Oxytocin receptor gene polymorphisms are associated with human directed social behavior in dogs (Canis familiaris)

PLoS One. 2014 Jan 15;9(1):e83993. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0083993. eCollection 2014.


The oxytocin system has a crucial role in human sociality; several results prove that polymorphisms of the oxytocin receptor gene are related to complex social behaviors in humans. Dogs' parallel evolution with humans and their adaptation to the human environment has made them a useful species to model human social interactions. Previous research indicates that dogs are eligible models for behavioral genetic research, as well. Based on these previous findings, our research investigated associations between human directed social behaviors and two newly described (-212AG, 19131AG) and one known (rs8679684) single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in the regulatory regions (5' and 3' UTR) of the oxytocin receptor gene in German Shepherd (N = 104) and Border Collie (N = 103) dogs. Dogs' behavior traits have been estimated in a newly developed test series consisting of five episodes: Greeting by a stranger, Separation from the owner, Problem solving, Threatening approach, Hiding of the owner. Buccal samples were collected and DNA was isolated using standard protocols. SNPs in the 3' and 5' UTR regions were analyzed by polymerase chain reaction based techniques followed by subsequent electrophoresis analysis. The gene-behavior association analysis suggests that oxytocin receptor gene polymorphisms have an impact in both breeds on (i) proximity seeking towards an unfamiliar person, as well as their owner, and on (ii) how friendly dogs behave towards strangers, although the mediating molecular regulatory mechanisms are yet unknown. Based on these results, we conclude that similarly to humans, the social behavior of dogs towards humans is influenced by the oxytocin system.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Base Sequence
  • Behavior, Animal*
  • DNA Primers
  • Dogs
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide*
  • Principal Component Analysis
  • Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Receptors, Oxytocin / genetics*
  • Social Behavior*


  • DNA Primers
  • Receptors, Oxytocin

Grant support

Financial support was provided by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTA 01 031), the Hungarian Scientific Research Fund (OTKA K100695; K84036; 107726), the Bolyai Foundation of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, and an ESF Research Networking Programme “CompCog”: The Evolution of Social Cognition (06-RNP-020).The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.