Genes Over Breed: Hidden Truth of a Dog's Behavior


| LAST UPDATE 12/11/2022

By Daria Appleby
Dog Behavior DNA Genetics
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Dog breeding has been a budding business for over 2,000 years. The idea of reproducing the same dog over and over again has grown into a practice where people can genetically choose which type of dog they want to fund. Specifically, most people choose their breed based on stereotypical behaviors. However, a new study of 4,000 purebred, mixed-breed, and wild dogs has found behavior stemming from elsewhere.

Depending on the breed, there are various dogs with typical behavior characteristics. For example, breeds such as bulldogs, boxers, and rottweilers have displayed the most ferocious and dangerous of behaviors, marking them as high-alert dogs. On the other hand, dogs such as golden retrievers, Irish setters, and beagles have proved to be the most family-friendly and safe dogs. So, in retrospect, this makes it a pretty obvious decision when it comes to choosing a pet. For security purposes, the others have more value and are trained in a specific way. However, the word trained should be used lightly. Considering dogs can either be purebred or mixed, the combination of genes contributes to overall behavior. According to LiveScience, when researchers compared the DNA of various animals, they found "genetic variations appeared in clusters around different types of dogs. These clusters contained dog breeds that all had one thing in common: the role their ancestors played in human history."

Dog Behavior DNA Genetics
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Researchers from the study explained, "Humans have employed dogs for thousands of years to perform tasks such as herding livestock, killing vermin, hunting, pulling loads, guarding, and companionship... To produce dogs that will [perform these roles] reliably, humans have selectively bred toward a variety of behavioral ideals." Hence, humans primarily select their dogs based on breeds. However, when comparing with breeds from 10,000 years ago, a DNA analysis revealed: "10 genetic lineages from which modern dogs descend: the scent hound, pointer-spaniel, retriever, terrier, herder, sled, African and Middle Eastern, Asian spitz, dingo, and sighthound." It was these few breeds that reproduced and altered behaviors over time. The study also found heart-related reasons that produced certain behaviors, known as "junk DNA." Moreover, a study devised by Kathleen Morrill found common behaviors among a variety of breeds which only then produced stereotypes in breeds. Morrill explained, "It's not as simple as 'all retrievers have a retrieving gene,' or that broad behaviors, like aggression, are genetically ingrained into certain breeds."

Overall, while we believe each breed has its specific character and persona, this is not the case. Instead, Morrill classifies breed behaviors with regard to the "genetic complexity of dogs." The constant mixture of breeds combined with the nurture of the owner will only produce a wider variety of behaviors, while only those who have been kept in the same DNA of dog genetics will display the behaviors we're used to.

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