A fascinating study by University of Lincoln researchers has been named as one of the most read articles in 2016 by the leading academic journal, Scientific Reports.

Scientific Reports is a high-impact, open access journal from the publishers of Nature. It publishes groundbreaking research from all areas of the natural and clinical sciences.

Fernanda Fadel, Patricia Driscoll, Dr Malgorzata Pilot, Dr Hannah Wright, Dr Helen Zulch and Professor Daniel Mills – all researchers from the School of Life Sciences at the University of Lincoln – published the findings of their study exploring the impulsivity of different dog breeds in Scientific Reports in March 2016. The paper went on to become one of the journal’s top 100 articles, out of more than 20,000 published in 2016.

DOGS Credit - Shona Jenkins and Peter Baumber

The paper, titled Differences in Trait Impulsivity Indicate Diversification of Dog Breeds into Working and Show Lines, found that Border Collies are on average more impulsive than Labrador Retrievers. In addition, when comparing working lines – groups within a breed that have been selected to perform a particular task for humans, such as herding sheep – Collies were found to be on average more impulsive than Labradors.

However, the research also found that there was no significant difference in levels of impulsivity between show lines of the two breeds. Show lines are bred from animals which take part in dog shows and competitions, for example. They therefore conclude that when appearance rather than behaviour becomes the primary focus for breeders (as in show lines), this may relax selection on behavioural traits and reduce average differences in impulsivity between breeds.

The researchers, who specialise in animal behaviour and evolutionary genetics, examined data on 1,161 pure bred Border Collies and Labrador Retrievers. They used the Dog Impulsivity Assessment Scale (DIAS) – a dog owner reported questionnaire composed of 18 questions – to analyse their temperaments.

Fernanda Fadel, PhD researcher and lead author on the study, explained: “Impulsivity can be described as the inability to delay reward gratification, and in dogs this may sometimes relate to problems such as aggressive behaviour. Historically, Border Collies and Labrador Retrievers have been selected for working purposes requiring different levels of impulse control – livestock herding and gundog work respectively. 

“Of course, it would be inappropriate to make predictions about an individual dog’s behaviour only based on its breed, but our findings are extremely interesting. They highlight the varying temperaments of different breeds and also point to the impact that breeding for work or breeding for show can have on the personalities of our pets. We also saw a large variation among individuals of the same breed.”

Further studies are now taking place to explore these differences and determine whether similar findings are also true for other breeds.

The paper is available to read in full online: http://nature.com/articles/doi:10.1038/srep22162