The genetics of behavior -- in all animals, including dogs -- is complex. While some genes have known associations with behaviors (such as the POMC mutation affecting food motivation in Labrador Retrievers), the genetic basis for many behaviors like herding, pointing, retrieving, etc., are still being studied.
From testing hundreds of thousands of mixed-breed and purebred dogs, we’ve learned that it isn’t uncommon for dogs of diverse ancestries to exhibit what many people think of as breed-specific behaviors or traits. Some toy breed mixes might point when they see birds, and some terrier mixes may have strong retrieving instincts. A purebred Labrador may hate swimming, and a purebred Pug may excel at scent work. It’s important to remember that all dogs are individuals, and their behaviors result from very complex genetic and environmental interactions that may or may not be consistent with their breed/mix.
It’s also important to remember that behaviors like herding and pointing were intentionally selected for over time in different breeds. We likely wouldn’t have these behaviors in purebred dogs today if they didn’t exist at some frequency in the general dog population. Embark is on the cutting edge of canine behavioral research with the goal of learning more about why dogs act the way they do. If you want to contribute, please be sure to fill out the Research Surveys on your account to tell us about your dog’s unique behaviors.
Even in single-breed dogs, behavior is not a particularly accurate predictor of breed and this association becomes even more tenuous in dogs with mixed ancestry. What it comes down to is that behavior is very rarely an indicator of actual ancestry!
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