December 4, 2017

Trainability and boldness traits differ between dog breed clusters based on conventional breed categories and genetic relatedness

The categorical system upheld by kennel clubs categorizes dog breeds by morphological similarity and historical function. Looking at a different categorization of dog breeds, this study observed differing behaviors of dogs within the same conventional breed group and the similarities and differences in behavior of dogs who are genetically similar. This study was conducted through a survey of 5733 dogs (encompassing 98 breeds) which calculated breed trait scores based on trainability, boldness, calmness, and dog sociability. The results showed that trainability and boldness “significantly differed both among the conventional and the genetic breed groups” (61). This study also created six breed clusters based on behavioral similarities. These new breed clusters “can provide a more reliable characterization of the breeds’ current typical behavior” (61).

The dog itself has origins from the grey wolf and is the first domesticated species. Breeding created huge differences in morphology, physiology, and behavior resulting in more that 400 breeds. Though today, due to breeding rules established by kennel clubs, breeds have become increasingly similar and genetically isolated. The surveys were aimed to collect “behavioral profiles of dog breeds” by ranking the behavioral traits of a breed and grouping the breeds together based on their behavior in order to characterize breeds based on behavior (62). These breed behaviors were usually clustered together based on historical function, though this categorization method is faulty when there is little historical data on many of the current breeds. There has also been a shift in the role of dogs in human lives from that of a worker to a family member, thus negating the idea of categorizing behavior by historical function. Instead, genetics could prove integral to the similarities in behavior among breeds. Another potential way to categorize behavior is through genetic breed clusters.

Using the individual-based method to characterize breed behavior, this study used direct observation of behavior tests and questionnaires to gather data. Though bias will be involved in the owner-given questionnaires, the sheer magnitude of responses can overcome the individual bias. This study hopes “to characterize dog breeds on four complex behavioral traits (trainability, boldness, calmness and dog sociability) using owner reported assessments on a large sample of dogs and to test whether dog breeds’ behavioral differences could be ascribed to the breeds’ historical function (conventional breed groups) and/or genetic relatedness” (63).

The online questionnaire was based off of a 48-item Human Personality Test. The dogs were graded on four components: Trainability, Boldness, Calmness, and Dog Sociability. These results were then compared within the breed and to other breeds: “The 98 breeds present in this study were therefore classified into seven groups. To analyze the effect of the breeds; genetic relatedness in some behavior traits, we categorize the breeds into five clusters” (63). These breed clusters were created on the basis of their behavior. Toy dogs, scored higher on trainability, boldness, and sociability, but scored low on calmness. Their behavior is closely related to Terriers and Hounds on terms of Sociability and Calmness, and to Non-sporting dogs and Working dogs on Trainability and Boldness (65). Pugs were placed in Cluster 1 based on their “analysis based on trainability, boldness, calmness, and dog sociability traits” (66). Cluster 1 dogs show “high calm, medium trainability, high sociable, [and] high bold,” and include dogs like Golden Retrievers, American Cocker Spaniels, French Bulldogs, Bearded Collies, and Beagles (66).

“The main focus of this study was to discover the typical behavior of dog breeds and specific breed groups. Our aims were (1) to characterize a large number of breeds and explore their behavioral similarity and divergence, and (2) to test whether dog breeds’ behavioral differences could be ascribed to the breeds’ conventional grouping based on historical function and/or genetic relatedness” (66). Breed differences were showing in all four of the traits. This displays where the Kennel Club needs to reframe the way it categorizes and describes dog breeds.

Turcsán, Borbála, et. al. “Trainability and boldness traits differ between dog breed clusters based on conventional breed categories and genetic relatedness.” Applied Animal Behaviour Science 132.1 (2011): 61-70. Web.

Original Article:

Reviewed by Stephanie Lushniak