After examining data from more than 18,000 dogs, researchers have reached a clear conclusion: breed doesn’t explain why dogs behave the way they do
28 April 2022
Your dog’s behaviour probably isn’t due to its breed, according to a large-scale genetic analysis. The findings suggest that stereotypes associated with certain breeds have little basis.
Kathleen Morrill at the University of Massachusetts and her colleagues studied the DNA of more than 2000 dogs using a genome-wide analysis.
The team wanted to determine if any common genetic variations could be linked to behaviours typically associated with particular dog types. In other words, could genetics explain why Rottweilers often seem so aggressive or why Border collies are thought of as sociable?
The researchers combined this analysis with survey responses from the owners of more than 18,000 dogs, mostly from the US, who had been asked to detail the behaviour of their pets.
After collecting all this information, the team focused their analysis on the differences between pure-bred and cross-bred dogs.
“Cross-breeds are perfect for sussing out the connections between breed and behaviour,” says Morrill. “We can see whether ancestry from a given breed correlates with behaviour and find out which inheritable behaviours are dependent or independent from breed.”
For instance, if howling in bloodhounds is genetic, a cross-bred dog that is 70 per cent bloodhound is also likely to howl, says Morrill.
However, the team found that, on average, breed explained just 9 per cent of any individual behavioural trait, suggesting there isn’t a clear genetic basis for dog behaviour.
Some traits were found to be more heritable than others, such as howling and the disposition to retrieve objects. “For example, Siberian huskies are much more likely to howl than any other dogs,” says Morrill.
But she emphasises that the findings indicate that no behaviour is unique to any one breed and that there is a lot of variability in behaviour within breeds.
“Each dog is a study of one,” says Elinor Karlsson at the Broad Institute in Massachusetts, who is a co-author of the study. “People are just very good at finding patterns when they’re not there.”
“I think what they say is true for individual behaviours and this is not surprising,” says Claire Wade at the University of Sydney. But she says that the way these individual behaviours interact with each other in certain dog breeds may be found to be more characteristic of dog type.
Journal reference: Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.abk0639
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