Dog Breed Doesn’t Affect Behavior, According to New Genetic Research

Personality is shaped by a combination of factors, including a pup’s environment

An Australian shepherd running
Researchers surveyed the owners of 18,385 dogs and sequenced the DNA of 2,155 dogs for a new study analyzing dog behavior and breed. 
  Sylv Lettal / 500px

The science is in: No matter its breed, any canine companion can be a good pupper. 

A new genome study published in the journal Science found breed alone is not an accurate way to predict the personality of your four-legged friend. 

Researchers surveyed the owners of 18,385 dogs, asking questions about their pup’s behavior, such as whether they work at tasks until they’re finished, whether they’re friendly with strangers, or whether they circle before pooping. They also sequenced the DNA of 2,155 pure and mixed breed dogs and compared those to the survey results.

They found breed explains only about 9 percent of the variation in an individual dogs' behavior.

“It’s a major advance in how we think about dog behavior,” Elaine Ostrander, an expert in canine genetics at the U.S. National Human Genome Research Institute who was not involved with the study, tells Science’s David Grimm. “No breed owns any particular trait.”

You may have heard stereotypes about certain breeds—some, like labs, are more lovable, while others, like chihuahuas, are more aggressive. 

“Any good dog trainer will tell you those stereotypes are a disaster,” Marc Bekoff, a dog-behavior expert at the University of Colorado at Boulder, tells the Atlantic’s Katherine J. Wu. “Breeds don’t have personalities. Individuals do.”

But breed can tell researchers some things. Overall, the scientists found some behavioral traits are more common in certain breeds. For example, Border collies seem to be more ready to respond to human direction than other breeds. 

"We found things like German shorthaired pointers were slightly more likely to point, or golden retrievers were slightly more likely to retrieve, or huskies more likely to howl, than the general dog population," Kathryn Lord, a researcher at the University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School and author on the paper, tells the New York Times’ James Gorman. 

Researchers found no behavioral trait was present in all dogs in a breed or missing from all of them either, per the Atlantic.

In other words, though some behaviors are more likely to pop up in some breeds, breed alone cannot predict the disposition of a particular dog. Instead, personality is shaped by a combination of factors, including a dog’s environment. 

"Genetics matter, but genetics are a nudge in a given direction. They're not a destiny," Evan MacLean, the director of the Arizona Canine Cognition Center at the University of Arizona, who was not involved in the research, tells NPR’s Becky Sullivan. "We've known that for a long time in human studies, and this paper really suggests that the same is true for dogs."