Does a dog’s breed necessarily determine its personality?

Everyone knows that Pit Bulls and Rottweilers are aggressive, while Labradors are affectionate. Except no. According to a new study published Thursday in the prestigious journal, ScienceThese dog breed stereotypes are largely unfounded. Several behavioral traits may be inherited.

But race only partially predicts most behaviors, or even not at all for certain personality traits, such as affection or a tendency to anger. “Genes play a role in any individual dog’s personality, but breed does not effectively predict these traits,” explained Elinor Carlson, one of the authors of this work, which involved more than 2,000 dogs and counted over 200,000 responses from owners.


“What we have shown is that the criteria that define a Golden Retriever are their physical characteristics: the shape of their ears, the color and quality of their coat, and their size. But not if they are affectionate,” she added. “However, such stereotypes sometimes find their way into law, such as prohibiting pit Bull in the UK and many US cities.

Researchers sequenced the DNA of 2,155 pedigree or hybrid dogs to find common genetic variations that could help predict their behaviour. They combined these results with answers to questions from 18,385 dog owners. The site used is called Darwin’s Ark, and it is a free access database that collects information provided by owners about the behavior of their animals. The researchers took into account in their analyzes stereotypes that might influence the answers.

There are exceptions

They set firm definitions for certain behaviors, such as obedience, social contact, or interest in games. Physical traits were also studied. The scientists finally found 11 places in the genome linked to behavioral differences, including obedience, the ability to retrieve something, or even howl. In these cases, the race played a certain role: beagles and bloodhounds tend to howl more, and cocodons are obedient, much more than the Shiba Inos.

But the study nevertheless showed that there are exceptions every time. So even though Labradors were less likely to howl, 8% of them still did. And if 90% of greyhounds don’t bury their game, 3% do so often. Additionally, given the responses to many questions about dogs’ potential aggressive reactions, “we did not observe any effect on the breed,” explained Elinor Carlson. In all, race explained only 9% of the behavioral changes. So age better predicts certain traits, such as enjoying a game. Physical traits can be five times better at predicting race than behavior.

Focus on “physical ideals”

Prior to the 19th century, dogs were bred primarily for their role in hunting and guarding a home or herd. The study notes that the concept of a “modern dog breed, which emphasizes physical ideals and purity of lineage, is a Victorian invention.” Dogs within a breed may behave differently, with some inheriting genetic differences from their ancestors, and others not.

Interesting fact: Social communication towards humans is very hereditary in dogs, although it does not depend on the breed. Researchers have identified a spot in dogs’ DNA that could explain 4% of differences in social communication between individuals. And this place corresponds to the place, in the human genome, that is responsible for the formation of long memory. “Understanding social communication toward humans in dogs can help to understand how the brain develops and learns,” Kathleen Morrell, the study’s lead author, said at a press conference.

The next step, according to her, will be to consider behavioral disorders in dogs, and their possible relationships with those in humans. “You can’t ask a dog about their problems, thoughts, and fears, but they have been known to lead emotionally rich lives and suffer from disorders that show in their behaviour,” the researcher explained. Thus, understanding the links between race and behavior can help identify the genes responsible for some psychological disorders in humans, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder.

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