Breed accounts for less than 10% of a dog’s behavior | Science | In depth reports on science and technology | D.W.

When we think of dog breeds, our minds can jump to stereotypes: golden retrievers are friendly, pit bulls are aggressive, and border collies are hyperactive.

But it turns out that most of these assumptions are probably false. Researchers from the University of Massachusetts Chan School of Medicine, the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard Universities, and the Darwin’s Ark Foundation have found that dog breed is not a general indication of a dog’s personality.

Most of what we know about dog behavior is based on anecdotal evidence and stereotypes. But the study explored canine genetics, sequencing the DNA of 2,155 dogs and surveying the owners of 18,385 dogs.

And the researchers found that behavior can only be predicted in 9% of breeds.

“Dog appearance won’t really tell you how a dog acts,” said Marjie Alonso, one of the study’s authors.

A Labrador Retriever lying on the ground in the woods

Dogs are individuals, researchers in a new study say, advising potential owners to choose their pets based on personal compatibility rather than breed.

Origins of the domesticated dog

Before dogs were dogs, as we know them today, they were wolves. Wolves morphed into dogs over the millennia and only started being bred by people, like golden retrievers or pugs, for example, in the last few hundred years.

Kathryn Lord, who also worked on the study, says that dogs are descended from wolves that survived in the early years of human civilization by feeding on the garbage created by people.

As wolves/dogs began to live closer to and with humans, Lord says they probably adopted us, not the other way around.

And soon people realized that dogs could be very useful. They could be used to bark at predators or herd sheep, for example.

“People may have started some sort of selection process, but it wasn’t what we think of as breeding today,” Lord said. “It was more like, ‘This dog is doing a great job, so I’m going to give him more food.'”

So that dog was more likely to survive, reproduce, and pass on its traits to a new generation.

Heritability: genes play a role

Modern breeding tends to focus on a breed’s appearance, the researchers write. Meanwhile, a dog’s behavior stems from thousands of years of dogs adapting to their environment and the people around them.

Some character traits such as “offering ability” (a dog’s ability to respond to commands or its propensity to howl) can be linked to breed, but it is difficult to precisely link traits such as aggressiveness to breeding.

The researchers say that aggression has more to do with the environment a dog is raised in than its genes.

So while you’re unlikely to find a Chihuahua-sized Great Dane or a Great Dane-sized Chihuahua, you might find Chihuahuas that behave like Great Danes and vice versa, said Elinor Karlsson, co-lead author of the study. .

dog brushing his hair

Much of a dog’s personality depends on its training, researchers say

Breed ban by law

There are laws that prohibit people from owning certain breeds of dogs and other laws that mean owners of stereotypically dangerous dogs pay higher insurance premiums.

The United States has a number of state and municipal laws that prohibit people from owning certain breeds, and Germany bans four terrier breeds from entering the country: the Bull Terrier, the Pit Bull Terrier, the American Staffordshire Terrier, and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier.

Based on his research, Karlsson says breed-specific legislation “doesn’t make sense.” But there may be other reasons to legislate on breeding.

“It’s essentially inbreeding,” Karlsson said. “Reduce the amount of diversity in your population to get something you want out of it. And that’s not a healthy thing for the most part. The less diversity you have in the population, the more inbred the animals are and the more likely they are to suffer from genetic diseases.” “.

It seems that diseases can be “captured” in a breed in the same way as behaviors.

“If you start a breed with eight dogs and one of those dogs inherited something from his parents that puts him at a very high risk of developing cancer, that’s one in eight dogs,” Karlsson said. “When his breed grows to 100,000 dogs, he may still be one in eight dogs and then he has a cancer problem in his breed.”

Edited by: Zulfikar Abbany

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