From the wild belief that Labradors are the friendliest and most active dogs to the idea that Dalmatians are incredibly stubborn, reputation often goes by the dogs themselves.
According to a genetic analysis that investigated more than 2,000 purebred and mixed breed dogs and answers from dog ownersdog behavior traits are do not specific to their races. The study published Thursday found that the predictive value of what determines each dog’s personality traits is particularly narrow. In short, the stereotypes attributed to dogs based on their breeding are more or less a myth.
Additionally, the study found that while racial ancestry can somewhat inform a dog’s ability to respond to commands and direction, the prospect of predicting a breed’s chances of being frightened or provoked by stimuli is slim.
“The behavior is complicated,” said Dr. Elinor Karlsson told NBC News. “It involves dozens, if not hundreds, of changes in different genes,” explained Karlson, one of the study’s authors. “It goes through the environment. The idea that you could create a behavior and select it into breeds in just 150 years just didn’t make sense. We knew it must have been much older than that.
Karlsson holds a Ph.D. in bioinformatics from Boston University and is currently director of the Vertebrate Genomics Group at the Broad Institute of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and at Harvard. Additionally, she leads a citizen science-focused project called Darwin’s dogs which encourages all dog owners to participate in research exploring the genetic basis of canine behavior. The project is part of Darwin’s Ark, which provided the study with survey responses from 18,385 dog owners and sequenced saliva samples from 2,155 dogs.
“The majority of behaviors that we consider to be characteristics of specific modern dog breeds are most likely the result of thousands of years of evolution from wolf to wild dog to domestic dog, and finally to modern breeds,” Karlsson explained in a UMass Chan Medical. School communication Press release. “These inherited traits predate our concept of modern dog breeds by thousands of years.”
Overall, the study is a reminder that pet owners (especially those looking to find a clone-like replacement for former companions) are better off choosing dogs based on their individuality and behaviors, and not their breeding.
Of course, as the saying goes, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, and it’s unclear whether this new study will be enough to convince people not to base it on how they treat, see and choose potential mates.
Still, the study authors hope their findings will help them determine other human behaviors. Speaking to NBC News, Karlsson said she hopes to use the findings to examine the relationship between compulsive disorders in dogs and these conditions in humans.
“We will apply everything we learned in this study to the research we are currently pursuing on compulsive disorders,” Karlson explained. “We treat dogs with compulsive disorders with the same drugs that people use – and they work just as badly. We hope to find a way to develop treatments that work better than what we have now.