Transposons in the Williams–Beuren Syndrome Critical Region are Associated with Social Behavior in Assistance Dogs

Gitanjali E. Gnanadesikan, Dhriti Tandon, Emily E. Bray, Brenda S. Kennedy, Stavi R. Tennenbaum, Evan L. MacLean, Bridgett M. vonHoldt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A strong signature of selection in the domestic dog genome is found in a five-megabase region of chromosome six in which four structural variants derived from transposons have previously been associated with human-oriented social behavior, such as attentional bias to social stimuli and social interest in strangers. To explore these genetic associations in more phenotypic detail—as well as their role in training success in a specialized assistance dog program—we genotyped 1001 assistance dogs from Canine Companions for Independence®, including both successful graduates and dogs released from the training program for behaviors incompatible with their working role. We collected phenotypes on each dog using puppy-raiser questionnaires, trainer questionnaires, and both cognitive and behavioral tests. Using Bayesian mixed models, we found strong associations (95% credibility intervals excluding zero) between genotypes and certain behavioral measures, including separation-related problems, aggression when challenged or corrected, and reactivity to other dogs. Furthermore, we found moderate differences in the genotypes of dogs who graduated versus those who did not; insertions in GTF2I showed the strongest association with training success (β = 0.23, CI95% = − 0.04, 0.49), translating to an odds-ratio of 1.25 for one insertion. Our results provide insight into the role of each of these four transposons in canine sociability and may inform breeding and training practices for working dog organizations. Furthermore, the observed importance of the gene GTF2I supports the emerging consensus that variation in GTF2I genotypes and expression have important consequences for social behavior broadly.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)196-211
Number of pages16
JournalBehavior Genetics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Genetics(clinical)
  • Genetics
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


  • Behavioral genetics
  • C-BARQ
  • Canine
  • Cognition
  • Hypersociability
  • Working dog


Dive into the research topics of 'Transposons in the Williams–Beuren Syndrome Critical Region are Associated with Social Behavior in Assistance Dogs'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this