A new study could help dispel negative stereotypes associated with different dog breeds. Researchers at UMass Chan Medical School have identified 11 locations along the canine genome that are strongly associated with behavior. Surprisingly, none of them are breed specific.
Scientists collected DNA sequences from more than 2,000 purebred and mixed breed dogs, as well as detailed behavioral surveys from more than 18,000 puppy parents. Their findings suggest that breed is very poor, if not useless, when it comes to predicting canine behavior.
“Although ‘friendliness’ is the trait we commonly associate with Golden Retrievers, we have found that the defining criteria of a Golden Retriever are its physical characteristics – the shape of its ears, the color and quality of its fur, its size — not whether it’s friendly,” said lead author Elinor Karlsson, PhD, associate professor of molecular medicine at UMass Chan and director of the Vertebrate Genomics Group at the Broad Institute of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University from Harvard. “Although genetics plays a role in any dog’s personality, a specific breed of dog is not a good predictor of these traits.”
Keeping in mind existing stereotypes about certain dog breeds, Dr. Karlsson designed the study to account for possible owner bias on behavioral traits such as:
- Biddability (a dog’s response to human direction)
- Dog-human sociability (a dog’s comfort with people, including strangers), and
- Toy-directed motor patterns (a dog’s interest and interaction with toys)
The results included data from 78 breeds, including those reported by the animal’s parent and those verified by DNA analysis. They show that breed accounts for only 9% of a dog’s behavioral variations. In comparison, physical traits like coat color were more than five times more likely to be predicted by breed than behavioral traits.
Additionally, behaviors often associated with specific races have appeared in other races that you least expect. For example, Labrador Retrievers had the lowest propensity to howl, but 8% of owners said their Labradors sometimes howled. Similarly, 90% of Greyhound parents said their dogs never bury toys, but three owners called their puppies “frequent buryers.”
Kathryn Lord, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School and another author of the paper, said: “I’ve known Labradors that howled and Papillons that pointed and Greyhounds that retrieved as well as Retrievers that didn’t.”
The researchers found that behavioral predictions were somewhat more accurate in purebred dogs, but “for less heritable and less breed-differentiated traits, such as how easily a dog is provoked by frightening or annoying stimuli , race is almost useless as a predictor of behavior”. according to Carlson.
This discovery could be particularly useful in helping to debunk stereotypes surrounding breeds considered more aggressive, such as Pit Bulls and other physically similar dogs. In fact, the oft-maligned Pit Bull has scored highly when it comes to human sociability, which will come as no surprise to dedicated fans of the breed.
Dr. Cynthia Otto, director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center at the University of Pennsylvania, said the study “makes perfect sense to me. I think there are general behavioral traits that are more common in some breeds than in others, but the individual variation is so high within a breed.
So if you want to know what a dog will look like, breed matters. But if you want to know how they are to behavethe puppy’s age and individual life experiences will give you a much clearer picture.
H/T at UMASSMed.edu