Genetic material from more than 2000 animals: a dog’s breed has little influence on behavior

Genetic material from more than 2000 animals
A dog’s breed has little influence on behavior

Golden retrievers are family dogs and pit bulls are often aggressive: according to an American study, these are just stereotypes without any scientific basis. Behavioral differences in dogs can hardly be predicted from the genome. But sociability is “incredibly hereditary”.

A dog’s breed has little impact on its personality traits. This is the result of a study published in the journal “Science”. “Although genetics plays a role in a dog’s personality, a specific breed of dog is not a good predictor of these traits,” said study author Elinor Karlsson of MIT’s Broad Institute and from Harvard. “The defining criteria of a Golden Retriever are its physical characteristics – the shape of its ears, the color and texture of its coat, its size – not whether it is friendly.”

For their study, a research team looked at the genomes of 2,155 purebred and mixed-breed dogs. They searched for common genetic variations that might predict behavior. The scientists combined this data with surveys of dog owners. Among other things, the question was how well dogs obey commands, how comfortable dogs feel around people, including strangers, and how they handle toys.

Race determines only 9% of behavioral differences

In total, the research team identified eleven regions of the canine genome that are linked to behavioral differences. Researchers have found certain patterns – for example, beagles and bloodhounds howl more often, while border collies are particularly obedient; but there were always exceptions. According to the researchers, the canine race finally explains only 9% of the behavioral differences. Age is therefore much better suited to predict a dog’s behavior. Dog breed was five times more predictive of physical traits than behavior.

During their investigation, the experts made other interesting discoveries. So the sociability of dogs in their relationships with humans is “incredibly inherited,” even if not determined by breed, said study author Kathleen Morrill. The researchers found a section in the dogs’ DNA that could explain 4% of the differences in sociability. A comparable farewell in the human genome is therefore responsible for the formation of long-term memory.

According to Morrill, research on dogs could also help understand how the human brain develops and learns – and also provide a better understanding of mental and behavioral issues in humans. But: “We’re still scratching the surface,” Morrill said.

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