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Deletion of those genes in people causes Williams syndrome, which is characterized by elfin facial features, cognitive difficulties, and a tendency to love everyone . Von Holdt suspects that the gene variants in dogs inhibit their normal function, leading to the same issues seen in humans with Williams syndrome. “We may have bred a behavioral syndrome into a companion animal,” she says. A border collie poses for the camera. Domestic dogs are much more likely to respond to humans than wolves raised in similar circumstances. Photograph by Vincent J. Musi, National Geographic Creative Since evolving from a shared ancestor with wolves at least ten thousand years ago, domestic dogs have helped us find food and protected us from becoming dinner ourselves, all while providing a friendly face and wagging tail. ( Read more about how dogs Dog Collar evolved in National Geographic magazine .) Understanding how our best friends, from Chihuahua to mastiff, became what they are today is a "sexy question,” according to Karen Overall , a canine behavior expert at the University of Pennsylvania who wasn't involved in the new study. In 2010, in collaboration with Monique Udell , an animal behaviorist at Oregon State University, von Holdt searched the dog and wolf genomes and identified alterations in the WBSCR17 gene that occurred during dog domestication, results they published in Nature . (See " Dog and Human Genomes Evolved Together .") Their project lay dormant until 2014, when von Holdt and Udell secured funding to set up a new set of experiments with 18 dogs of various breeds—including dachshunds, Jack Russell terriers, and Bernese mountain dogs—and 10 wolves habituated to humans.
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