Pet Policies

New Study Shows a Dog’s Behavior Isn’t Predicted by Breed

    Many look at a dog and believe they can immediately assess its personality. The breed tells the story, correct? Not according to a recent detailed study published in the journal Science, the findings of which dismiss many popular dog stereotypes.

    The genome study, dubbed Darwin’s Ark, showed that the behavioral characteristics of dogs are “polygenic, environmentally influenced, and found, at varying prevalence, in all breeds.” The study concludes that breed accounts for only 9% of variation in behavior among dogs.

    With breed restrictions something of a polarizing topic in the apartment industry, the study can add leverage for operators considering eliminating them in favor of evaluating pets on an individual basis. Standard breed restrictions are slowly being phased out in the industry due to the antiquated philosophies behind them.

    The study was certain not to dispute the notion that breeds regularly display certain tendencies. It surmises that motor pattern traits, such as retrieving, pointing and howling, are more heritable than individual behavior traits. So, while some behaviors might be more likely within some breeds—such as howling with Huskies—breed does little to predict the disposition of a certain dog. Environmental factors and owner interactions play a much greater role in shaping a canine’s personality.

    The project, which surveyed owners of 18,385 dogs and sequenced the DNA of 2,155 pure and mixed-breed dogs, notes that the species has been around for about 10,000 years but domesticated dogs are something of a newer commodity. Humans began selecting dogs for their cosmetic characteristics only within the last 160 years. Researchers concluded that the 160-year time period is very short for a species to develop distinct breed-specific behaviors.

    While no behavior trait is exclusive to or entirely absent from any specific breed, the study concluded that some breeds better adapt to certain behaviors. For instance, biddability, which is how well a dog responds to human direction, is especially prominent in border collies and could have a genetic link. The study concluded that biddability was the trait most heritable by breed but varied significantly among individual dogs, underscoring the general conclusion that breed is a poor predictor of individual behavior.

    Advanced findings and a deeper explanation of the study’s methodology can be found on the Science website, but the implication for the multifamily sector is readily apparent. Essentially, the industry leaders who have pushed to eliminate breed restrictions in favor of responsibly evaluating pets on an individual basis are on to something.

    Emma Grigg, an animal behaviorist and researcher at the University of California, Davis, perfectly encapsulated the reasons why the industry should opt for the individual evaluation approach. Grigg was not part of the Science study but was interviewed about it by NBC News.

    “Choose the individual, not the breed,” she said. “It is important to remember that all dogs, regardless of breed or mixed ancestry, are individuals. They will likely have their own strengths and weaknesses, just like humans. They will have their own likes and dislikes; they may not be much like your last dog at all.”

    Breed restrictions, naturally, are based on long-held stereotypes.

    “Any good dog trainer will tell you those stereotypes are a disaster,” University of Colorado dog-behavior expert Marc Bekoff recently told The Atlantic. “Breeds don’t have personalities. Individuals do.”

    In the industry’s quest to eliminate breed restrictions—in addition to other restrictions such as size, weight and age—the Science study could prove to be invaluable. It serves as the most detailed, cutting-edge material to date to illustrate why breed restrictions should be in the rearview mirror.