April 15, 2014
I used to think a dog’s breed had nothing to do with its behavior. Making any assumption based on breed felt wrong to me, like some kind of unfair profiling. The more I study canine behavior, the more I recognize the importance of genetics in our most beloved companions.
Dogs, more than any other animal on Earth, have been manipulated by humans to serve a wide variety of purposes – from pulling carts to complex herding tasks. To achieve this, we’ve selected not just for physical traits, but also for tendencies toward certain behaviors and temperaments. So even if you rescue a beagle from a shelter that has never been a “working dog,” you will likely still find your friend with their nose to the ground quite often. Like, all the time. That’s because it’s in a beagle’s DNA to use the amazing sniffer they’ve been bred for.
Why is knowing breed so important? Knowing what a dog was bred for can help you predict and understand behavior. Most breeds were developed for a purpose – to have the drive to do specific things. In our homes, as pets, dogs still retain some of that drive, and without a proper outlet for that energy, it can come out in inappropriate ways. One familiar example is a herding breed (like corgis) that nip at heels and attempt to control the movement of children and other animals in the house.
Knowing breed tendencies doesn’t make nuisance behaviors okay, but it may help you understand. That is essential when you’re coming up with a way to manage and train your dog. It also helps you recognize what is normal for a dog and when something may be wrong. A terrier that fetches? Fun and unusual! A lab that bites? Abnormal and dangerous.
Having a good grasp on breeds can help keep you safe as well. Dogs that were bred to hunt and kill – many terriers for example – are more likely to bite than those bred to gently carry animals back to their humans, like Labradors and Golden Retrievers, when subjected to the same stress level. It doesn’t mean they are guaranteed to bite (or that others are guaranteed not to!), but it does mean that they may be less hesitant to use their teeth.
It’s also just fun! I love seeing a dog do exactly what they were meant to do. Breeding explains why retrievers learn the game of fetch easily, and it’s also why they love it so much! It’s the same drive as a working dog focused into a great game for pets and their people.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I have some serious love for mutts. When it comes down to it, it’s all about the mixed breeds. Guessing what breeds make up a dog can mean endless fun for a dog nerd like me! I loved to speculate about my 2 dogs before I broke down and did a DNA test. Now that I have, it all makes sense! Their features, behavior, what drives them…
Remember, every dog is still an individual with their own personality and quirks. Breed knowledge is just one tool of many that we have to better understand our best friends. And understanding is what strengthens a relationship.
- Or does your dog do funny things that make you wonder if it’s a breed thing?
- Have you ever done a DNA test? What were the results?
Lynda manages our dog walking team at Rover-Time. Her career focus is on dog training and behavior and her approach is based on science, positive reinforcement, and humane methods to improve relationships between humans and their pets. She’s also an assistant trainer at Animal Sense in the evenings and co-parents her own dogs, Surf and Ryan, with her other half Mary.