Date: October 11, 2016
Source: Genetics Society of America
A genomic analysis of 28 dog breeds has traced the genetic history of the remarkable Fonni's Dog, a herd guardian endemic to the Mediterranean island of Sardinia. The results, published in the journal GENETICS, reveal that the regional variety has developed into a true breed through unregulated selection for its distinctive behavior, and that its ancestors came from the very same geographic areas as Sardinia's human migrants. Just as Sardinian people have long provided a wealth of genetic insights to scientists, the canine natives are an example of an isolated population that could prove a powerful resource for finding genes that influence health and behavior.
Fonni's Dogs (Cane Fonnese in Italian) are large, rugged dogs known for their wariness towards strangers and their intense facial expression. Although there are descriptions of these shephard's companions dating to at least the mid-nineteenth century, it is not officially recognized as a breed by most international registries, including the largest federation of kennel clubs, the Federation Cynologique Internationale.
"If you were to look at ten Fonni's Dogs, you would see there's a lot of variation in coat color and fur length. But they are all good protectors of their flocks. That's because nobody cares what they look like; they've been bred to do a job and to do it right," says study leader Elaine Ostrander of the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI).
That job is guarding the possessions of their owner, to whom they are fiercely loyal. "Fonni's are also outstanding thieves," says Ostrander. "They can be trained to sneak over to the neighbors' and bring items home." While this particular duty isn't required by today's Fonni Dogs, written records from the mid-1800's indicate that thievery was part of their historical repertoire.