment, and the Dog-Human Bond

DSC_1205Udell, MAR, Brubaker, L. (2016) Are Dogs Social Generalists? Canine Social Cognition, Attachment, and the Dog-Human Bond. Current Directions in Psychological Science. DOI: 10.1177/0963721416662647 

 

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Abstract

Reports of variability in the social behavior of the domestic dog (Canis lupus familiaris) are common across populations, breeds, and individuals. This has often been considered a challenge for characterizing the nature and origins of the domestic dog’s social cognition. Here, we propose that this variability might be explained by social plasticity, a trait that could contribute to the success of the domestic dog and facilitate the dog-human bond. Additional research specifically aimed at investigating population and individual variation in canine social behavior, such as attachment-style research, may provide important insight into domestic dogs’ biological success, as well as knowledge that could benefit both dogs and humans in a wide range of applied settings.

Stress, security, and scent: The influence of chemical signals on the social lives of domestic cats and implications for applied settings

img_5307Vitale Shreve, KR, &  Udell, MAR (2016) Stress, security, and scent: The influence of chemical signals on the social lives of domestic cats and implications for applied settings. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2016.11.011

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Abstract

Although millions of cats live among humans worldwide the scientific community knows relatively little about cat behavior and cognition. Olfaction is an important perceptual sense for many members of Carnivora, however the role of chemical signals in cat social relationships is not fully understood. Research indicates chemical signals play an important role in many areas of cat behavior including mother-offspring and conspecific interactions and exploration of their environment. Chemical cues appear to play a role in stress and anxiety reduction, allowing cats to feel secure in their environment. A better understanding of cat chemical signals, especially as it relates to within and between species communication, may lead to an increase in cat wellbeing as humans can utilize this knowledge in applied settings. Therefore, the purpose of this review is to investigate how cats process and use chemical signals in social contexts and identify ways this information can be applied to address cat behavioral issues, such as inappropriate litter box and scratching behavior, and improve cat welfare, including species-appropriate ways of reinforcing the human-cat bond.

Cognition and learning in horses (Equus caballus): What we know and why we should ask more

KitBrubaker, L & Udell, MAR (2016) Cognition and learning in horses (Equus caballus): What we know and why we should ask more. Behavioural Processes. DOI: 10.1016/j.beproc.2016.03.017

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Abstract

Horses (Equus caballus) have a rich history in their relationship with humans. Across different cultures and eras they have been utilized for work, show, cultural rituals, consumption, therapy, and companionship and continue to serve in many of these roles today. As one of the most commonly trained domestic animals, understanding how horses learn and how their relationship with humans and other horses impacts their ability to learn has implications for horse welfare, training, husbandry and management. Given that unlike dogs and cats, domesticated horses have evolved from prey animals, the horse-human relationship poses interesting and unique scientific questions of theoretical value. There is still much to be learned about the cognition and behaviour of horses from a scientific perspective. This review explores current research within three related areas of horse cognition: human-horse interactions, social learning and independent learning in horses. Research on these topics is summarized and suggestions for future research are provided.

The role of oxytocin in relationships between dogs & humans & potential applications for the treatment of separation anxiety in dogs

EmberThielke, LE & Udell, MAR (2015) The role of oxytocin in relationships between dogs and humans and potential applications for the treatment of separation anxiety in dogs. Biological Reviews. DOI: 10.1111/brv.12235

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Abstract

The hormone oxytocin plays an important role in attachment formation and bonding between humans and domestic dogs. Recent research has led to increased interest in potential applications for intranasal oxytocin to aid with the treatment of psychological disorders in humans. While a few studies have explored the effects of intranasally administered oxytocin on social cognition and social bonding in dogs, alternative applications have not yet been explored for the treatment of behavioural problems in this species. One potentially important application for intranasal oxytocin in dogs could be the treatment of separation anxiety, a common attachment disorder in dogs. Here we provide an overview of what is known about the role of oxytocin in the human–dog bond and canine separation anxiety, and discuss considerations for future research looking to integrate oxytocin into behavioural treatment based on recent findings from both the human and dog literature.

What’s inside your cat’s head? A review of cat (Felis silvestris catus) cognition research past, present & future

meowVitale Shreve, KR & Udell, MAR (2015) What’s inside your cat’s head? A review of cat (Felis silvestris catus) cognition research past, present and future.  Animal Cognition, 18(6): 1195-1206.

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Abstract

The domestic cat (Felis silvestris catus) has shared an intertwined existence with humans for thousands of years, living on our city streets and in our homes. Yet, little scientific research has focused on the cognition of the domestic cat, especially in comparison with human’s other companion, the domestic dog (Canis lupus familiaris). This review surveys the current status of several areas of cat cognition research including perception, object permanence, memory, physical causality, quantity and time discrimination, cats’ sensitivity to human cues, vocal recognition and communication, attachment bonds, personality, and cognitive health. Although interest in cat cognition is growing, we still have a long way to go until we have an inclusive body of research on the subject. Therefore, this review also identifies areas where future research must be conducted. In addition to the scientific value of future work in this area, future research on cat cognition could have an important influence on the management and welfare of pet and free-roaming cats, leading to improved human-cat interactions.

Exploring breed differences in dogs (Canis familiaris): does exaggeration or inhibition of predatory response predict performance on human-guided tasks?

cropped-moniqueember.pngUdell, MAR, Ewald, M, Dorey, NR, Wynne, CDL(2014). Exploring breed differences in dogs (Canis lupus familiaris): Does exaggeration or inhibition of predatory response predict performance on human-guided tasks? Animal Behaviour, 89, 99-105. 

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Abstract

Domestic dogs’, Canis familiaris, responsiveness to human action has been a topic of scientific interest for almost two decades. However, are all breeds of domestic dog equally prepared to succeed on human-guided object-choice tasks? In the current study we compared three breeds of dog with distinct predatory motor pattern sequences still under direct selection pressure today based on their traditional working roles. Airedale terriers (hunting dogs) are bred for a fully intact predatory sequence, matching the wild-type form. Border collies (herding dogs) are bred for an exaggeration of the eye-stalk-chase component of the predatory sequence. Anatolian shepherds (livestock-guarding dogs) are bred for the inhibition of the full predatory sequence. Here we asked whether and how these opposing selection pressures correspond with each breed’s tendency to track and follow a human point to a target in an object-choice task. Our results suggest that the presence or exaggeration of key components of the predatory sequence may in fact predict superior initial performance on pointing tasks when compared to a breed selected for its inhibited predatory response. This is the first time relative success on a pointing task has been tied to a known heritable behavioural mechanism (breed-specific motor patterns). However, we also demonstrate that breed-specific differences can sometimes be overcome with additional experience. Thus, an individual’s performance on human-guided tasks is still best predicted by a combination of genetic and lifetime factors. Broader implications for the understanding and investigation of canine social cognition are discussed.