Jump to content

International Collaboration For Dog Health And Welfare. Join Us.

  • entries
  • comments
  • views

Behavior inheritance and consequences


Viewed: 1,762 times

For most dog breeders, behavior represents a major challenge. It is indeed one of the main fields of interest in terms of breeding.  In a survey we made with French breeders a few years ago (Leroy et al. 2007), behavior was ranked as a breeding goal after morphology, but before health and work.  Yet, although the influence of genes on behavioral traits, which are illustrated by the large behavioral differences between breeds, cannot be denied, those traits are also largely impacted by education and environment, which makes selection of those traits difficult.



A recent study (Hradecká et al. 2015) tried to make a reappraisal on the heritability of behavioral traits in dogs, i.e. of the proportion of behavior variation that can be attributed to genes. For this 1763 heritability estimations from 48 studies were gathered in a meta-analysis study, traits being classified into five categories: Environment interaction, herding, hunting, play and psychical characteristics. As showed in the following table, whatever the categories, heritabilities were found to be low, ranging between 9 and 15%. In other words, according to this study, depending on trait categories, around 9-15% of within breed observed variability could be explained by gene differences.



Heritability of traits for different categories according to Hradecká et al. (2015) meta-analysis






Environment interaction
















Psychical characteristic





This low heritability has several consequences relative to breeding and welfare issues.


First, it underlines the importance of education. It is of course not a surprise, but when coming to behavior, breeders should rely more on their capacity at providing an environment optimal for the behavioral development of the puppies than to genetics.


Secondly, improving the behavior of a breed through selection is not going to be an easy task. Two shortcuts may, however, be considered. First, if the improvement of behavior of the breed is an absolute necessity, maybe the genes of interest can be found outside the breed. Heritabilities are, indeed, in general estimated within breeds, so they do not take into account differences across breeds. It may also be wondered if genomics could be of some help. Given the complexity of behavioral traits, it is expected that even the small proportion of variability which is genetic involves a large number of genes, possibly with small and indirect effects. Yet in the last years, several studies have been able to identify gene variants impacting behavior. Some examples:


  • In Belgian Shepherd breed, Lit et al. (2013) identified a mutation in dopamine transporter gene, single copy carriers showing seizures, loss of responsiveness to environmental stimuli, episodic aggression, and hyper-vigilance.


  • When considering disorders related to behavior, several genes have been identified to underlie some inherited forms of epilepsy (see Ekestedt et al. 2013).


  • A recent comparative analysis between pointing and non-pointing dog breeds allowed researchers to identify two gene candidates that could contribute to pointing behavior in hunting dogs (Akkad et al. 2015).
  • In German Shepherd Dogs, a Chinese study (Yang et al. 2015) has linked the genotypes for some olfactory receptors to the olfactory ability of those dogs.


Although interesting, it may be argued that some of these findings (e.g., for instance, the last one) do not directly relate to behavior. But actually, the behavior is connected to a wide range of morphological and physiological mechanisms, and it may be expected, for instance, that olfactory capacity impacts the environment interaction and hunting capacities of dogs. It is, however, important to underline that results should always be replicated and confirmed, especially if there are conflicting findings. Also, results may only be of interest or applicable to some breeds or populations.  Nevertheless, it may be expected that in the next years, some gene test(s), more or less relevant, will be developed for selection on behavior.  As for all other developments in diagnostic molecular genetics, the test(s), their validity, potential impact and application within breeding strategies will need to be carefully considered.





Akkad, D. A., Gerding, W. M., Gasser, R. B., & Epplen, J. T. (2015). Homozygosity mapping and sequencing identify two genes that might contribute to pointing behavior in hunting dogs. Canine Genetics and Epidemiology, 2(1), 1-13.


Ekenstedt, K. J., & Oberbauer, A. M. (2013). Inherited epilepsy in dogs. Topics in companion animal medicine, 28(2), 51-58.


Hradecká, L., Bartoš, L., Svobodová, I., & Sales, J. (2015). Heritability of behavioural traits in domestic dogs: A meta-analysis. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 170, 1-13.


Leroy, G., Verrier, E., Wisner-Bourgeois, C., & Rognon, X. (2007). Breeding goals and breeding practices of French dog breeders: results from a large survey. Revue de Médecine Vétérinaire, 158(10), 496.


Lit, L., Belanger, J. M., Boehm, D., Lybarger, N., Haverbeke, A., Diederich, C., & Oberbauer, A. M. (2013). Characterization of a dopamine transporter polymorphism and behavior in Belgian Malinois. BMC genetics, 14(1), 45.



1 Comment

Recommended Comments

Add a comment...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Blog Disclaimer
    The contents of this blog are for informational purposes only and represent the opinion of the author(s), and not that of the International Partnership for Dogs (IPFD). This is not intended to be a substitute for professional, expert or veterinarian advice, diagnosis, or treatment. We do not recommend or endorse any specific tests, providers, products, procedures, opinions, or other information that may be mentioned on, or linked to from this blog.

  • International Dog Health Workshops


    What our 4th IDHW participants have said...


    ...Now, the real work begins!

    View 4th IDHW Theme Resources

    Post-Meeting Resources
    Plenary talks, Posters & Theme outcomes

  • Our Partners

    • The French Kennel Club - SOCIÉTÉ CENTRALE CANINE (SCC) - was founded in 1881 as a non-profit organization by dog fanciers aiming to replenish native dog breeds and to bring in and establish foreign …
    • The Kennel Club is the largest organization in the UK devoted to dog health, welfare and training. Its objective is to ensure that dogs live healthy, happy lives with responsible owners.   W…
    • The Norwegian Kennel Club (NKC) was founded in 1898, and is the largest organisation for dog owners in Norway.   Website: https://www.nkk.no/english/category1045.html Norwegian Kennel Club …
    • The VDH - Verband für das Deutsche Hundewesen (German Kennel Club in English) is the foremost organisation representing the interests of dog-owners throughout Germany – the first address to find out…
    • Suomen Kennelliitto (Finnish Kennel Club, in English) - Established in 1889, the Finnish Kennel Club is a nationwide expert organisation on canine matters. Its aim is to promote the breeding of pedi…
    • Raad van Beheer (The Dutch Kennel Club (DKC)) is the official kennel club of The Netherlands. Founded in 1902, it currently represents around 200 breed clubs with 150,000 members.   …
    • Agria Djurförsäkring (Agria Animal Insurance) is one of the world's leading animal insurers specialising in small animal and equine insurance. The company dominates Scandinavian pet insurance and ha…
    • Royal Canin is a global leader in pet health nutrition. In an industry that continues to adapt to popular trends in cat and dog food, our mission will remain the same; to constantly bring, through H…
    • The Irish Kennel Club promotes the responsible ownership and breeding of dogs throughout Ireland through education, registration, training and support schemes and events.   Website: http://w…
    • The Canadian Kennel Club (CKC) is the primary registry body for purebred dogs in Canada and currently recognizes 175 breeds. As a non-profit organization, the CKC is dedicated to encouraging, guidin…
    •   Mars Veterinary is a business unit of Mars Petcare, the world’s largest pet care provider. Their mission is to facilitate responsible pet care by enhancing the well-being and relationship betw…
    • Agria is one of the world’s leading animal insurers, specialising in small animal and equine insurance. Founded in Sweden over 120 years ago, Agria came to the UK in 2009 and is now a prominent feat…
    • The SKK - Svenka Kennelklubben (Swedish Kennel Club, in English), is Sweden's largest organisation dedicated to dogs and dog owners. We represent the interests of our 300,000 members – first time do…
  • Create New...

Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Terms of Use.