Does Dog Breed Predict Personality? Science Says Not Really!
Maybe you’ve recently received the results of a dog DNA test and found out what breeds make up your lovable pooch. Now, your question is: does it matter?
Does breed really explain why your dog’s been digging up the backyard? Or why they chase squirrels? Or is personality determined by experience and training?
Whether you have a purebred or an adorable mix, it can be useful to learn more about where their quirks and habits really come from.
As you probably guessed, it’s complicated
For many years, we chalked up a dog’s personality to their breed background. We assumed Pitbulls to be aggressive because they have a background in bullfighting. We tended to trust Newfoundlands to be friendly because of their history as doggy lifeguards.
But recent research has painted a different picture. Various studies tracking and comparing the genetics and behaviors of thousands of dogs have shown that breed explains less than 10% of variation in dog personality. That means that breed does play a role, but so do many other factors, like environment, health, training, and more.
That being said, 10% isn’t nothing. Breed can be a predictor of certain personality traits in dogs. Your Vizsla might be crazy about birds, just like your Labrador Retriever might act like a magnet to water. That’s because hundreds of years of intentional breeding have made some personality traits more likely to appear in certain breed groups. But, this is really more of a prediction than a set-in-stone outcome.
Another key finding in these studies was that no behavioral trait (think, aggression, friendliness, or prey drive) was entirely absent from an entire breed group or found in all dogs within a breed. Put another way, any dog has the potential to show a certain personality trait, regardless of breed. At the same time, you can have two individuals of the same breed with entirely different personalities.
Overall, individual dogs are unique mash-ups of genetics, background, and other factors.
Breed stereotypes can have negative impacts
What the research tells us about breed can help us to avoid certain pitfalls, like stereotyping.
For one thing, stereotyping can hold our dogs back from their full potential. You might assume that your dog can’t learn agility training because they’re not a Border Collie. But, the truth is, this activity is a wonderful form of mental stimulation and physical exercise for all dogs. Sure, your dog may not be as fast or focused as the pros, but they could still enjoy it. For this reason, it’s worth exposing your dog to activities that are outside the box for their breed.
Another risk of breed stereotyping is that it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Consider the Chihuahua. This spit-fire little dog has a reputation for being snappy. And yes, they may have a predisposition to this trait. But, allowing a Chihuahua to act out aggressively because “it’s in their breed” can have negative repercussions on their wellbeing and the safety of those around them. So, it’s up to the owner to work on minimizing those habits for a happier, healthier doggo. Luckily, there are plenty of folks out there, like the humans behind the popular TikTok account Lou the Chichi, who are proving that you can overcome breed stereotypes.
What you can do to give your pup a winning personality
If you’re not wild about some of the traits that are associated with your dog’s breed, these recent findings should provide you with some relief! Because as it turns out, with some patience and planning, you can help your dog’s best personality traits shine. Here’s how:
- Find what motivates them. Almost all dogs are motivated by something, be it food, praise, or play. And you can use that to your advantage when training them to be the best version of themselves.
- Use their breed description as a guide, not a manual. We know now that breed isn’t everything when it comes to personality. But, it can provide us with some helpful insights to our dog’s behavior. If you have a very independent or high energy dog, for example, they may be unreliable off-leash or with the windows rolled down in the car. But, you can find breed-friendly workarounds, like enclosed dog parks or BreezeGuard screens to allow your dog to enjoy fresh air in the backseat. In this way, you’re keeping your dog’s breed in mind without limiting them.
- Reward good behavior. Throughout training, you’ll witness your dog deciding whether to follow their natural naughty instincts or comply with what you’re asking of them. And, everytime your reward system wins out over those natural instincts, you should celebrate! This will make your dog more likely to follow commands in the future, thus shaping their personality.
- Provide appropriate outlets. If you notice your dog showing signs of their breed through habits like digging or chasing, make it a part of your enrichment plan. Giving your dog appropriate outlets for these habits can help you strike a happy medium between their natural urges and your house rules. You might, for instance, provide them with a designated digging area or sign them up for lure coursing classes.
- Be proactive in your dog’s interactions with others. While you may be ready to overcome your dog’s breed stereotypes, the truth is, society at large is slower to let them go. If you have a Doberman who is as sweet as pie, for example, you may still encounter people whose fear of the breed will put your dog on edge. One owner found that putting adorable bandanas on her Pitbull made strangers less fearful. This allowed her to have more positive socialization opportunities.
- Love your dog for who they are. At the end of the day, your dog is a beautifully unique individual with quirks and fears and strengths. The more you get to know them, show them patience, and love them for who they are, the easier it will be to convince them to become the well-behaved pup you know they can be.