Does Breed Matter

Does Breed Matter? Decoding the Canine Genetics Conundrum for a Happier, Healthier Pet

Jul 12, 2023

A Peek Into 'The Bitey End of the Dog' Podcast, Available on All Your Favorite Podcast Platforms

Last spring, the dog-loving community was sent into a frenzy by a thought-provoking study published in the Journal of Science, titled "Ancestry Inclusive Dog Genomics Challenges Popular Breed Stereotype." The study's findings sparked a fiery debate among canine enthusiasts and professionals, manifesting in two polarizing claims: either 'breed matters' or 'breed is irrelevant.' Not confusing at all!

Dog breed aficionados maintain that distinctive traits are inherent to specific breeds, while sceptics contend that canine behavior is more influenced by training than genetics. This ongoing controversy unraveled further as we delved into the study's intricate details, thus dispelling the media's oversimplification of the findings.

Beyond the Headlines: Demystifying Canine Genomics

Contrary to sensationalized headlines such as "Dog Breed Doesn't Affect Behavior According to New Genetic Research," the study was a complex undertaking. It encompassed comprehensive collection and analysis of behavioral data and genetic information from dogs, and involved sophisticated techniques that transcended the scope of a simple headline.


Unlocking the Secrets of Canine Behavior

With a holistic, ecological lens, we can see that certain behaviors may be more prevalent in specific breeds due to historical selective pressures. For instance, barrier aggression might be common in breeds historically utilized for territory guarding. This understanding leads us to a more nuanced appreciation of canine behavior.

Essentially, understanding dog behavior isn't about broad generalizations. It's about realizing that behavior is context-specific and influenced by factors like predation and territorial protection. For instance, behaviors perceived as 'aggressive' could, in fact, be linked to predatory instincts that humans have selectively bred for or modified over centuries.

Delving further into the biology of behavior opens new doors for future research. For instance, the study connected a dog's 'human sociability' (its affinity for human interaction) to a specific region in a dog's DNA, unlocking a potential treasure trove for future research.


Looking Ahead: The Future of Canine Companionship

So, what does this mean for our beloved pets' future? By diversifying the gene pool, we can create dogs that are better suited to different work types and lifestyles. Sharing insights about a dog's health, behavior, and other traits can empower breeders to make more informed decisions, ultimately leading to healthier, happier dogs.

However, concerns exist about puppies bred in high-volume facilities often resulting in compromised welfare. These puppies may lack essential social skills due to their substandard upbringing, unlike home-raised dogs who tend to be less fearful and more well-adjusted. While genetics certainly influence a dog's behavior, their environment and what they learn from puppyhood play equally crucial roles.

The Intricacies of Breeding

Breeding dogs isn't a stroll in the park. Ensuring desirable traits from parent dogs are passed down to the puppies can be a challenging endeavor. While consistency in breeds can predict behavior and appearance, it may also lead to a lack of genetic diversity, posing potential health and behavioral problems.


Defining 'Good' in the Canine World

The term "good" in dog breeding is subjective. Its interpretation varies greatly depending on whether the dog is intended for a pet home, a sporting home, or a working home. As we navigate the complex terrain of dog genetics and behavior, it's paramount to clarify what "good" means to avoid misunderstandings and mismatched expectations.

In the podcast, Jessica Hekman DVM, PhD, discusses The Functional Dog Collaborative, which she founded to promote responsible breeding of dogs for different purposes. The goal is to produce dogs that can be both excellent pets and perform well in various sports. By broadening the gene pool, we increase the potential for dogs to adapt and thrive in different environments.


Embracing a Brighter Future for Our Canine Companions

Many dogs today are expected to live in urban environments, interact with lots of people and other dogs, and even perform specific tasks or jobs. By considering these factors in breeding, we can hopefully reduce the number of dogs that end up in shelters because they are unable to cope with these demands.

All these insights underline the importance of education, collaboration, and an open-minded approach to dog breeding.


For a more detailed dive into this discussion, tune into 'The Bitey End of the Dog' podcast, where Jessica Hekman DVM, PhD, founder of the Functional Dog Collaborative, Kim Brophey, CDBC, CPDT-KA, FDM, an applied ethologist responsible for the L.E.G.S.® model of integrated canine science, converse with Michael Shikashio, CDBC and world-renowned expert on aggression in dogs.