Dogs have always been profiled based on their breed and phenotype. Everyone knows that Rottweilers are great with children and will protect theirs to the last breath, while border collies are extremely agile and very capable dogs. A brief investigation of different breeds will show a distinct correlation between said breeds and specific patterns of behavior. The real question is where does this correlation come from and why is it so evident with certain breeds of dogs?
The case of Tasha
Before any serious research, the general consensus was that different canine traits were inherited and wired to specific dog breeds. It was more or less known that you can expect a different type of behavior from different dogs. However, in 2005, a number of scientists representing some of the world’s most prestigious research institutions, have come together to take a closer look at Tasha, a beautiful 12-year-old boxer.
The researchers took DNA samples from Tasha and performed extensive genome sequencing to see if specific DNA markers and genes can be correlated with different patterns of behavior.
What they found left the scientific world with more questions than answers. Tasha’s DNA has shown that canine DNA consists of around 19,000 genes compared to 22,000 humans and that around 70% of them have human counterparts.
The research has also shed light on the relationship between different patterns of behavior and specific genes. Namely, the researchers found that specific genomic clusters could indicate a breed’s affinity for a specific type of behavior. However, there was no compelling evidence that a gene was specifically responsible for this behavior.
In other words, canine DNA, while indicative of likely behavioral patterns, cannot be used to fully explain why some dog breeds are tame while others need daily exercise to burn off their energy. . Dog breeds often associated with hyperactive behavior can be conditioned be calm and relaxed with appropriate training.
A more recent study by a research team at the University of Arizona at Tucson further reinforced this conclusion. Researchers led by Evan MacLean compiled behavioral data related to various dog breeds obtained from the Canine Behavioral Assessment & Research Questionnaire (C-BARQ) and concluded that 131 locations in a dog’s genome may be linked to at least one of 14 behavioral models. These include fear, the dog’s ability to be trained, aggression and others.
Interestingly enough, the research showed that some traits are more hereditary than others. Namely, the tendency to be aggressive towards strangers as well as the dog’s need to chase things are most easily transferred by DNA.
The human factor
All of these research projects have only reinforced that human influence over canine species was and still is one of the strongest factors when it comes to a breed’s affinity for specific behavioral patterns.
Tasha’s DNA and the research that took place in the years after her genome was sequenced have shown that dogs have residual wolf DNA in different amounts depending on the breed. Throughout the history of human-dog interaction, we have selectively promoted specific traits in dogs.
Dogs that were tame and non-aggressive towards humans were preferred over dogs that were more difficult to housebreak. Over time, different human requirements gave rise to distinctive canine lines that expressed various traits. This is how certain dog breeds came into being.
One of the most interesting facts about this age-old process of cultivating specific traits is that such human actions have caused phenotypic mutations in various races. Namely, some breeds have developed distinct physical attributes as a result of centuries of selective breeding.
It turns out that not all of these results are positive. Some may argue that breeds such as Boxers and Bulldogs are genetically stunted in the sense that both breeds have breathing issues, among other things.
A window on behavioral psychology
All of the time-honored studies we have mentioned above have given us invaluable insight into the inner workings of canine genetics. However, we have also learned a lot about the effects of behavioral models on genetics.
The link between different behavior and specific genes has also emerged in other species, which include other animals as well as humans. That said, the research conducted on dogs can be used as a foundation that will allow us to better understand our own genetics and our personal predisposition to various types of behavior.
Bond between dogs and their owners
Another interesting finding from these research projects proves what most dog owners already knew. You’ve probably heard someone say that dogs tend to adopt the traits of their owners. The owners get involved emotionally, pet the animals, feed them, remove their chips, etc. Ultimately, if the owner is showing signs of anxiety, it is often found that his dogs will show similar signs as well.
If there is one conclusion to be drawn, it is that dogs are individual beings. As humans, we tend to simplify dogs based on their breed, often forcing dogs to encounter various stereotypes. Your dog will undoubtedly show an affinity for certain traits and depending on their breed, you may need to pay special attention to them. However, this does not mean that your dog will be aggressive by default if he is a pit bull, or that he will be friendly with anyone if he is a Labrador.
It is extremely important to understand the influence that we humans have on our canine friends. Breed specific traits should be used as guidelines rather than strict rules for how we treat dogs. This way, you will be allowing your dog’s unique personality to dictate his behavior, rather than what we think his breed genetics entail.
That said, there is still a lot to learn about dogs in general. When it comes to genetic research, we have only scratched the surface. Further studies will give us a much better idea of the genetics of the breed and its impact on canine behavior.