Study Finds a Dog’s Breed Isn’t a Good Predictor of Dog Behavior

by Britt

It’s one of the most common pieces of advice given to new dog owners – research the breed before deciding. While some dog breeds are said to be well-behaved and easy to care for, others come with a warning for their quirks and challenges.

While a dog’s breed can still provide some valuable information, a new study published in the journal Science suggests that it may not be as helpful in predicting a dog’s behavior.

Looking back, humans first began breeding dogs for specific jobs and tasks approximately 2000 years ago. At that time, they were more focused on the skills that the dogs would possess than they were the appearance of their canine companions. It wasn’t until 150 years ago that modern dog breeds were invented as people started to place importance on a dog’s physical characteristics.

It was this history that prompted the research team to seek more information about how breed can influence a dog’s behavior. “It involves dozens if not hundreds of changes in different genes,” explained Elinor Karlsson, the director of the Vertebrate Genomics Group at the Broad Institute of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University, professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and a senior author on the study. “It involves the environment. The idea that you could create behavior and select it in breeds in just 150 years just didn’t’ make any sense. We knew it had to be a lot older than that.”

To better understand the role that breed plays in determining a dog’s behavior traits, the research team accessed a wealth of information from the world’s largest pet citizen science project Darwin’s Ark. In total, the study included the data from 18,385 survey responses and 2,155 dog DNA samples. This included both purebred and mixed breed dogs.

The researchers were able to isolate 11 specific regions of the dog genome and the behaviors that were associated with them. This included characteristics such as how likely a dog was to howl, if a dog avoids getting wet, their level of cuddliness, and how responsive a dog was to human commands.

After assessing all the data, the study found that a dog’s breed can only explain approximately 9% of the variation in a dog’s behavior. This was true both of mixed-breed dogs and purebred dogs. While the study didn’t confirm any additional factors responsible for a dog’s behavior, the researchers speculated that they are the result of a dog’s individual experience, any training they receive, and the influence of environmental factors.

This isn’t to say that there was no impact from a dog’s breed. Labrador Retrievers scored higher on human sociability than other breeds and breeds like Siberian huskies and beagles are more likely to howl. However, there was variation from one dog to the next even within a group of the same breed. 

While this may appear to be a setback when it comes to selecting the right dog for your lifestyle, the research team believes it will have the opposite effect on the world of pet parents. By debunking the many stereotypes associated with various dog breeds, they hope that they can empower dog owners to make an informed choice.

These findings may also have a direct impact on the reasoning behind breed-specific laws and policies that are currently in place.


Britt Kascjak is a proud pet mom, sharing her heart (and her home) with her “pack” which includes her husband John, their 2 dogs – Indiana and Lucifer – and their 2 cats – Pippen and Jinx. She has been active in the animal rescue community for over 15 years, volunteering, fostering and advocating for organizations across Canada and the US. In her free time, she enjoys traveling around the country camping, hiking, and canoeing with her pets.

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