Your dog's personality is rooted in its breed's DNA, study finds
A new study has identified specific genes that seem to play an integral part in characterizing the behavior of dog breeds.
- A new study compared behavioral data on dogs, obtained from owner surveys, with genetic information to identify genes associated with specific traits like aggression and attachment.
- The study found 131 locations in a dog's genome that seemed to be linked to 14 behavioral traits across various breeds.
- Some of these specific gene-behavior associations can also be found in humans, suggesting that future research could help scientists better understand conditions like anxiety, and even improve treatments.
If you've spent any time around dogs, you've probably seen that different breeds have some fairly easily identifiable personality traits: Daschunds can be a bit anxious, golden retrievers are obedient and play well with kids, and German shepherds tend to be smart and protective.
Recently, a landmark study provided some of the first evidence that these personality traits can be traced back to each breed's genes, a finding that could someday help scientists better understand the relationship between genetic markers and behavior in humans.
In the study, a team led by Evan MacLean, a comparative psychologist at the University of Arizona in Tucson, compiled behavioral data on various dog breeds obtained from the Canine Behavioral Assessment & Research Questionnaire (C-BARQ), a survey in which people describe the behavior of their dogs by reporting how likely the dogs are to obey commands, show fear when a stranger visits the house, or tremble during a particular situation. The team then compared thousands of C-BARQ responses with genetic data on 101 dog breeds.
The results showed 131 locations in a dog's genome that seemed to be linked to at least one of 14 canine behavioral, including aggression, fear, trainability and attachment. The team suggested these DNA regions account for up to 15 percent of a dog breed's behavior, and that trainability, chasing and a tendency to be aggressive toward strangers were the most inheritable traits.
"It's a huge advance," Elaine Ostrander, a mammalian geneticist at the National Human Genome Research Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, who was not involved in the study, told Science Magazine. "It's a finite number of genes, and a lot of them do make sense."
Links between genes and behavior in other species
Interestingly, some of the links between specific genes and behavioral traits observed in the study can also be found in other animals, including humans. The levels of aggression in foxes, dogs and humans, for instance, seems to be associated with a particular set of genes found in all three species. And these cross-species similarities could prove valuable to humans. For instance, as Science Magazine notes, scientists might someday discover an important relationship between specific genes and anxiety in dogs, which could lead to better anxiety-related treatments for humans.
The researchers noted that dogs are an ideal species for this kind of research, mainly because of their simplified genetic architecture "resulting from population bottlenecks during domestication and strong selection during subsequent breed diversification," and also because of "extraordinary phenotypic diversity" among their more than 200 breeds.
"Our findings suggest that dog breeds also provide a powerful and highly tractable model for questions about the evolution and genetic basis of behavioral traits."
Still, it's worth noting that environmental factors also play a major role in determining the personalities of dogs. Some research even suggests that the best predictor of whether a dog will be, say, aggressive is the characteristics of the owner.
The researchers behind the recent study cautioned that their work was broad in scope, and that it can't prove that any single gene is causally related to the behavior of a specific breed. That's hopefully something that future research will shed light on.
Bill Nye talks to dogs and explores the lessons of canine evolution
The way that you think about stress can actually transform the effect that it has on you – and others.
- Stress is contagious, and the higher up in an organization you are the more your stress will be noticed and felt by others.
- Kelly McGonigal teaches "Reset your mindset to reduce stress" for Big Think Edge.
- Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
These quick bursts of inspiration will brighten your day in 10 minutes or less.
Explore a legendary philosopher's take on how society fails to prepare us for education and progress.
- Alan Watts was an instrumental figure in the 1960s counterculture revolution.
- He believed that we put too much of a focus on intangible goals for our educational and professional careers.
- Watts believed that the whole educational enterprise is a farce compared to how we should be truly living our lives.
How can we use the resources that are already on the Moon to make human exploration of the satellite as economical as possible?
If you were transported to the Moon this very instant, you would surely and rapidly die. That's because there's no atmosphere, the surface temperature varies from a roasting 130 degrees Celsius (266 F) to a bone-chilling minus 170 C (minus 274 F). If the lack of air or horrific heat or cold don't kill you then micrometeorite bombardment or solar radiation will. By all accounts, the Moon is not a hospitable place to be.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.