The personality of each breed of dog could be written in their genes

If you have decided to get a dog, surely before you buy, or better, adopt your new pet, you have to decide which breed you want, depending on your lifestyle and your own personality. There are dogs which are more aggressive or have a dominant character, others are meek and cheerful, some need a lot of space to run and play, others are quieter.

This strong variation in the personality of different dog breeds provides a unique opportunity to investigate the evolution and biological basis of complex behavioural traits. A study published in bioRxiv shows how these characteristics have strong genetic behaviour. In addition, the findings can also shed light on the origin of human behaviour. 

Although this is the most comprehensive study carried out to date, it is necessary to clarify that bioRxiv is a pre-printing service for works that have not yet been published in scientific journals that follow a peer review process, which means that other experts in the field have yet to comment to ensure the rigour of the work.

The researchers, who are part of a multidisciplinary team from several US universities, took advantage of the Canine Behavior Research and Evaluation Questionnaire, a large database that has been in operation since 2003 and collects the results of a survey of more than 50,000 dog owners.

The same 14 dog personality traits are evaluated and analysed from questions of the style to 'What does your dog do when a stranger knocks on the door?'

Analysis of 101 dog breeds

In this work, behavioural data from more than 17,000 dogs belonging to 101 different breeds were used, and scientists found that personality differences between breeds are highly hereditary. This means that the behaviour-based grouping of races very accurately recapitulates the genetic relationships between them.

The team identified 131 areas of the dog’s DNA that are related to the fourteen key personality traits. Together, these genome regions account for approximately 15% of the personality of a dog’s breed. According to this, the easiness to take on a training, the persecutory character and the aggressiveness to strange people are the most hereditary characteristics.

In addition, the locations of these DNA ‘hot-spots’ make sense: some are in or near genes linked to aggression in humans, and the DNA associated with the dog’s training ability is found in genes that in humans are associated with intelligence and information processing.

Although the findings suggest that the behaviour could be defined by the same genes in different species, these results need to be taken with caution. The same authors warn of the limitations of the study: the genotypic and phenotypic data were not taken from the same individuals, but from independent data aggregates, they say.

This implies that breed-specific behaviour trends cannot be linked to any particular gene. Future research using genotypic and phenotypic data from the same individuals and including race-specific personality traits will yield, without a doubt, much more light on this exciting topic on which there is still much to be discovered.

Reference: McLean et al. Highly Heritable and Functionally Relevant Breed Differences in Dog Behavior. 2019 bioRxiv

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