Don’t believe the stereotype: dog breed myths debunked
If you have a canine office buddy ( or are considering adopting one) you may be surprised by a new study that challenges dog breed reputations
Any unsuspecting delivery person or postman walking up our drive would think we have a jowly, droopy-eyed bloodhound in the house. We don’t. The bark does not match the dog. How can I put this? It’s like watching Dolly Parton dubbed in Spanish. Looks like Dolly, but doesn’t sound like the original version.
True to her US southern roots, though, our youngest of two Golden Retrievers has a distinctive “hound-like” bark. The emanation of said bark has been a mystery for our family, despite the breeder and our vet assuring us she was purebred. Our older English Golden, however, has a bark bespoke to her breed.
Both our Goldens have the sweetest of natures and love kids. Both are the epitome of the “family dog,” which has long been associated with their breed.
Breed: yours may be barking up the wrong tree
But it would seem this Golden Retriever “behaviour” probably isn’t due to their breed at all, according to a large-scale genetic study.
The findings, said a New Scientist report, suggest that stereotypes associated with certain breeds have “little basis”.
Kathleen Morrill at the University of Massachusetts and her colleagues studied the DNA of more than 2000 dogs using a genome-wide analysis to determine if any common genetic variations could be linked to behaviours typically associated with particular dog types. For example, could genetics explain why Rottweilers often seem so aggressive?
For our data analyst readers, the chart below offers some insights. For the rest of us, we’ll just enjoy the puppy illustrations.
Fig. 2. Behavioural traits do not define breeds the way aesthetic traits like size do.
(A) Exploratory factor analysis bins behavioural questions into eight inferred factors, which correspond to latent behavioural propensities (blue, negative score; red, positive score). (B) In a series of seven analyses, researchers explored how behaviour relates to breed in the context of size, which is a strongly breed-differentiated trait. For each column, circle size is proportional to the minimum-maximum normalized values of (i) LD-corrected h2SNP, (ii) effect size of breed in ANOVA (confirmed breed), (iii) standard deviation of PPS (candidate breeds), (iv) standard deviation of LMER t scores, (v) −log10(minimum p) for MLMA, (vi) fraction of breeds with significant overlap (pFDR < 0.05) between PBS and GWAS, and (vii) maximum MAGMA log10(p) for 13 brain regions in GTEx (85).
The researchers combined this analysis with survey responses from the owners of more than 18,000 dogs, mostly from the US, who had been asked to detail the behaviour of their pets.
By differentiating traits between pure-bred and cross-bred dogs Morrill and the team were able to see whether ancestry from a given breed correlates with behaviour and find out which inheritable behaviours are dependent or independent from breed, the New Scientist report explained.
For example, if howling in bloodhounds is genetic, a cross-bred dog that is 70 per cent bloodhound is also likely to howl, according to Morrill.
However, the team found that, on average, breed explained just 9 per cent of any individual behavioural trait, suggesting there isn’t a clear genetic basis for dog behaviour. Surprisingly, human sociability and Labrador retriever ancestry found no significant effect.
What about leaning on anyone that comes in the front door and then shamelessly insisting on a belly rub? Or ignoring your human’s calls that it is time to come back in from the sea now (because even the kids are ready to go home)? Are these not the tell-tale traits of the water-loving Golden Retriever breed?
It seems the findings indicate that no behaviour is unique to any one breed and that there is a lot of variability in behaviour within breeds.
Then there’s hope for some. There’s a poodle out there gasping for the chance to compete in sheep herding trials, and now they (and their owners) have the science to say they can do it.
“Each dog is a study of one,” says Elinor Karlsson at the Broad Institute in Massachusetts, who is a co-author of the study. “People are just very good at finding patterns when they’re not there.”
Well, despite the findings, I am not fully convinced. If a young family were looking to adopt a dog and asked what the best breed would be, 9 out of 10 times I would suggest a Golden Retriever. The other response would be a Golden Retriever with a dash of suspected Hound for good measure and a penchant for southern hospitality.
Looking for a dog breed that might be a good work-from-home companion or office buddy? In other words, pretty chilled out, then here’s a list. But after reading the study above, you might just go with the dog that melts your heart at first sight.
- Tibetan Spaniel
- Smooth Collie
But be prepared for the unexpected (and not so welcome behaviours) if taking your dog into the office