Domestication and Reproductive Change / Grandin

Behavioral Genetics and Animal Science


Department of Animal Science,  Colorado State University,  Fort Collins, Colorado. Genetics and the Behavior of Domestic Animals /  Academic Press 1998

Much, much more at:


Price (1984) defined domestication as a process by which a population of animals becomes adapted to man and the captive environment by some combination of genetic changes occurring over generations and environmentally induced developmental events recurring during each generation:’ In long-term selection experiments designed to study the consequences of selection for the tame” domesticated type of behavior, Belyaev (1979) and Belyaev et al. (1981) studied foxes reared for their fur. The red fox (Vulpes fulva) has been raised on seminatural fur farms for over 100 years and was selected for fur traits and not behavioral traits. However, they demonstrate three distinctly different characteristic responses to man. Thirty percent were extremely aggressive toward man, 60% were either fearful or fearfully aggressive, and 10% displayed a quiet exploratory reaction without either fear or aggression. (Note that individual foxes have varied temperaments – as do humans.) The objective of this experiment was to breed animals similar in behavior to the domestic dog. By selecting and breeding the tamest individuals, 20 years later the experiment succeeded in turning wild foxes into tame, border collie-like fox-dogs. The highly selected “tame” population of (fox-dog) foxes actively sought human contact and would whine and wag their tails when people approached (Belyaev 1979). This behavior was in sharp contrast to wild foxes which showed extremely aggressive and fearful behavior toward man. Keeler et al. (1970) described this behavior:

Vulpes fulva (the wild fox) is a bundle of jangled nerves. We had observed that when first brought into captivity as an adult, the red fox displays a number of symptoms that are in many ways similar to those observed in psychosis. They resemble a wide variety of phobias, especially fear of open spaces, movement, white objects, sounds, eyes or lenses, large objects, and man, and they exhibit panic, anxiety, fear, apprehension and a deep trust of the environment~ They are 1) catalepsy-like frozen positions, accompanied by blank stares; 2) fear of sitting down; 3) withdrawal; 4) runaway flight reactions; and 5) aggressiveness. Sometimes the strain of captivity makes them deeply disturbed and confused, or may produce a depression- like state. Extreme excitation and restlessness may also be observed in some individuals in response to many changes in the physical environment. Most adult red foxes soon after capture break off their canine teeth on the mesh of our expanded metal cage in their attempts to escape. A newly captured fox is known to have torn at the wooden door of his cage in a frenzy until he dropped dead from exhaustion.

I know how you feel, Buddy! This is a good description of how Aspergers react to social confinement.

Although the stress of domestication is great, Belyaev (1979) and Belyaev et al. (1981) concluded that selection for tameness was effective in spite of the many undesirable characteristics associated with tameness. For example, the tame foxes shed during the wrong season and developed black and white patterned fur, and changes were found in their hormone profiles.

This means that the monoestrus (once a year) cycle of reproduction was disturbed and the animals would breed at any time of the year (This change in the accelerated rate of reproduction opportunities is likewise seen in domesticated humans!)

Furthermore, changes in behavior occurred simultaneously with changes in tail position and ear shape, and the appearance of a white muzzle, forehead blaze, and white shoulder hair. The white color pattern on the head is similar to many domestic animals (Belyaev 1979) (Figs. 1.1 and 1.2). The most dog-like foxes had white spots and patterns on their heads, drooping ears, and curled tails and looked more like dogs than the foxes that avoided people. The behavioral and morphological (appearance) changes were also correlated with corresponding changes in the levels of gender hormones. The tame foxes had higher levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin (Popova et al., 1975). Serotonin is known to inhibit some kinds of aggression (Belyaev, 1979), and serotonin ~levels are increased in the brains of people who take Prozac (fluoxetine).

The study of behavioral genetics can help explain why selection for calm temperament was linked to physical and neurochemical changes in Belyaev’s foxes. Behavior geneticists and animal scientists are interested in understanding effects on behavior due to genetic influences or those which are due to environment and learning.


Homo sapiens sapiens (Neurotypicals) are domesticated Homo sapiens. Selection for tameness was necessary due to settlement in agricultural communities; reproductive opportunities increased from once a year to once a month – populations grew, requiring ever more extreme selection for “tame” behavior, or as it is called today, social behavior. Unfortunately, juvenalization has not produced healthy humans nor peaceful social resolution.