A Dog's Breed Alone Is Not Indicative of Personality and Behavior, a New Study Suggests

Some dogs may not live up to their breed's reputation.
Some dogs may not live up to their breed's reputation. / Capuski/iStock via Getty Images

Who’s a good boy? The question has piqued the interest of pet owners and dogs alike for centuries. Certainly, not eating your work shoes counts. But does breed? According to a new study, likely not.

Research published in the journal Science surveyed 18,385 dog owners and assessed the behavioral traits of their furry roommates, inquiring about everything from playing to getting baths. Then they compared the results to DNA sequencing of 2155 dogs.

The results confirmed what animal experts have long suspected: While breeds are reliable markers for physical characteristics, they can be a poor indicator of personalities. Dogs that may have a reputation for friendliness or aggression may not display either; dogs known to be more easily trained may not listen too well.

Take the golden retriever, renowned for its eagerness to fetch. Many goldens in the study were, owners reported, happy to do nothing when prompted to get a ball.

Overall, just 9 percent of a dog’s behavior variations can be attributed to breed.

There are exceptions. Border collies may be a little more attentive to owners, while huskies are more prone to howling. But the research points to a dog’s personality being shaped by its environment, with breed type being just one determining factor.

What’s the takeaway? That owners shouldn’t use breed alone as a guide when choosing a dog. “I don't think that we should really be deciding that breeds are the things that will tell us whether we will be happy with a dog or whether a dog will be happy with us,” Marjie Alonso, one of the study’s authors, told NPR. “We do have to accept that our dogs are individuals. Each dog is a study of one. We want to accept our dogs for who they are.”

[h/t Smithsonian]