Breed Has Little Effect On Dog Behavior, Study Says

Topline

Though some breeds of dogs—such as the “courageous” Bulldog and the “devoted” Golden Retriever—are popularly believed to show certain personality traits, a study published Thursday by Science found that breed is a poor predictor of personality, accounting for just 9% of variation in behavior among dogs.

Key Facts

Researchers consulted the American Kennel Club’s directory to identify stereotypical beliefs about breed personality traits—for instance, that Labrador Retrievers are “friendly” and “outgoing,” while Border Collies are “smart” and “energetic.”

Researchers sequenced the DNA of 2,155 dogs to identify their ancestry and surveyed owners on the dogs’ behavior, finding that, while breed does have a slight effect on behavior, it is a weak predictor of how any individual dog will behave.

Researchers identified 11 areas of genetic code associated with behaviors like how often a dog howls and sociability toward humans, though none of those genetic markers was exclusive to a particular breed.

The study did confirm that some stereotypical behaviors had a genetic basis—for instance, researchers identified a link between Border Collie ancestry and biddability, the propensity to respond well to training.

On the other hand, some stereotypical behaviors had no genetic basis—researchers found no link between Labrador Retriever ancestry and sociability toward humans, a trait popularly associated with the breed.

Researchers collected information from Darwin’s Ark, a database of owner-submitted information on 31,415 dogs.

Tangent

Researchers found that some behaviors were associated with different categories of breed. Herding breeds, such as the German Shepherd, tended to be more biddable, more engaged with their environment and more aloof from others in comparison to other breeds, whereas toy breeds, such as the Pomeranian, tended to be less biddable and less sociable toward other dogs compared to other breeds.

Key Background

For most of human history, dogs were most likely bred for functional roles like hunting and herding, researchers said. Modern breeding, in which dogs are selected for their appearance and their pure ancestry, only emerged around the middle of the 19th century. Because pets like dogs are closely monitored, they’re a natural resource for researchers wishing to study the genetic basis of complex traits like personality, said the authors of the Science study. The authors concluded that dog personality traits emerged before modern breeding, and that modern breeds are distinguished mainly according to appearance rather than behavior.

Contra

Though breed was found to have a small influence on behavior, it had a stronger effect on behavior than size, sex or age, researchers said.

Further Reading

“Pandemic Puppies: Tackling A Growing Problem” (Forbes)

Reference-www.forbes.com

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