Genetics in Dogs and How This Can Play a Role in Dog Training

If your dog exhibits naughty behavior, you have probably been led to believe that it is your fault, right? You have not trained them correctly. This can be enough for any dog owner to feel like they are not raising their loyal friend properly, but it is never as simple as that.

There are so many kind and committed dog owners who experience troubles with their dogs, so it is unfair to blame them for this.

Instead, we need to look at the different reasons why dogs behave the way that they do. One thing that certainly plays a role is genetics. Understanding this is essential, as it can help you to make tweaks to your dog training that are going to be more effective for your dog overall.

What nature has to say about it

We all know that behavioral characteristics can be inherited. After all, this is something that has provided the foundations for selective breeding in the dog world. This is why we have been able to develop specific lines of dogs who are continually able to track rabbits, guard our homes, herd sheep, or retrieve things without any formal training. 

When you think about it from this perspective, it should not be any shock that different sorts of behavioral tendencies can be passed on to dogs from their parents. 

The reality is that your dog’s genetic background plays a huge role in what inborn skills your dog may have, as well as the character of your dog. For example, whether he is startled by loud noises or unfazed by them, is a snuggly couch potato or a high-drive athlete, tolerant of other pets or not, friendly with strangers or shy, and so on.

There have been behavioral genetic studies on canines since the 1940s that have continually proven that traits such as tendencies toward aggression, working drive, problem-solving ability, impulsivity, and fearfulness are influenced heavily by breeding.

Early learning and socialization can help to sway things in one way or another. However, there are forces in operation on a genetic blueprint that already exist, and it is vital to keep this in mind, as it will impact how you train your dog. 

What controls your dog’s characteristics?

Several different factors can contribute to your dog’s character and personality. How a dog behaves and looks is often determined by a combination of your dog’s genetics, the environment it has grown up in, and the environment your dog lives in today.

Environmental factors can include the likes of the hormone levels in the uterus your dog was raised in while it was an embryo, the amount of exercise your dog gets, and your dog’s diet.

Your dog’s genetics are determined before it is born. These are the characteristics that your dog’s parent passed onto him. This is in the same way that we have traits that are passed on from our parents. 

How are genes passed from the parent to the offspring?

The sex cells of a dog – an egg or sperm- will only feature half of its DNA, with one of each allele selected randomly.

When the egg and the sperm come together to create a new set of DNA, the two halves will combine and become one. This enables the puppy to have two copies of each gene, one inherited from its father and the other from its mother. 

How heritable is temperament?

Behavioral tendencies, personality, and temperament are all passed on genetically. If your dog’s parents were skittish, your dog is more likely to show this trait as well.

Unlike things like eye color, though, temperament is not fully or perfectly heritable. Your dog’s environment can also have a massive impact. This includes how you train, raise, and socialize your dog.

There is something that is known as the heritability coefficient, which is a term that describes how much of a trait is based on genetics. This is something we will take a look at in the next section by exploring a prominent study on the matter. 

For instance, for something like coat color, this is pretty much entirely genetic. Irrespective of how much you train your dog, you are not going to change his coat color. 

However, there is a much more considerable amount of wriggle room for the likes of friendliness to other dogs, a tendency to herd sheep, and a tendency to fetch.

It is essential to understand this, as it will help you get a handle on those things that you can train your dog to do and those parts of your dog’s personality that are extremely hard (and sometimes impossible) to train. 

Research shows that behavioral traits are more likely to be shared through genetics

In a study that was posted last year in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, experts researched the wide breadth of breed diversity, looking for strong genetic signals. This was the first investigation of its kind, looking at such a significant scope of dog breeds. 

There have been many studies that have assessed the genetic underpinnings of dog behavior for specific breeds, yet this was the first study to take such a broad and extensive approach.

The study was able to deduce that specific behavioral traits, such as aggression and trainability, were more likely to be shared by genetically similar breeds. 

To carry out the study, Noah Snyder-Mackler, who works at the University of Washington in Seattle as a geneticist, and his colleagues, looked at how 101 dog breeds behaved while searching for similarities in their genetics among breeds that have certain personality traits in common.

The data was extracted in two ways. The first was by using two dog genotype databases. The second was through a survey known as C-BARQ, which asked dog owners to rank the propensity of their purebred dog for specific behaviours, such as aggressiveness toward strangers or chasing strangers. 

