Your dog is a good boy, but it’s not necessarily because of his breed


Labrador retrievers fetch, herds of border collies, huskies howl: it’s common knowledge that many dog ​​breeds act a certain way because they’ve been bred to do so over many generations.

But a new study to be published on Friday in the journal Science finds that while some canine behaviors are indeed associated with particular breeds, breed plays less of a role overall than conventional wisdom claims.

“We found things like German Shorthaired Pointers were slightly more likely to point, or Golden Retrievers were slightly more likely to retrieve, or huskies more likely to howl, than the general dog population,” says Kathryn Lord. , a researcher at UMass Chan Medical. School and author of the study.

The researchers interviewed the owners of more than 18,000 dogs and analyzed the DNA of about 2,100 animals to see if physical traits and behaviors could be correlated with dog breeds.

Overall, the study found that around 9% of variation in a dog’s behavior can be explained by its breed.

Border collies, for example, were more likely to be sensitive to human direction, a trait called “biddability.” Owners of Beagles, Bloodhounds, Coonhounds and Siberian Huskies will not be surprised to learn that these breeds had a tendency to howl.

Researchers found the same was true for mixed-breed dogs — the higher the border collie percentage in a mutt, the more responsive it was to human commands.

“From a genetic perspective, that’s fantastic. It means there are real race-related behavioral differences that we can go and study,” says Elinor Karlsson, a UMass Chan Medical School professor and fellow author. of the study.

Why dogs may not behave like others of the same breed

In individual dogs of the same breed, researchers have found huge variations in behavior.

For example, although golden retrievers are, on the whole, more likely to fetch than many other dogs, there are plenty of lazy goldens who sit and watch their owners unsuccessfully throw tennis balls.

And no behavior is unique to one breed, the researchers said. German Shorthaired Pointers aren’t the only pointing dogs.

“Genetics is important, but genetics is a nudge in a given direction. It’s not destiny,” Evan MacLean, director of the Arizona Canine Cognition Center at the University of Arizona, told NPR. Arizona, which did not participate in the research. “We’ve known this for a long time in human studies, and this paper really suggests the same is true for dogs.”

The most likely explanation for the relatively weak correlation between behavior and breed, according to the authors of the paper, is that many modern dog breeds are relatively new, as things evolve.

Organized dog breeding, with kennel clubs and other groups regulating physical traits and lineage, has only existed in its current form since the mid-19th century.

By contrast, humans have helped shape dog behaviors for thousands of years, the researchers said — first by giving dogs useful food and shelter, making it easier for them to have puppies, then later by intentionally reproducing.

“The problem with complex traits is that selecting them takes time,” Karlsson explains. “And so the idea that they were created in the last 160 years when these races appeared didn’t make sense.”

Dog owners were a great help in the study

To create their dataset, the researchers created a website called Darwin’s Ark that allows dog owners to upload data about their dogs and answer questions, both about physical traits – how tall their dog, how long is his fur – and on their dogs. behavior: do they shake the toys? Do they avoid getting wet? Are they screaming?

The study’s reliance on homeowner surveys is both good and bad, says MacLean of the University of Arizona.

On the one hand, homeowner surveys allow for massive sample sizes – well over 18,000 survey responses in this case – but on the other hand, the information gathered from surveys is almost always less reliable. than results from a lab environment, he says.

“We like to put the dogs in a situation that we can control and we can administer the same way to every dog, and be a little more objective about the behavior that we see,” MacLean explains.

The researchers say they hope the document can help aspiring dog owners change their mindset about how to choose a dog.

“I don’t think we should really decide that breeds are the things that will tell us if we’ll be happy with a dog or if a dog will be happy with us,” says Marjie Alonso, another of the study’s authors and director. executive of the IAABC Foundation, an animal training organization.

Instead, she suggests that potential owners make a list of what they’d like to do with a dog, then try to find a dog that meets those needs.

“We have to accept that our dogs are individuals. Each dog is a study of one,” she says. “We want to accept our dogs as they are.”

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