In a massive study of 18,385 dogs, owners were surveyed on eight behavioural factors to determine whether breed influences behavior. And the results were surprising! But is behavior linked to breed?
- New study suggests dog behavior is not linked to breed.
- Dogs are individuals.
- Why breed matters.
- What are the implications of this study?
New study suggests dog behavior is not linked to breed.
This study provides an important opportunity for us to consider the impact of breed on dog behavior and how we can use this knowledge to support dogs that don’t fit with a certain stereotype.
The study has some limitations in its methodology, but overall I believe it has opened up useful discussions about the role of genetics in influencing dog behavior.
I would encourage anyone interested in this topic to read the study in full, rather than relying on second-hand summaries, as there is a lot of misinformation being circulated about its findings. This study has been poorly represented in many of the summary articles I have seen.
The traits explored in the study are general behaviors, such as human sociability (how a dog behaves towards a stranger), and biddability (how readily a dog responds to human direction).
However, when people are considering a dog to fit their lifestyle, breed should ALWAYS be a consideration from the point of view of behavior, because our lives are much more nuanced than this study allows for.
Dogs are individuals.
All dogs are unique individuals, and within every breed, you will see outliers of behavior. Breed specific traits will be on a bell curve, with the majority of dogs within that breed showing that behavior, and the outliers at either end showing an over-amplified version of that behavior or none at all.
My breed is springer spaniels, and whilst I’ve no doubt that there are a small percentage of dogs within the breed who do not love playing ball, the vast majority would happily spend all day performing this behavior with some becoming completely obsessive over it.
Why breed matters.
This study does not change the fact that the majority of car chasing enquiries I receive are from border collie owners, or the highest proportion of resource guarding behaviors in my caseload are cocker spaniels.
That doesn’t mean all collies are car chasers, just as not all cocker spaniels resource guard, but these are those dogs at the far end of the bell curve with those over amplified behaviors which are influenced by their genetic breed traits.
Try teaching a chihuahua or a husky to herd sheep and then tell me that breed doesn’t influence behavior to a massive degree.
It’s like trying to play tennis with a basketball. A tennis ball and a basketball are both balls. They both display the behaviors of bouncing and rolling, but one is very obviously more suited to the purpose than the other.
Just as you don’t turn up to compete in track car racing with a 4wd, you won’t find many basset hounds competing in protection sports. Different dog breeds have different purposes and their breed traits reflect that.
To believe otherwise is to set new owners up to fail when their new friend displays the traits they have been selectively bred for many generations to display, and this conflicts with their situation and environment.
What are the implications of this study?
This study is a useful starting point, but it should not be the final word on how we understand canine behavior. Continuing to explore these questions will help us better support dogs, no matter what breed they come from.
So whilst I think this study has interesting implications for how we view the role of breed on general behaviors, I don’t believe it should be used as evidence to support the idea that breed is unimportant when choosing a new furry friend.
Breed DOES matter, genetics DO matter. To suggest otherwise will potentially add to the number of dog owners who find themselves in the awful position of having to re-home their new buddy because pup is unsuitable for their lifestyle.