What type of companion dog is right for your family? A new study published this month in Science suggests that a dog’s breed determines only nine percent of its behavior.
“Dog breed is generally a poor predictor of individual behavior and should not be used to inform decisions about selecting a companion dog,” reads the study’s conclusion.
Focusing on both mixed-breed dogs and many types of purebreds, the published paper acknowledges that while most behavioral studies focus primarily on purebreds, these animals represent only a small minority. of the world’s dog population. Of the roughly one billion dogs in the world, at least 80% are what the study calls “free-living, free-breeding, and not under human control.” And, even in countries with large populations of purebreds, like the United States, pooches are still very common. It is estimated that approximately 50% of all dogs in the United States are pooches.
What also makes this study unique is its methodology: where others have relied on first-hand observations by researchers, this one solicits behavioral data by interviewing owners and asking them for genetic material to DNA sequencing. The published results are based on behavioral surveys of 18,385 dogs and DNA information on 2,155 of them.
The study owner survey divides behaviors into certain categories such as human sociability, submissiveness, and toy-directed motor patterns, and uses multiple questions within each category in an effort to create an in-depth understanding of these. behaviours. It then compares these ranked responses between races to determine the correlation.
While some findings suggest that behavioral traits are hereditary, the association between a race and its behaviors is much less direct than the association between a race and its aesthetic traits.
“Race offers little predictive value for individuals, explaining only 9% of behavioral variation,” the study concludes. Of the behaviors studied, retrieval was the most inherited trait, but even then the ability of genetics to predict this behavior in an individual dog was five times lower than its ability to predict aesthetic traits.
“Behavioral factors show great variability within races, suggesting that although race may affect the likelihood of a particular behavior occurring, race alone is not, contrary to popular belief, informative enough to predict an individual’s disposition,” the study said.
The researchers also explored associations between breeds and behaviors with what the article calls “behavioral stereotypes” — these being the three words the American Kennel Club uses to summarize breeds. For example, the AKC calls border collies “loving, intelligent, energetic.” The conclusions of the study there? “Breeds described with particular words are not behaviorally distinct from other breeds.”
Regarding mutt behaviors, the paper states that “we show that behavioral characteristics attributed to modern breeds are polygenic, environmentally influenced, and found, at varying prevalence, in all breeds.”
Similarly, little to no correlation has been found between a dog’s size and behavior.
In short, each dog is an individual. You can’t expect one golden retriever to duplicate another’s behavior or personality. However, eminent dog researcher Marc Bekoff is quick to point out that the study results do not indicate that genetics do not play a role in determining behavior, they simply play less of a role than perception. popular of purebreds does not indicate this.
“An individual’s genetics prepare them for certain propensities but do not guarantee them,” Bekoff writes in psychology today. “The odds of observing certain types of behavior will indeed change depending on the breed of dog. That’s how we got all these different-looking dogs in the first place, and their different shapes followed selection for their different functions or breed characteristics.
While it is possible, for example, for an individual Maltese to exhibit guarding behavior, their ability to serve as a guard dog would obviously be limited compared to, for example, a German Shepherd who also exhibits guarding behavior. guard behavior.
Bekoff concludes that even though “a dog’s genetics are do not predictive of actually expressed behavior…races can offer a reasonable starting point for setting expectations and clues about what our experiences might be like.
But Bekoff also cautions against making too many assumptions about behavior based solely on race. I asked him if this study refutes the popular claim that purebreds offer more predictable personalities than mutts. “It does exactly that,” he told me in a phone call.
The bottom line? The scientific consensus continues to agree that it is both a dog’s breed and the environmental factors it experiences that determine its behavior. Rather, this new study simply puts a new emphasis on the importance of training, socializing, and spending time with your good dog.
“Breeds can allude to a dog’s personality,” Bekoff explains. “But ultimately it’s nature and nurture that combine to determine the end result.”