The Bitey End of the Dog

Dr. Jessica Hekman DVM, PhD and Kim Brophey CDBC, FDM

July 29, 2022 Michael Shikashio CDBC Season 3 Episode 15
The Bitey End of the Dog
Dr. Jessica Hekman DVM, PhD and Kim Brophey CDBC, FDM
Show Notes Transcript

If you’re on social media, or just have an interest in dog training and behavior in general, you might have seen the controversy surrounding a research article that was published around the end of April, so just a couple months before the release of this podcast episode. The paper is titled "Ancestry Inclusive Dog Genomics Challenges Popular Breed Stereotypes". It’s a bit of a mouthful, but the short summary of controversy is that many in the mainstream media or on social media were saying that "breed totally matters, while others were staying, see, breed doesn’t matter at all."
So the first thing that came to my mind was, let’s get one of the authors of the paper onto the podcast. And the next thing that came to my mind was, let’s get Kim Brophey to be my guest host on this episode, as she is someone that has talked so much about breed and behavior tendencies in her past appearances as a guest on this show.
And so I brought Jessica Hekman, who is one of the authors and Kim Brophey together, and and let’s just say, these two brilliant minds do not disappoint in this episode, as we take a deep dive into not only dispelling some of the misunderstandings from the research, but also into genetics and aggression in general. 

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About Jessica:
Jessica Hekman, DVM, PhD, is a behavioral geneticist. She is one of the founders of the Functional Dog Collaborative (, a non-profit which seeks to change the conversation around dog breeding in the dog loving community. She also teaches behavioral biology at the Virginia Tech online Masters program for Applied Animal Behavior and Welfare, and offers webinars online and consults with breeders about genetic testing and breeding choices. Jessica lives in Raymond, NH with her husband and three dogs.

About Kim:
Kim Brophey, CDBC, CPDT-KA, FDM, is an applied ethologist and owner of The Dog Door Behavior Center in Asheville, NC. Kim’s commitment to Family Dog Mediation® has been recognized internationally, awarded the APDT Outstanding Trainer of the Year and the Best Dog Trainer of WNC seven years in a row. She is a member of the International Society for Applied Ethology and the APDT, and a certified member and past board member of the IAABC. Kim Brophey’s L.E.G.S. ® model of integrated canine science has been endorsed by prominent canine scientists such as Raymond Coppinger and embraced by reputable academics and dog trainers worldwide. From her applied ethology content in Michael Shikashio’s Aggression in Dogs Master Course to her market-disrupting L.E.G.S.® Applied Ethology Family Dog Mediation® Course, Kim’s work is a celebrated contribution to the field. Her groundbreaking sold-out first edition book, MEET YOUR DOG, TED talk, Beyond The Operant (BTO) collaborative, many public speaking venues, and countless radio and podcast features have made profound waves throughout the dog behavior world. 

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If you're on social media or just have an interest in dog training and behavior in general, you might have seen the controversy surrounding a research article that was published around the end of April. So just a couple of months before the release of this podcast episode. The papers titled ancestry inclusive dog genomics challenges, popular breed stereotypes. It's a bit of a mouthful, but the short summary of controversy is that many in the mainstream media or on social media, were saying that breed totally matters, while others were saying, C breed doesn't matter at all. So the first thing that came to my mind was let's get one of the authors of the paper onto the podcast. And the next thing that came to my mind was, let's get Kim Brophy to be my guest hosts on this episode, as she is someone that has talked so much about breed and behavior tendencies in her past appearances as a guest on this show. And so I brought Jessica Heckman, who is one of the authors and Kim Brophy together. And let's just say these two brilliant minds do not disappoint in this episode, as we take a deep dive into not only dispelling some of the misunderstandings from the research, but also into genetics and aggression in general. But if you are working with aggression cases, or plan on taking aggression cases as his trainer, or maybe you even struggling with your own dog, we have a variety of educational opportunities for you, including the upcoming aggression in dogs conference happening from September 30 Through October 2 2022. in Providence, Rhode Island, with both in person and online options. You can also learn more about the aggression in dogs master course, which is the most comprehensive course available anywhere in the world for learning how to work with and help dogs with aggression issues by going to aggressive So welcome to the show, Kim. Oh, thank you, Mike, I appreciate you having me. And welcome to you, Jessica. Thank you, I'm really happy to be here. So we're gonna dive right into what is the main talking point for this episode, which is this recent, somewhat recent research article that's come out and caused a lot of controversy in the dog training world as well as in other places people are talking about dog behavior and genetics in the Journal of Science. And I'll read the study name for you ancestry inclusive dog genomics challenges, popular breed stereotype. So right away kind of a lengthy title for the lay person like me that might be looking into reading research and articles. And what we saw come out on in some of the articles that we're talking about this paper, as well as the in social media and in the dog training community in the conversation, as are some of these absolute statements, such as breed matters, or breed doesn't matter, or based only on 9%, you know, all behaviors based 9% on genetics. So these really absolute statements and lots of arguments and lots I think misunderstanding. So I'm really excited to have both of you on because we're going to unpack a lot of the misconceptions as well as dive deeper into, you know, the theme of the show, which is aggression and agonistic behaviors and unpacking that part of the study a little bit more. So let's jump right off into this conversation. What if you had now I know, it's been a couple of months, and you guys have both seen the conversations that have flourished in social media? What are some of your takeaways? Now, if you were to say, Okay, we've seen this the the popular opinion skewing in one direction or another? What are some of your main thoughts are top of mind thoughts right now based on that? I feel like a lot of people sort of came in hot when they first read some of the coverage of the paper. And after having conversations about what the paper actually says and actually doesn't say, there were a lot of people