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Posted on Thu, Jan 26, 2012 : 5:55 a.m.

Unruly dog? His DNA might be behind the behavior

By Lorrie Shaw


flickr photo by Lee J Haywood

I hear the same thing from a lot of new dog owners: My dog doesn't seem to be able to calm down and focus.

I'm never too surprised to hear this, because it happens for a lot of reasons.

Age can be a contributor (puppies and young dogs have a short attention span), the surroundings can be a factor (if you're in an area where there is a lot of stimulation, like people, noise, other dogs, activity) and so can their overall physical and mental state. For example, if a pooch is tired or too much time has been spent in a training session, its mind wanders.

Many times, we humans just need to adjust the environment or try to engage at a later time when our furry friends are more receptive.

A new study sheds light on a different aspect altogether that can affect impulsive behavior and whether a dog has a problem settling down.

Genetics was a factor that was found to weigh heavily on impulsive behavior.

That's right. Genes that are linked to the production of the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine — connected to the ability to focus as well as emotional responses.

Researchers at Eötvös Loránd University, in Budapest studied more than 100 dogs and gave them four behavioral exams, one of which was to being able to lie down quietly. Out of those, 37 German Shepherds that possessed a shortened version of the gene connected to the neurotransmitters had trouble controlling their impulsivity.

Age, level of training nor sex seemed to have any bearing on the outcome.

Dogs included in the study that had long versions of the gene, passed the impulse-tests with ease.

Read more on the study by clicking here.

Lorrie Shaw is lead pets blogger on and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Follow her pet adventures on Twitter.



Thu, Jan 26, 2012 : 4:05 p.m.

the story has a misleading line, it says out of 100 dogs 37 German Shepherds, so when I read this I thought all the dogs that failed happened to be GSD not that all the dogs in the study were GSDs. I also wonder if the owners knew what number the pup was out of the litter, that would be interesting to know. Since litters usually have more than one dog are the dna somehow weeker in one pup than the other. (often with multiple birth humans one baby is "weaker" than the other(s). It would also be interesting if they did complete studies with other breeds of dogs and what number those pups were out of the litter. Also than translate this too humans, are they dna influenced in the same matter, does birth order have anything to do with it. shorter attention span also doesn't translate to harder to train/untrainable or "hard headedness". As people learn differently so do dogs. GSDs are smart, they can follow commands, but maybe the dogs that didn't want to lie there were just bored and ready for the next task!

Ron Granger

Thu, Jan 26, 2012 : 3:44 p.m.

Now dogs get the DNA excuse? I missed out. If only I could have used the "I'm not bad or unruly, it's my DNA!" in the third grade.


Thu, Jan 26, 2012 : 2:45 p.m.

Ah, so thast explains it. Any chance on doing, or perhaps you already have, and article on getting a dog to come to you. I have a very energetic two year old shepherd mix that I would love to let off the leash to pay fetch and such, or on walkks where I know we are in secluded area. However, she has no concept of listening or obeying that one simple comman when off her leash. I can get her to do it on a lead or in a confined space, but not in the great wide open.


Thu, Jan 26, 2012 : 2:07 p.m.

I wonder if with smarter dogs lying down for a long period of time would be bored. GSD and other herding or working dogs need mental stimulation or tasks. As someone who knows a GSD and border collie well both ask for something to do almost all the time, if they aren't asking to play ball they are at attention waiting for you to suggest it.(or to suggest a task) Also, both dogs can relax easily but always and I mean always have an eye on thier owner. (anticipating a task) Perhaps the dogs in the study were more interested in the next (more interesting!) task than lying around when there could be a job to do. I can get both of these dogs to lie down quietly but they are more interested in doing something more stimulating. It would be more interesting to know, if in the study what the dogs were bred for and how that played out for lying quietly, I imagine a hunting dog could lie still (waiting to retrieve the kill) more easily, or a lap dog. But a working dog would be eager to work.