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New research to explore genetic causes of aggressive behaviour in dogs


An interesting new study by academics at the University of Lincoln is looking at genetic factors that may contribute to impulsive aggression in dogs.

Some dogs may be predisposed to act aggressively with little warning, which can lead to people being injured and the dogs then being rejected by their owners and euthanised without treatment. Life Sciences PhD student Fernanda Fadel is trying to identify the genetic risk factors of dog aggression.

She said: “While aggressive behaviour is a normal part of every animal’s make up, it is important to identify individuals who represent a higher risk, in order to manage this risk effectively. 

“A central theme to this work is the recognition that we all have the same core traits; we just tend to express them to a greater or lesser degree as individuals. Thus anyone can be aggressive, but some may be more likely to show this in a given circumstance than another.”

The aim of the project is to develop a method that allows identification of at-risk individuals who may need specific management measures to help them live happy and fulfilling lives, at minimal risk to others. 

For this, Fernanda is recruiting dogs based on components of their personality, measured using a questionnaire developed at the University of Lincoln called the Dog Impulsivity Assessment Scale (DIAS). 

She will then need to collect DNA samples from the saliva of those dogs that fit a certain profile. Some will be considered lower risk subjects and some may be higher risk. Fernanda needs to compare both low and high risk dogs’ genome, so all dog owners can help out.

When the relevant genes have been identified, researchers will aim to develop a genetic test to identify dogs with a tendency towards aggressive behaviour. By knowing which dogs have a high risk to potentially behave aggressively, the owners may be able to undertake measures to prevent accidents.  

The latest and simplest method for collecting DNA samples from pet dogs is to take a saliva swab. A small sponge is placed in the dog’s cheek and from this, scientists can extract DNA and analyse their genome. 

This method is non-invasive, which means it does not cause any pain or discomfort to the dogs. Individuals will not be specifically identified and the data will not be shared with any outside body. 

However, if you are looking for help with managing your dog’s behaviour, you can contact the University’s Animal Behaviour Clinic team for further information at http://www.lincolnanimalbehaviourclinic.co.uk/

To take part in the survey please visit http://www.uoldogtemperament.co.uk/dogpersonality/