who then were like, Oh, well, that makes sense. I mean, it's there's a lot in it. And and it's a lot of very complex concepts. And so it's a hard paper to boil down to one or two sentences. And yet, the media tried to do that. And so I think that once people were able to grapple with the complexity of it a little bit more, a lot of people found it a lot less controversial than they had initially thought that it was. There are certainly still people who disagree with some of the things that it says. And that's, that's fine. I think that's very understandable. But I feel like for the most part, a lot of the controversy did end up just being that it's hard to sit and walk through sort of what the paper actually did and actually says, and once you have been supported through doing that, because I don't expect people to be able to read this very technical paper and really get what it's about sort of without some support. But once supported in doing that, I think most people were able to say, oh, yeah, that that makes sense. That's actually not hugely surprising. What about you, Kim, you I know also had some conversations about the paper and some of your students had questions and I saw some of the You know, misunderstandings also come through in a lot of conversations. So what are your thoughts now? Yeah, these I really, I've had a very similar experience to what Jessica just described. I think that headlines like dog breed doesn't affect behavior according to new genetic research. We're a big part of the problem. You know, we just had a chat a few minutes ago on a Facebook Live, and we were talking about the problem being in a world with sound bites, and, you know, headlines and clickbait, frankly, I mean, you know, these are all businesses, the media is businesses. So the temptation to oversimplify for public appeal of clicking on their article, as opposed to someone else's is very real. And I think the short term problems were largely just from all that misunderstanding, you know, the immediate kind of Fallout and then the heated conversations that were occurring among professionals. I think that a lot of that was just misunderstanding, people not having had the time or the support, as Jessica mentioned, to really appreciate all of what was in the study. I think the the concern was, among many of the colleagues I was speaking with is that the headlines were dangerous in terms of the implications that people would run with that, and that that would be a mess, we'd be cleaning up for decades, when we've been working really hard to just help people understand that, you know, there are certain things genetically that matter. And then a whole lot of things that people think about genetics don't matter. And, of course, genetics aren't predictive. And it's super complicated, like everything else. And so I think avoiding the temptation to oversimplify is important. And putting things in a greater context is always important. I'm so appreciative of the cleaning up that Jessica has already done and I'm grateful to be here today to get a chance to talk with her more and hear about her further thorough analysis, which is going to be released, and, you know, to be able to share that with my colleagues and peers. Yeah, and I want to echo those sentiments too, because I was feeling really badly when I was seeing, you know, at least when people were kind of getting after the media about okay, these clickbait headlines are not good. But then I saw some attacks on you know, Jessica, or Eleanor and their team, and I'm like, This is ridiculous. I can't imagine how they're feeling, you know, let's just pour seven or eight years and 1000s of hours of research and work into this project. And if suddenly that, you know, now we're getting blamed for like taking, you know, dog behavior back decades or something like ridiculous statements like that. So shout out to you guys. Eleanor. Jessica, the whole team, IWC everybody who's involved with the project for all the hard work they put into it, because it's just, you know, this science is what we need to further our conversations, not take it. Thank you make. Yeah. So. So let's let's further on the conversation down into the agonistic behavior that we kind of wanted to talk about as well. So Jessica, take me through kind of that part of the study, as well, as you know, the questions that were asked, and you know, why that may not matter? Or maybe it does, yeah. So the study collected a lot of behavioral data from dogs. And it also collected a lot of genetic data from dogs. And we did some analyses just on the behavioral data. And then we did other analyses on the behavioral data with the genetic data. So to start out, I'm just going to talk about the behavioral data and sort of put the, the DNA stuff aside for a minute. So we have this have this site, Darwin's, which is still collecting data, by the way, if people are interested in going and participating in that, and owners of dogs, and we allowed anyone who was interested and owned a dog to come participate. Owners of dogs were asked to answer more than 100 survey questions. And we got those questions from preexisting validated surveys for the most part, because the the expertise of Carlson lab is not in developing surveys. And we knew that. So we went and found surveys that were already out there about canine personality. There are a few extra questions that we added in things about morphology like ear shape, and coat length and coat color. And also a few questions that I WBC helped develop, which were supposed to be, we asked them to help us find questions about behaviors that dogs would probably not have been trained to do. So they were questions like, Does your dog like to lie on its stomach frog style? Does he turn around a lot before lying down? Does He cocked his head to the side? Things like that as just sort of as as questions just just out of curiosity to see you know, can we find a genetic signal there in things that probably no one has trained their dog to do? But most of the survey questions and certainly the ones that we're interested in today came from validated studies that were written and tested by other laboratories. And this this particular part was a large part of what I worked on. I took the large number of answered quite Students and ran it through what's called a factor analysis, basically to make it easier to handle. So rather than having to handle more than 100 questions, you ask the computer to say which of these questions seem to group together, which seem to be related, based on how people answer the question. So the computer obviously doesn't understand what the question is about. But it can see that or we'll say, dogs, that the dog answers the question, you know, this particular question in this way, then it's very likely that they will answer this other question in this other particular way. And so the computer then can see, these questions seem to be about something similar. And these other questions seem to be about something similar. And