Study shows that a dog's breed does not determine its behavior

B.R. Shenoy

"There is a huge amount of behavioral variation in every breed, and at the end of the day, every dog really is an individual," Elinor Karlsson, the study's co-author and a University of Massachusetts geneticist, told the Associated Press.

According to a large-scale genetic analysis, your dog's behavior is most likely not due to its breed. The findings suggest that stereotypes associated with specific breeds are unfounded.

Kathleen Morrill and her colleagues from the University of Massachusetts published a study in the journal Science on April 29 that examines the relationship between a dog's behavior and genetics.


Researchers surveyed over 18,000 dog owners and sequenced the DNA of about 2,100 purebred and mixed-breed dogs to identify if physical traits and behaviors can be correlated with dog breeds.

Each pet parent responded to a question about their dog's daily routine by describing their dog's characteristics and demeanor. Owners were asked to report biddability, dog-human sociability, and toy-directed modern patterns. The dogs were also examined physically.

DNA can be used to determine whether genetics influence behavior. The researchers discovered 11 areas of genetic code associated with behaviors such as how often a dog howls and sociability toward humans, though none of those genetic markers were breed specific.


  • The findings revealed that the breed can explain about 9% of a dog's behavior and that dogs of the same breed differed significantly in behavior and personality.
  • The concept of dog breeds is much more recent. About 160 years ago, people began to breed dogs selectively to have certain consistent physical traits, like coat texture, color, and ear shape.The findings support the hypothesis that dog breeds have more in common than differences in behavioral traits; their shared ancestry is too ancient to be significantly influenced by modern breeding.
  • The breed of a dog is undoubtedly an indicator of physical characteristics, but behavioral characteristics are much more varied and dependent on the individual dog. The rest might be shaped by environment and life experience.
  • The researchers emphasize that the findings show that no behavior is unique to any one breed and that there is much variation within breeds.
  • The study’s main conclusion about dog behavior and breed is that "mutts," or mixed-breed dogs, are no more likely than purebred dogs to have behavioral issues. The same is true for breeds with poor temperament and behavior.
“We do have to accept that our dogs are individuals. Each dog is a study of one,” Elinor Karlsson at the Broad Institute in Massachusetts, a co-author of the study stated.


When selecting a dog, owners should not rely solely on breed.

“I don't think that we should really be deciding that breeds are the things that will tell us whether we will be happy with a dog or whether a dog will be happy with us,” Marjie Alonso, one of the study’s authors, told NPR.

The hope is that, over time, the paper will change people's minds and help them see their dog for who he or she is rather than what breed it is.

Journal reference: Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.abk0639

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