Poodles and the Pekingese are two examples of dog breeds whose primary focus is on looks. However, there are also more breeds, like as racing greyhounds, that are committed to certain duties. Many of these duties need more than just physical appearance; behavior is also important, such as herding by different sheepdog breeds or fetching by different retrievers.
The fact that many people attribute these behaviors—as well as a slew of other, less helpful ones—to their dog’s breed and underlying DNA is not unexpected. A significant group of researchers located in the United States has now investigated whether or not this idea is correct. And, with a few exceptions, they discover that this is not the case. They demonstrate, using a large panel of volunteer dog owners, that the genetics of canine behavior is formed from a large number of small, weak factors, and that every breed appears to have some individuals that just do not behave as we would anticipate.
Darwin introduces himself to the canines.
Darwin’s Ark, a citizen science initiative, served as the inspiration for this piece. Those who took part were asked to provide information about their dogs, including whether or not they belonged to a recognized breed (either certified or inferred). As part of the study, they were asked to complete brief surveys that questioned about 117 distinct behaviors in aggregate. In total, they collected information on over 18,000 dogs, with almost half of them being purebreds.
It was paired with genetic data, including previously released genome sequences from more than 500 purebred dogs, to produce a comprehensive picture of the dogs’ health. Complete genome sequences for 27 mixed-breed dogs, generally referred to as “Mendel’s mutts,” were obtained by the researchers of the current study, which contributed to the previously collected data. An extra 2,000 dogs and their owners who participated in the behavioral assessments were subjected to a less extensive genome sequencing procedure.
Individual breeds are primarily inbred, as predicted by the DNA research, according to the findings (the significant exception was the Tibetan mastiff, which is distantly related to most modern dog breeds and was left out of these analyses). There were few genetic mutations that were unique to a particular breed, despite the inbreeding. Only 332 unique variations were discovered in a single breed out of almost 17,000 total variants examined.
The research team discovered that the majority of dog owners were aware of their dog’s breed (unless it was a mutt). Approximately 90 percent of the dogs that were verified as belonging to a breed looked to share 85 percent or more of their DNA with purebred members of that breed, according to the results of the study. For dogs that were not born from a certified breeding program, this figure plummeted to around 60%.
According to the findings of this study, the researchers corroborated previously published findings that numerous physical characteristics, such as leg length and coat qualities, had a strong hereditary component.
A pair of approaches were used by the researchers to investigate the genetics of behavior. Another task was examining each survey question and seeing if any of the responses were connected with any of the survey questions’ respective genetic variations or not. Because of this strategy, they discovered an entertaining result: “gets trapped behind things” was the individual behavior with the strongest genetic relationship, which they tracked down to a tiny section of the genome that has a gene connected with cognitive ability in humans. Howling ended up in a location that was close to a gene that was important in the development of human language.
Also included were questions about general behavioral tendencies, such as the readiness and ability to obey human commands, friendliness toward other dogs, and a need for human contact, which were grouped together. There was a considerable genetic component to many of them, with genetics accounting for 25 percent or more of the variations in human sociability, toy-directed behavior, ability and interest in responding to orders, among other traits. Mutts showed genetic influences on just about 9 percent of their behavioral inclinations, with genetic influences only accounting for around 9 percent of their overall behavioral tendencies.
The researchers compared the breed/behavior linkage of members of a breed to the same linkage in dogs randomly selected from the entire population in order to determine whether any of these behaviors were associated with specific breeds. The overall impression was that there wasn’t much there. Only 5 percent of the breed-behavior combinations were found to be statistically significant, compared to approximately 40 percent of the breed-appearance combinations.
Border collies (a kind of herding dog) are often strong at following human orders, and this is one of the clearest correlations. One of the difficulties appears to be that there are exceptions for every possible behavior. Greyhounds, for example, do not appear to bury their toys in the majority of cases, but three of them did so on a regular basis. As a result, even if a trait has a high tendency to be linked with a certain breed, the breed hasn’t been bred for that feature for long enough to entirely eliminate the undesirable behavior.