Does a dog’s breed predict its personality? Well, not so much. As pet owners know, every dog has its own personality, regardless of breed.
Not all retrievers like to retrieve. Not all hoarse howls. Not all hunting dogs want to hunt. Not all large dogs are aggressive. In fact, most dogs, big and small, are happy, friendly members of their human family.
According to a UMass Chan Medical School study recently published in the journal Science, at https://www.umassmed.edu/news/news-archives/2022/04/umass-chan-study-shows-canine-behavior-only-slightly-influenced-by-breed/ , canine behavior is only slightly influenced by the breed of the dog. Additionally, the researchers found that the aggressive behavior had no genetic basis or connection to specific breeds.
Data from Darwin’s Ark, https://darwinsark.org, provided over 18,000 landlord surveys as well as DNA samples submitted by landlords for this study. The data identified 11 locations strongly associated with the behavior but none are tied to a specific breed.
The lead author of this study, Dr. Elinor Karlsson, observed, “For the most part, purebreds are only subtly different from other dogs. A golden retriever is only slightly more likely to be friendlier than a mixed breed dog or another purebred dog, such as a dachshund.
In terms of evolution, dog breeds are a relatively recent phenomenon. Genetic research shows that the transition from wolf to dog began 15,000 to 23,000 years ago, while intentional breeding to produce herding, hunting or guard dogs began as recently as 2,000 year. More selective breeding for physical and aesthetic traits commonly associated with modern “pure” breeds did not begin until the 1800s.
In the final analysis, a dog’s personality is a combination of nature and nurture – the genetic nature of a dog and its nurturing environment. This is something pet owners have always known, but it’s good to know that scientists agree!
Launched in 2015, Darwin’s Ark is a non-profit partnership integrating citizen science, cutting-edge technology and academic expertise to improve the lives of people and pets. It is made up of members from UMass Chan Medical School, the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. As an open science project, all data is shared with researchers around the world.
Current projects include working dogs, ticks and Lyme disease, comparing human and canine cancers and their treatments, and understanding the influence of genetics on feline health and behavior.
Interested in learning more and perhaps becoming a Citizen Scientist by participating in Darwin’s Ark genomics research? Go to https://darwinsark.org/about-us/.
Suzi Johnson has extensive experience breeding all kinds of dogs and knows that breed does not predict a dog’s personality. She also knows that bully breeds, like her own dogs, Smiley and Annie, who have helped her foster dogs find new homes, are often judged harshly by people unfamiliar with “bully breeds.”
“Smiley and Annie have helped me foster hundreds of foster dogs and puppies,” notes Suzi, “including medical, investigative, or forfeiture cases. I even had three litters born in my home. Bully have probably been 70% of my foster families.In my 30 years in foster care I have been bitten five times. Never has a pittie bit me! Please don’t believe the unhappiness and sadness you hear about these ‘raw breed’ dogs. They are the most affectionate dogs ever.
“Smiley: Front Street’s first ‘family failure’ in 2005. He wandered in and ‘smiled’ from ear to ear. It was called a smile of submission but it was a real smile to all who loved him. He was a 75 pound companion dog who loved everyone. I thought he was a Lab/pit, because he definitely had a more Lab shaped head and body, so I had his DNA done and he came back as an American pit bull terrier. I doubt it, but I never tested it again. RIP Dec 30. 2020, at 15 years old.
“Annie: Chako Pit Bull Rescue’s Second ‘Failed Foster Care’. She and four siblings were left at a dog park. All the puppies were adopted but she was later sent away because the man’s wife didn’t want another dog. My friend said, “Give it to me. I know who will take it. Yeah! She was 5 weeks old, red and white. I thought she might be Boston terrier because she was all head. DNA indicated 91% American Staffordshire terrier and 9% bull terrier. I think it’s pretty close – 43 pounds of wiggle! She will be 8 years old in October.
— Evelyn Dale of Davis is a shelter animal welfare volunteer and advocate. Contact her at pattespourpensé[email protected] This column appears monthly.