Simple Genomic Test of Canine Genes Associated With Williams-Beuren Syndrome Could Predict Social Behavior in Domesticated Dogs

Web Published:

Docket # 17-3362


Although considerable progress has been made in understanding the genetic basis of morphologic traits (e.g. body size, coat color) in dogs and wolves, the genetic basis of their behavioral divergence is poorly understood. Researchers at Princeton University have conducted a genome-wide SNP study and identified genomic regions under positive selection during the initial phase of dog domestication. Deletion of one of these regions in humans is linked to Williams-Beuren syndrome (WBS), a multi-system congenital disorder characterized by hyper-social behavior. This study provides evidence that structural variants (SVs) of three genes previously implicated in human WBS are widespread in domesticated dogs and associated with human-directed social behavior. These canine SVs likely contribute to the developmental delay that facilitates ease of forming inter-species bonds and the juvenile-like hyper-sociability exhibited towards these social companions into adulthood.


In the absence of any background information about an animal, shelters use behavior assessment tests to make adoption/euthanasia decisions. These tests are necessary but flawed; the reaction of an anxious and fearful shelter dog may not accurately represent home behavior. Likewise, significant time and resources are often dedicated to training service and guide dogs with historically problematic success rates (often around 50%), with incompatible social behavior as a significant reason for failure. An early predictor of adult social characteristics is greatly needed. The characteristics of any particular dog are clearly a complex mixture of genetics and environment, but our technology can detect if there is a genetic predisposition for hyper-social behavior. This straightforward saliva-based test could be a useful and unbiased addition to the behavior assessment tools currently in practice. It could also be of interest to pet owners, as an addition to several commercial dog genotyping services. Finally, this technology could be valuable to breeders as a way to select for social behavior as easily as selecting for physical characteristics, or to assign their dogs an unbiased “genetic social score”.



•       Assist in the prediction of social tendencies

•       Shelter and working dog behavior assessment

•       Potential diagnostic tool for separation anxiety

•       Tool for breeders



•       Quick and straightforward assay

•       Unbiased by animal circumstance

•       Prediction possible prior to maturity


Stage of Development

We have validated the assay in a set of 24 animals with full behavior assessment, and an additional set of over 200 animals including AKC breed-based behavioral stereotypes for attention seeking behavior.



vonHoldt, B. M., Shuldiner, E., Koch, I. J., Kartzinel, R. Y., Hogan, A., Brubaker, L., … Udell, M. A. R. (2017). Structural variants in genes associated with human Williams-Beuren syndrome underlie stereotypical hypersociability in domestic dogs. Retrieved from



Bridgett vonHoldt graduated from UCLA in 2010 with her Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and is an Assistant Professor at Princeton University. She uses molecular tools to investigate the molecular foundation of traits in wild and domestic canines.


Janet Sinsheimer graduated with her ScB in Chemistry in 1979 from Brown University and received her PhD in Biomathematics in 1994. Her research is focused on the development and application of statistical methodology for mapping complex trait and disease genes and in understanding evolutionary relationships. She has published over 150 peer reviewed articles relating to genetic epidemiology, phylogenetics and genomics.


Monique Udell graduated from University of Florida with her Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology in 2011 and is an Assistant Professor at Oregon State University specializing in animal behavior and human-animal interactions. She has a large body of work investigating factors influencing the human-canine bond, including the development and diversity of canine social behavior.


Intellectual Property Status

Patent protection is pending.

Industry collaborators are sought to further develop and commercialize this technology.



Laurie Tzodikov

Princeton University Office of Technology Licensing • (609) 258-7256•


Patent Information:
For Information, Contact:
Cortney Cavanaugh
New Ventures and Licensing associate
Princeton University
Bridgett Vonholdt
Monique Udell
Janet Sinsheimer