Dog breed doesn’t determine personality, behavior, University of Massachusetts study finds in Science journal report

Dog lovers, you probably already know this. But now research has confirmed that a given dog’s personality is based on far more than its breed.

That might not jibe with popular stereotypes about the behavior of, say, golden retrievers, poodles or schnauzers, but those aren’t supported by science, according to a new study.

“There is a huge amount of behavioral variation in every breed, and, at the end of the day, every dog really is an individual,” said University of Massachusetts geneticist Elinor Karlsson, co-author of the study, published in the journal Science.

Karlsson wanted to know to what extent behavioral patterns in pooches are inherited and how much dog breeds really can be associated with distinctive and predictable behaviors.?

The answer: While physical traits such as a greyhound’s long legs or a Dalmatian’s spots clearly are inherited, breed is not a strong predictor of any individual dog’s personality.

The researchers’ work marshals a massive dataset to reach that conclusion — the most such data ever compiled, according to Adam Boyko, a Cornell University geneticist who wasn’t involved in the study.

Dogs became humanity’s best friend more than 14,000 years ago, as the only animal domesticated before the advent of agriculture. But the concept of dog breeds is much more recent. About 160 years ago, people began to selectively breed dogs to have certain consistent physical traits, like coat texture and color and ear shape.

To determine whether the breeds that have resulted are linked to behavior, the researchers surveyed more than 18,000 dog owners and analyzed the genomes of about 2,150 of their dogs to look for patterns.

They found that some behaviors — such as howling, pointing and showing friendliness to human strangers — do have at least some genetic basis.

But that inheritance isn’t strictly passed down along breed lines. For instance, they found golden retrievers that don’t retrieve, said co-author Kathryn Lord, who studies animal behavior with Karlsson.

Some breeds, like huskies and beagles, might show a greater tendency to howl. But many of these dogs don’t, as the owner survey and the genetic data showed.

The researchers could find no genetic basis for aggressive behaviors nor any link to specific breeds.

“The correlation between dog behavior and dog breed is much lower than most expected,” said Jeff Kidd, a University of Michigan geneticist who wasn’t involved in the research.

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