C-BARQ provided the experts with data on more than 14,000 dogs. The researchers then used a scoring system for 14 different types of behaviors displayed within dogs. After this, they looked for genetic similarities among breeds with similar scores. 

For traits such as chasing, trainability, and aggression toward strangers, it was determined that genes contribute between 60 and 70 percent in terms of behavioral variation amongst breeds. 

For instance, dachshunds and Chihuahuas had higher scores in terms of aggression toward strangers. Border collies and poodles had higher trainability scores. 

In terms of fearfulness and energy level, there was a smaller genetic contribution. For those traits, around 50 percent could be related to genetics. This indicates that other factors, such as training and the environment, play an equal role in shaping these behaviors. 

Therefore, we can deduce that it is easier to train your dog to overcome fear in comparison to reducing aggressiveness in your dog. 

Of course, this research is not foolproof, and there is still a lot that needs to be done. However, this is undoubtedly one of the most significant studies that have been conducted in recent times, and it gives us a really good insight into the role that genetics plays.

Nevertheless, as I am going to discuss later in this post, you should never look at it simply as a breed-specific thing! You need to delve deeper, looking into specific lines of the breed and/or the dog’s parents to truly understand your dog’s genetic makeup. 

Modifying this genetic behavior

So, if a dog inherits so many qualities, can we modify them? Yes, of course, we can! That is where training comes in. However, you can only make modifications to the dog you already have. You cannot create a dog from scratch. This is why you need to consider your dog’s personality type and think about any certain goals you may have for your puppy. By doing this, you will be able to put together a training plan that is right for your dog. You can change your dog’s behavior, but only to an extent! 

Be careful not to stereotype too heavily

It is imperative to point out that this should not result in breed-specific discrimination or stereotyping. 

Yes, some breeds are more likely to have certain traits and characteristics when compared with others. However, there is also a significant amount of genetic variability within every type of dog breed. 

In fact, this is so much so that it is simply not feasible to make any sort of reliable prediction regarding a dog’s behavior based on the identification of their breed. 

Instead of this, it is much more valuable to delve deeper and look at the dog’s parents and the littermates of your puppy. You can also take a look at the particular line of dogs within a breed as well. 

Using this information to your advantage

Merely knowing that you are not to “blame” for your dog’s negative behavioral traits can be a relief for a lot of dog owners.

Nevertheless, there is a lot that you can take by finding out more about the genetic information regarding your dog.

Once you understand the traits and qualities that may have been passed onto your dog, you will understand what is already built into his personality. You will be able to adapt your approach to training based on this.

If you have a dog from an uncertain background or their background is not-so-great, don’t beat yourself up about it. Instead, you can only play the hand you are dealt. This means understanding your dog’s personality and figuring out how you can help your dog to lead a happier and safer life with careful management and training.

You can strengthen your bond with your dog, teach them improved coping skills for handling stress, and build their confidence through understanding their personality and the things you simply cannot change.

Which dog breeds are considered easier to train?

Some dog breeds are considered easier to train than others. This includes Bearded Collies, German Shepherds, Labrador Retriever, and Miniature Schnauzers. Poodles are also deemed easy to train because they are generally obedient and highly intelligent. Border Collies are also prized for their working ability and instincts, and so this is another breed of dog that is deemed easy to train.

This is something that you may want to look into in further detail if you are currently doing your research because you are unsure of what breed of dog to bring into your home.

Consult with a dog trainer if you’re struggling

If you are struggling to train your dog effectively and are unsure of how their genetics plays a role in their training ability, you should consider looking for a dog trainer who will assist you with this. They will help you to deduce the results regarding your dog’s genetics, understanding your dog, and the sort of training that they are going to respond to.

There are many steps you can take to ensure you pick a reputable and experienced dog trainer who will provide you with the service you are looking for. You should make sure that the trainer is certified and has a good reputation in the industry. You can read reviews online that have been posted by people that have already used their service before. Some dog trainers even post videos of their work, so you can get a glimpse into how they operate.

It is also essential to understand the dog trainer’s methodology. You want to be sure that the trainer is going to base their approach on your dog’s genetics and what your dog needs. All dogs are different, and so training should never be a one-size-fits-all solution.

Final words

So there you have it: some insight into genetics and how they can have a role in your dog’s behavior. Understanding your dog’s genetics is imperative when it comes to making sure they get the level of training that is going to be right for them.

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