we call those factors. So I came up with more than eight, but we ended up going with the top eight factors. And when you when you hear factor, you could just think group of questions. So the computer presented these groupings. And then humans sat down and looked at the groupings and tried to figure out what the factors were actually about. It was, it was pretty straightforward to take a glance at them, and see what we anyone was sort of understand what they were about. But then to put the actual names on the factors that would be descriptive and not misleading, and yet, not too long, so they could fit in figures, that was actually really hard. And we worked on that a lot. So to give you sort of a flavor, factor one, which is the factor with the the most variants in it, we named human sociability. So some of those questions are things about whether the dog is fearful towards unfamiliar people, whether the dog is shy, whether the dog likes to be approached or hugged, whether it walks away, or avoids being patted. So questions like that. And of those eight factors, the one that I think we're going to be the most interested in today is factor five, agonistic threshold. And I think the word aggression is in every question. In this factor. We didn't, we really didn't want to have the factor just be called aggression. We didn't want it to be saying that the dog is aggressive or not aggressive. And we can, I think YouTube probably understand really well, with that's a term that we struggled with, but we didn't want people labeling their dogs that way. But we did say agonistic threshold with the idea that this factor probably describes something about how likely a dog is to use aggression to solve any problems that he has. So yeah, let me pause there and see if you guys have questions at that point. Now, it's an excellent breakdown so far of what we're getting into with the the factor analysis. And So Kim, what do you think are you know, what are your thoughts in your mind swirling around when you hear agonistic? And aggressive and everything Jessica was just talking about? And how that would apply to the lens you're looking through as well. Yeah, I think, you know, this is so interesting. And it's so fun, Jessica, to hear you describe that and to be looking at, you know, this chart together and talking about it and thinking about the kinds of answers that I would expect these questions to yield. And, and then of course, I get excited about prospects for other studies and questions down the road, as well, again, but you know, one of the filters that I'm always kind of looking at things through from that ecological lens, is whether we might expect something to be different between breed groups, based on selective pressure or the absence of selective pressure. And so, in looking at these sample questions, and the agonistic threshold, most of these things have little to no selective pressure, like intentional selective pressure. And what I mean by that is that someone wouldn't breed a dog to be aggressive when nervous or fearful, someone wouldn't have bred a dog to be aggressive towards veterinarians, when they go to the, to the hospital, you know, you might expect there would be certain breeds where something like barrier aggression, however, would be more prevalent in certain breed groups lines, because that there has been some selective pressure on that, for the sake of guarding territories and properties and things like that. And, you know, things even like whether a dog becomes aggressive when they become aroused is something else that we might expect would have some indirect selective pressure on it. Um, only because certain types of dogs, of course, we wanted them to be able to engage really quickly in agonistic behavior, when they hit a certain level of arousal, even if otherwise they didn't have much of a reason. And so, you know, looking at it, like, you know, the kinds of things that we humans have bred dogs to do over the years, largely, that being selective pressure on predation, and various changes to that, and those motor patterns, and then also things like intrusion and then controlling movement. And so you know, some of these things we wouldn't think about in the strictest sense or definition as aggression. And I know, Mike, you and I have gone back and forth about like, where do we put predation because predation isn't technically aggression from a certain perspective, but definitely those on the receiving end of predation feel that it's quite aggressive. Um, and so I think a lot of the behaviors that the public describes as aggressive, are rooted in something that is predatory. And even herding behavior, which is a modified predation selection definitely can be experienced by people as aggression, even if it is just kind of a misfiring of controlling the movements of other organisms based on the selective pressure for hurting. So I think it's really interesting what it yields. And it makes me want to know more, it makes me wonder if we went to kind of like next level questions about contexts and things about the sudden movements of others like that would be just an interesting question to have thrown in there. Like, I bet we would see some differences between the different groups of dogs depending on that selective pressure for noticing some environmental contrast, for example. But it's really fascinating. And I think it also like, we can look at this a number of different ways and say, you know, we have to really be willing to get into the weeds of the complexity of the kinds of questions we asked them the kinds of answers that those are going to yield. Make sure that we don't over generalize things like a lot of the studies historically about dog aggression have been like, are breeds more aggressive than others? Which is the wrong question to be asking, like, of course, we're gonna get the wrong answers, if that's the question we're asking, because what do we actually mean by that, like, if we're talking about the context of predation versus the context of territory protection, we're going to see one group of dogs be much more quote, aggressive, predatory than another in a certain set of conditions. And then another group show up with more, quote, aggressive behavior in this set of circumstances and not the other, again, based on those selective pressures. So I think it's so exciting that we are starting to ask these questions and starting to get into those weeds as an industry and as a culture. And I'm really excited for where the future takes us. Oh, my God, Mike, do not ask me another question. Because I have so much I want to say already. Go right ahead. Yeah, I was trying to remember. Okay, so yeah, I think that is very insightful, Kim. And I also want to back up for a second and give people an overview about what Ken is talking about. So the one of the analysis that we did in the paper was to look at whether there were significant differences in how dogs scored on these factors, between breeds. And then also between breed groups, we