Nature vs. Nurture: the Eternal Doggy Debate
It’s been discussed around the kitchen table, argued in public forums, and studied by experts in veterinary science: Is a dog’s personality totally influenced by its DNA or do environmental factors play a bigger role? With the exploding popularity of dog DNA testing, that question may be settled soon; but according to Brian Hare, a canine cognition researcher at Duke University, coming to a definite conclusion is still in the future: “We know a lot more about the bodies of our dogs and how they can break down—more than what we know about their brains and behavior.”
Is there a distinct “aggression gene,” for instance? Can dog DNA testing tell you specifically that you puppy has the “intelligence gene” and therefore has the potential to learn limitless behaviors and clean up in agility competitions? Precise identification of genes or genetic combinations that code for specific traits could be possible in the future, but as with humans, the development of a dog’s overall personality is most likely much more complex. So which is it? The truth is probably somewhere in between: a combination of nature and nurture.
Dog DNA Testing: What it Can’t and Can Tell You about Personality
What a Dog DNA Test CAN’T Tell You
If you’re looking for the perfect puppy for your family and want to know what to look for, or if you already have a four-legged friend at home and are perplexed by its personality, be advised that dog DNA testing identifying specific genetic links to various character traits is still off in the future, as mentioned above. That being said, individual dog breeds have been carefully honed by humans over the years to exhibit predictable traits:
A Labrador Retriever, for example, always looks a certain way, and is likely to be outgoing, intelligent, gentle, even-tempered, and good with children.
The Poodle always looks a certain way, and is likely to be highly intelligent, trainable, alert, and a great companion dog.
So even without the knowledge of whether or not a specific animal has “gentle” tendencies or not, if you’re looking into getting a Yellow Lab, you assume that’s what you’re going to get, from a genetics standpoint.
The characteristics for these two breeds are inherent in their DNA, thanks to the choices made by responsible breeders. Can these predictable characteristics be affected by how the dog is treated by humans, how it was nurtured as a newborn, or the type of home it lives in? Absolutely.
What a Dog DNA Test CAN Tell You
“What breed is my dog?” Many owners of wonderful and beloved mutts want to know answers so that they can better understand their pets’ personalities and what makes them tick. In this case, a dog DNA breed test can be extremely useful since it helps identify a mixed-breed’s genetic make-up. The owner can then look for and identify traits associated with those dog breeds and thereby gain more knowledge about their pet.
The Bottom Line
Nature vs. nurture? Really, it’s both. And do your homework when selecting from dog DNA testing options to ensure you’ll really get the answers to the questions you’re seeking. Also, be sure to research different breeds’ characteristics, consider your family’s lifestyle, and consult with a veterinarian before choosing a puppy.