Genetics and the Social Behavior of the Dog, a 1965 book by John Paul Scott and John Fuller, turned up recently on a list of influential dog behavior books. I remember reading this book, fascinated, in the 1980s, just as my husband and I began a llama breeding program at the ranch we had for close to a decade. I’ve never seriously considered breeding dogs myself, but reading about the extensive relationships between behavior and genetics gave me plenty of food for thought with the llamas.
In this article, I’ll tell you more about the book, the twenty-year study that went into the book, and the huge effects that Genetics and the Social Behavior of the Dog has had on our world of dog training. I’ll start with the last topic.
Dr. Ian Dunbar, veterinarian and dog behaviorist, is often described as the main person responsible for positive dog training taking root as the important movement it has become. I’ve discussed the history of positive training on this website, and I was quite interested to find this quote from Dunbar regarding this book:
I can still picture where I was sitting in the college library (at the Royal Veterinary College of London University) when after reading Genetics and the Social Behavior of the Dog, by Scott and Fuller, I thought, “That’s what I want to do.” I wouldn’t be who I am today if it weren’t for Scott.
So, as is always the case, the strands of an idea go back further than we think they do. Scott’s effects on Dunbar, and now Dunbar’s effects on us readers, form patterns that will carry into the future in unknown ways.
To see why the book was so important, I’d better describe the research that Scott and Fuller did for 20 years.
In 1945, just after World War II, John Paul Scott was running the Roscoe B. Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine. The Rockefeller Foundation awarded the lab a grant to study genetics in dogs, not because there was interest in the subject, but because there was hope that the research could shed light onto human genetics and childhood behavior. Well, that part didn’t turn into much.
But the dog research is a different story. Scott decided to research five different breeds: the basenji, the beagle, the cocker spaniel, the Shetland sheepdog and the wire fox terrier. Not only were the breeds from different groups and displaying different temperaments, but they were all small enough to fit into the research facilities more easily.
Since the basenjis and the cocker spaniels were the most different from each other, the research soon focused on them. Crosses were bred between the two breeds and the resulting puppies were also tested. This continued on to another generation after the crossbred puppies, and then also with puppies born from crosses between the hybrids and the original breeds. Careful observations were made of the puppies from the time of birth, about every 10 minutes at first. They saw how the puppies of different breeds behaved, and also noted how much variety can occur within the same litter.
One of the many interesting discoveries they made was that from the age of three weeks to the age of twelve weeks, puppies bond very easily with everyone and everything around. But once a puppy reaches the age of about fourteen weeks, if that socialization has not taken place, the dog will not be able to adapt as well ever.
Some Further Findings Reported in Genetics and the Social Behavior of Dogs
“What does heredity do to behavior?” was the question that was central to the research. The book is several hundred pages long, and there are many intriguing byways in it.
Scott and Fuller found:
- That heredity affects almost every trait tested.
- That gender affects aggressiveness and the dominance order, but not trainability and problem-solving.
- That emotional traits profoundly influence performance.
- That, although breeds differ widely in emotional and motivational characteristics, none shows distinct superiority in problem solving.
- And that detailed statistical analyses indicate a highly complex pathway between primary gene action and its final effect on behavior.
The book includes important information on rearing methods, the origin and history of dog breeds, basic behavior patterns and the psychological and behavioral development of puppies.
Click on the book cover image to find out more about this book.