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Are dogs getting dumber? Swedish researcher says yes

Pug Are dogs becoming progressively dumber with each generation?  Ethologist Kenth Svartberg of Sweden's Stockholm University says yes -- and he blames modern breeding practices which, he says, are "affecting the behaviour and mental abilities of pedigree breeds, as well as their physical features." 

Svartberg tested 13,000 dogs to determine the degree to which they exhibited traits such as curiosity and sociability.  He used the findings to rate the intelligence of 31 breeds.  The Telegraph reports on the results:

He found that those bred for appearance, and especially for shows, displayed reduced levels of all these qualities. He also found that attractive appearance was often linked with introversion and a boring personality.

Dr. Svartberg said: "Perhaps the genes behind attractive looks could also be closely linked to those that cause fearfulness."

Svartberg's research showed that some breeds that were originally intended to perform important jobs requiring skill and intelligence -- such as the smooth collie, bred for herding, and the Rhodesian ridgeback, bred for hunting -- were among those hardest hit by the trend of breeding for looks. 

Further, "[the] trend is reflected in the popularity of so-called 'handbag dogs'," notes the Telegraph.

Dr. Alan Wilton, a senior lecturer in genetics at Australia's NSW University, offered this take: "You can have lap dogs that are very intelligent. It's just that, if they're just sitting around doing nothing and you breed for many generations without selecting for intelligence, it is possible that their intelligence over time will diminish...That's what we expect is happening to some breeds."

--Lindsay Barnett

Photo: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times

Comments () | Archives (8)

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Hey, people bred for appearance are dumb too!

I guess Democrats have been bred "for many generations without selecting for intelligence".

Getting dumber, just like their owners!

I would think using such evidence would also show that humans are getting less intelligent as well, because of poor breeding. Wait, isn't this what the Nazi's were all about?

Yeah my family had a Border Collie with nice, symmetrical black and white markings. And yeah the breeder said he didn't show any interest in herding sheep as a pup. And yeah he did seem to show some anxiety -- howl ! -- when we took off without him. And he also seemed to have occasional bouts of fear.
But I think all of his traits were one of the reasons why the breeder let us have him in the first place: She needed working dogs, not pretty, playboy dogs. And in fact, the collie was still a top-flight pet -- Great watchdog, frisbee/ball dog, swimmer, softball/baseball finder (kept the local Play It Again Sports well stocked with his finds), endurance athlete (Keeping this dog exercised was practically a full time job; He'd do two runs a day at 4-6 miles a piece, then get up next day and do it again).
What I am saying is I don't think working dog breeders are letting their breeds go down-hill. They find homes for the dogs that don't display working traits and then encourage the new owners of these dogs not to breed the animal. That's what we did and it worked out fine.

Getting dumber? not possible

Almost none of the "conclusions" you cite above are those of the author, nor are they supported by the actual study, which I have in front of me (and was published in 2006, by the way). It does not address "intelligence" at all. It looked at temperament differences between pedigreed breeds (traits like playfulness, aggression, sociability), and found that modern day temperaments were not correlated with historical uses like herding working or hunting; rather, they are a product of recent (last 100 years or so) selection. There is a suggestion that dogs from breeds that earn more working titles have temperaments that are more consistent with what appears to be popular and preferred in pet temperaments. The author is reportedly infuriated by the misrepresentation of his research. That quote from him appears to be entirely made up; I see nothing even close to that in the original article. Nor do the words "boring" or "introversion" appear in it. And the two breeds singled out for special mention are not in fact at the bottom of the 31 breeds' rankings. The author's REAL conclusion is that dogs continue to evolve in response to the selection we place on them; they are not just reflections of their ancient roots. You can get the original study for yourself from www.sciencedirect.com, search for the author's name, and find the paper entitled "Breed-typical behaviour in dogs." Maybe you should have done this *before* publishing this article? Ever heard of "fact checking?"

These insinuations are ridiculous. Purebred dogs are
used as police dogs, Secret Service and military dogs, guide dogs for the blind. Such dogs are highly intelligent.
Breeding pure breeds has been done for thousands of years to PRESERVE positive traits in dogs, including intelligence and a variety of skills and instincts. Because of such breeding, many dogs today can do the same kind of work their ancestors did many generations ago. Their useful genes have not been dissipated. The AKC has several different kinds of performance trials and titles that test the specialized skills of different breeds of dogs. AKC doesn't just do beauty shows.
There are herding, earthdog, field, and sighthound trials
as well. Also, the breed standards that conformation
(beauty) show judges use also indicate the proper
temperament for each breed. I'm tired of ignorant
prejudice towards purebred dogs.


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