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2. Behavioral Genetic Study with Temperament Assessment in Guide Dogs

Animals, including human beings, show great individuality. Just by taking up dogs, cats, and horses, it is obvious that there is no single specific character to describe a breed; some individuals are excitable, some are nervous, some may be aggressive, others may be docile. The emotional base of such behavioral characteristics is called temperament. An understanding of temperament and the biological background of individuality not only contributes to the growth of basic neuroscience research, but also plays an important role in veterinary science; because of its great significance in our attempt to find an appropriate relationship for humankind and animals to coexist. We, therefore, aim to clarify the genetic background of temperament, especially of dogs. It is still unclear whether individuality is determined by heredity or by environment. As common sayings "the child is father of the man" and "genius shows itself even in childhood" conflict notionally, the argument over "heredity or environment, nature or nurture" has long been a matter of debate. Research in the field of clinical developmental psychology has yielded great results about the influence of the early environment, and the recent identification of the existence of human temperament-associated genes has drawn much attention as well. But, the influence of both internal and external environmental factors being so great on the development of personality in humans, it is much too difficult to analyze the inborn character. Having a simpler system than humans, yet not as simple as mice and rats, and being the only species whose behavioral characteristics have been demonstrated scientifically to differ between breeds, dogs seem to be ideal for such studies. In colaboration with Guide Dogs for the Blind in USA and Australian Customs Service (Customs Detector Dog Unit), we are now able to set up experiments using dogs with the same genetic background and early environment. In addition, we are in the attempt to asses temperament by behavior tests and questionnaires in Japan Guide Dog Association. The achievements of our research would contribute to the improvement of success rates of guide dogs, and eventually toward overcoming the shortage of them. And, if the canine temperament-associated genes become identified, it will be possible to match each and every dog, companion or working, to a best suited family and home environment.


Copyright (C) Laboratory of Veterinary Ethology, The University of Tokyo.