Are all dogs the same ? Behavioural differences between pedigree and mongrel dogs

There is a wide held belief that Cross breeds are “healthier” than their pedigree counterparts. Peoplethink that such crossbreeds / mongrelshave inherited the best of whatever breeds are in the mix ( so called hybrid vigour). However, data suggests that mixed-breed dogs can inherit many of the problems associated with each of the breeds that goes into their makeup and that mixed-breed dogs are no more or less likely to have health issues than their purebred counterparts. However, what about behavioural differences?

In most countries mixed-breed dogs actually outnumber purebred dogs. For example, a national census showed that 53% of the dogs in the US are mixed breedwhilst here in Ireland the number of IKCregistered pedigree dogs isapproximately 250,000 out of almost 700,000 dogs ( some of which may be non- registered pure bred breeds). Is the behaviourbetween these classes of dogs different? Obviously there are the breed differences which through selective breeding have strengthenedparticular traits producing for example sight hounds, herdingor gun dogs , but what of behaviours such as excitability, trainability , aggression etc 

One of the PETA websites claims, "Mixed-breed dogs are wonderful compared to purebred dogs who have a greater tendency to be nervous, neurotic and excitable." However no supporting evidence for this statement is provided. Now a recent study from Hungaryhas looked at the issueand has provided some interesting conclusions on the behavioural differences between pedigree and cross breed dogs. (1)

Data was collected from owners of over 14,000 dogs (7700 pedigree dogscomprising200 breedsand 7691 cross breeds) by surveyvia a magazine and website using the C-barqquestionnaire. Analysis of the data showed the following differences between the two groups :

  • The mixed-breed dogs were significantly less calm than the purebred dogs. Calmness is demonstrated by a dog who is cool-headed and emotionally balanced versus one who is anxious, or appears to be stressed.
  • The mixed breed dogs were also considerably less sociable toward other dogs. Sociability is shown in dogs which are judged to be friendly and willing to share toys as opposed to dogs which are apt to be quarrelsome and are rated as being bullying.
  • The mixed breed dogs were also more likely to show behaviour problems. These include dogs that frequently pull on the leash, jump up on people, don't respond when called, show dominance behaviours etc 
  • However, mixed-breeds’ owners walked their dogs for longer than the owners of purebreds.
  • However, pedigree and mixed-breed dogs showed little or no differences in terms of their trainability. 

There was no difference between the groups in how much time the owners spend with their dog in general, or with playing, for what purpose the owners keep the dog, whether they buy gifts for the dog and whether the dog is allowed onto the bed.

Genetic Factors

So why should there be such a difference ? Is it genetic or are there other influences such as environment, husbandryand owner type which impact ? An obvious difference is that mixed-breed dogs are for the most part the result of random breeding rather than planned matings. Purebred dogs are usually subject to careful selective breeding. Even if breeders are most concerned about the appearance of their dogs, they also tend to pay attention to temperament. 

It is less likely that an ill-tempered and excitable dog with behaviour problems will be bred. This is because, in part, that breeders know that this will not be good for the breed in general, for a show career and the possibility that a badly behaved dog will be returned to them by the purchaser. Therefore differences between mixed-breed dogs and purebreds could be, at least partially, attributed to genetic factors.

Owner influence

However the research team also found that there were a number of environmental factors having to do with the demographics of the dog owners and the way the dogs were reared which might have an effect. For example, the study found that mixed-breed dogs were more likely to be owned by women, and these women tended to be younger, with a lower level of education, and had less previous experience with dogs than the owners of purebred dogs.

Dogs with more training experiences displayed fewer behavioural problems (according to the owner). More educated and more experienced owners also reported that their dogs had fewer behaviour problems. Finally, owners who had longer walks with their dogs reported fewer behaviour problems, but that might be due to the fact that a well behaved dog is likely to have longer walks a result of its behaviour.

 Another factor was that mixed breed dogs tended to receive less formal training than purebred dogs. This is important because the amount of training affected how well the dog scored in terms of calmness and sociability and also dogs that have received training were reported to have fewer behavioural problems.

Mixed-breed dogs were also more likely to be the only dog in a household, and tended to be kept indoors most of the time. These dogs also tended to be brought into the household at an older age than were purebred dogs. This fact is important since the researchers found that dogs brought into the home at an age of less than 12 weeks were calmer overall.

Neutered status

A further interesting factor was that mixed-breed were more likely to be neutered. These investigators found that dogs which had been spayed or neutered will had lower scores in terms of their calmness and were more likely to show behaviour problems. This is consistent with other research which shows that neutered dogs are more likely to be aggressive, fearful and excitable

Conclusion

Thus this research team concludes that there are real differences between mixed-breed and purebred dogs in terms of their personality and behaviour. They also suggest that these differences are not only genetic but also may reflect the environment in which the dog is reared, the training that the dog receives, and the characteristics of the dog's owners.

(1) Owner perceived differences between mixed-breed and purebred dogs

Borbála Turcsán , Ádám Miklósi, Enikő Kubinyi

http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0172720#sec016