Dogs’ Personalities Aren’t Determined by Their Breed

A new genetic study shows generalizing breeds as affectionate or aggressive doesn’t hold up

Many people have preconceived notions about different dog breeds’ behavioral quirks. Golden retrievers are seen as playful and affectionate, and pit bulls can be viewed as hostile and aggressive. Chihuahuas are labeled yappy and temperamental, whereas bulldogs are described as easygoing and sociable.

These behavioral stereotypes are ingrained in how many view breeds, from Great Danes to shih tzus. Before beginning work on dog behavior, “I really held this idea of breeds being different to be the truth,” says Kathleen Morrill, a dog geneticist at the University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School. “Every single book about breeds tells you that selecting a breed is the most important thing to consider when you’re getting a dog.”

To determine the impact of breed on behavior, Morrill and her co-authors surveyed the owners of 18,385 dogs on Darwin’s Ark, a community science initiative where people can report their pet’s behaviors. For this project, the researchers asked the owners more than 100 questions relating to everything from a dog’s physical size and color to its sociability and lifestyle.

Though purebreds often take best in show in dog shows and dominate genetic studies, this study’s data set mirrored the fact that a majority of the world’s domestic canines are mutts. Half of the owners surveyed had mixed-breed dogs, which represented a complex assortment of different breeds and potential behaviors.

The researchers surveyed more than 18,000 dog owners and analyzed the genomes of about 2,150 of their dogs to look for patterns. They found that some behaviors — such as howling, pointing and showing friendliness to human strangers —do have at least some genetic basis. But that inheritance isn’t strictly passed down along breed lines. For example, they found golden retrievers that don’t retrieve, said co-author Kathryn Lord, who studies animal behavior with Karlsson.

Some breeds, such as huskies and beagles, may show a greater tendency to howl. But many of these dogs don’t, as both the owner survey and genetic data showed. The researchers could find no genetic basis for aggressive behaviors nor a link to specific breeds. “The correlation between dog behavior and dog breed is much lower than most expected,” said Jeff Kidd, a geneticist at the University of Michigan, who had no role in the research.


Source: Scientific American and Huffington Post