The American Kennel Club is in full support of research that assists us in gaining greater knowledge of our canine companions. We agree with the data in the AAAS study but differ in their interpretation and conclusions.
The study focused on “newer” breeds that were developed over the past 100 years (i.e., different sight hound breeds, different upland game hunting breeds, different water retrieving breeds, different herding breeds, different guardian breeds), and were able to separate them genetically based on their physical characteristics that are controlled by genes of large effect – size, color, coat, areas of pigmentation, ear set, etc. They were not able to separate them by behavior and found that all dogs, including mixed breed dogs had different prevalence of behaviors. This indicates that all dogs have the genetic toolbox to develop different behaviors. However, some dogs have been purposely selected to concentrate genes for specific behaviors.
Breed behavior was not created with the formation of breeds 100 years ago. It was created based on working behaviors that were selected over centuries – and before the separation of individual breeds. Therefore, attempting to separate individual breeds based on behavior would not be fruitful without separating them into ancestral selected populations of herding dogs, hunting dogs, etc. Also, behavior is thought to be controlled by many genes of small effect and would require more high-density and high-volume studies. This is an excellent introductory research article but not a definitive article on the genetic basis of behavior.
As noted in the study, they “found no evidence that the behavioral tendencies in breeds reflect intentional selection by breeders but cannot exclude the possibility. Current datasets are too small to detect more subtle, recent directional selection, which requires hundreds of thousands of samples. In dogs, breed demographic history makes detecting selection particularly challenging.”
By contrast, a study in 2019 using more tightly controlled behavioral assessments and a more high-density DNA analysis found that “Breed differences in behavior covary strongly with relatedness between breeds, and for several traits, genotype accounts for more than 50% of the behavioral variation across breeds—up to 25× higher than heritability estimates from genetic studies within breeds.”
In certain breeds, sometimes over centuries, purebred dogs have been selected to exhibit specific characteristics and perform exacting functions. They are “hard-wired” to certain characteristics and behaviors. Personalities and behaviors occur because of both genetic and environmental factors. In certain hands or conditions, that confluence can be swayed in one direction or another. Environmental factors such as proper nutrition, socialization and training at the formative stages of a puppy’s life can enhance positive traits and discourage negative ones. There are also instinctual and behavioral differences between dog groups (i.e. Sporting, Working, Terriers, Herding, etc.). The dogs within each group have behavioral similarities that would differ significantly from breeds in a different group. However, just as with human siblings, individual dog personalities can vary.
The AKC’s position that breed and type of dog does inform about general and instinctual behavior and is the reason owners should consider behavioral tendencies before selecting a breed to make an educated and informed decision that leads to a happy and life-long commitment to the dog.