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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7 Responses to Breed Does Matter

  1. LisaD says:

    Why don’t Pit Bull owners accept this? Genetics pertains to every breed/type but not Pits. Sigh.


    • westwinddt says:

      I never blame an owner if they were given information that is not accurate by others they put trust in to guide them. This goes for all people owners or potential owners reach out to for assistance. I will state sometimes my honesty upsets people but there are some dogs that are not suited for placement. When trainers evaluate dogs, we can only go by what we see at that point in the dog. I have worked with some dogs that really concerned me and in different placements they did OK. In other dogs, they did not show the concerning behaviors at all or any signs. I do not like triggering the behaviors in dogs anymore (as many of us did in the past) because that is not fair and affects the dogs. It can also put others at risk. But in some dogs I saw no real indication that the dog was what the owner was concerned about. I often want to reevaluate the dogs or recommend a second evaluation by someone else. Generally though we can see signals indicating a dog is uncomfortable with situations long before there is an outburst. However, in dogs who had the early warning signals (growls for example) punished out, we can create a dog that gives little warning. I have been very lucky and have only encountered a handful of dogs that were truly dangerous.

      I have found that the average owner is given information about most breeds or types that is incorrect. Goldendoodles being low key and hypoallergenic. (Being a cross between two energetic breeds will not make lower key and no breed is hypoallergenic). Pit Bulls being nanny dogs (this was actually touted by a TV personality and this is where it was jumped on I think). Bloodhounds being lazy and low key. (Thanks movies where hounds are depicted and lazy oafs – ever watch a hound trail a scent for hours – loads of stamina there). The American Pit Bull Terrier breeders I have met at UKC dog shows were very honest about their dogs and what they were doing to breed good temperaments. They would also tell you that these dogs may not be great for dog parks.

      The issue is the people breeding truly risky generic pit types or poorly bred purebreds and somehow they end up in the wrong hands or in the hand of people who believe what they see on TV or are told by people who want to assume it is all in raising. Well there are many pit bull sites out there that honestly discuss pit bull temperament, dog aggression will vary dog to dog so watch that and that though human aggression was never tolerated in the breed, there are people breeding for traits that can increase the risk. (Such has breeding for excessive fear responses thinking this is protective behavior – and now we have dogs that are predisposed to things – I also saw this in other breeds over the decades such as a Rottie breeder who mistook fear responses for protectiveness and kept breeding his fearful dogs. One of my dogs was attacked by one of his dogs years back.)

      This is off a Pit Bull rescue page

      “Tips on Selecting a Dog

      Know the general breed traits for which the breed (or breeds) was selected for over the years (hunting, fighting, chasing vermin, herding) — these instincts will be very strong in a purebred dog.

      Ask about the dog’s background. Try to determine the dogs’ experiences with humans and other dogs.

      Always temperament test the dog to know what you are getting.” (

      I love a good pit from a good source and in a good home willing to know the potential the dogs have. That is the key for increasing success. Well bred dogs (or carefully rescued dogs with good evaluations and work done), good homes with humans understanding the breed.

      Liked by 1 person

      • LisaD says:

        Exactly!! Tho’ many that have gone on to maul/kill have passed temperament tests with flying colors. One that I know even passed after it killed a child.

        I have great issue with Shelters/Rescues adopting out unsound/unstable Pits like candy. Including ones that have known history of killing pets (even on leash walks) and biting humans. Such as this one who has bitten 2 women that everyone is clamoring to save. Terrible.

        Thanks for this article and getting facts out. Keep it up!

        I have a Saluki. I totally ‘get’ genetics!


  2. suizou says:

    Excellent article, thank you. I’ve saved it for educating others.


  3. KaD says:

    This can’t be said enough. SO sick of idiots who don’t do breed research before they get a dog. Like the neighbors who got a husky in a 100 sq foot back yard because they think its blue eyes are cool, or the others with a St. Bernard that is almost never indoors or with its owners and barks all the time. LOOK UP what St. Bernard or Husky traits are. These dogs have no quality of life.


    • Unfortunately, we were not given all the info necessary when adopting our dog from the shelter. Thought we were getting a lab/ retriever but the info given in adoption papers left out the husky part of her genetic make up. As lifelong dog owners, we are well aware of the necessity of knowing what you can and cannot handle. We love her to bits but struggle with the husky side of her nature


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