Does Dog Breed Affect Behavior? In a Word, Yes.

Are there behavioral ties among canine “families,” or breed lineages, similar to those seen in human genealogy? Over the years, many studies have discovered that a person’s unique behavioral and psychological traits are influenced by their genes. However, is this also the case for dog breed lineages? It has been established by researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that breed groups, or lineages, of dogs do indeed share behavioral traits.

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Another research, which was published on, examined whether a dog’s personality is influenced by their breed using community science data that was obtained from Darwin’s Ark. It’s a well-known issue that is frequently examined and reconsidered, but why is it so difficult?

Comprehending the Intricacies of Ancestry

Numerous media sources will oversimplify these research, which point in one or both directions. Sadly, it’s not nearly as easy as you may believe.

“I believe it’s risky to tell someone that getting a dog of any breed is fine… Dr. Jessica Hekman, co-author of the report, said, “I’m really concerned about some of the messaging that’s out there about this paper.” The original goal of the study, according to Dr. Hekman, was to “not provide guidance for people buying pets,” but rather to add to the body of scientific knowledge concerning the behavior of dogs. This was stated to the American Kennel Club.

It goes beyond a nature vs. nurture debate. Breeds and genetics have a significant role in dog behavior, but socialization is also essential for bringing out the best in each dog and its own personality.

Research Indicates Breed Lineage Affects Behavior

Based on DNA data, NIH researchers discovered that the following ten dog breed “families” may be distinguished from one another: scenthound, pointer-spaniel, terrier, retriever, sled dog, African and Middle Eastern, Asian spitz, dingo, and sighthound.

The breeds that fall under the category of “sighthounds” were the most surprising discovery. It turns out that they are composed of two kinds, which these experts refer to as sighthounds, that are genetically unrelated. This category, which is primarily of European descent, includes African and Middle Eastern canines, such as Afghan Hounds and Pharaoh Hounds, in addition to breeds like the Borzoi.

Certain lineages seem to have given rise to others based on DNA. For instance, breeds that protect animals led to the development of mastiffs on one route and cattle drovers and heelers on another, which led to the development of sheepdog breeds.

Most dog breeds were created via functional selection rather than aesthetics. Still, those initial functional distinctions are there today.

Data on each dog’s breed and pedigree were compared by the researchers from over 40,000 surveys completed by dog owners. The Canine Behavioral Assessment and Research Questionnaire (C-BARQ), a tool used in several canine behavior studies, was given to owners to complete. They used that information to determine 14 behavior scores for every purebred dog: non-social fear, familiar dog aggression, touch sensitivity, predatory chasing, dog-directed fear, excitability, owner-directed aggression, separation-related issues, trainability, attachment and attention-seeking, and dog-directed fear.

Family History Supports the Goals of Breeds

This study clarified numerous behaviors that dog specialists had long believed to be true and revealed a great deal about the ancestry of dog breeds. It also provided light on other topics. They discovered that breeds with herder, pointer-spaniel, and retriever ancestry tended to be more trainable. When herding cattle or finding, flushing, or retrieving birds, these breeds must pay attention to the instructions given by their handlers.

The scenthound lineage and trainability showed the most negative association. The findings suggested that training dogs from these lineages may be more difficult. When tracking, these breeds have a tendency to “follow their noses,” disregarding human instructions. Their ancestry shows their well-known independence.

Conversely, it was discovered that Sheepdogs and Retrievers are both less difficult to teach. These breeds are less aggressive and have lower prey drives. They pay more attention to instructions from their handlers on where to find a fallen bird or where to herd them. It is also required of retrievers to return birds without causing harm to them; they do not assault cattle or other prey animals.

The highest dog-directed hostility and predatory tendencies were observed in terrier breeds. Because their duty is to hunt rats, foxes, and other small creatures with courage, terriers need to be tough and never give up. It has been discovered that terriers and scenthounds require constant awareness of their environment and exhibit higher levels of non-social fears—fears of things and circumstances rather than people.

Dogs from the herding ancestry showed the highest level of non-social fear, despite their heightened dread. Herding canines are thought to be hyper-aware of environmental cues in order to herd more successfully, according to research theories. But, this hypervigilance can also increase their susceptibility to certain fears, like a fear of thunderstorms.

It has been discovered that companion and toy dogs exhibit higher levels of non-social and social dread. These anxieties make sense, particularly when everything and everyone around you seems so much larger than you.

Differing Behavioral Tendencies Among Breeds

It appears that genes contribute to the diverse behaviors seen in various lineages. The next task for the researchers was to identify the genes that consistently correlated with the various behavioral inclinations. They achieved this by determining the top 100 chromosomal positions (referred to as “loci”) that are connected to the gene variations or alleles in each lineage. Over 85% of the loci were determined to be exclusive to one lineage.

It’s interesting to note that ancient gray wolves also carried these genes, but to a lesser extent. This implies that before dog breeds were created, gray wolves have these same genes (as well as these similar characteristics). Furthermore, this suggests that early humans deliberately selected for preexisting behavioral traits in order to produce canines with distinct characteristics. Gray wolves and herders shared the greatest number of these behavioral alleles, followed by terrier and Asian spitz lineages.

How do behavioural differences arise from genetic variations? The scientists looked for variations in the nerve and brain systems that may be linked to variations in behavior and genetics. It was discovered that 14 gene variations, which may be significant for brain connections, were present in herding dogs. These genes were found in close proximity to genes critical for developing inter-brain communication. Some behaviors cannot occur if specific brain regions are unable to interact with one another.

The development of social cognition—the ability to see, comprehend, and react to cues associated with social groups—as well as acquired fear responses depend on other gene polymorphisms that are more prevalent in herders. Additionally, the development of precise movements and binocular vision—processes that enable the brain to combine information from both eyes—may be aided by these gene polymorphisms.