MAY 03, 2022 1:59 AM PDT

Research Indicates Dog Breed Doesn't Determine Personality

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

While dog breeders may dispute the conclusions based on their own experiences, new research reported in Science has indicated that almost none of a dog's personality is hard-wired. The study suggested that there are a small number of ancient characteristics that are responsible for about nine percent of a dog's behavioral traits. About 80 percent of physical traits, on the other hand, can traced to genetics. But for the most part, a dog's breed is unrelated to how it acts.

“It’s a major advance in how we think about dog behavior,” Elaine Ostrander, a canine genetics expert who was not part of the research told Science. “No breed owns any particular trait.”

In this study, Kathleen Morrill, a graduate student at the University of Massachusetts, and colleagues utilized data from Darwin's Ark, which was founded by senior study author Dr. Elinor Karlsson. In this effort, researchers obtained genetic data from thousands of dogs across the United States. Dog owners answered a long questionnaire about their dogs, which including questions about how friendly they were with strangers or how often they chased squirrels, and sent in a cheek swab for DNA collection.

The researchers wanted to know if problematic traits like compulsion or aggression had a genetic basis. Previous research has tended to focus on certain breeds, rather than all dogs. Whole-genome sequencing was performed on nearly 2,000 dogs, and questionnaires were completed for another 16,000 pups. Overall, data was obtained for 128 breeds, with some dogs mixed breed and others purebred.

Genetics did not have a strong influence on most traits, though some had a genetic component. Dogs' ability to be social with humans, and retrieving objects, for example, had some heritability. The researchers suggested that retrieving has been important for dogs since the time of their ancestors. They also noted that people would have preferred friendlier dogs when domestication first started; selection for that trait goes back a long way.

Dog owners were even asked whether their dog likes to circle before it's time to potty, and not even that seemed to have a genetic basis.

Image credit: Pixabay

“That probably has a lot more to do with where you take your dog to poop,” Karlsson, director of vertebrate genomics at the Broad Institute, told Science.

The study also showed that pit bulls are not more aggressive than other dogs, contrary to popular opinion. Karlsson added that their results confirm what many pit bull owners have said - the training and environment of dogs shapes their personality, not their breed.

The researchers have even set up a website where you can check out their fascinating results and see whether a dog trait matches with the breed you expect.

The study also found some new genetic regions that are linked to personality; one is associated with sociability and another to howling, for example.

Source: Science, Science News

About the Author
Bachelor's (BA/BS/Other)
Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on over 30 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 70 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
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