saw a larger signal between groups, and we did between breeds, but we saw very little signal in the agonistic threshold between breeds or between breed groups. And I think Kim is right on when she says that the things that people would be selecting for in breeds or breed groups are the kinds of quote unquote, aggression that people would be selecting for in those groups are not what are covered in agonistic threshold here. And I just want to take a minute to tell people how to get at the list of actual questions, because I know that's going to be interesting to people. And it was it was amazing. As we were starting this, to do this interview, I was like, oh, I should pull those questions up. And I was surprised how long it took me who knows the paper pretty well to find them as part of the paper. So the way to find the actual list of questions is at the very end of the paper, there's a link to supplemental materials. And that gives you a link to another freely available PDF to download. And on page 77 of that PDF table, s four is factors discovered from Darwin's Ark survey data. And then page 78, with that table continues down page 78. factor five is agonistic threshold. And it has all of the sort of eight or nine questions that got grouped by the computer into agonistic threshold. And as I'm looking through them, I think almost all of them are, I would describe as all except for two of them, I would describe as being about the dog being anxious, shy, afraid, nervous, having some kind of issue that they're using aggression to try to increase space, right. So there's a lot of like, if they're nervous or fearful, if there's perceived threats, if people are unfamiliar, but I'm just sort of looking through, there's a question about whether they guard coveted items, right. So that's resource guarding which I don't Kim can answer whether there's any, any way that anyone would be selecting for resource guarding, and there's barrier or aggression, which Kim also mentioned. So, none of the others are things that I think people would be intentionally selecting for in a particular group. I would hope that readers who are trying to breed good family pets, which is mostly what we had in this study, I would hope that readers who are trying to breed good family pets would be selected against all of these things, right? So I would, I certainly wouldn't expect anyone to be intentionally breeding dogs to be aggressive at the veterinarians. I would hope that if a breeder had a dog, who was aggressive at the veterinarians, they would choose not to breed that dog. But I don't think that we would see A big difference across breeds there because I would hope that in most breeds, that would just be a given that that that would be something that you're breeding for now, not everybody does prioritize that. And that's sort of a separate conversation. But I wouldn't expect that to show up as a breed difference. What do you think, Kim? I, this is just so fun and interesting. I, you know, I was just I completely agree with everything you said. And I love these weeds were playing in here, I was thinking about, you know, your question about the resource guarding like, that is such a good important question. And even within the specificity of the selective pressure of that there's these well, but there's these caveats, it's always more complicated than we think. So for instance, the group that has the strongest selective pressure for resource guarding would be the guardians. However, it would not be just across the board, like we wanted the guardians to be resource garters of everything towards everybody, actually, you were going to have lower social conflict agonistic behavior between members of their own social group, in many cases, with the Guardians, particularly livestock guardians, because of the kinds of conditions in which we needed those dogs to work, you can't have them, you know, biting your sheep's face off when they get near their food bowl when they're eating the pasture, when you bring them their dinner at the end of the day, you know. And so the minutiae really matters. And we were learning about what's under the hood genetically, but we're at the beginning of even discovering any of it, like what is actually operating there. And so what creates a perceived threat, that would then be something that we would have had a selective pressure act upon in a guardian breed who also just by default, and Katherine Lord, who is also one of the authors on this study has done some work on this. But the lower dopamine and The Guardian breeds as well. And so if you have lower dopamine, even if you have been selected for readers resource guarding in certain conditions, you're not going to be the one that's flying off the handle at the drop of a hat over someone's drop crack or two. So the presentation of the behavior would be qualified by the conditions in which we might expect the behavior to occur. And and that's why, you know, I continue to try to encourage all of us to be willing to have these really muddy, complicated conversations about questions, because if we really want to get closer to the truth, we have to be comfortable with all those weeds in the minutiae. Yeah, I think part of what you're talking about there is what my particular passion is, which is what is the biology of it, what is going on in the brain, what is going on in the hormonal system, that is making dogs or people behave in particular ways. And for me, the reason I was involved in this research personally, was that that was what I wanted to find out. And so we may not have gotten at that four agonistic threshold. But for one of the other factors, human sociability, so how much dogs like being around people or dislike being around people, when we took those questions, and we compare them to the individual dog's DNA sequences, we did find a region of the DNA that seemed to be associated with either really enjoying being around people or not enjoying being around people, which which sets up hopefully future research to go sort of dig deeper into that region of the DNA and say, Well, what are the genes in this region? Can we try to figure out what exactly is you know, is there a mutation in here that is, looks one way and dogs that really like people a different way in dogs that don't really like people. And then once we can find that, and we know what Gene it's in, then we'll know a little bit more about how that gene functions in the brain. It just it opens up these avenues for trying to better understand the biology of behavior, which is very much for me the reason to do this study. And I feel like it is not something that the press coverage emphasized as I find that very exciting. Right. I have a question about that. So in terms of the dog's sociability was the region correlated at all to chromosome seven and the research that has been done with Williams Beuren syndrome? Were you finding that it was playing off I think, I think if it were in that region, I would remember. So this is not my part of