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Humans and Dogs Share More Than Just DNA

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Humans and dogs have shared a lot of history. Our relationship with dogs started before the agricultural revolution, and it continues well into today.

For many of us, dogs are not just pets; they are family members. The science behind why we love our dogs is extensive. Researchers are constantly uncovering new findings that help explain the longstanding bond between dogs and humans.

With help from Embark scientists, we explore just how deep that relationship goes. What do we share with dogs, and what can science tell us about the dog–human bond?

How much DNA do dogs and humans share?

Humans and dogs evolved together for thousands of years. That co-evolution shaped genes related to diet, behavior, and disease in both us and in our dogs. 

Scientists estimate that humans and dogs share about 84% of their DNA. We have over 17,000 similar genes, including:

Did you know? Embark tests for EPAS1, EPS8L2, POMC, and many other genetic variants that influence a dog’s health and physical traits.

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Humans and dogs have a shared history

As the first species domesticated by humans, dogs are our oldest companions. Before cattle, before wheat and other crops—and yes, before cats—there were dogs.

During this time, dogs likely become more responsive to humans and socially aware of human moods and manners. Physically, they became smaller, with shorter muzzles and a more puppy-like look that still charms us today.

Since ancient civilizations, humans and dogs have appeared side by side in history, art, and literature. Early dogs traveled alongside humans as we created new trade routes and migrated around the world. Dogs have played an important role in our culture and history, from the Greek three-headed dog Cerberus to the Egyptian god Anubis. 

“It is not overstating things to say that dogs are people, and we are our dogs.”

— Dr. Greger Larson, Professor of Evolutionary Genomics, University of Oxford, speaking at the Embark Canine Health Summit 2022

Dogs were humankind’s best friend not only in this life, but also in the afterlife. Dogs, specifically the Xoloitzcuintli (Xolo), still play an important role in the Day of the Dead, which has roots in Aztec and Mayan traditions. They were believed to guide the souls of the dead through the underworld. Evidence suggests that ancient people were often buried with their Xolos so they could stay together in the afterlife.

Dogs and humans share diets

As humans and dogs evolved together, our diets changed together, too. 

When scientists compared ancient human bones and dog bones to those of other animals, they found that people and dogs lived in the same space and ate the same food, highlighting a very close relationship. Over time, as our diet changed, so did theirs. We can see these diet changes mirror each other consistently over at least the last 10,000 years.

DNA studies have shown that dogs adapted to a starch-rich diet around the same time humans did. Dogs have multiple copies of the AMY2B gene, which produces amylase, an enzyme that breaks down starch. Dogs likely started eating table scraps with the rise of modern agriculture, leading to these shared diet changes.

We’re still seeing evidence of this shared history. Today, pet food trends follow human diet trends. As The New York Times reports, many pet owners are “customizing their pets’ diet to match their own eating habits.”

According to Embark data:

  • 58.7% of dogs eat commercially available dog food from a large brand (such as Purina, Iams, or Hill’s Science Diet)
  • 20.0% of dogs eat boutique or specialty dog food
  • 5.7% of dogs follow a veterinary prescription diet
  • 4.2% of dogs eat human-grade ready-made dog food 
  • 3.0% of dogs follow a home-cooked diet 
  • 2.7% of dogs eat a raw diet

Experts caution that human-friendly diets aren’t always suitable for dogs. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) “discourages feeding any raw or undercooked animal protein to dogs and cats because of their risk to human and animal health.” When looking for dog food that contains all the nutrients your dog needs for their life stage, look for the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) label. This seal verifies that pet food has met rigorous predetermined nutrient requirements and provides a complete and balanced meal.

Almost half of all dogs (46.3%) take a dietary supplement, and many are the same supplements we take.  Of those dogs:

  • 15.3% take a glucosamine supplement
  • 20.5% take a probiotic supplement (compared to 41% of Americans who have tried over-the-counter probiotics)
  • 20.1% take a fish oil supplement (compared to 7.8% of US adults)
  • 2.3% take a melatonin supplement (compared to 27.4% of US adults)
  • 9.1% take a CBD supplement (compared to 60% of US adults who have tried a CBD supplement)

We have a tendency to think that what’s good for us is also good for our pets, whether that’s our diets, our homes, or our lifestyles.

Humans and dogs share our homes

Sleeping habits

Sharing homes means sharing snuggles with our dogs. According to Embark data:

  • 45% of dogs sleep in the same bed with their humans
  • 23% of dogs sleep in their own bed in the same room as their humans
  • 27% of dogs sleep in a different room


By sharing our homes with our dogs, we’re also sharing microbes, tiny microorganisms like bacteria and viruses. Studies have shown that dog-owning adults share skin microbes with their dogs. Another study found that humans and dogs share similar gut microbiomes.

