Listen up insurance companies that discriminate against dog breeds: New scientific research has recently revealed that in modern times a dog’s breed has relatively little correlation with an individual dog’s behavior. Additionally, the study found that behavioral traits do not define breeds the way aesthetic traits like size do…
To investigate how genetics aligns with breed characteristics, scientists sequenced the DNA of 2,155 purebred and mixed-breed dogs. These data, coupled with owner surveys–18,385 dogs (49% purebred)–were used to map genes associated with behavioral and physical traits.
The researchers found that most behavioral traits are heritable [heritability (h2) > 25%], but behavior only subtly differentiates breeds. Breed offers little predictive value for individuals, explaining just 9% of variation in behavior. For more heritable, more breed-differentiated traits, like biddability (responsiveness to direction and commands), knowing breed ancestry can make behavioral predictions somewhat more accurate. For less heritable, less breed-differentiated traits, like agonistic threshold (how easily a dog is provoked by frightening or uncomfortable stimuli), breed is almost uninformative.
“Although many physical traits were associated with breeds, behavior was much more variable among individual dogs. In general, physical trait heritability was a greater predictor of breed–but was not necessarily a predictor of breed ancestry in mutts. Among behavioral traits, biddability—how well dogs respond to human direction—was the most heritable by breed but varied significantly among individual dogs. Thus, dog breed is generally a poor predictor of individual behavior and should not be used to inform decisions relating to selection of a pet dog.” (source)
For some behavioral traits like human sociability, the scientists found no significant effect…
According to the study’s scientists: “Behavioral characteristics ascribed to modern breeds are polygenic, environmentally influenced, and found, at varying prevalence, in all breeds. We propose that behaviors perceived as characteristic of modern breeds derive from thousands of years of polygenic adaptation that predates breed formation, with modern breeds distinguished primarily by aesthetic traits. By embracing the full diversity of dogs—including purebred dogs, mixed-breed dogs, purpose-bred working dogs, and village dogs—we can fully realize dogs’ long-recognized potential as a natural model for genetic discovery.” (source)
Journal reference: Morrill, K., et al. Ancestry-inclusive dog genomics challenges popular breed stereotypes, Science, 29 Apr 2022, Vol 376, Issue 6592. DOI: 10.1126/science.abk0639