She said pet owners love to talk about their dog’s personality, as illustrated by some owners at a New York dog park.
Elizabeth Kelly said her English springer spaniel is “friendly, but she’s also kind of the queen bee.” Suly Ortiz described her yellow Lab as “really calm, lazy and shy.” And Rachel Kim’s mixed-breed dog is “a lot of different dogs, personality-wise — super-independent, really affectionate with me and my husband, but pretty, pretty suspicious of other people, other dogs.”
That kind of enthusiasm from pet owners inspired Karlsson’s latest scientific inquiry. She wanted to know to what extent are behavioral patterns inherited, and how much are dog breeds associated with distinctive and predictable behaviors?
The answer: While physical traits such as a grayhound’s long legs or a Dalmatian’s spots are inherited, breed is not a strong predictor of an individual dog’s personality.
The researchers’ work was published recently in the journal Science. It compiled a massive data set to reach these conclusions — the most ever compiled, said Adam Boyko. He is a geneticist at Cornell University and was not involved in the study.
Dogs became humans’ “best friend” more than 14,000 years ago, as the only animal domesticated before the beginning of farming.
But the concept of dog breeds is much more recent. About 160 years ago, people began to selectively breed dogs to have certain physical traits, such as coat texture and color, and ear shape.
The researchers surveyed more than 18,000 dog owners and analyzed the complete set of genes 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 — have at least some genetic basis. But they also found that inheritance isn’t strictly passed down along breed lines.
For example, they encountered golden retrievers that don’t retrieve, said co-author Kathryn Lord, who studies animal behavior with Karlsson. The breed is easy to train, according to the American Kennel Club.
Some breeds, such as huskies and beagles, may show a greater tendency to howl. But many of these dogs don’t, as the owner survey and genetic data showed.
The researchers could find no genetic basis for aggressive behaviors nor a link to specific breeds.
In general, the study’s results were surprising, according to Jeff Kidd, a geneticist at the University of Michigan, who had no role in the research. “The correlation between dog behavior and dog breed is much lower than most expected.”