A dog breed does not predict his behavior, study confirms

In their work, researchers Elinor Karlsson and Kathleen Yates of MIT’s Broad Institute (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) used genome-wide association studies to search for common genetic variations that could predict individual behavioral traits in 2155 purebred and mixed breed dogs.

They then combined this information with the 18,385 responses listed in an open database (Darwin’s ark) dedicated to dog behavior reported by their owners.

The results of these analyzes, which included data from 78 races, identified 11 variations in DNA sequences strongly associated with behavior, but none of them were race-specific.

Our results refute the hypothesis that some breeds are more aggressive, more obedient, or more loving than others.note in a press release the authors of this work, the details of which have been published in the journal Science (New window) (English).

This research confirms the conclusions of a meta-analysis published in 2015 (New window) brings together four decades of research on the heritability of dog breeds’ behavioral traits.

All studies on the subject say the same thing. This is the most comprehensive and complex that has been implemented on the issue to date.says Dr. David Silversides, Professor at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Montreal.

The results of the study show that the breed explains only 9% of the variation in behavior among individual dogs. For some behavioral traits and some research questions, the dog’s age or gender are better predictors of behavior.

This work has also shown that the behavioral traits attributed to modern breeds are affected by several genes, as well as by the environment, and are found to varying degrees in all breeds.


  • The genetic inheritance from the domestic dog (Canis lupus familiaris) was fully decrypted in 2005.
  • It has made it possible to establish genetic similarities with humans, but also special differences between the different dog breeds.
  • Dogs have about 19,300 genes.

From wolf to dog

A study published in Nature communication (New window) (in English) in 2017 showed that the domestication of the dog would have taken place between 20,000 and 40,000 years before our time reckoning from the same population of wolves (tamed?).

Initially, dogs were probably selected for very specific functions such as hunting game or herding cattle.

The majority of the behaviors that we consider to be characteristics of certain modern dog breeds are most likely the result of thousands of years of evolution, from wolves to wild dogs, then to domestic dogs, and finally to modern breeds.notes Elinor Karlsson.

Races shaped by humans

The present pure breeds first appeared in the 19th century as a result of genetic manipulation, the goal of which was to fulfill a physical ideal and to preserve the purity of the genus.

Current races are assigned temperament and behavior based on the estimated function of their ancestral population. By extension, the origin of a dog’s breed is presumed to predict its temperament and behavior.claim the authors.

This popular assumption has led some municipalities to pass laws banning certain breeds after high-profile incidents involving aggressive dogs.

Dr. Silversides believes that these bans often miss the mark because they are not based on science. We are always looking for simple solutionshe says. We are not saying that genetics is not involved, but with current techniques [pour les phénotypes complexes comme les comportements]one cannot clearly identify a region in the genome that is responsible for a behaviorexplains Professor Silversides.

A quick test [comme pour la COVID] would be the solution! But there are no quick tests to assess the dog’s genetics. »

A quote from David Silversides

In contrast, the environmental and social factors that contribute to good (and bad) dog behavior are well known. For example, lack of socialization of the dog can cause problems in the presence of other animals or strangers. He can become stressed, anxious, but also aggressive.

It is therefore necessary to make an individual behavioral assessment of a dog to know if it exhibits problematic behavior. And one must also educate the owners, for bad behavior is not race related.says Dr. Silversides.

The Order of Veterinary Physicians of Quebec also offers training to its members to improve their knowledge in their assessment of canine danger, which is increasingly in demand by municipalities and which must be performed by a veterinarian.

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