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26 The Genetics of Domesticated Behavior in Canids: What Can Dogs and Silver Foxes Tell Us about Each Other?

Anna V. Kukekova, Gregory M. Acland, Irina N. Oskina, Anastasia V. Kharlamova, Lyudmila N. Trut, Kevin Chase, Karl G. Lark, Hollis N. Erb, Gustavo D. Aguirre


Domesticated animals display distinct differences in behavior, morphology, and physiology from their wild counterparts. They usually exhibit reduced aggressiveness, increased social tolerance among conspecifics, and reduced sensitivity to environmental changes (for review, see Sachser 1998; Price 2002). The complex suite of modified social behaviors and cognitive abilities that results from domestication specifically includes tameness, the ability to interact with humans in a positive way. An understanding of the genetics of tameness in canids should provide new insight into the mechanisms underlying social behavior in canids and other species, and into the broader phenomenon of domestication as a whole. Herein, we discuss strategies for identification of the genetic roots of tame behavior in canids. For the purposes of this chapter, we refer to this friendly, dog-like behavior as tameness.

The mutual ability of dogs and humans to communicate, and to interact socially with each other, is so commonplace that it is often not recognized for how strange a phenomenon it represents. The sentiment “She is almost human—just cannot speak” would be immediately understood by anyone familiar with the relationship between dogs and their human companions. Without a word from them, we understand our dogs very well. We can read their body language, facial expressions, habits, and emotional states; and they can read ours. They can understand our mood, intent, tone of voice, and words from our language. Sometimes it is hard to credit that the modern dog (Canis familiaris) is such a recent and close relative of the gray wolf...

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