Are there any differences in behavior between purebred and mixed-breed dogs?


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One of the easiest ways to start a discussion among people who own dogs as pets is to raise the question “Which is better, a purebred dog or a mixed breed dog?” In such an argument, advocates of mixed races are likely to bring up the subject of “hybrid vigor.” This refers to the idea that mixed breed dogs have fewer health issues due to a more diverse gene pool. While it is true that some purebred dogs can exhibit a number of physical problems of genetic origin, the jury is still out on whether mixed breed dogs are healthier overall. So far, the data suggests that mixed breed dogs can inherit many of the issues associated with each of the breeds that go into their makeup. So the general consensus seems to be that mixed breed dogs are no more or less likely to have health issues than their purebred counterparts. But what about differences in behavior?

In most countries, mixed breed dogs actually outnumber purebred dogs. For example, a national census showed that 53% of dogs in the United States are mixed breed (click here for more on this). Therefore, it is somewhat surprising that there are very few scientific studies contrasting the differences in personality and behavior between purebred and mixed breed dogs. Nonetheless, many people seem to think that the hybrid vigor argument extends into the behavioral realm. An example of this comes from one of the PETA websites which claims that “mixed breed dogs are wonderful compared to purebred dogs who have a greater tendency to be nervous, neurotic and excitable”. Unfortunately, no evidence to support this claim has been provided.

As usual, science ends up addressing issues that people find important or interesting. A new study by Hungarian researchers from Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest has just appeared in the journal PLOS A * and he examines the behavioral differences between these two populations of dogs. The research team consisted of Borbála Turcsán, Ádám Miklósi and Enikö Kubinyi from the Department of Ethology.

This was really a pair of surveys that collected data from a very large sample of dogs – 7,700 purebred dogs representing over 200 breeds and 7,691 mixed breed dogs. The data has been collected in an interesting way. Dog owners completed an online questionnaire (in German) which was advertised in “Dogs” magazine and also on the magazine’s website. It was accompanied by a short article trying to generate interest in owner participation, and was available for five months. To control the effect of breed popularity in the purebred group (which could lead to overwhelming numbers of dogs from a few popular breeds), a threshold was used to limit the number of dogs of a breed to 60 in the first study and 37 for the second study.

As is usually the case in such large surveys, many different variables were analyzed and fairly powerful statistical techniques were used. In some cases, the results were reanalyzed in different ways to try to distinguish certain detailed nuances of behaviors. However, since the space we have here is limited, I will stick to the main effects and highlights of the data.

To begin with, there were personality differences between the two groups. Mixed breed dogs were significantly less calmed down than purebred dogs. Calmness is shown by a dog who is cool headed and emotionally balanced compared to a dog who is anxious or appears stressed.

Mixed breed dogs were also considerably less sociable towards other dogs. Sociability is demonstrated in dogs who are viewed as friendly and willing to share toys, as opposed to dogs who are likely to quarrel and who are viewed as bullying.

Mixed-breed dogs were also more likely to exhibit behavioral issues. These include dogs that frequently pull on the leash, jump on people, do not respond when called, show dominance behaviors, etc.

Two other aspects of behavior were examined. Purebred and mixed-breed dogs showed little or no difference in terms of training capacity. They were also similar in the personality trait called daring (a daring dog would be very daring while a fearful and clumsy dog ​​would be weak).

The research team set out to find out why the differences between mixed and purebred dogs exist. One possibility they considered is that mixed breed dogs are mostly the result of random breeding rather than planned matings. Purebred dogs are usually subjected to careful selective breeding. Although breeders are more concerned with the appearance of their dogs, they also tend to be careful with temperament. A moody and excitable dog with behavioral issues is less likely to be bred. This is because, in part, breeders know that it will not be good for the breed in general, and also because it is much more likely that an ill-behaved dog will be returned to them by the buyer. As far as this is true, it means that the differences between mixed breed and purebred dogs could be, at least partially, attributed to genetic factors.

However, the research team also found that there were a number of environmental factors related to the demographics of dog owners and the way dogs were raised, which could have an effect. For example, mixed-breed dogs were more likely to be owned by females, and these females tended to be younger, less educated, and had less experience with dogs than dog owners. purebred.

Another factor was that mixed breed dogs tended to receive less formal training than purebred dogs. This is important because the amount of training affected the dog’s score in terms of calm and sociability and dogs that received training would also have less behavior problems.

Mixed-breed dogs were also more likely to be the only dog ​​in a household and tended to be kept indoors most of the time. These dogs also tended to be brought home at an older age than purebred dogs. This fact is important since the researchers found that dogs brought home at less than 12 weeks of age were generally calmer.

Another interesting factor was that mixed breeds were more likely to be sterilized. These investigators found that spayed or neutered dogs had lower calm scores and were more likely to exhibit behavioral problems. This is consistent with other research showing that neutered dogs are more likely to be aggressive, fearful, and excitable (click here for more on this).

So, this research team concludes that there are real differences between mixed and purebred dogs in terms of personality and behavior. They also suggest that these differences are not just genetic, but may also reflect the environment the dog is raised in, the training the dog receives, and the characteristics of the dog’s owners.

Stanley coren is the author of numerous books including: Gods, ghosts and black dogs; The wisdom of dogs; Do dogs dream? Born to bark; The modern dog; Why Do Dogs Have Wet Noses? The paw prints of history; How dogs think; How to speak dog; Why We Love Dogs We Love; What do dogs know? The intelligence of dogs; Why is my dog ​​acting this way? Understanding dogs for dummies; Sleep thieves; Left-handed syndrome

Copyright SC Psychological Enterprises Ltd. Cannot be reprinted or republished without permission

* Data from: Borbala Turcsán, Ádám Miklósi and Enikö Kubinyi, (2017). The owner saw differences between mixed and purebred dogs. PLoS ONE 12 (2): e0172720. doi: 10.1371 / journal.pone.0172720


Jeanetta J. Stewart