Over thousands of years of business friendship between humans and dogs, we have successfully created about 350 different breeds. We’ve relied on terriers for hunting, sheepdogs for herding and all for companionship – but how much are dog personalities defined by their breed? In a new paper, US researchers looked at the genetic codes of more than 4,000 different dogs and interviewed 46,000 pet owners. They identified many genes associated with behaviors typical of certain breeds, such as terriers’ tendency to catch and kill prey.
Their findings ultimately suggest that breed type does indeed explain many aspects of a dog’s unique personality.
But dog owners also play a huge role in training their dog. dog personality – for example if they are playful, tolerant towards others, attention seeking or quick to bark. So let’s take a closer look at how you can raise a good canine citizen.
What the research found
dog breeds are a fascinating window into selective breeding, and some behavioral patterns we see in different breed groups – for example, breeding and retrieval – are difficult to explain. The new US paper gives us clues as to how some of these patterns may have emerged.
The researchers analyzed DNA samples from more than 200 dog breeds. Based on DNA data, they were able to narrow them down to ten major genetic lines, including Terriers, Shepherds, Retrievers, Greyhounds, Greyhounds, and Pointer/Spaniels.
Each lineage corresponds to a category of breeds historically used for tasks such as hunting by smell versus sight or herding versus protecting livestock.
This means that breeds that are not closely related, but bred for the same purpose, may share common sets of genes. It has been very difficult to show in the past.
For example, the article identifies herding breeds, such as Kelpies or Border Collies, characterized by high “unsocial fear”, that is, fear of environmental stimuli such as loud noises, wind or vehicles. Terriers, such as Jack Russells, are characterized by high predatory hunting. And hunting dogs, like Beagles, by their low trainability.
These correspond to the reason these dogs were bred: herding breeds for their high environmental awareness and sensitivity, terriers for hunting and killing prey, and gun dogs for their independent focus on cues. non-visual (odor).
Researchers look more closely at herders, due to their easily identifiable and usually innate herding behavior.
Interestingly, the gene found common in sheepdogs – called EPHA5 – has also been linked to anxious behaviors in other mammals, as well as attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in humans. The research team says this could explain the breed’s high energy and tendency to focus on tasks.
What dog owners need to know
The fact that dog behavior varies by breed has been generally accepted by researchers for some time, to varying degrees. But it’s important not to overlook how a dog’s upbringing can also shape their personality.
In fact, a different genetic study earlier this year suggested that while a dog’s lineage is a behavioral influencing factor, it’s probably not the most important one.
These researchers point out that dog behavior is influenced by many different genes that existed in dogs before breeds developed, and these genes are present in all breeds. They argue that modern breeds are primarily distinguished by their appearance and that their behavior is probably more strongly influenced by environmental factors such as upbringing and learning than genetics.
So what does this mean for dog owners? Although a dog’s behavior is influenced by its breed, we can do a lot to shape a good canine companion.
This work is particularly important during the first one to two years of a dog’s life, starting with early socialization as a puppy.
They should be exposed to all the stimuli we want them to grow into accepting, such as children, vehicles, other animals, pedestrian malls, weekend sports, travel, and grooming.
We must then continue to train and guide the dogs to behave in a way that keeps them and others safe as they grow. Just as human children and teenagers need guidance to learn how to make good decisions and get along with others, our dogs need the same guidance from adolescence through adulthood (usually around the age of two years).
While breed alone may not be a good predictor of a dog’s behavior, it’s certainly a good idea to pay attention to why the breeds were originally bred. The new study supports this sentiment. Those behavioral patterns that helped dogs do their original job for humans are likely still strong in the population.
This means that if you already own backyard chickens or pets like rabbits, think carefully before adopting a terrier and plan what you will do if the terrier wants to chase your small animals.
If you live in the city or in an apartment building where the environment is constantly busy, this is likely to be very difficult for a shepherd breed. And if you want a super sensitive dog of your own, hounds are probably not a good bet.
Choosing a dog that will suit your lifestyle is a game of probability. It is perfectly possible to find a hound that is very responsive and trainable, or a terrier that can live peacefully with, say, house rats.
But if that’s something you specifically need from a dog, play the odds by starting with a breed developed for that lifestyle. Then devote a lot of time and effort to socialization and training.
Dogs are mostly what we make of them, and they make the effort we put into their behavior increase tenfold.
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