the paper, Kathleen Morell, who's the first author was the one who did this part of the papers called it she was, and she'd be probably able off the top of her head to just say, I can't remember but I think if it were in the Williamsburg region, I would know, like, I feel like that, that I would have been like, like, we would have been talking about that. That would have been big news. Yeah, I was just thinking that would be you know, really interesting and if it's not and it's also really interesting if it's not like so what else is operating and what are other factors genetic there's gonna be a lot of regions, right? There's gonna be a lot of regions so yeah, yeah, yeah. So I'm sitting here with my bucket of popcorn listening well down here for the moment I think you know, cuz I definitely just on the bunny slope of ecology and just trying on my ski boots for genetics. So I'm, you know, definitely I think what it would be helpful for the listeners, if I maybe just give my interpretation of what you guys were talking about and kind of like what stepping back and going back to our initial part of the conversation was the misinterpretations of the study. But I think it's really important to define the definitions, you know, so when people say aggression, you know, our aggressive dog immediately labeling the dogs, I love that the questions in this in the study, were looking at behavior or, you know, using the terms like, shows or becomes aggressive for shows aggressive behavior, and using those terms, because it's, it can quickly become this absolute rabbit hole, right? Where it's just, it's all absolutely the dogs aggressive or not, or, you know, so identifying those behaviors, because when you start to talk, look into what Ken was talking about, in terms of what we've selected for, for aggressive behaviors, and then you look at the survey questions, many of them are actually looking at underlying emotion that is motivating or fueling that aggressive response. So when we're selecting for dogs, we can argue that we're not necessarily selecting for I want a nervous dog, I want a fearful dog. And if you look at I'm going through the questions here now, you know, I want to the opposite, right? Hopefully people are, right. Exactly. Yeah. And so that brings up the broader view of, again, aggressive behaviors, it's not always motivated by fear. It's not always motivated by you know, nervousness and air quotes. It's often for the dogs that we're talking about for the selective pressure is dogs that aren't experiencing those emotions. And we can argue in some cases, we can go back down that predation, rabbit hole a lot, Kim and I go down all the time, the dogs are having a good time, it's a totally different aspects. from a biological perspective, right, Jessica? Is that what's happening in the brain? What's happening with hormones when you're looking at it from that angle? So So that's Anyways, my limited takeaway from the conversation. So let's, let's actually go into defining those terms a little bit more, because I know that some of the controversy, too, was in the definitions of the behavior. So we've heard personality used in the study or behaviors, or motor patterns. So can we jump into that conversation since we have Kim Harris the theologist, as well, the difference between when they're talking about motor patterns and baking in personality, for instance, and because they were used synonymously? In the arguments that I saw online, but they're actually two very distinct different things. Yeah, maybe I can say what I mean by personality. And then Kim can say what she means by motor patterns. Yeah, so yeah. So by personality, I mean, a set of behaviors that are relatively consistent over time. So if the dog has a personality trait, you're going to be able to see that repeatedly. You know, today, two weeks from today, six months from today, the dog will mainly respond to a particular stimulus in a similar way. But of course, there will be days when the dog is having a crappy day or something. And we'll respond to the stimulus a bit differently, which is why it's important to sort of check in multiple times. So it's very hard to see personality through a single snapshot, it's sort of important to talk to someone who knows the animal well over time. The other thing about personalities, it's not entirely fixed, certainly one of the things that can change in his trauma. Another thing that can change personality traits is long term persistent behavioral modification, as you both know, so when I say it's consistent over time, I sort of mean without other input, you're, you're gonna keep seeing the same trait, but it certainly can be changed. But it takes either something really big, like a trauma to change it, or something really persistent, like long term behavioral modification. So that's what I mean by personality. I love that. And the first thing that it made me think of, because, you know, again, right, we're, as we're growing, and we're learning more, it seems like we have to get increasingly comfortable being uncomfortable, and sometimes things on the surface look really contradictory. One of the first things that that made me think of as you were describing that, which I found working as a behavior consultant for over two decades now, you consistently see this reflected in my clientele, as well, is that oftentimes personality and the modal action patterns, conflict, and they often do, they might actually almost seem to be antithetical to each other, you know, so you might have actually a very stable personality and a dog that when presented with a very specific releasing stimuli, exhibits a behavior that seems to completely contradict everything that we know about the stability of that dog's personality in all of the other conditions. Right. And I think that's one of the caveats that we're trying to help people appreciate is that, you know, genetics do not well, they're never predictive, but they they have very little bearing in many ways on personality. You know, it's the personality is the combination of all these factors and so yes, of course, genetics is going to influence that whether it's through play style or sociability, with humans or other dogs, things like that. So it flavors if you will, or has the potential to flavor it. But it's not going to have the stronger predictive value that something like where we have very concentrated selective pressure for things like modal action patterns we would expect them to. And so if we say have a dog that has intact predation genetically, and we present them with the cat that it lives with inside the house, getting along fine snuggling together on the bed, watching TV, but then suddenly, the dog gets out of the house and that same cat streaks across the street, the dog might actually potentially predate that cat before it even knows what's happened, because of the interaction between the releasing stimuli of the cat and the modal action patterns. And, you know, that can kind of shock us. And I think