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Darwin's Dogs Project Takes Closer Look At Pets' DNA And Behavior

NATICK (CBS) - "What I love about Daisy is she's just a cute little hound dog," said 10-year-old Josh Corliss of Natick.

Josh and his mom, Mary Ann, didn't always know what kind of dog they really had.

"When we first got Daisy we thought she was a Redbone Coonhound and a mix of some sort," Mary Ann told WBZ-TV.

Well, she's a mix alright.

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(Image credit: Darwin's Dogs)

"We found out that our Redbone Coonhound is actually half Bloodhound, and about a third Boxer and another third Heinz 57," said Mary Ann while looking at a colorful pie chart, which breaks down the different breeds carried in Daisy's DNA.

The Corliss family was able to map out the tale of Daisy's DNA thanks to Darwin's Dogs.

"It's crowd science," said Mary Ann. But, the DNA testing is only half of the story.

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Daisy, one of the thousands of dogs in the Darwin's Dogs project. (WBZ-TV)

Daisy is among thousands of dogs enrolled in the project. Along with the DNA sample (retrieved through Daisy's saliva), Mary Ann and Josh are asked to complete multiple surveys about Daisy's traits and behaviors.

"I don't really get it now, but whenever I'm a little older... I'll think this is really cool," said Josh.

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Elinor Karlsson, the UMass Medical School researcher behind Darwin's Dogs. (WBZ-TV)

To get a better explanation of the project we spoke with Elinor Karlsson, the UMass Medical School researcher behind Darwin's Dogs.

"We can study behavior in dogs really easily by just working with the dog owners, by just asking them... with a goal of trying to look at how differences in a dog's DNA matches up with differences in their behavior," she told WBZ.

The initial goal of Darwin's Dogs was to look at obsessive-compulsive behavior. The study has expanded to also explore food allergies.

"We don't understand what causes these diseases. And the only way to really find new treatments and new effective ways of actually treating them is to know what the cause is," Karlsson said.

Finding that cause hidden in dogs' genetics could eventually lead to a breakthrough for humans too.

"Even though there's a lot of differences between dogs and humans when you kind of look at the really kind of important things that are relevant to health there's not that many differences. Dogs get the same cancers as we do, the same psychiatric diseases as we do," Karlsson said.

So far, more than 14,000 dogs are enrolled in this massive science project and Mary Ann and Josh are happy to be a part of it all.

"They are truly, truly interested in figuring out more about man's best friend," said Mary Ann.

The Darwin's Dogs project is always looking for new citizen scientists to join and it's completely free to sign up.

As you can imagine, demand is quite high. So, be patient, it could take some time before you get those DNA results back.

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