Does a dog’s breed predict its behavior?

There are approximately 350 recognized dog breeds in the world today that serve many purposes, from herding to working guard to hunting and beyond. Dogs were the first domesticated animals (this occurred approximately 15,000 to 40,000 years ago) and have the most variation in appearance/structure as well as behavioral traits of any land mammal. Modern dog breeds are only about 160 years old, which is a lot of structural and behavioral changes in a very short time!

The most likely behavioral trait a dog can inherit based on its breed is the ability to follow human direction. That being said, the strength of this ability depends entirely on the dog as an individual. For this reason, a dog’s breed is generally a poor indicator of an individual’s behavior. There is so much variation when it comes to a dog’s individual levels of affection towards humans, ability to follow human direction, prey drive, interest in play, etc.

According to a recent study in which the DNA of 2,100 dogs was sequenced, breed only explains about 9% of the variation in behavior, meaning that breed offers little predictive value for individuals. For behaviors that can be inherited genetically (such as a dog’s ability to follow human direction), knowing the breed(s) that make up an individual can be valuable information in predicting behavior. For behaviors that are less likely to be inherited genetically and less likely to differ between breeds (such as how easily a dog is provoked by something frightening or uncomfortable), know which breed(s) s) compose an individual provides almost no information.

Canine behavioral characteristics can be based on more than one gene in their makeup, are influenced by what is happening in their environment, and are found at different levels in all breeds. The researchers concluded that behaviors that are generally seen as a known trait of certain breeds were instead developed over the thousands of years before the breeds were created. Modern breeds are distinguished primarily by their appearance (their size, color, nose length, etc.).

Resources:

https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.abk0639

https://www.cell.com/ajhg/pdf/S0002-9297(07)00027-4.pdf


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