Research Suggests Your Pup’s Personality Is Part Of His Doggy DNA

Lori Ennis
by Lori Ennis
An analysis of over 17,000 dogs and their personalities by breed shows that there are ‘personality’ traits that seem unique to each dog based on his breed DNA.

Can we really read a dog by reading his DNA? Researchers from the University of Arizona think so, after an in-depth analysis of over 17,000 dogs shows that a dog’s ‘personality’ may be unique to their breed–right down to their DNA.

Related: Doggy See, Doggy Do? Study Looks At Dogs Adopting Owners’ Personality

Dr. Evan MacLean is a comparative psychologist at the University of Arizona in Tucson and the director of the Arizona Canine Cognition Center. He is also the lead author of the analysis. He has two dogs himself, and he compared the personalities of 17,000 different breed dogs with genomes of 5,700 looking for a relationship between a dog’s traits and their DNA.

He was successful, finding 131 sections of doggy DNA that correlated consistently with 14 different personality traits and this spanned breeds. Dr. MacLean said that their analysis found that consistently, specific genetic influences did have an impact on dog behavior, and dog owners can use that information as a base for knowing and loving their favorite furry friend.

MacLean looked at how dog DNA and behavior/personality traits varied across different breeds, not just within specific breeds, and he says this gave a better idea of the ‘heritability’ of that trait. This is a measure of how the differences in the dog’s genes are responsible for differences in their behaviors and traits. Studying cross breeds allowed the researchers to see more broad and defined roles of genes in specific behaviors.

Dr. MacLean used the C-BARQ (Canine Behavioral Assessment & Research Questionnaire) personality traits. The C-BARQ used data from about 50,000 dogs from almost 300 different full and mixed breeds, as reported by their own owners. No, they’re not the American Kennel Club’s behavior descriptions; instead, they are broken-down traits that dogs share.

Of the 14 studied traits, it seemed the most heritable were trainability, aggression and chasing. Those were the ones that were most deeply embedded across the breeds of dog genomes. They also looked at traits that dealt with the fear of other dogs, fear of strangers, setting changes, dog rivalry, seeking attention, sensitivity to touch, attachment and energy level.

Related: ‘Feline Five’ Study Reveals Cats Have Personality Types

Dr. MacLean said that it’s not that there are specific genes for these traits (as of yet)–just genes that are related to those behaviors. He believes this is because that in the evolution process of dogs, they were required to learn how to protect themselves, take care of themselves and solve problems–well before humans tried to mold any of those behavior traits themselves. The already predisposed genetic behaviors in different dog breeds may be what made it easier for breeders to work with in the first place as they continued to breed for specific traits.

Dr. MacLean says that though some dog breeds are more prone to behave in certain ways, to overlook the amount of possible variation in a dog’s behavior would be a mistake. We can make educated guesses about a dog’s most-likely behaviors, but it can be frustrating to pet owners when their pets don’t ‘live up’ to the ‘breed expectation.’ (Which is pretty much every retriever I’ve ever called mine!)

Dr. MacLean also says that dogs being prone to certain behaviors over others doesn’t make some better or worse; different dogs will still behave differently, DNA aside. That, he says, is actually one of his favorite things about dogs, though–predictable as they are, they are still always interesting and diverse.

And oh, how we love them!

Lori Ennis
Lori Ennis

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