Thank you for your questions. My main research interest is in the development and evolution of behavior. In the past I have focused on differences during development that explain the changes in adult behavior between wolves and dogs and between breeds of dogs. As a member of the Karlsson lab I am now starting a new project to see if we can determine the genetic and epigenetic mechanisms that may cause these changes in development.
We are particularly interested in differences during the critical period of socialization, a time early in the development of mammals when their developing brains are extremely sensitive to environmental input. In other words, what a young mammal sees, hears, smells and touches during this time period can change how their brain grows and ultimately how they interact with the world as adults. During this time young mammals form social bonds, and positive experiences with new things render them familiar.
I have found that while dogs’ critical period is shifted two weeks later than wolves, they both still develop their senses at the same time. This means that dogs and wolves have very different early experiences during this important developmental period. I have also found that different dog breeds have different length critical periods of socialization, allowing them more or less time to encounter new things and form social bonds.
We will be doing some more direct measures of critical period length in dogs and wolves and looking at the variation of social behavior between dogs and wolves and dog/wolf hybrids. This questionnaire is an attempt to see what the variation in social behavior is across the population of pet dogs and to see if they are associated with the same genes we find in these other studies.