Dog breed doesn’t explain their behavior as much as we think

(ORDO NEWS) — When choosing a dog breed, they are usually guided not only by appearance. If you want a smart and playful puppy, some people think that a collie is the best choice. If you are looking for an outgoing friend for the whole family, the Labrador can top your list.

Dog breeds have long been defined by specific behaviors and temperaments, but, ironically, a new genetic study shows that breed alone is a poor predictor of dog behavior.

After examining the genomes of 2,155 dogs – 78 purebreds as well as mutts of mixed parentage – the researchers found very few genetic variants that could explain the dog’s common behavior.

These behavioral traits were identified from over 18,000 responses from a survey of pedigreed dog owners.

In the end, the authors identified 11 regions in the dog’s genome that are closely linked to behavioral traits, such as how well a dog follows directions or how much it howls. However, none of them was associated with the breed of the dog.

In fact, the breed could only explain 9 percent of the differences in individual dog behavior, and no behavioral trait was unique to one breed of dog.

The age and sex of a dog were found to be stronger predictors of its behavior.

“Most of the behavioral traits that we consider specific to modern dog breeds are most likely the result of thousands of years of evolution from the wolf, to wild dogs, to the domesticated dog, and finally to modern breeds,” says Elinor Karlsson, who studies comparative genomics at University of Massachusetts.

“These ancestral traits predate our understanding of modern dog breeds by thousands of years.”

Most dog breeds you may encounter today have only been recognized as pedigree within the last century or two, selected for aesthetic or physical ideals. Prior to this, puppies were selected based on predictions about how well they would hunt, guard, or herd.

Complex traits such as behaviors that result from the interaction of many small genes with each other and the environment can, of course, be inherited from one generation of dogs to the next, but modern pet owners may not have had enough time to really influence the breeds we know today. At least not compared to the contribution of our ancestors.

Karlsson and her colleagues were only able to detect subtle genetic differences in the behavior of different dog breeds.

When you consider that more than half of all “purebred” dogs in the United States have more than one breed of ancestry, the differences become even more subtle.

In this genomic study, it turns out that border collie ancestry does indeed have a genetic influence on mutts’ ability to behave, or their ability to follow human directions.

At the same time, no significant effect was found between the origin of the Labrador Retriever and sociability with humans.

In other words, the mutt’s Labrador ancestry has not made it more outgoing with people, even though purebred Labrador owners talk about it as a key trait of the breed.

If the authors are correct and our assumptions about breed behavior are overstated, then a national policy to ban certain “aggressive” dog breeds may be unreasonable. The same goes for insurance policies that refuse to cover breeds like pit bulls.

Carlsson’s study is one of the first to look at the genetics of dog behavior by breed, but previous studies have also shown that differences in dog behavior within a breed are almost equivalent to differences between breeds.

More work is needed to study the genetics of dog behavior, but the new findings suggest that modern breeders have not had the impact on our dogs that we thought.

When a dog obeys your commands or cuddles with you on the couch, it may have more to do with your ancient ancestors than the work of modern breeders.


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