AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Is Training Your Dog Useless?

For about 100 years, humans have been trying to train the domestic animals, such as dogs, that they live with. They put in lots of time and effort for teach their dogs simple tricks such as sitting, lying down, and staying in place. While it is rewarding to have a dog listen to commands after teaching and training them, this may not as great of an accomplishment as previously thought. As a dog owner myself, this had me worried, but as a recent ScienceNews post says, the answer to how to train a dog may just lie in their genetics. 

Training Dogs May Be an Outdated Practice

This was the hypothesis that Noah Snyder-Mackler had as he and a few other colleagues from the University of Washington in Seattle attempted to prove its legitimacy. Primarily, the group collected data about 101 different breeds of dogs from two dog genotypes databases and a survey titled C-BARQ, a survey where dog owners submit information about behavior from their dogs such as aggressiveness or ability to listen. As the data came in, there were over 14,000 submissions and they were all scored on 14 different traits. Overall, Snyder-Mackler and his group found that poodles and border collies had higher traits of trainability and Chihuahuas and dachshunds had higher traits of aggressiveness. However this does not means that training a dog is rendered useless since there was about a small correlation, 50%, between energy level and fearfulness.

Aggression Could Have Been Caused from Genetics

Next the researchers tried to see if certain traits correlated with certain genes. After doing more research they found that no genes specially aligned with a breeds behaviors, but this does not mean that the research is useless since even though this  does not show that a gene brings about a behavioral trait, but it shows that this subject needs more research to be able to determine the validity of Snyder-Mackler’s original hypothesis.

Dogs are very complex genetically and therefore behavioral traits are both a combination of genetics and training. As Carlos Alvarez, a researcher at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, says, “Dogs are a really powerful system to investigate the genetics of many traits and diseases because generations of domestication and breeding have simplified their genomes. This study shows that behavior is no different.” Overall while this research is just the start and is incomplete in totality, it shows that there is much more to discover regarding this topic. If you have any traits that you think correlate with either your dog’s genes or breed, please post a comment a explain why.


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  1. kangyotype

    I found this post to be very interesting and applicable to me because I have 2 dogs that are golden doodles who are pretty good at being trained to give a paw, sit, or lay down. My previous 2 dogs were pekingese and they weren’t as able to do tricks and they were more aggressive towards me. However, it is interesting that research has shown that there is a combination of training and actual breed for how well a dog can learn tricks.
    This article says that the different breeds of dogs only evolved from wolves not too long ago so there is not too much variation in behaviors. It also brings up that the purebred dogs are better at communication than mixed, but mixed are better at memory.

  2. jednetic

    While reading the title I also go scared as a dog owner that it was true!!! I read a study from the NIH that greatly supports your point that dog breeds can determine their behaviors. This extends so far that dogs can be bred for specific traits such as hunting, herding, and guiding. They’ve started mapping out the differences in their genome with these dogs to find out which genes trigger these behaviors.

    You can learn more here

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