Home Dog behavior Can genetics tell us if dog behavior really varies by breed?

Can genetics tell us if dog behavior really varies by breed?


Dogs have been part of our lives for at least 10,000 years. At first, the dogs did not resemble the common breeds of today – they only appeared about 160 years ago, or about 50-80 generations of dogs. Back then, dogs mostly stayed around humans for food scraps and shelter. However, around 2,000 years ago humans began to selectively breed dogs to perform tasks such as hunting, herding and guarding. Our focus on breeding changed during the Victorian era of the 1800s when humans began selecting dogs for specific physical characteristics, such as short legs in corgis, and to produce genetically pure bloodlines. .

For the past 160 years, humans have believed that certain races have inherited the behavior and temperament of their ancestors. Modern breeds descended from guard dogs are thought to be vicious and unsociable with humans, while those descended from herding dogs are considered to be very sensitive to human commands. These behavioral traits and many more have been assumed without much study.

However, we know that heritage does not control our behavior, so why should it control dogs? We even go so far as to give dogs sophisticated human drugs like psychiatric drugs to help them live happily ever after. This link between behavior, genetics and how we deliver medicine caught the attention of a group of US-based researchers who wanted to use dogs as a model organism to understand this complicated intersection.

Researchers needed to collect lots of information about dogs around the world to find out what small genetic differences might be linked to behavior. To do this, the team developed an open data collection resource called Darwin’s Ark, which anyone can joinand asked pet owners to complete surveys about the physical and behavioral characteristics of their furry companions.

Of the 18,385 dogs whose data was entered, 9,009 were purebred while the rest were mutts or had mixed heritage. Of all these dogs, the owners answered approximately 100 questions per puppy. This generated a lot of data that the researchers broke down into eight behavioral traits: human sociability, level of excitement, toy-directed motor patterns, bidding ability (the way they listen to their owner), agnostic threshold (how easily they are provoked), the dog’s sociability, environmental commitment, and closeness-seeking (how affectionate they are).

Using these eight behavioral traits, the researchers divided 16,522 dogs into groups and of these dogs, 1,967 were selected for the experiment, which used a technique called whole genome sequencing. This technique uses the chemistry of DNA, the molecules that make up our genes, to learn the makeup of each gene and what the differences are between a gene in dog A and that same gene in dog B.

By examining these genetic differences, the team verified that purebred dogs had fewer genetic differences than mutts. This makes sense because mutts have genes from many different breeds, all with their own markers, while purebreds have nearly the same genes as each other and only the markers from one breed.

With these genetic markers in mind, the team then compared the genetic variation between these dogs with the results of their investigation. Immediately, it was clear that different physical traits were controlled by genetic differences. Things weren’t so clear cut when the team looked at behavioral traits. Some behavioral traits, such as human sociability, submissiveness, and toy-directed motor patterns, seemed to be about 25% explained by a dog’s genetics. So while certain behavioral traits were more common in certain breeds, there was a lot of variation that demonstrated that breed did not control behavior. That being said, some specific traits were more heritable, such as the urge to fetch, which was 52% related to ancestry.

The team attempted to extend this study to focus on genes expressed in the brain to study different neurological disorders and psychiatric disorders. However, after comparing the dogs’ genes with survey questions such as “How often do they howl” or “How often do they get stuck behind furniture”, the researchers couldn’t find a clear pattern. . Many of these genes appear to be linked to behaviors, but not strongly enough to draw large-scale conclusions about neurological traits and disorders.

As more people gain access to Darwin’s Ark and participate in this investigation, the team hopes to expand their study and create larger datasets. As the dataset grows, the team will revisit some of these studies and deepen our understanding of genetics and the mind and ultimately hope to use our so-called best friends to better understand and understand us. biology.