Aggressive behavior in dogs poses public health and animal welfare concerns, however the biological mechanisms regulating dog aggression are not well understood. We investigated the relationships between endogenous plasma oxytocin (OT) and vasopressin (AVP)-neuropeptides that have been linked to affiliative and aggressive behavior in other mammalian species-and aggression in domestic dogs. We first validated enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISAs) for the measurement of free (unbound) and total (free + bound) OT and AVP in dog plasma. In Experiment 1 we evaluated behavioral and neuroendocrine differences between a population of pet dogs with a history of chronic aggression toward conspecifics and a matched control group. Dogs with a history of aggression exhibited more aggressive behavior during simulated encounters with conspecifics, and had lower free, but higher total plasma AVP than matched controls, but there were no group differences for OT. In Experiment 2 we compared OT and AVP concentrations between pet dogs and a population of assistance dogs that have been bred for affiliative and non-aggressive temperaments, and investigated neuroendocrine predictors of individual differences in social behavior within the assistance dog population. Compared to pet dogs, assistance dogs had higher free and total OT, but there were no differences in either measure for AVP. Within the assistance dog population, dogs who behaved more aggressively toward a threatening stranger had higher total AVP than dogs who did not. Collectively these data suggest that endogenous OT and AVP may play critical roles in shaping dog social behavior, including aspects of both affiliation and aggression.
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