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Dog’s loyalty to Humans- Scientifically Explained

Oh! the Man’s Best Friend and those cute, lovely, and loyal pets.

Ever wondered why Dogs are loyal? Is there any science behind it?

In this article, we will try to explain it with scientific facts and hypotheses.

We will describe these in this article.

Cute puppy looking directly into the camera
©Jhashots

Dogs were first thought to have descended from wolves and according to some older studies, their genetic information shows similarity between their genes. Some have theorized that due to evolution they emerged as a new and separate species. This can also be seen from the morphological point of view, as there are quite a few resemblance between dogs and wolves. But this is not the case. We will find out about dog’s ancestry later in this article.

Although, they have similar habit of hunting in packs or groups. There is also a dominant or alpha male in most groups. Nowadays, domesticated or pet dogs might differ from the mentioned points above but it still holds somewhat good for wild dogs. 

Why Dogs are loyal?

It is not sure for how long we have domesticated dogs. Some state that it has been 15,000-30,000 years or more since its domestication while some say it’s 10,000 years. Thus, it can be said that it has been at least 10,000 years since the domestication of dogs.

It has been over 10,000 years of domestication of wild dogs and it changed the dog’s psychology and behavior over time. It is believed that some dogs were friendly to humans and used to roam around human shelters. They developed a mutual relationship and it played a big role in their evolution as the dog we know today. These friendly dogs depended on humans when they were starving and humans domesticated them for their security. This mutual bonding between humans and dogs facilitated coexistence among them.

Resemblance to Wolves

Dogs and wolves split (Genetic Divergence) from their common ancestor between 27,000-40,000 years ago. Domestic dogs do not share direct ancestry with any of the modern living wolves. The last shared common ancestor of dog and wolf went extinct a long time ago. The late Pleistocene wolf was the last known ancestor of dog. Scientist found genetic evidence from ancient wolf rib bone discovered lying on the tundra in Siberia’s Taimyr Peninsula.

Earlier studies

According to an article published in Nature in 2010, more than 48,000 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in dogs and their wild progenitor were studied to better understand the phenotypic evolution and ancestry under domestication.

The studies showed that dogs shared a higher proportion of multi-locus haplotypes distinct to Middle Eastern grey wolves, indicating that they are the ancestor of dogs rather than wolves from East Asia, as suggested by mitochondrial DNA sequence data. Although, they interbred with local wolf populations in the other parts of the world in the early history of particular lineages.

Wolf howling
Wolf Howling
©Steve Felberg, Pixabay
  • It can be concluded from this observation that Dogs shared a common ancestor with Middle Eastern Grey Wolves. But it is not true according to new study.

Genetic Factors

This part is a little interesting!

  • Gene homologous for Williams-Beuren syndrome (WBS) in humans, results in hypersociability in dogs.

According to an article published on Science Advances, scientists namely- Bridgett M. vonHoldt, Emily Shuldiner, Ilana Janowitz Koch, Rebecca Y. Kartzinel, Andrew Hogan, Lauren Brubaker, Shelby Wanser, Daniel Stahler, Clive D. L. Wynne, Elaine A. Ostrander, Janet S. Sinsheimer and Monique A. R. Udell

analyzed 5-Mb sequence on chromosome 6 in domestic dog breeds. 

Deletion of this region located within WBSCR17 in humans is linked to Williams-Beuren syndrome (WBS), one of the characteristic of which is associated with hypersocial behavior. Also, WBSCR17 gene differ in dogs from wolves.

On associating quantitative data on behavioral phenotype with WBS (1.5- to 1.8-Mb hemizygous deletion on human chromosome 7q11.23) in humans to structural changes in homologous locus in dogs, scientists found hypersociability (like in WBS), a distinguishable element that separates dogs from wolves.

Structural variants in two other adjacent genes- GTF2I and GTF2IRD1 present within the WBS locus, earlier implicated with the behavioral phenotype of people with WBS also contributes to extreme sociability in dogs. 

