FRIDAY, April 29, 2022 (HealthDay News) — For the past few centuries, people have bred dogs to fulfill specific physical traits — to make golden retrievers fluffy, rottweilers to be muscular, or chihuahuas to be tiny.
Dog lovers have thought that they also pass on certain behavioral traits within breeds, leading to certain stereotypes — golden retrievers are affectionate and fun-loving, rottweilers are confident and aggressive, and chihuahuas are cheerful and excited.
But what breed a dog is might actually make up just 9% of its behavioral traits, a new genetic study shows.
Instead, all dogs appear to share a wide range of behaviors that have evolved over the 10,000 years they’ve spent with humans, and especially over the past few millennia, when they’ve been given specific tasks like guarding or herding, the said researcher.
Modern breeding has been good at changing how dogs look, but not necessarily how individual dogs behave, the study found.
“We found that things like German Shorthaired Pointers are slightly more likely to show, or Golden Retrievers are slightly more likely to retrieve, or Siberian Huskies howl than the general canine population,” said Kathryn Lord, co-author of the study. She is a canine evolutionary biologist and postdoctoral researcher at the University of Massachusetts in Worcester, Mass.
“But because these behaviors predate breeds, we also see them in other breeds and other dogs that aren’t exclusive to those specific breeds,” Lord said. “So I’ve known Labradors that have howled and Papillons that have shown and Greyhounds that have retrieved and retrievers that have not.”
In particular, the researchers found that aggressiveness — how easily a dog is provoked by things that are scary or uncomfortable — is almost completely uninformed by the breed.
“When we looked at this factor, which we call ‘agonistic threshold,’ which involved many questions about whether people’s dogs reacted aggressively to things, we didn’t see breed parentage influence this particular factor,” said lead researcher Elinor Karlsson , Professor of Bioinformatics and Integrative Biology at the University of Massachusetts.
Aggression not related to race
Given that, “laws banning certain breeds that are considered aggressive and dangerous don’t make much sense to us,” Karlsson said.
According to Klein, “There are several factors, including environment, diet, and socialization, that can affect a dog’s behavior, and these factors should be considered because every dog is different.”
However, the AKC will not go so far as to accept that breed is irrelevant to an individual dog’s behavior, Klein added.
“It is the AKC’s position that breeds inform about general and instinctual behavior and that is why owners should consider behavioral tendencies before selecting a breed in order to make an informed and informed decision that will lead to a happy, lifelong one Bonding with their dog results,” he noted.
For this study, published April 29 in the journal ScienceKarlsson and her colleagues sequenced the DNA of 2,155 dogs, including both purebred dogs and mongrel mutts.
Investigators then compared this data to more than 18,000 pet owner surveys from Darwin’s Ark, an open-source database of owner-reported dog traits and behaviors, to determine whether specific genetic traits matched specific behaviors.
“People are actually very good at letting us know about their dog’s behavior,” Karlsson said. “They spend a lot of time looking at it. And if you ask them, they’ll tell you, and they’ll tell you exactly.”
The researchers found that most behavioral traits can be inherited, but when they looked at mixed breed dogs, they found that specific genetics didn’t always affect an individual dog’s behavior.
Mutts showed that genes don’t always predict behavior
“Mutts were actually the perfect type of dog to assess breed-behavior associations because among these mutts you find dogs that are naturally mixed in their physical appearance, personality traits, disease risks and DNA,” said the lead researcher Kathleen Morrill, a graduate student at the University of Massachusetts.
For example, owners reported that Beagles as a breed are known to howl more, Labrador Retrievers tend to be more sociable with humans, and Border Collies are more responsive to commands from humans.
“If that’s actually a genetic trait,” Karlsson explained, “then if we look at the mixed breed dogs, we should see that dogs with more Beagle or Bloodhound ancestry — let’s say a dog that’s 70% Beagle versus a dog.” at 30% Beagle – we should see that these dogs are also more likely to be howlers because it is a genetic trait and they have more ancestors from that background.
It wasn’t that clear after all.
For example, the researchers found no significant impact of Labrador genetics on the average mongrel mutt’s tendency to socialize with people. On the other hand, Border Collie genetics have been linked to a tendency to take people’s lead.
“We have to accept that our dogs are individuals. Just like our children, yes, they come from the same parents, but they are not identical,” Karlsson said.
“If you talk to someone who has owned eight dogs of the same breed, they will give you all the reasons why all those dogs are different. You see this tremendous diversity within each breed,” added Karlsson. “And even if the average is different, you still have a really good chance of getting a dog that isn’t what people say this breed is supposed to be.”
“Purebred dogs have been selected in certain breeds, sometimes for centuries, to exhibit certain characteristics and perform certain functions,” Klein said. “They are ‘hardwired’ with certain traits and behaviors. However, no two dogs are identical in personality and behavior.”
The American Kennel Club has more on dog breeds.
SOURCES: Kathryn Lord, PhD, canine evolutionary biologist and postdoctoral researcher, University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School, Worcester, Mass.; Elinor Karlsson, PhD, Professor of Bioinformatics and Integrative Biology, University of Massachusetts, Chan Medical School, Worcester, Mass.; Jerry Klein, DVM, Chief Veterinary Officer, American Kennel Club; Kathleen Morrill, graduate student, University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School, Worcester, Mass.; ScienceApril 29, 2022 online