Pick the Right Breed for You

Jennifer Coates, DVM
By Jennifer Coates, DVM on May 31, 2012

I often counsel my clients to adopt mixed breed dogs, but many future owners elect to go the purebred route, saying that they want to "know what they’re getting," particularly in reference to a potential pet’s behavior.

This is an understandable point of view (as long as everyone understands that individual variation sometimes trumps the breed standard), which is why I was excited to see the results of a study published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science that clustered popular dog breeds by behavior —  specifically trainability, boldness, calmness, and sociability.

The paper’s authors describe each behavioral characteristic as follows:

Dogs that scored low regarding the trainability trait are described by their owners as uninventive and not playful, whereas dogs that scored high on this trait are regarded as intelligent and playful. Boldness was related to fearful and aloof behaviour with a low score corresponding to a high degree of fearfulness/aloofness, and vice versa. The calmness trait describes the dogs’ behaviour in stressful/ambiguous situations. A low score on this trait indicated stressed and anxious behaviour in these situations, while a high score referred to calm and emotionally stable dogs, according to the owner. Finally, dog sociability refers to their behaviour toward conspecifics (other dogs), with a low score indicating a high tendency for bullying or fighting and inversely high scores related to a low tendency.

All the conventional groups of dog breeds (e.g., herding dogs, hounds, working dogs, toy dogs, non sporting dogs, terriers, etc.) had representatives in at least three of the behavioral clusters so prospective owners should be able to find a breed that meets their needs both physically and behaviorally. The data were collected using a questionnaire from a German magazine, so may not be completely representative of the situation in North America, but I bet it’s pretty close.

Here’s how the breeds were categorized:


What do you think — does your experience with a favorite breed mesh with these results?

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: HelenaQueen / via Shutterstock

Jennifer Coates, DVM


Jennifer Coates, DVM


Dr. Jennifer Coates is an accomplished veterinarian, writer, editor, and consultant with years of experience in the fields of veterinary...

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