Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Medical School are studying how the dog genome has changed as dogs evolved from wolves to beloved companions and work partners. If researchers can understand how genetic changes can lead to behavior differences—even for normal behaviors—they will have new insight into psychiatric and neurological diseases in dogs and people. The Darwin’s Dogs project combines new DNA sequencing technology, which provides genetic information from each dog, with new analysis methods that can control for diverse ancestry. By including all types of dogs, the goal is to do much larger studies, and home in quickly on the important genes and genetic variants.

That’s where citizen scientists/dog owners come in. Researchers ask each owner 100 questions about their dog’s behavior and personality using short questionnaires on the Darwin’s Dogs site. Owners will also mail a saliva sample from their dog using a kit that the researchers provide. Researchers will study saliva samples from many dogs to look for differences in DNA connected to particular personality traits or behaviors. Results will be shared with participants.