Recent analyzes have shown that the appearance of the genetic factors at the origin of the various canine behavioral traits preceded that of modern breeds by several thousand years.
A revealing analysis
While the divergence between dogs and wolves dates back around 15,000 years, it wasn’t until the 19th century that humans began to select their mates based on certain physical and aesthetic traits that we associate with modern breeds. These traits are still considered reliable indicators of a dog’s temperament and behavior, with some breeds being perceived as easy to train, affectionate, or very active, for example.
For this study published in the journal Scienceresearchers from MIT and of Harvard sought to fill what they see as a gap in our understanding of this relationship, pointing out the lack of genetic studies linking behaviors to ancestry. To do this, they analyzed the genomic sequences of more than 2,000 dogs and matched data from 200,000 responses to owner surveys about their pet’s behavior and physical characteristics, covering 78 different breeds.
This analysis revealed that behavioral traits were influenced by a combination of environmental factors and dog genetics, but modern breed classification played only a minor role. The team identified 11 unique regions in the canine genome strongly related to behavior, and found that none of them were specifically associated with any particular modern breed. According to the researchers, the contribution of a breed to the behavior of a dog was even quite negligible (around 9%).
“While genetics plays a role in every dog’s personality, the specific breed of dog is not a good predictor of these traits. “, highlighted Elinor Karlsson, lead author of the study. ” A dog’s personality and behavior are shaped by many genes as well as their life experiences. Such traits could hardly be selected for by breeding. »
The result of thousands of years of evolution
Some behaviors were more strongly associated with factors other than race. Age was thus a better indicator of the likelihood that a dog would play with its toys, and sex of the possibility that it would lift its paw to urinate. Scientists also haven’t been able to find behaviors that are exclusive to any given breed. Although Labradors have the least tendency to bark, 8% of owners still report this behavior.
” The majority of behaviors that we consider to be characteristics of certain modern dog breeds are most likely the result of thousands of years of evolution, from wolves to wild dogs, then to domesticated dogs, and finally to modern breeds. “, valued Karlsson. ” These inherited traits predate our concept of modern dog breeds by thousands of years. Each breed has inherited the genetic variation carried by those ancient dogs, though not always at exactly the same frequencies. Today, these differences are manifested in differences in personality and behavior observed in a certain proportion of representatives of the same breed.. »
“In most cases, purebreds differ only subtly from other dogs”
The study also suggests that there are few differences in certain behaviors between mixed-breed and purebred dogs. If the ability to obey, that is, the way they react to human commands, is more likely to be correlated with race, when it comes to sociability with this last or the likelihood of them being frightened, race is virtually irrelevant.
” In most cases, purebreds differ only subtly from other dogs “, Explain Karlsson. ” Although friendliness is the trait we usually associate with golden retrievers, we have found that the defining elements of these dogs are their physical characteristics, the shape of their ears, the color and quality of their coat, their size and not the make them friendly. A Golden Retriever is only marginally more likely to be friendlier than a mixed breed dog or another purebred dog, such as a Dachshund. »