Academic journal article Genetics

Genetic Characterization of Dog Personality Traits

Academic journal article Genetics

Genetic Characterization of Dog Personality Traits

Article excerpt

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DOGS play important roles as companions and helpers for humans, and dog personality influences their ability to carry out these functions (Jones and Gosling 2005), where personality refers to individual consistency in behavioral responsiveness to stimuli and situations. The distinct behavioral predispositions of individual dog breeds clearly indicate a strong genetic component to dog personality, which is further strengthened by estimates of substantial within-breed genetic variance found for a variety of dog behavioral traits across studies (e.g., Wilsson and Sundgren 1997; Saetre et al. 2006; Meyer et al. 2012; Arvelius et al. 2014a; Persson et al. 2015).

The majority of dog behavior studies have been carried out on working dogs and have used standardized tests, where the effects of the environment at the time of the test could be clearly characterized. These standardized tests in controlled environments provide estimates of moderate heritability for some tested behaviors, e.g., heritability of "gun shyness" has been estimated at 0.56 (SE 0.09) in Labrador Retrievers (van der Waaij et al. 2008). However, the majority of the reported heritability estimates for these traits fall below 0.4 (e.g., Wilsson and Sundgren 1997; Saetre et al. 2006; van der Waaij et al. 2008; Arvelius et al. 2014b), with various management and lifestyle factors (e.g., training practices, Haverbeke et al. 2010) shown to affect behavior. Thus, large datasets are required for accurate decomposition of the variance in these traits into genetic and nongenetic components. Generating such datasets requires substantial infrastructure, which, in practice, may be unattainable for most pet dog populations. Thus, even though personality traits are extremely important for the well-being of both the dog and its owner, their heritabilities for pet dogs, usually not subjected to any formalized behavior testing, are still largely unknown.

Genomic methodologies like the genome-wide association study (GWAS) that assess markers across the genome have been used to determine associations between traits and particular genetic variants. However, again substantial datasets are required to identify genomic associations or to obtain genomic predictions when a large number of small genetic effects are involved, as is expected tobe the case for behavioral traits (Willis-Owen and Flint 2006). As a result, few genomic analyses have been applied to dog behavior traits so far and thus, little is known about their genetic architecture or the individual genes involved. Variation in a few functional candidate genes (e.g., DRD4, TH, OXTR, SLC6A) has been shown to be associated with behavior in dogs (Våge et al. 2010; Kubinyi et al. 2012; Wan et al. 2013; Kis et al. 2014). However, these detected associations are only a starting point in the process of understanding the molecular genetic basis of dog behavior.

Thus, the size of available datasets is a limiting factor to the dissection of the variance components of behavioral traits as well as to the characterization of their genetic architecture. An alternative approach to using data from standardized tests would be to exploit the knowledge that pet owners and dog breeders have of their own dogs in everyday situations, in order to accumulate sufficiently large datasets. The size of these datasets could then overcome the lack of standardized assessment and at the same time, avoid possible interactions between the behavior and the somewhat artificial conditions of the test environment.

A survey-based approach has now been utilized in a number of studies on dog behavior, where the dog owner's answers to validated questionnaires, such as the Canine Behavioral Assessment and Research Questionnaire (C-BARQ), were used to assess the personality traits of the dog. C-BARQ was developed at the University of Pennsylvania originally as a method for evaluating and predicting the success of guide dogs (Serpell and Hsu 2001). …

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