Does breed matter?

Nature, nurture and German shepherds

By ANNEMARIE SCHUETZ
Posted 5/13/22

COCHECTON, NY — Is biology destiny?

Dog lovers sometimes think so. A selling point for purebred dogs is that personalities are more predictable that way. Golden retrievers are friendly. …

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Does breed matter?

Nature, nurture and German shepherds

Posted

COCHECTON, NY — Is biology destiny?

Dog lovers sometimes think so. A selling point for purebred dogs is that personalities are more predictable that way. Golden retrievers are friendly. Pitbulls are ferocious.

But a recent study of 18,000 dogs calls that belief into question. It found that “breed explained only around nine percent of the variation in how a dog behaved,” according to a report on nature.com. Aggression in particular was less likely to be tied to breed.

Adam and Elizabeth Guziczek, the owners of GraceLand Farm in Cochecton, are not surprised. “It’s not the breed; it’s the parent,” Elizabeth said.

The Guziczeks keep in touch with people who have GraceLand dogs, and they found out that a puppy shows traits similar to the mother or father. In some cases, they’re “just like golden retrievers in the body of a German shepherd,” she said. For example, “Olive’s puppies are like her,” sensitive to people’s moods.

Environment matters too. “Whatever environment the dogs are exposed to, it leaves an imprint.” How a dog is raised is important. “It’s so difficult to retrain them.”

At GraceLand, the dogs spend a lot of time with humans. The kennels are in the barn, but the German shepherds spend as much time as possible outside exercising. They “need exercise, mental and physical stimulation,” she said.

And they spend time in the house, being socialized. “They have to be with human beings,” Elizabeth said. “I think they learn a lot from their humans.” A dog’s experiences come into play too.

Breed might matter less, so the flip side is that a dog can be trained for a certain job. German shepherds fit in well with the police or the military. “They learn very quickly and they remember,” Elizabeth said.

In fact, GraceLand offers a free adoption each year to police departments.

For a working dog—well, for any dog really, “They need to take a basic training course,” Adam said. “The owner has to learn how to handle the dogs. The training’s really for the owner.”

“If you don’t train, they will train you,” Elizabeth said. “They pick up on any inconsistency and it takes weeks to undo the damage.”

For all that their dogs work well with police, other puppies “go on to be therapy dogs.” Some have the personality to be good service dogs. And they protect their pack, and not just from humans: Hunter loves to run and play and defends the chickens from foxes.

Biology may not be destiny, but genes do come into play in unexpected ways. “The most significant link,” the Nature story noted, “was between a region of the genome that in humans… involved in cognitive performance—but in dogs increased the likelihood of getting stuck behind objects.”

About GraceLand Farm

The Guziczeks have been breeding German shepherds—aka Alsatians—for eight years at their Mueller Road farm. They’re licensed breeders by New York State and their dogs are adopted by families veterans and the police. Learn more at germanshepherd.site or on Facebook at GraceLand Farm German Shepherd Dogs.

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