Have you ever wondered why dogs differ so greatly from breed to breed? Why are Border Collies workaholics and German Shepherds so protective? New research published in Science in 2019 reveals that distinct breed traits are actually rooted in the canine’s genes.
The dog genome was actually mapped in 2005 in hopes that this analysis would elucidate the hallmark personalities of each breed. However, researchers found that there was immense variation in genes, even within each breed. This variation kept the researchers from obtaining meaningful results.
So, Evan MacLean, a comparative psychologist at the University of Arizona in Tucson, decided to approach the problem from another angle. Instead, he and his colleagues started by looking at the behavioral data for about 14,000 dogs from 101 different breeds.
These behavioral statistics were obtained from the Canine Behavioral Assessment & Research Questionnaire (C-BARQ). Imagine C-BARQ as somewhat of a pet personality quiz that their owner completes based on their dog’s trainability, attachment, and aggression. Since its inception in 2003, more than 50,000 owners have completed C-BARQ.
The researchers then followed by matching this behavioral data from C-BARQ to genetic data that they had on each breed. Instead of attempting to match the behavioral and genetic data for each individual dog, they compared them against the averages for a specific breed.
Essentially, they identified 131 different genes that take part in determining 14 key personality traits for dogs. However, this only accounts for about 15% of the dog’s overall personality. The researchers also found that the most heritable traits seemed to be trainability, chasing, and a tendency to be aggressive toward strangers.
Perhaps the most interesting finding is that the location of these genes was similar to where analogous traits would be located in humans. For example, the location of the trait for trainability was similar in location to traits encoding intelligence and information processing in humans.
This finding will only help to increase the understanding of dog’s emotions and behaviors. In essence, we know where the genes in the human genome are that control anxiety, depression, etc. This data would allow researchers to deduce that these might also be in the same areas in the canine genome.
So, we owners are actually a lot more similar to our furry friends than previously thought!