Dogs and humans share our lifestyles


In 2020, less than half of Americans met the CDC guidelines that recommend 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of moderate physical activity per week. In contrast, a study found that dog owners are about four times more likely than non-dog owners to meet today’s physical activity guidelines. 

This news might not be surprising to most pet owners, but all those daily walks add up. According to Embark data:

  • 20.9% of dogs get 2–4 hours of exercise per week
  • 20.2% of dogs get 4–6 hours of exercise per week
  • 19.9% of dogs get 6–8 hours of exercise per week
  • 14.0% of dogs get 8–10 hours of exercise per week
  • 19.2% of dogs get 10+ hours of exercise per week

That means that 73% of Embark dogs get 4+ hours of weekly exercise!

TV watching

Watching TV is one of our favorite pastimes at home, and it’s one that we share with our dogs. Nearly 80% of Americans watch TV on any given day. The average person spends 2 hours and 46 minutes per day watching TV. 

According to Embark data, 21% of dogs watch TV, too.


Scientists found that dogs and their owners often share the same allergies, too—partly because we share our homes. 

According to Embark data:

  • 10.7% of dogs have an environmental or seasonal allergy (compared to 26% of US adults who have a seasonal allergy)
  • 5.3% of dogs have a food allergy (compared to 12% of Americans)
  • Of the dogs who have food allergies:
    • 60.6% of these dogs are allergic to an animal protein
    • 22.4% of these dogs have a grain allergy

Metabolism and obesity

The POMC gene codes for a protein called proopiomelanocortin. It plays a role in metabolism in both humans and dogs. In humans, variants in the POMC gene cause proopiomelanocortin deficiency, which results in severe obesity that begins at an early age.

Dogs have the same gene. If a dog has an altered version of the POMC gene, they might have a tendency to overeat because their brain doesn’t recognize when they’re full. Dogs who have this variant are more likely to be overweight and have higher food motivation.

According to Embark data, ~20% of Labrador Retrievers and ~70% of Flat-Coated Retrievers have the POMC variant associated with higher food motivation. New research found that this genetic variant can make dogs feel hungrier and slow down their metabolism. 

Psychological needs

Humans and dogs are different species, but we mimic each other quite a bit. Dogs also share some of the same psychological needs that we do. Pet care often focuses on keeping pups physically healthy, but their emotional and mental well-being is just as important. 

As humans, we tend to get bored when stuck at home with nothing to do. Dogs can experience a similar type of boredom, which is why it’s important to give them a chance to exercise their brains with dog-friendly tasks. Certain breeds, such as herding breeds, benefit even more from having a “job” to do, but all dogs need mental stimulation.

“All dogs have the same suite of basic psychological needs. They learn, they have goal-directed behavior, they have motivations, they have emotions; they are thinking, feeling creatures.”
—Victoria Cussen, PhD, Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist, speaking at the Embark Canine Health Summit in 2022

Whether it’s scatter feeding or giving your dog a puzzle toy to play with, mental stimulation can have a significant impact on a dog’s mental status over their lifetime.

Mental and behavioral health

Humans and dogs share our homes, our lives, our diets, and more. It might not surprise you to learn that we have similar mental and behavioral health needs, too.

According to Embark data, 16.8% of dogs experience behavioral health challenges. Of those dogs:

Humans and dogs may resemble each other

We’ve explored the many things humans and dogs share—our DNA, our history, our diets, our health and emotions—but the similarities don’t end there. Some studies have shown that dogs may even look like their owners. Newer research suggests that dogs and their humans often share similar personality traits, too.

The human–dog bond

While we can’t exactly ask our dogs to tell us about their feelings, research has indicated that dogs really do feel a bond with us the way we do with them. 

For example, studies have shown that dogs are drawn to people who are pretending to cry, even if they are strangers, suggesting a form of empathy. Both humans and dogs release oxytocin, the “happiness hormone,” when looking at each other. 

And according to the American Kennel Club, “most evidence seems to indicate that, yes, dogs experience grief in some form,” just as humans do. Research has found that dogs grieve the loss of a human or a canine friend.

As the stories of Hachikō and Greyfriars Bobby make clear, dogs have a relationship with their humans that runs deep, and continues even after their humans are gone.

Get started with Embark

Since humans and dogs started living among one another thousands of years ago, we’ve shared a special bond unlike any other. 

At Embark, we want to help dog lovers strengthen their bonds with the dogs in their lives. Get to know your dog even better with an Embark Dog DNA Test.

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Mimi Padmabandu Contributor

Mimi Padmabandu is a scientific writer and Content Strategy Lead at Embark Veterinary. She has over a decade of experience writing about science and genomics for leading biotechnology companies. She holds a bachelor's degree in Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology from UCLA and a master’s degree in Early Modern English Literature from King’s College London.

Read more about Mimi Padmabandu

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