Every breed has its thing specific behaviour the discerning dog owner looks for in their canine companion.
If you want a hunting dog, get a Labrador. A family dog, get a Golden Retriever. If you want a guard dog, get a Rottweiler. But, as it turns out in a recent study published in Science. The breed may not be the best determiner of future dog skills.
To determine whether being a Chihuahua means being born a tiny sass machine, scientists have determined that dog breeds are not especially helpful in predicting the behaviour of an individual canine. Researchers collected 18,385 survey responses (along with 2,155 canine saliva samples). Through a citizen science project called Darwin’s Ark, dog owners found that breed only explains 9% of behaviour.
What the combination of genetic data revealed
The combination of the genetic and survey data also revealed that 11 regions of the dog genome are significantly associated with behaviour. Including whether the dog is a people-pleaser or a howler. Still, none of these genetic sites is specific to a breed. This suggests the majority of behaviours. Assumed to be characteristics of a particular dog type, actually predate the origin of the species.
Which makes sense with the history of dogs. Dogs, as in dogs and not wolves, emerged around 10,000 years ago, and humans began intentionally breeding dogs just 2,000 years ago. However, selecting dogs for specific traits, like hunting or looking fabulous in sweaters, developed only around 150 years ago during the Victorian era.
That behaviour could be created and then selected for in a breed within 150 years is a bit of a stretch. And, considering the American Kennel Club is consistently adding new species to their registry. Some breeds are known for a specific trait that has existed for less than a decade. It’s fair to say that it’s not technically the breed; it’s the predisposition.
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“Breed can certainly play a role in predisposing a dog to certain behaviours,”
Emma Grigg, an animal behaviourist and researcher at the University of California, Davis, spoke to MSNBC. However, whether or not you see those behaviours in the adult dog depends on many factors, with the environment playing a huge role. Many of the breed behavioural stereotypes put forth by breeding clubs are just not supported by data.
An essential point in consideration to breed-specific legislation, particularly for one of the most misrepresented breeds, the American Pit Bull. According to Mia Cobb, legislation banning the Pit Bull (whose breed status has been under some debate) is not based on Science. Researcher of animal welfare at the University of Melbourne in Australia.
“Any dog can be dangerous, regardless of size or breed background.” Cobb says, “Because of this, dogs should not be declared dangerous based on their appearance. Instead, they should always be judged as individuals based on their behaviour.”
Even dogs experience the world like anything else
And the most vital tool for determining the best dog for an owner’s needs is remembering that dogs are living beings and individuals, experiencing the world as anything else, and affected by that experience.
The breed can undoubtedly play a role in predisposing a dog to certain types of behaviours, said Emma Grigg. An animal behaviourist and researcher at the University of California. “Choose the individual, not the breed,” she said. “It is important to remember that all dogs, regardless of breed or mixed ancestry, are individuals. They will likely have their strengths and weaknesses, just like humans.”
Pure breed or fashion breed, mixed breed or rescue; the debate is not as necessary as once thought. After all, Science confirms that the best dog… could be any dog.