An Early Genetic Screening Aid in the Selection of Dogs for Assistance Training Programs

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An Early Genetic Screening Aid in the Selection of Dogs for Assistance Training Programs

Docket # 20-- 3609


Researchers at Princeton University and Oregon State 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 placement rates (often around 50%) relative to the training received, 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

•       Assist in the identification of dogs for assistance training programs

•       Tool for breeders





•       Quick and straightforward assay

•       Unbiased by animal circumstance

•       Prediction possible prior to maturity





Stage of Development

Using our dataset of 837 dogs, 228 of which had paired survey-based behavioral data, we discovered that one of the insertions is the most important predictor of dog sociable behaviors related to human

proximity, measured by the Canine Behavioral Assessment Research Questionnaire (C-BARQ©). Training programs could utilize this genetic survey to identify dogs with sociable traits compatible with successful assistance dog performance.





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




Tandon, D., Ressler, K., Petticord, D., Papa, A., Jirank, J., Wilkinson, R., Kartzinel, R., Ostrander, E.A., Burney, N., Borden, C.,Udell, M.A.R., VonHoldt, B.M., Homozygosity for Mobile Element Insertions Associated with WBSCR17 Could Predict Success in Assistance Dog Training Programs, Genes, June 9, 2019




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



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