Dog Response Linked to Predatory Traits

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CORVALLIS, Ore. — If you’re thinking about getting a dog, trainers say it is a good idea to do a fair bit of research about what kind of breed you really want. New research from Oregon State University shows that certain dogs are better at listening – but that does not necessarily mean that they are better pets.

Trainers say if they work with different breeds of dogs for the same amount of time, there are certain breeds that are more likely to respond better to human commands, such as the Border Collie or Airedale Terrier, which researchers say are bred for predatory traits.

“If you ask a kid to shake hands, shake hands, shake hands, shake hands, shake hands, shake hands – about the fourth time of that he’s going to get bored and go play Nintendo or something,” said Dana Stillinger, the owner of Best Friends, an obedience school for dogs in Corvallis.

Stillinger says dogs can have that same reaction.

“We need to have this ability to be able to communicate with the dog and say, ‘I’m going to trade you behaviors for something that you want.’”

But it does not necessarily mean that all dogs are going to respond the same way. Stillinger says for example, Border Collies and herding dogs are more likely to respond better to repetition. In comparison, OSU research shows that Anatolian shepherds, livestock guarding dogs, are less likely to listen to human commands.

“The Anatolians are actually bred for an inhibition of predatory behavior,” said Monique Udell, an assistant professor of Animal Sciences at OSU. “So when they see movement they’re supposed to keep an eye on it but they’re supposed to hold still and stay with the sheep in order to protect them.”

Researchers are seeing a similar response in the dogs’ social behavior.

“They hold still and hunker down,” Udell said. “And even though they’re watching us, they don’t necessarily respond to us socially as actively as a Border Collie would for example.”

In comparison, herding and hunting dogs have been bred to chase after movement. Udell says these dogs, bred for predatory traits, are more likely to listen to human commands.

Trainers say these social behaviors should help pet-seekers decide which dog is right for them.

“If you wanted a refrigerator, don’t go buy a toaster,” Stillinger said.

Stillinger says many people fall in love with Border Collies at dog shows or when they hear how smart they are.

“And they go: ‘That’s what I want! Those dogs are amazing!’ But they don’t see that we’ve put in 100,000 hours of work.”

She says Border Collies might be more likely to listen, but they also require more attention.

“Sometimes that desire to work can just drive you crazy! A Border Collie or a Labrador might be bouncing up and down with a ball going pet me, pet me, train me, train me, let’s do something, let’s go to the park!”

Even though livestock guard dogs might not listen to human commands as much, trainers say that does not make them any less smart. Stillinger says in fact, they are more capable of problem solving on their own.

“The Anatolian may be a calmer dog in the house and might be a better choice depending on what you want,” Stillinger said.

At the same time, researchers say that every dog is different.

“This study gives us an idea of the dog’s starting point or natural tendencies,” Udell said. “Even though dogs may start out at different places in terms of their genetic preparedness, that doesn’t necessarily dictate the final behavior. Experience especially early in life, but really the interactions they have with humans throughout their lives is equally important.”

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