From wolf to cream puff: New info for matching dog breeds to clients (Proceedings)

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From wolf to cream puff: New info for matching dog breeds to clients (Proceedings)

Tips on raising puppies
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Aug 01, 2008

Virtually all family veterinarians are commonly asked to recommend a breed of dog that is best for a particular client. This may be a client that already has a dog and wishes to get another one, maybe a client that has recently lost a dog that was under your care and is looking to get another one. They may be asking for a friend and they want to give some advice. Finally it may be a first-time dog owner that wants to venture into this kind of companionship that they heard is so rewarding.

If instead of waiting for a client to ask us for this information we might think about preparing ourselves appropriately as regard to possible breed candidates and gender for clients with different needs or desires, as well as a repertoire of standard advice we can give in terms of raising dogs to prevent problem behaviors. In fact, if clients do ask your input and you give them advice that is suitable for their personality and lifestyle, this can be a much happier long-term client of yours and one that has a dog with fewer problem behaviors than are otherwise likely. Certainly, clients that do not ask will still appreciate your interest in them enough to offer advice.

Typically clients ask about: what are the calmest breeds; what breeds are best for children; what breeds should be avoided because they are aggressive; are there any dogs that are easiest to housetrain; and what are the best breeds for a watchdog? In addition to answering some of these questions we will also delve into gender-specific aspects of behavior that may be used along with recommendations of breeds and we will discuss some important tips that you can pass on to the clients that they will not necessarily find mentioned in the common dog raising books found in book stores and pet shops. But first, a little background.

Advances in Canine Genetics

The unique aspects of the canine genetic background in development with the domestic dog have been the topics of several recent publications. These studies have included the dates and locations of the ancient breeds, domestication and social cognition, and the capacity to learn a couple hundred words. The last decade has seen detailed work on the canine genome with almost a complete mapping of the genome, laying the groundwork for investigation of behavioral differences between breeds.

An important study, published in 2004 (Parker et al. 2004, Science 304, 1161-1164), did genetic structure analyses on 85 breeds. Their analyses revealed that almost all breeds are genetically distinct and the researchers were able to assign, on the basis of genetics alone, 99% of individual dogs to a specific genome. If you have the DNA of almost any dog, and you have the appropriate analytical techniques at your hand, you would be able to identify the breed of that dog, assuming it was a purebred dog. With this information on the genetic make-up of different dog breeds we should expect to find behavioral, as well as physiological and disease susceptibility, differences as a function of breed membership.

Breeds could also be grouped according to genetic similarity. The most prominent and closely related group, traced back to wolf ancestry, included the Chow Chow, Shiba Inu, Siberian Husky, Alaskan Malamute, Shar-pei and Akita. There were two other groups that could be put together by genetic similarity. These were guard dogs (Mastiff, Bulldog, Boxer, Rottweiler, German Shepherd Dog and Newfoundland) and herding dogs (Collie, Shetland Sheepdog, Saint Bernard and Irish Wolfhound).

Another landmark genetic study (Lindblad-Toh et al, 2005, Nature 438, 803-819), compared the genomes of ten different breeds of dogs and uncovered some 2.5 million individual genetic differences among the breeds, referred to as single nucleotide polymorphisms. Selective breeding of dogs, which is the hallmark of canine history, carries large genetic regions of bases of DNA into breeds, making it easy to find genes responsible for physical and behavioral differences more than in any other species.

Breed-specific Behavioral Differences in 80 Breeds

Data will be presented from a recently completed study of 80 breeds and behavioral traits of interest to pet owners from systematic interviews of 168 small animal veterinarians. Each authority was asked to rank a sample of 7 breeds from our master list on each of 10 characteristics. Computer processing of this data revealed statistically significant differences on each trait. These traits included: activity level; snapping; excessive barking; demand for affection; aggression towards other dogs; aggression towards owners; territorial defense; watchdog barking; trainability; and ease of housetraining. Some traits such as activity level are much better at discriminating between breeds than other traits such as housetraining. All 80 breeds were ranked 1 through 80 on each behavioral trait.

Breeds closely related to wolf ancestors significantly scored at the high end on aggressive characteristics and at the low end on demand for affection. Thus, in those breeds most related to the wolf, wolf-like aggressive behavior was conserved. In other breeds a predisposition towards aggressiveness probably reflected an amplification of aggressive tendencies for guarding territory and for hunting vermin and large prey. In developing dogs for herding, where shepherds worked closely with their dogs during the day and then wanted a companion at night, dogs were selected that showed little aggression and strong demand for affection. Some breeds were selected for being cuddly lap dogs where affection demand was emphasized.