Domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) have developed a close relationship with humans through the process of domestication. In human-dog interactions, eye contact is a key element of relationship initiation and maintenance. Previous studies have suggested that canine ability to produce human-directed communicative signals is influenced by domestication history, from wolves to dogs, as well as by recent breed selection for particular working purposes. To test the genetic basis for such abilities in purebred dogs, we examined gazing behavior towards humans using two types of behavioral experiments: the ‘visual contact task’ and the ‘unsolvable task’. A total of 125 dogs participated in the study. Based on the genetic relatedness among breeds subjects were classified into five breed groups: Ancient, Herding, Hunting, Retriever-Mastiff and Working). We found that it took longer time for Ancient breeds to make an eye-contact with humans, and that they gazed at humans for shorter periods of time than any other breed group in the unsolvable situation. Our findings suggest that spontaneous gaze behavior towards humans is associated with genetic similarity to wolves rather than with recent selective pressure to create particular working breeds.
Dogs have been selectively bred for thousands of years, sometimes by inbreeding dogs from the same ancestral lines, sometimes by mixing dogs from very different lines. The process continues today, resulting in a widening in appearance without speciation, "from the Chihuahua to the Great Dane."
Though groups like the American Kennel Club make very specific designations about breeds and breed hybrids, there continue to be new breeds and breed variants developed all the time, as well as "up and coming breeds" not officially recognized by kennel clubs and experts. (Many dogs not purchased directly from breeders are also mixed-breeds of some kind, or have less than purebred ancestry.)
What you may not know is that many breeds today have very small populations. If some breeds were any other kind of animal they would be considered endangered. You may find it hard to believe, but breeds can become extinct. If you read any histories about dog breeds, you will find lots of references to breeds that are gone now. Countless breeds have become extinct over the centuries. In some cases we have some of their descendants because they contributed to newer breeds, but not always. Some people might not care if particular breeds become extinct, but if you are a fan of a breed, then this might matter to you. From a genetic viewpoint, it’s always good to have a wide selection of dogs that contributed to a breed’s foundation. You never know when it might be necessary to reintroduce some of the genes from an older breed for health reasons. If those breeds are extinct, that’s no longer a possibility.