Have you always considered yourself a dog person? Turns out, there's a scientific reason why you're naturally inclined to own a pooch.

By Dan Nosowitz

There’s no shortage of reasons why dog owners decide to make their lives with a canine—pets can help with compassion, companionship, even emotional and physical health. But becoming a dog owner isn’t always a rational, made-a-pro-and-con-list-on-a-whiteboard kind of decision, and new research indicates it might go deep—all the way into your genes.

Researchers from Uppsala University in Sweden wanted to find out if our genetic makeup—the tiniest, most basic bits of ourselves—could be responsible for dog ownership. To do that, they looked to twins.

Image courtesy of Getty.

Twins are a really good resource to find out about genetic predispositions; research from twin studies has given us insight on health topics like breast cancer, epilepsy, and aging brains, for example. Identical twins and fraternal twins have, on the whole, the exact same external factors in their lives: the same parents, same birthday, same upbringing. But fraternal twins only share half of their genetic code. Identical twins, on the other hand, have all the same external factor similarities, but share 100 percent of their genetic code. So if fraternal twins differ on some topic substantially from identical twins, you know you’ve got a genetic basis for that difference.

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The researchers looked at more than 35,000 twin pairs from the Swedish Twin Registry, which happens to be the largest in the world (and thus a pretty vital source of twin-based information for scientists). The “concordance rate” (in normal non-science speak: the presence of the same trait in both twins) of dog ownership in identical twins was, say the researchers, much higher than in fraternal twins.

In other words, genetics—the only difference between identical and fraternal twins—play a significant role in dog ownership. This all implies that there’s something deep in the core of dog owners, something ancient and mystical that causes them to want to scratch the floppy ears of good dogs.

So what can we take away from this research? Though the specific genes that influence whether a person is more likely to be a dog parent are still unknown, scientists say that the role of genetics is just as important as the environment when it comes to dog ownership. In time, these findings can help us better understand the relationship between humans and dogs, and how they came to be man's—and woman's—best friends.



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