Two cute puppies standing and looking directly into the camera
©Jhashots

Other Factors

Loyalty is pretty much in a dog’s genes. It is their inherited character as they are loyal to their packs also. This behavior has been developed as they stuck together as a group of packs and hunted in packs as well. This adherence to packs resulted in the development of their social character.

A SNP (single nucleotide polymorphism) associated with the oxytocin receptor gene known to influence human pair-bonding was studied and was found to be associated with proximity seeking and friendliness in two dog breeds. 

Problem solving and social behavioral responses comparison between wolves and dogs

Subjects were given a challenge to open a solvable puzzle box within 2 minutes containing half of a 2.5-cm-thick piece of summer sausage under three conditions- Alone, with a familiar human, and with an unfamiliar/strange human.

Dogs gazed at humans more than they looked at the box, quite opposite to what wolves did. Also, more wolves were able to successfully solve the task than dogs under the human presence as well as while alone.

Dogs spent more time in human proximity than wolves. Dogs spent more time looking, even at unfamiliar/stranger human than wolves. It can also be concluded that pet dogs are more dependent on humans than their wild counterparts and ultimately wolves are more independent when it comes to problem-solving but they are less social.

This section is referenced from the same source as mentioned in the above section.

Also Read- Science behind Ostrich People


Dog’s loyalty to their owners

All the above-mentioned points hold true for dogs loyalty to humans. But their is more to explain.

When dogs interacts with its owner, the hormone named- oxytocin or love hormone is released in them, just like humans do when they interact with someone they love. It deepens the bond between humans and dogs. Dogs are also very appreciative of someone who even provides food for them.

Dog’s loyalty to certain individuals

Dogs are usually most loyal to someone who look after them, feeds them, care for them, etc. But sometimes, this is not always the case, sometimes the dog’s closest/favorite person might be someone else.

Puppies up to 6 months are very receptive in nature and bonds closest to the person who look after them during this key socialization period.

There is also something known as first imprinting, animals have been shown to have affection towards any animal or person whom they meet after they are born. This imprinting builds connection between both of them, and it works in dogs case as well.

Dog understand humans

Dogs can interpret human speech. They can recognize human words and can read human clues as well. It is likely that dogs were the first animals to be domesticated. It is because of their evolution with humans.

Sense of smell for recognition

Dogs might not view color with their eyes but they have a very strong sense of smell. You might probably be aware of using guard dogs for solving crimes. Dogs reacts differently to various kinds of smell and body odour of humans. They reacts differently to body smell of familiar and strange humans, familiar dogs/animals and unfamiliar ones etc.

The part of the dog’s brain known as the ‘caudate nucleus’ is associated with familiar smell and reward system. When they smell familiar scent of  a human, it activates pleasure reward system in caudate nucleus part of their brain. 

Loyalty and Dog’s Breed

Some Dog breeds are more loyal than others.

According to The Happy Puppy website, these are some breeds regarded as most loyal dogs, namely- Akita, Beagle, Boxer, Chihuahua, Collie, Doberman Pinscher, German Shepherd, Golden Retriever, Great Pyrenees, Labrador Retriever, Yorkshire Terrier

An Akita named Hachikō from Japan is often regarded as being the world’s most loyal dog. This dog waited for his master every day at the railway station for nearly a decade (10 years) even after his master died.

“As the canine companion to a university professor, Hachikō patiently waited his owner’s return from work at their local train station each evening.

But when the professor died suddenly one day at work, Hachikō was left waiting at the station — for nearly a decade. Every day after his master passed, Hachikō the dog returned to the train station, often to the chagrin of the employees who worked there. But his fidelity soon won them over, and he became an international sensation and a symbol of loyalty.”- as per ATI website.

Read this article by ATI about this dog- Hachikō, it is explained very beautifully.

Hachikō in his later years
Hachikō (November 10, 1923 – March 8, 1935)

Hypersociability & Dog Breeds

Just like every dog has its unique character and some are more social than others. It depends on a dog as well as its breed. Some breeds are more social and friendly while some are better guard dogs. Inheritance plays a key role in their behavior towards people and other dogs/animals.


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