Dogs inherit complex behavior, including aggression and ability to train

Have you ever wondered whether the behavior of your dog is more dependent on genetics or more on its upbringing? The most extensive study to date, with 5697 dogs and 101 breeds, tries to answer that question.

The study connected genetic data (over 150 thousand genetic variants – SNPs) with a behavioral assessment of breeds by their owners (C-BARQ dataset). Analyzed traits combined various types of aggression, fear, sensitivity, attachment, as well as trainability.

Scientists have found that genetics explains >50% of narrow heritability of behaviors such as aggression towards strangers, ability to train, attachment and attention-seeking, chasing, and aggression towards other dogs. Other types of behavior were less connected to genetics, but continued to be characterized by heritability in the range of 30-50%.

There were 131 regions in the canine genome, which contributed most to the discovered inheritance. Among them, most lay within or close to genes participating in brain development and physiology of nerve cells. Moreover, researchers found interesting connections to previous human studies – for instance, gene GRM8 was found to be associated with aggression toward strangers, and it underwent evolutionary selection both in dogs and humans in the last thousands of years.

Publication: MacLean, E., Snyder-Mackler, N., & Serpell, J. (2019). Highly heritable and functionally relevant breed differences in dog behavior. Doi:10.1098/rspb.2019.0716.

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