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Breed Traits & Human Interaction: Nature vs Nurture

Clinician's Brief (Capsule)


April 2014

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In this study, the success of a pointing task was compared among 3 breeds intentionally bred for differences in predatory behavior: exaggerated eye-stalk-chase behavior in border collies (herding dogs); fully intact predatory sequence in Airedale terriers (hunting dogs); and complete inhibition of the full predatory sequence in Anatolian shepherds (livestock-guarding dogs). In the first experiment, a person standing next to 2 objects called the dog until it oriented toward them, then pointed to 1 of the 2 objects. The dog was released and had up to 1 minute to make a choice. If the dog correctly went to the object that had been pointed to, it was rewarded. Border collies were expected to perform well because of their increased sensitivity to moving stimuli and heightened motivation to chase. Airedales were also expected to perform well, but Anatolian shepherds were not on account of their reduced motivation for tracking and following objects. As expected, border collies and Airedales performed better on this test than did Anatolian shepherds; border collies had superior performance overall. A second experiment was designed to determine whether the Anatolian performance could be enhanced with repeated exposure to the test (n = 60 trials). Results found these dogs were able to overcome the behavioral inhibition. Performance on human-guided tasks is influenced by heritable traits but ultimately determined by a combination of heritability and training.


The selection of a dog as a companion can be influenced by several factors: initial physical attraction, past experiences with certain breeds or traits, research into breed standards for lifestyle fit, and chance. This study evaluated 3 different breed types with their ability to orient to the location where a human pointed. Although the performance was fairly predictable, further experiences improved performance rates beyond expectation for the poorer performing breed. Although nature is important, nurturing can improve behavior performance. Stereo-
typing dog breeds may only serve to limit the dog’s experiences.—Sandra Sawchuk, DVM, MS


Exploring breed differences in dogs (Canis familiaris): Does exaggeration or inhibition of predatory response predict performance on human-guided tasks? Udell MAR, Ewald M, Dorey NR, Wynne CDL. ANIM BEHAV 89:99-105, 2014.

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