Fur color and behavior

Can your dog’s sparkling fur color tell you about his/her behavior?

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Does the color of a dog’s fur really say something about their behavior?

Well yes it can!

Where does the color come from?

Dogs come in all different types of colors these days, even within the same breed you can get different colors. The colors come from 2 different types of pigment – Eumelanin and Pheomelanin. Eumelanin gives black fur and Pheomelanin gives red, yellow and brown.

Dogs did not always come in so many colors. Wolves, as we know, are not found in this many colors. The many different colors in a dog fur was created throughout the dogs’ domestication. In fact, the changes in the dog’s fur was the first signs that domestication had begun. But not only did they change fur color they also started losing their color. Throughout the dog’s domestication the offspring started getting little white spots in their fur. This was linked to Eumelanin slowly being decreased and then through generations evolved into offspring being completely white individuals (read more about the dog’s domestication here).

The Fox experiment

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The geneticist Belyayev and his team was interested in what happens when you try to domesticate a species, in this case a fox ( Watch more about the experiment here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HsIibD-TLcM).

Belyayev and his team decided to see if they could explain what happens both to an animal’s genetics but also behavior during domestication. They captured foxes and bread them. After each breeding they would pick the tamest offspring and make them next in line to breed. Then they would again pick the tamest individuals and have them breed and that continued over many generations.

By picking out the tamest individuals, a.k.a the least afraid and aggressive, and breeding them, they found that after a few generations the offspring started to have white spots in their fur. The white seemed to increase after every new generation. What is interesting here is that Belyayev and his team picked the tamest individuals for breeding and ended up affecting other aspects of the foxes physical appearances. In this case tameness is related to loss of pigmentation. The fact that the foxes started getting white spots in their fur is not surprising as a gene often codes for more than one thing. In this case the gene that coded for tameness also coded for pigmentation.

Although no one knows how exactly this happens, the physiology behind might be able to explain why this loss of pigmentation affects a dog’s behavior. The production for Eumelanin and Dopamine are related in the body. Dopamine has a big influence in how the brain works in social contexts making it plausible that by decreasing the production of Eumelanin you also affect the Dopamine production, changing the way the brain works and thereby affecting the way an animal behaves.  

The red colored Cockers

A study in Spain performed a behavior study on Cocker Spaniels. They found that red Cocker Spaniels showed more aggression to people then black or mixed colored Cocker Spaniels. Here, the gene coding for a higher risk of developing aggression is also the gene coding for pigmentation.

Risk of disease

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Science has also found that certain colors are correlated with risk of certain diseases. This is the case for Australian Shepherds who are born white but also deaf. They are missing the pigment Eumelanin who not only gives the black color but also has a specific function in the inner ear. Without Eumelanin the white dogs go deaf.

This proves that the fur color of your dog can have an affect on his/her behavior and that we as owners need to take that into consideration when we work with our dogs.

A myth that we actually can confirm as being true.   


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