Dog owners are a step closer to understanding their canine companions after taking part in a university experiment today.

University of Massachusetts professor and dog DNA expert Elinor Karlsson took free saliva swabs of 30 dogs at the University of Otago in hopes of understanding how changes in DNA are linked to different behavioural traits.

"Dogs are such wonderful animals and we are very close to them genetically," Karlsson said.

"We can learn a lot about ourselves through this research."

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Owners filled in a survey about their dogs' behaviour, Karlsson then took swabs and would sequence their genome in order to compare dogs that are more anxious to ones that are more relaxed.

Gemma McLaughlin and her border collie-Labrador cross Biscuit took part in the study.

"It was great to see the turnout and be part of such a big study," she said.

"It is something that may have some fascinating insights. I was interested in his [Biscuit's] behaviour.

"He is a cross breed so it would be interesting to see which of the breeds is more prevalent in his behaviour."

Director of Genetics Otago Professor Peter Dearden said he was impressed with the turnout.

"There were around 30 dogs of all shapes, sizes and colour. They were all incredibly well behaved and it's great to see people genuinely interested in the genetics of dogs and what they can learn from it."

The testing took place as part of a Genetics Society of Australasia conference held in Otago from July 2 to 6.

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The hosting of the conference was a testament to Otago's "great strength" in genetics research, Dearden said.

"There are a good number of geneticists coming to the event, it shows we are doing great things here in Dunedin and people from around the world want to see what we are doing."