part of the message that we're trying to get across from kind of the legs initiative perspective, is that, you know, I feel like so many dogs get labeled as broken, pathologized, even euthanized, surrendered to shelters, etc. Because they exhibit a behavior that is along the lines of those accidental releasing stimuli in the middle action patterns that humans have historically bred them for, and then horribly, the conclusion of the family is, oh, my gosh, my dog is universally aggressive, and I'm finding it out. And now he has a taste for blood. And so the cost of not talking about this minutiae, and these differences is huge for dogs. And I think a lot of the folks that want to say genetics have no bearing on behavior are very much in all the best intentions defending the interest of dogs, because they don't want them to be inappropriately labeled. But we really have the same goals. I don't either, I want a dog to be understood when that something like that happens for them. And there's a behavior that overrides the personality, because of the depths of it sources, and the generations of reinforcement history, that that doesn't mean that they're sweet little baby that was cuddling with the cat in the house, and our before is suddenly a murderous fool, and is going to attack their children, they need to understand the specificity of the relationship between those kinds of things. I feel like then people would be better prepared to make different decisions in terms of management and things like that. Just kind of cautioning against those likelihoods. Yeah, 100%. And one of the things I was thinking when I was talking about my definition of personality, also is that these behavioral traits that you see are, in particular environmental situations. And so if you change the dog's environment, you may suddenly see very different behavioral traits, which is similar to what you were saying, Cam, I know you were talking about specific stimuli rather than changes in an environment. But I think that sort of similar to what you're saying that you can think that you know, a dog's personality, but if you expose it to a new environment, or a very new stimulus, you might see something new. And you might have assumed that that stimulus wasn't a new thing for the dog. But it may have been. Yeah, exactly. And I think those are the kinds of things that, you know, I'm hoping that we can all continue to learn more about especially in work, like what you're doing with the functional dog collaborative, I mean, that is such a wealth of knowledge that we can be pulling from from breeders that have, you know, in some cases been breeding certain dogs for, you know, generations and have extensive experience, working with that particular type of dog and can help us understand kind of the minutiae from their perspective and their experiences for what kinds of things they noticed those differences in. So you know, something as small as whether your dog is standing at the front door, when guests walk in, or you simply, you know, put them on the other side of the baby gate, have a guest come in, sit down on the couch, and then let the dog in can be the most important game changing environmental antecedent arrangement adjustment, that will matter for some breeds and breed groups and won't matter for others, you know. And it can be profound, right, because the interpretation of like, a potential intruder is something that is selectively bred into certain types of dogs and not others. And so even if our dog is going to be in the standard deviation, as opposed to the kind of intended selected result for that type of safe, you know, territorial or property protection, in the case of say guardians, again, it's nice just to kind of buffer against the possibility, even if the dog doesn't act in a way that was undesirable, where they uncomfortable enough, and maybe that's even paving the way towards, you know, three months from now, he might actually step up to that plate and do something, or then we're integrating it with our full picture of the dog's legs. So we look at the ESPYs, the internal conditions, we look at the age of the dog, it might be that until the dog hits social maturity, that stimulus is perceived as something I'm not going to step up to the plate towards, but as soon as the dog hits social maturity, all of a sudden he's stepping up to the plate. Whereas if I'd known that as the person getting the Guardian from the time that I acquired the Guardian, I might have started with the dog on the other side of the baby gate from the day that I've had people come over in the first place. So he always knew that it wasn't his job. He wasn't feeling uncomfortable, conflicted, and then suddenly felt like oh, no, you know, or not even felt like I mean, that's an That's an assumption or a projection, the dog experience and then the interaction between that event and their genetic modal action patterns. Yeah, yeah. This has been a fascinating conversation so far. And you mentioned the functional dog collaborative, which we're going to talk more about in just a moment, we're going to take a quick break to hear from our sponsors, when we'll be right back. Hey, friends, it's me again, and I hope you are enjoying this episode, you may have figured out that something I deeply care about is helping dogs with aggression issues live less stressful, less confined, more enriched, and overall happy lives with their guardians. Aggression is so often misunderstood. And we can change that through continued education, like we received from so many of the wonderful guests on this podcast. In addition to the podcast, I have two other opportunities for anyone looking to learn more about helping dogs with aggression issues, which include the aggression in dogs master course, and the aggression in dogs conference. 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As a family of world class trainers fenzi Dog Sports Academy provides expert and accessible instruction for competitive dog sports using the most progressive training methods and positive reinforcement techniques. Through their online platform. Students are able to access Professional dog training No matter your location, or pup skill level. ftsa believes the bond between dog and human is a proud and life changing partnerships. And they'll work with you to develop a respectful and kind relationship with your very best friend. Check out ftsa At fenzi Dog sports All right, I'm back here with the amazing applied ecologist Kim Brophy and behavioral geneticists Dr. Jessica had been and we were talking about a lot before the break. But we I want to jump into Jessica's amazing project, that functional dog collaborative because it's so applicable to our conversation now. So Jessica, tell us more about that, and how you kind of came about that and what it's about? Yeah, so I founded it in 2020, as my pandemic passion project, and I had been thinking for a while that there were groups of people, breeding dogs in ways that are maybe not mainstream, but