A new study looking at the accuracy of dog breed stereotypes has revealed that most of the stereotypes people believe in regarding dog behaviour are wrong. The study, titled Ancestry-inclusive dog genomics challenges popular breed stereotypes, authored by 21 researchers and published in April 2022 in the journal Science, surveyed the human guardians of about 18,000 dogs and sequenced the DNA of 2,155 dogs to identify their exact breed. The authors concluded that, while genes explain more than 25% of the variation in certain behavioural traits, the stereotypes that are tied to certain breeds are mostly wrong.
The researchers were able to identify eight broad dimensions of dog behaviour, including how comfortable the dog is around people, how easily excited the dog is, how much the dog enjoys specific “motor patterns” (like playing with toys), how responsive the dog is to training, how easily the dog gets scared, how social the dog is with other dogs (particularly unfamiliar dogs), how much the dog interacts with its typical daily environment, and how much the dog asks for physical contact from humans. The researchers found that dog behaviour is not a reliable way to differentiate breeds, and that the stereotypes that pit bulls are “aggressive,” terriers “high energy,” and German shepherds “obedient” are not based on the actual behaviour of the dogs of these breeds, but on human’s preconceptions. The breed of a dog only explains 9% of the behavioural differences.
The study conclusions state the following: “In our ancestrally diverse cohort, we show that behavioural characteristics ascribed to modern breeds are polygenic, environmentally influenced, and found, at varying prevalence, in all breeds. We propose that behaviours perceived as characteristic of modern breeds derive from thousands of years of polygenic adaptation that predates breed formation, with modern breeds distinguished primarily by aesthetic traits. By embracing the full diversity of dogs — including purebred dogs, mixed-breed dogs, purpose-bred working dogs, and village dogs — we can fully realize dogs’ long-recognized potential as a natural model for genetic discovery.” This study confirms that many of the shelter dogs who have a hard time finding homes for being seen as “problematic” or “dangerous” due to their breed have been the victims of unfounded discrimination (in this case, as a type of speciesism akin to racism).