Source: carterse (CC BY-SA 2.0)
A recurring question that worries researchers interested in dog behavior is to what extent it is encoded in their DNA. According to the findings of a research team led by Evan McLean of the University of Arizona, it appears the answer is quite long.
People have been tinkering with dog genetics for almost 300 years, when we began to see the emergence of defined dog breeds. A dog breed is a particular strain or type of dog that has been intentionally bred by humans to create or improve certain traits. Although today many people only consider dog breeds as separation dogs on the basis of their appearance, the sort of thing judged by conformation shows like the spectacular Westminster Kennel Club or at Crufts, the goals. initials had to do with canine behavior. So, the idea was to generate lines of dogs that would excel at performing specific tasks, such as herding, hunting, and guarding. According to the American Kennel Club, the rule of thumb is that any breed of dog “always reproduces faithfully.” This means that all members of a given breed will share a defined set of physical and behavioral traits.
I have always been amazed to see the emergence of hereditary behaviors in dogs. For example, I saw an eight week old Border Collie puppy demonstrate herding behavior around sheep. Likewise, I saw a five week old German Shorthaired Pointer puppy displaying a perfect tip on a pile of feathers hanging down in front of him, a six week old Golden Retriever retrieving a duck toy, and a nine- cairn Terrier puppy from a week pouncing on a mouse and killing it in the traditional way of a terrier. However, canine experts looking at these breed-specific behaviors often come to the conclusion that these are inherited patterns of specific skills, while at the same time they are more reluctant to assume than basic psychological characteristics such as that intelligence, aggression or fear are also inherited. .
I remember the skepticism I encountered from some scientists when I published my book The intelligence of dogs, which ranked dog breeds in terms of intelligence (one aspect of which was trainability). The idea that intelligence and trainability were inherited characteristics of the breed seemed far-fetched to them. Yet every year if you look at the top 10 dog obedience competitors listed by the American Kennel Club, Canadian Kennel Club, and British Kennel Club, you will see that my findings are confirmed by the overwhelming preponderance of Golden Retrievers, Border Collies. , Poodles and Labrador Retrievers topped the lists of the best dogs in standard obedience competitions and rally obedience competitions. All of these races were at the top of my intelligence rankings.
This new research took advantage of three large specialized databases. Two of them map the genetic codes of dogs, while the third contains information on the behavioral propensities of a large sample of dogs. All of these databases also contain information that allows researchers to identify purebred dogs by breed.
Information on dog behavior comes from the C-BARQ database, which includes information on more than 14,000 dogs. C-BARQ is a long and highly validated questionnaire through which dog owners describe the typical behaviors they observe in their dogs. The results break down into 14 different behavioral dimensions including training ability, multiple varieties of aggression, multiple types of fear, attachment (actually attention seeking and affection seeking), energy and chasing behaviors. From this data collection, a score was calculated for each of the 101 dog breeds for the 14 behavioral dimensions of C-BARQ. With that in hand, the researchers then searched the genotype databases for overall DNA similarities in breeds with comparable behavior scores. Despite thousands of genetic variants, 131 appeared to be significantly associated with the behavior of the races measured. Not surprisingly, most of them were associated with brain function and development.
The results indicate that for some behavioral traits, genes appear to account for 60 to 70 percent of the behavioral variation between breeds. Among these highly heritable behavioral dimensions was training capacity, at which Golden Retrievers, Border Collies, and Poodles have proven to be excellent while Basset Hounds and Beagles appear to be genetically programmed to be less trainable.
Another highly hereditary trait was aggression towards strangers, with German Shepherds and Chow Chows genetically disposed to be highly aggressive, while Greyhounds and Labrador Retrievers seem to inherit a much more placid temperament.
Attachment and attention seeking Also appears encoded in canine DNA with breeds like the Cocker Spaniel and Flat Coated Retriever being extremely affectionate, while the Great Pyrenees and Akitas inherit a much more aloof and antisocial propensity.
Chase behaviors are also highly hereditary, with Siberian Huskies and Airedales having the highest likelihood of exhibiting these behaviors, while Newfoundland and Chihuahuas are the least likely to do so.
Looking at the remaining 10 behavioral dimensions (including energy level and various forms of fear), the researchers found that the genetic contribution hovered around 50%. While some scientists will be quick to point out that this means that differences in environment, individual history, and training play are just as important to the genetic contribution to the formation of these behaviors, having 50 percent of behavior derived from a dog’s DNA will help or hinder our ability to control a specific behavior. Fighting a hereditary prevention is difficult, while taking advantage of a hereditary predisposition can make life easy.
To give an example of this on the trainability dimension, my Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, Ranger, was able to get four obedience degrees at the age of 18 months while my beloved Beagle, Darby, was four years old before obtaining his first obedience title. Both were trained the same, by me, but in one case I was dealing with a genetic predisposition to high trainability while in the other the DNA was not so cooperative.
From this new data set, we can conclude that the initial goal behind the creation of genetically selected dog breeds, which was to produce lines of dogs with inherited skills and particular psychological characteristics, has been successful. .
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