According to a new study published Thursday in the prestigious journal Science, stereotypes related to dog breeds are largely unfounded. Many behavioral traits may well be inherited. But race is only a partial prediction of most behaviors – or not at all for some traits, such as affection or anger.
A dog breed does not effectively predict its character.
“Genetics plays a role in the personality of any individual dog, but the breed does not predict these traits effectively,” explained Elinor Karlsson, one of the authors of this work, which involved more than 2,000 dogs and over 200,000 responses from owners.
“What we have shown is that the defining criteria for a golden retriever are their physical characteristics – the shape of their ears, the color and quality of their fur, their size. But not if they are loving,” she said. However, such stereotypes sometimes find their way into the law, such as the pit bull ban in the UK and many US cities.
2,000 dogs studied for their character
The researchers sequenced the DNA from 2,155 pedigree or crossbreed dogs to find common genetic variations that could help predict their behavior. They combined these results with answers to questions from 18,385 dog owners. The site used is called Darwin’s Ark and represents a free access database that collects information from owners about the behavior of their animals.
In their analyzes, the researchers took into account the stereotypes that may influence the answers. They established fixed definitions for certain behaviors, such as obedience, sociability, or interest in toys. Physical properties were also investigated.
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The researchers finally found 11 sites in the genome associated with behavioral differences, including obedience, the ability to retrieve an object or even the howl. In these cases, the breed played a certain role: beagles and bloodhounds tend to howl more, border collies are obedient, much more than shiba inus.
But the study still showed that there were exceptions every time. So even though Labradors were the least likely to howl, 8% of them still did. And if 90% of greyhounds did not bury their toys, 3% did often.
A dog’s breed explains only 9% of the behavioral variations
Furthermore, by observing the answers to several questions regarding the dogs’ possible aggressive reactions, “we saw no effect of the breed”, Elinor Karlsson explained. In total, race explained only 9% of the behavioral variations. Thus, age better predicted certain characteristics, such as having fun with a toy. Physical traits could be predicted five times better by race than behavior.
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Behavioral differences within the same dog breed
Before the 19th century, dogs were primarily bred for their roles in hunting, to guard the home or herds. But the concept of “the modern dog breed that emphasizes physical ideals and purity of pedigree is a Victorian invention,” the study points out.
Dogs within a breed may behave differently, with some inheriting genetic variations from their ancestors and others not. Interesting fact: sociability towards humans is very hereditary in dogs, although it does not depend on the breed.
Researchers have found a stain in the dog’s DNA that could explain 4% of the differences in sociability between individuals. And this place corresponds to that, in the human genome, which is responsible for the formation of long memory.
Possible connections between dog and human behavior?
“It may be that understanding the sociability of humans in dogs helps to understand how the brain develops and learns,” Kathleen Morrill, lead author of the study, told a news conference. The next step, according to her, would be to look at behavioral disorders in dogs and their possible connections with humans.
“You can not ask a dog what their problems are, their thoughts, their worries, but they are known to live a rich emotional life and suffer from disorders that show up in their behavior,” the researcher explained.
Understanding the relationships between race and behavior could thus help determine which genes are responsible for certain psychiatric disorders in humans, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder.
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