are still ethical, responsible in the kinds of ways that I wanted to see encouraged, you know, people who are breeding dogs with a main goal of being pets and not being as concerned maybe with breeding to purebreds together, or people who are interested in outcrossing to increase genetic diversity. And I wanted to provide resources for them. And I wanted to provide a place where they could find each other because I was seeing different groups doing some of these things and having trouble connecting to each other and I thought they could really provide each other support. So the functional dog collaborative basically started out as a Facebook group. It's the functional breeding Facebook group and I encourage anyone who's interested to go join it and check it out. There's a we have almost 10,000 People now and it is a very active coming unity with a lot of good information about how to responsibly breed dogs how to responsibly raised puppies and socialized puppies. So a lot of breeders on it, but there's also a lot of dog trainers on it. A lot of people, a lot of dog trainers, I think came to it because they were having concerns about seeing increasing rates of behavior problems in puppies, and wanted to talk about where dogs are coming from and how we can do better at producing dogs who are really good fits for family life. So we have a, a bunch of other projects now that besides just the Facebook groups, that we're building educational resources for breeders, educational resources for what we call puppy seekers, to sort of help people navigate that really difficult notion of how do you find the right breeder for you. And then also working on trying to put together a data platform for breeders to come to and share information, thinking through all of the projects. Right now we're in the middle of spinning up a social media project, we're going to hopefully be spitting out some sound bites for people to just get little, little pieces of information out there to help people better understand your book, the average person sort of understand what goes into breeding and raising a physically and behaviorally healthy puppy. That it's not easy. It's not uncomplicated, it is doable, but there's a lot that goes into it. Also sort of helping spread the word among people who are already really in the dog world, that breeding purebreds is, is great, but not the only way to go. And that there's a bunch of mixes that people are breeding that make really good pets or really good sports dogs, sometimes not even just mixes of two breeds times more sometimes, there's some really interesting breeding going on with people breeding, multigenerational mixes, lots of different breeds in there, and they're just really focusing on what can I do to make the best possible pet. And that sort of a, it's a less mainstream way of breeding. It's not what the average person knows of as responsible breeding, but we're trying to sort of get the word out there that this is, this is a great option for looking for your, your next good family dog. It's such an amazing resource and an incredible initiative, because it's it's not an easy conversation, either. I'm thinking about just how much you have to break the mold of what the standard, you know, in air quotes, there are the culture of how we get dogs or breeding dogs that we've been so accustomed to, and still is so pervasive to this day, where, you know, people are just getting dogs with looks or for, you know, certain fashion accessory almost sometimes, and they're not thinking about all those other things and, and Kim and I'd have have had this conversation many times about the difficulties of getting that message out there. Because if you look at it, you know, you go to any shelter, what's the number one reason for the relinquishment of dogs to these shelters, its behavior. And so there's a significant issue in this in this country. And of course, other countries around the world are facing the same issues with, you know, dogs, we're not we're not breeding dogs for necessary the right purpose, at least if we're looking to prevent that issue. And so Kim would love to get a little more your thoughts too on on, you know, I know we've we've talked about this in the past. But to add to what Jessica is kind of doing now. What are your thoughts go? Well, first of all, I love the functional dog collaborative. When I found out that it was a thing I was just like, This is amazing. This needed to be a thing for so long. And I didn't know it was a thing. And I'm so glad that that was your 2020 inspired project, Jessica, because, you know, I remember years ago, I think Sue Sternberg at an APDT conference, it might have been even 10 years ago now kind of planted the seed to a group of dog trainers whose chins were on the floor. I think she was presenting maybe with John Rogers Center or something. And they were talking about how we shouldn't be spaying and neutering all of these really great dogs. Like if we find a dog that is coping really well in modern conditions and meeting the expectations of, you know, the average family with high resiliency and, you know, wonderful, flexible constitutions from a variety of the different kinds of situations we're planning on putting them in, let's not spay them or neuter them. Let's find them on date. Let's see what else might be compatible for them. And that was kind of sacrilege at the time that she brought it up and still is that a lot of still is I know and, and I think it's you know, this is the whole thing. It seems like it's the theme of the day and the week in the month, growth is uncomfortable, right? having difficult conversations evolving, adding different cows to that sacred cow herd is important. So we can say yes, spaying and neutering is still important, but and we can say, you know, that it's okay to say you know what, I don't think we should spay or neuter this dog. It would be great if there was a filter system and show realtors, you know, nationwide where we could, you know, have people's eyes and ears out for these gems that really need to be staying in the gene pool. I've been emboldened by all of this, to tell my clients when they bring a fabulous, easy, flexible, resilient social dog to me, I say, Please don't fix your dog. You know, and I especially if I've gotten a chance to watch them for a year or two, I try to say, you know, like, I will I send them to FTC is what I do. And so half of them, I don't know what they're going to ultimately end up doing. And I think a lot of them don't want to get into breeding per se. But it's at least getting our culture thinking about this as an option, as you say, and not even just for pet conditions, right. Like, that's where my mind goes. I'm not in the competitive world. But I also think, within the sport lines, there's a lot to be learned by looking at ways to have highly competitive, successful candidates for the sport world that are also more behaviorally healthy than maybe some of the things that have been in the gene pool in the