Shopping for a purebred dog? You may not get the personality you expect

A classic German Shepherd (Hans Kemperman, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons)

A classic German Shepherd (Hans Kemperman, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Most modern breeds as we know them trace back less than 160 years. And yet the supposed personalities of these dogs feel like they have been engrained forever. Labrador retrievers are lovable and friendly. Border collies are neurotic and energetic. Chihuahuas are yappy. But things aren’t quite that straightforward, according to a new study that puts these temperaments to the test.

Researchers drew on data from thousands of dogs across the U.S., including genetics and owner surveys. As expected, most breeds have a defined look. When you shop for a German Shepherd, you’re going to get a tall canine with a bushy tail and pointy ears. But behaviors such as playfulness, trainability, and attachment to people varied widely, even within the same breed. The bottom line, says one of the study authors: If you’re looking for a dog with a specific personality, “you shouldn’t shop out of a catalog. Each dog is an individual.” (A website the team set up shows just how hard it is to know what you might get.)

Read more about this research in my latest story for Science

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