Exploring Breed Differences in Dogs (Canis lupus familiaris): Does Exaggeration or Inhibition of Predatory Response Predict Performance on Human-Guided Tasks?

Monique A. R. Udell, Margaret Ewald, Nicole R. Dorey, Clive D. L. Wynne 2014


  • Dog breeds with exaggerated or intact predatory sequences, perform better on human guided tasks.
  • Dogs with suppressed predatory sequences (eg livestock guardians) can be trained to improve their performance on such tasks


Domestic dogs’ (Canis lupus familiaris) responsiveness to human action has been a topic of scientific interest for almost two decades. However, are all breeds of domestic dog equally prepared to succeed on human-guided object choice tasks? In the current study we compared three breeds of dog with distinct predatory motor pattern sequences still under direct selection pressure today based on their traditional working roles. Airedale Terriers (hunting dogs) are bred for a fully intact predatory sequence, matching the wild-type form. Border Collies (herding dogs) are bred for an exaggeration of the eye-stalk-chase component of the predatory sequence. Anatolian Shepherds (livestock guarding dogs) are bred for the inhibition of the full predatory sequence. Here we asked if and how these opposing selection pressures corresponded with each breed’s tendency to track and follow a human point to a target in an object-choice task. Our results suggest that the presence or exaggeration of key components of the predatory sequence may in fact predict superior initial performance on pointing tasks when compared to a breed selected for its inhibited predatory response. This is the first time relative success on a pointing task has been tied to a known heritable behavioral mechanism (breed specific motor patterns). However, we also demonstrate that breed- specific differences can sometimes be overcome with additional experience. Thus an individual’s performance on human-guided tasks is still best predicted by a combination of genetic and lifetime factors. Broader implications for the understanding and investigation of canine social cognition are discussed.

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