Ditch the Stereotypes: Our Dogs' Behaviors Aren't Determined By Only Their Breeds, Study Finds
It's time to toss out those widely held dog breed stereotypes—and that's according to people way, way smarter than me.
They would be the researchers whose study published in Science last week found that a dog's breed does little to predict the pup's behavior or personality. The team of scientists surveyed 18,385 dog owners and sequenced the DNA of 2,155 dogs.
"Behavioral factors show high variability within breeds, suggesting that although breed may affect the likelihood of a particular behavior to occur, breed alone is not, contrary to popular belief, informative enough to predict an individual's disposition," the study says.
That statement contradicts both the harmful stereotypes applied to so-called "dangerous" dog breeds and the laws and ordinances that restrict owning those breeds—American pit bull terriers, Rottweilers, and American Staffordshire terriers, for example.
In fact, the pit bull scored high on the study's "human sociability" score, which measures how well dogs get along with new people. As noted by The Washington Post, the pit bull's mark was comparable to a pair of other well-regarded friendly breeds: the Labrador retriever and the golden retriever.
The published study was welcome news for groups like Best Friends Animal Society, a nonprofit founded to preserve the lives of shelter pets.
"It feels really good because it's stuff we've really talked about as an organization for quite a long time," Marc Peralta, Best Friends' chief program officer, tells Daily Paws.
In some cities, breed-specific legislation and home insurance restrictions can get in the way of adoptions for pit bull-type dogs, but the perception of those dogs is another obstacle. Even if they originated in truth at some point, Peralta says, pit bull stereotypes often evolve into a "gross generalization."
"Breeds don't always define a dog," he adds.
The study's researchers found that dogs' breeds only explained 9 percent of behavior changes. Instead, pups' behavior is influenced by multiple genes and environmental factors. Plus, the behavior characteristics are found, to varying degrees, in all breeds, researchers found.
Sure, the study found that sometimes breeds can serve as a more accurate predictor of behavior. For example, border collies are more likely to respond well to human direction than most other breeds, researchers wrote. But a specific border collie's environment or genes might make her act more independent.
Each dog is their own dog, and Peralta has an example. Beagles have a reputation for howling and being stubborn. His pup Sam rarely howled and wasn't particularly stubborn—but still definitely a beagle.
"He was awesome," Peralta says.
RELATED: From Spain to New York, More Governments Are Recognizing Pets as Living Beings—Not Property
So is it still wise to research breeds before you adopt? Yes—and we can help! But you can certainly think about bringing home a mutt or a breed you hadn't considered before. Shelters are quite full, so chances are they have a dog whose behavior and personality match your lifestyle.
Then go meet the dog. Maybe she's your new companion who you'll love forever.