Genetics Goes to the Dogs |

TBC Staff

A recent news item caught my eye. It was describing a genetic study that attempted to correlate dog breeds’ behavior with their genetics. About 50% of the dogs were known or inferred purebreds, and the others were “mutts.” Some of the results were pretty much expected for certain breeds, but many showed little correlation.

For example, the dogs that showed the highest correlation between genetics and the ability to understand human speech and follow commands (termed biddability) were Belgian shepherds and border collies (a herding dog) and the Hungarian Viszla (a hunting dog). Owners were also asked to list sets of behaviors, and the researchers checked to see if there were genetic connections to those observed behaviors. A strong positive one was “doesn’t bury toys,” which 90% of Greyhounds don’t do. The most cited negative behaviors with the largest genetic contribution were “gets stuck behind objects” (associated with genes for cognitive capacity) and “howling” (near a gene involved in speech and language).

The researchers also found a lot of data that had little or no genetic contribution.

But the researchers also found a lot of data that had little or no genetic contribution. They found that a small percentage of purebreds did not conform to the norm. For example, 78% of Laborador Retrievers don’t howl, but 8% do frequently. They also found that some almost purebreds (even those with as little as 15% of other dog mixture) often did not have the same behavioral traits as the purebreds. Most “mutts” showed that only 9% of their behavioral tendencies could be explained by genetic factors.

Interestingly, the researchers pointed out that most dog breeds have only been around for 150 years or so, having been created to fit the owners’ needs and preferences. You could say that many people want “designer dogs”—short haired, curly-haired, small, affectionate, not prone to biting, etc. All of this comes at a genetic loss (which may explain the “gets stuck behind objects” behavior). In other words, the more we breed (and inbreed) dogs, the less capable they are of surviving outside the home.

The actual evidence corroborates what Scripture states, rapid speciation within a biblical kind.

But this article also reminds me how the original dog kind that came off the ark must have had a massively heterozygous genome, with enough variability created in it to account for speciation into wolves, coyotes, jackals, etc. And also that humans have been able to breed the gray wolf into hundreds of dog breeds (many of them recently). Rapid speciation (and sub-speciation via artificial selection) corroborates what we see in Scripture. Before a thousand years had passed after the flood, we read of several bird kinds speciating out (Leviticus 11:14-19) as well as ungulates (Deuteronomy 14:4-5), and the original cat kind generated lions and leopards (the most prevalent big cats seen in North Africa and the Middle East at that time). Evolutionary biologists will often state that there were hundreds of thousands or even millions of years involved in generating new species, but the actual evidence corroborates what Scripture states: rapid speciation within a biblical kind—and nothing that crosses the kind boundary.

I also found the last statement of the news article amusing: “And, if your own dog seems to be a complete mutant when it comes to its behavior . . . well, there’s a chance it is.” Now, for those who have heard my musings on small dogs like poodles, they may recall that I’ve referred to them as degenerate “mutants” before. Our domestic dogs were produced by artificial selection. As is the case for most of those dogs, we have selected for mutations (basically “mistakes”) that we prefer.