Inherited Traits in Dogs

Many of your puppy's traits are inherited.
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All dogs share their ancestry with the wolf. But for the past 15,000 years they have been bred to assist us humans as guards, hunters, herders and companions. Through this selective breeding, our dog friends have inherited many physical, intellectual, physiological, neurological and behavioral traits. Here are some common examples.

Inherited Temperament Traits

Your dog's temperament is mainly a function of her neurological makeup, which is determined at conception. Responsive, non-responsive, active, inactive, shy and aggressive -- these are all inherited temperaments that have been mapped out by your dog's DNA. Socialization, training and other environmental influences can work to tweak or adjust her temperament, but they cannot eliminate it or completely transform it.

Inherited Physical and Behavioral Traits

The AKC recognizes more than 120 breeds of purebred dogs, each with specific physical and behavioral traits. The border collie is relatively small dog, weighing 35 to 40 pounds, and black or tan and white in color. This dog is known to have a strong instinct to collect and herd things like sheep, cattle, children or shoes. The Labrador retriever is a very different dog, weighing from 60 to 80 pounds, and black, chocolate brown or yellow in color. With its oily coat and webbed paws, this dog has an inherited instinct to swim, often long distances to retrieve hunted fowl, drowning victims or tossed tennis balls. Most border collies will avoid your lawn sprinklers like the plague. Though it's not surprising that a dog's physical traits are inherited, it's obvious that some behavioral traits are influenced by inheritance.

Inherited Intelligence

Breeders and trainers normally gauge intelligence on a dog's ability to learn and remember lessons with a minimum of repetition. A dog with less than average intelligence will be much more difficult to train than others with a higher degree of intelligence. Based on obedience testing, border collies, poodles, German shepherds, golden retrievers and doberman pinschers are among the top breeds with the inherited ability to quickly and consistently absorb commands and follow them. If your Pumpkin is not among this elite group, remind her that good looks and personality trumps intelligence every time.

Inherited Problems

Popular breeds have unpopular inherited problems. Larger dogs like great Danes, German shepherds and golden retrievers are commonly predisposed to hip dysplasia. Pugs and beagles are among those prone to eye defects. And toy breeds like Chihuahuas, lhasa apsos and Yorkshire terriers often inherit certain heart disorders. These inherited genetic disorders are the work of recessive genes, and a good gene from one parent will overcome a bad one from the other. Responsible breeders know this and act accordingly.

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