A report just came out of Stockholm University. The author, Kenth Svartberg, writes that a study of purebred dogs finds that dogs specifically bred for the show have significantly reduced working ability when compared to dogs that have been bred for working ability.
The Telegraph, of course, uses the words “intelligence” and “stupidity.” I’ll use them only with this caveat: we don’t understand intelligence in our own species, so how do we think we can divine the intelligence of an animal? This is a nebulous term, which explains why most ethologists and psychologists avoid using the term. The authors merely are looking at sociability and curiosity as traits to determine intelligence.
However, the Swedish researchers explored 13,000 dog in 31 breeds, dividing them into those that were bred for appearance and those that had been bred for function (at least to a certain extent.) They were comparing the breeds based upon curiosity and sociability, which are all important traits for any working dog.
Those dogs that were bred for the show had much lower levels of curiosity and sociability. Both of these traits are associated with our projection of canine intelligence.
The author of the study thinks that there might be a genetic linkage between breeding for the show and higher levels of fear and introversion. That sounds interesting. It has to be a bit more complex than that, though, because there are lots of genes that make a dog “pretty.” And what makes one breed pretty is pretty unique to that dog.
The two breeds with the lowest levels of sociability and curiosity are the Rhodesian Ridgeback and the Smooth collie, which is a separate breed in the UK and the FCI countries.
I don’t know how one would compare these dogs to their working forms, because I don’t know if anyone hunts lions with ridgebacks. I’ve never seen a show smooth collie herd anything, and if it did, I’m sure it wouldn’t be as useful as a BC or an English or Australian shepherd.
The comparison study I’d like to see is a comparison of field line goldens versus the European show lines. I’m sure there will be vast differences between the two. My experience tells me that the two might as well be regarded as separate breeds.
Psychology Today’s blog has some issues with the sensationalized story that appeared in The Telegraph.