Is the Breed of a Dog Important to its Behavior?

“My dog is a Labrador, he should be able to behave.”

“I don’t want a Pitbull, they’re aggressive dogs. I want a friendly dog.”

Many people like to or unconsciously label their dog based on its breed. They adopt or buy a dog based on the assumption that it belongs to a certain group –be it a Herding, Terrier, or Working breed- and therefore comes with a genetically inclined set of traits (such as a specific level of energy or docility). But how true is that assumption? According to Janis Bradley, an esteemed member of the National Canine Research Council, that point of view is flawed. She has accumulated evidence to counter the idea that innate predispositions for ancestral behavior stay intact through generations, up to your very dog at home. Her research shows that the ancestral behaviors deteriorate over time and are compromised as other traits are selected during the breeding process.

One example she gives relates to pedigree dogs/show dogs who are selectively bred to stand still or who are easy to handle by strangers. Because selective pressures need to be ruthlessly maintained it is only possible to breed one trait at a time, consequently over the years of human manipulation the “original,” or historically favored behavior that was able to classify and distinguish the various breed groups has diminished.

Bradley found a correlation between behavior and appearance. Once a dog is bred for a certain physical feature, the behavior is immensely compromised. Leading to the conclusion that nowadays there is little to no difference in breed group and the behavior exhibited by the dogs. In other words, a Pitbull is no more inclined to be violent than a Goldendoodle.

If breed is not important how can I choose the right dog for my home?

Since selecting a dog based on breed is not an ideal option based on this research finding, there’s really only one way and that is to meet the dog in person! Each dog is an individual and the only way to determine the dog’s personality is to meet the dog and find out about that dog’s specific behavior history. That would be the best predictor of its future behavior. His ancestral roots or genetic makeup are irrelevant. There’s no need to tie behaviors to specific breeds. Mixed or not, treating a dog individually gives them the best chance of succeeding in their future homes.

Also keep in mind that behavior is context specific. This means that a dog may behave differently under different environments. For instance, if a dog is shy in a rescue shelter, it doesn’t automatically classify that dog as an introvert. He may be a perfectly happy and friendly dog out of the shelter environment. Another key fact is that behavior can be modified, abuse elicited aggression can be reversed. Good husbandry and nonviolent treatment are the best precursors to friendly behavior and produce the ideal pet companion.

So next time you or a friend is looking for a new canine friend remember that personality profiles are more helpful than breed profiles, and good husbandry, socialization, and nonviolent treatment are the best methods to support friendly behavior.

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