Breed Does Matter

Holiday 2002 auto level

Is it the breed, the cross, or how you raise the dog? What determines what my dog will become?  It is everything – starting at conception.  What I get in a dog begins with genetics.  I cannot make a Border Collie into a Basset Hound.  There is no way I can.  Why?  Genetics.  Here is an example of why the right dog for the job is important.

The Joneses moved from the dense suburbs to a semi rural area. They thought it would be great to start a small farm.  Coyotes were a problem so the family decided to get a dog to protect the livestock. When I was called to work with Lola, the problem was clear.  Lola was an Australian Cattle Dog.  Instead of protecting the animals, she was chasing them.  The Joneses needed a Livestock Guarding breed, which Lola was not.

Here is an Australian Cattle Dog at work.

Here is a video of livestock guard dogs at work – this is a foreign video that is dubbed in English – well worth the watch.


So how does this affect you as a pet owner? 

Many dogs were bred for specific traits that enhanced their ability to work at a specific job. Hounds hunt by sight or scent. Sporting/gun dogs point out, flush and/or retrieve game.  Herding and droving dogs move livestock. Terriers hunt vermin and perform other jobs (the larger terriers). Working dogs were bred to perform many duties depending on breed including: water rescue, hauling, guarding livestock, general farm work, and protection.  Even breeds we do not think of as working often historically had jobs. Standard Poodles are retrievers and gun dogs.  Yorkshire Terriers were used to hunt vermin and many still like to hunt.   Knowing breed traits will allow us to choose dogs that fit our lifestyle.

Why is your Westie digging up your Wisteria?  Research what Westies were developed for.  Why do Siberian Huskies have so much stamina where a Greyhound is often called a 35mph couch potato? They were specifically bred for certain jobs and certain traits.  This is why a Border Collie is a Border Collie and not a Basset Hound.

Here are a few video examples of different dogs doing the jobs they were bred to do.

Lure Coursing – sight hounds – this sport mimics the type of hunting this type of dog was bred to do.  There are videos of Salukis, Greyhounds and Sloughis actually hunting in the Middle East.  I opted not to use these videos as they do show actual hunts which may be disturbing to some readers.  However, watching these dogs at work in the region where they were from was impressive from a behavior standpoint.

Water rescue training with Newfoundlands.

Mike Rowe did a spot on his newest show on hunting rats with terriers in New York City. Here are terriers at work during a competition.  This is what terriers were bred to do.

Here is a Standard Poodle doing what the breed was designed to do. 

Here is my Sheltie at a Herding Instinct test.  This is to see if the dogs have the instinct to do what they were bred to do.  Splash has her herding instinct certificate.  I wish I had the money to go for a herding title.


When you are looking to add a dog to your life, even if a pet, you need to know what you  are getting.  A former manager wanted a dog he could take jogging but he fell in love with and English Bulldog. He was upset when the dog *gasp* could not handle long runs.  I did a phone consult for someone who was upset his dog was active.  The dog was small so he assumed the dog would be lower activity.  The dog was one of the hardest working little breeds known to man!  No way could that dog be a couch potato!  Research people.  I have watched Jack Russell Terriers on farms doing what they were bred to do.  As the owner said “They are calmer because here they get to work all day hunting rats and mice.”

What about crossbred dogs of unknown heritage? Even in crossbred dogs, genetics lay the foundation for what I will get in regards to type and inherited temperament.  Just because a dog looks like something does not mean he is.  Does that scruffy little dog really a terrier cross? I have seen stray dogs listed as crosses of rare breeds.  When there are less than 400 Otterhounds in the entire US and Canada, the chances are of that stray being an Otterhound cross is highly unlikely (number from the Otterhound Club of America).  What if the guess as the cross is completely wrong and the dog’s behaviors nothing like the guess would suggest?

Calling a dog a cross something when you truly have no idea gives a false impression. It can really lead to trouble.  I attended a conference and one of the seminars addressed this topic.  A picture of two fox terrier looking puppies was shown.  We were asked to identify the cross.  The comments were all Fox Terrier cross, Jack Russell cross, etc.  The puppies were not a cross of any breeds called out based on observable looks.  In fact, none of us got the cross right at all!  Not even one breed in the cross (known cross) was correctly guessed.   This was eye opening. It made me remember a situation when I used to work at a shelter.

cross puppies


“Genetics and the Social Behavior of the Dog” by John Paul Scott and John L. Fuller – picture credit.


We had puppy surrendered at the shelter where I worked. He had a wrinkled head, short coat, curly tail.  The office staff decided to call him a Basenji cross.   Well I was involved with a dog club and competing at local dog shows.  Basenjis were very rare – they still are an uncommon breed.  This was during the height of the Shar Pei craze.  Shar Peis were all over the place.  Calling these puppies basically a rare breed cross was irresponsible. The behavior of Basenjis are Shar Peis is different.

Why not classify dogs of unknown type by what we can observe and leave assumed type out?  Smaller, scruffy, likes cats, does not like other dogs, does well with two half-hour walks a day, sociable with all humans.  Large, hairy, great with dogs and cats, must have adult home only, needs at least two hours of human-led games every day.  This is better than telling someone a dog is a Basenji cross based on wrinkled head and curly tail when in reality the dog is a Shar Pei cross – or possibly has no Shar Pei at all!

I am old enough to remember when we called mixes “mixes.”  I also remember when the drive to try to name a cross started.  Bringing Back The Mixed Breed   Dr. Marder trained with Boston Agility Racing K-9s in the 1990’s.  I was a member of BARK at that time. 

There has been research into canine behavioral genetics. After the genetic foundation, maternal stress during pregnancy is factored in.  The way maternal stress and the chemicals released during stress, etc (nutrition, drugs, and others) can all affect e developing fetus.  Here is an abstract on this topic.  Please check Google Scholar for pieces on behavioral development, genetics, maternal stressors, etc.

This is why your Beagle loves to sniff everything.  This is why your Siberian Husky loves to be active.  This is why your Bulldog may be fine for walks but will not train for a marathon.

No, it is not just all on how a dog is raised.

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