An American biologist has shown that the personality of pets is subject to great variability, and is better explained by the environment than by their genes.
The German Shepherd and the Belgian Shepherd Malinois are the most docile and easily trained dogs. Pugs and Dalmatians are very affectionate. On the contrary, the shiba inu is independent. Beagles are playful and Shar-Pei placid. So which breed is right for you? Take our test to find out which dogs suit you best! Or not. Despite all the stereotypes we read on the Internet and the tenacity of popular beliefs, it turns out that the breed of dogs is a very poor indicator of their character. It is used to define a set of very precise physical traits, yes, but the personality of doggies shows great variability within all species, and is better explained by the environment than by their genes.
American biologist Kathleen Morrill already had this intuition as a teenager, she says in the magazine Science, when her parents adopted two ‘butterfly’ dogs (miniature spaniels) one of whom was shy and anxious, and the other outgoing and affectionate. Can two dogs of the same breed have completely opposite characters? It was perhaps this personal experience that prompted her to study the role of genetics on the brain and behavior of different living species.
Since 2015, she has been managing a participatory science project with her colleagues from the University of Massachusetts, “Darwin’s Ark”: more than 18,000 Internet users have registered to answer long questionnaires about their dog, its characteristics , habits and personality traits. Among them, 2,155 dogs were chosen, some “purebred” and others crossbred, and their DNA was sequenced to be able to make a very precise link between their genes and their behavior. The researchers therefore had on the one hand a precise description of the canine characters (Fluffynours is afraid of strangers, loves to hunt squirrels and reacts quickly when a ball is thrown at him) and their genetic heritage (Fluffynours is 37% border collie and 51% shetland).
Assessment: “Race offers poor predictive value, and explains only 9% of behavioral variations,” write Morrill and his team in the study of Science released this week. Some character traits are indeed likely to be transmitted by heredity, therefore to be associated with the race. Among them, we find docility (the ease of being educated and obeying orders): Malinois shepherds and Hungarian short-haired pointers are really more docile than the overall average doggie, while Basset hounds and German malamutes Alaska are noticeably more independent.
For other personality traits, however, such as the dog’s propensity to be provoked by an unpleasant stimulus, “race provides almost no information”. It is a matter of individuals. The researchers also couldn’t prove that Labradors are more sociable with humans than the average dog. A myth without scientific basis.
At the genetic level, Kathleen Morrill’s team has identified 11 regions (sets of genes) that are clearly associated with behaviors in dogs, such as the frequency with which they bark and their sociability with humans. But there was no noticeable difference between the species. Only the pieces of DNA that define physical traits are clearly differentiated by species.
Finally, it is not a surprise: the modern breeds of dogs were created less than one hundred and sixty years ago, say the scientists, to shape lines of animals sharing the same aesthetics. It is “a Victorian invention” who researches “conformation to a physical ideal and purity of ancestry” and is “often disconnected from functional behavioral selection”. These dogs were bred for their appearance, not for their temperament, and so it makes sense that the temperaments remained diverse – within the bounds of what was wanted in a dog when humans began intentionally breeding them some time ago. is two thousand years old: its hunting, shepherding and guarding abilities. To choose the best dog to adopt, it is therefore better to read its Meetic file than to rely on its pedigree.
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