past. I love the idea of intentional crossbreeding, I am concerned that even the best breeds that we have in our gene pool today are the ones that have historically been coping better than others. Because of the closed gene pools and the line breeding, that we're going to have increasing behavioral and physical medical problems, congenital issues. And so there's a lot of flesh out there, right, there's a lot of things that we need to be thinking about. And the work that you've done in a study like this is such an important element to figuring out what kinds of information we might be able to glean now from a study like this, and then down the road, what are some other things we might be able to glean, that can help us improve our ability to do this, that people ask me all the time, because I do have a bias where I feel like, well, humans messed it up by putting our fingers in the pot in the first place. Nature is really good at selecting for function, and what is adaptive. And I think humans, not so much, we know what we like and what we don't like. But the truth is, is that we nature can't fix this really like we're not just going to go and free all the dogs and then nature has its mechanism in order to solve this problem, it's not going to happen. So we have to figure out how to solve it through the same thing that got us into this mess in the first place, or artificial selection. And so the more information we have, the better the more creativity, the better. Yeah, it's, I think that there's going to have to be a real revolution in how we deal with dog breeding. Just looking at the situation right now, where, you know, time was that there was there were a lot of accidental litters, and they either got placed locally, or they sort of went through shelters and shelters were a good place to get puppies from. And shelters are not a large producer of puppies at this point. And there are the people who are producing dogs in what I would sort of talk about sort of the mainstream, responsible way, breeding dogs for show and then placing the non show candidates as pets. And we can talk about whether that's even the best way of producing pets. But whether or not it is those people are not a large proportion of the way we produce dogs. And I think there's a lack of knowledge about where puppies are coming from. But I am terrified to think that I think a large proportion of the puppies that are being produced are coming out of high volume facilities that are not giving careful thought to the genetics, and are certainly not providing good early socialization, which is something that we've been talking a lot about genetics today. But when we talk about agonistic threshold, or dogs who use aggression to deal with their their issues, their fearfulness, then really, what we need to be dealing with is producing dogs that are less fearful, which absolutely genetics has something to do with but also socialization is just massively important. And so, you know, having those dogs that are being produced in high volume, what I would call a high volume, low animal welfare situation, and then sort of moving through the internet to find their home. I would just love to see kind of just just as a start just having more dogs produced in homes, you know, we talk about backyard breeders, that sort of a derogatory term. But when you compare it to a dog that's not born in a Hope Chest, being born in a home, and growing up inside and getting to see what indoors is like and that people come to visit. That is such a huge step forward. That's such a huge piece of the puzzle. It's not the whole puzzle, but it's such a big step forward. Yeah, so I just I feel like we need to figure out a way to to be able to produce the number of dogs that this country wants, but in homes. I love people who are doing it thoughtfully. Yeah, I completely agree with that. And I think to make it even more complicated, um, you know, A new research is coming out all the time with other species that's helping us appreciate the complexity of exactly what you're describing. A study just came out about the loss of neurological plasticity in fish that are, you know, living in captivity, and particularly lines of fish. So they actually were looking at lines of captive bred fish, I forget the name of them, they're the ones that glow, I don't remember the name of them off the top of my head versus wild lions of the same species. And the difference between the neurological plasticity was profound. And it makes sense, because, you know, the discussion of the research was, you know, well, neurological plasticity is very expensive, right. And it costs a lot to kind of maintain that flexibility to circumstances. So if there's no need for it, you're going to lose it, you know, nature's very economical that way. And so it makes sense that the lines of dogs coming from these, like high number of breeding facilities, puppy mills, etc. With the higher measure of captivity, lower level of stimulation, it might not even just be that that particular puppy is going to be less plastic because of that experience. But it could even be that there's a whole generation, a lineage of an increasing loss of plasticity over time, it just begs all kinds of really serious, important questions. And we'd need to be looking at all of them for sure. Man, I'd love to do that research. Right. Yeah. Do the funding. Find the funding? We're getting better? Yeah. So I have a kind of a devil's advocate question for Jessica. So let's say somebody comes to you, it's like, this all sounds great. But didn't you just say that genetics isn't all that matters? So how can we be sure we're going to be breeding we take a pair of dogs that are just so their personalities wonderful. And we want to reproduce that. But how do you answer the question of how do we know that that's going to happen? Or what happens if the opposite occurs? You know, what is your response to that kind of statement? Yeah. I mean, breeding is incredibly complicated. And there are a lot of big decisions that go into it. So you're taking a dog that you're going to breed and you take two dogs that you're going to breed and you know that they're really nice dogs. It's really, it's additionally nice. If you also know that they had nice parents and that their siblings were nice. That helps a lot to tell you how much of that is genetics. Although I was actually just yesterday, or the day before having a conversation with a breeder who said, you know, well, you say that, Jessica, but how much? How much evidence do we have that? That just sort of looking at the lines gives you that much information? It's actually hard to know in any purebred or mixed breed? was the mother of this dog really nice. I asked her breeder if she was really nice. And the breeder said, Yes. Does is the breeder answering all of the questions that I really, you know, have I asked all the question is does the breeder mean the same thing, by really nice is the breeder sort of thinking that it's not a big deal that the dog chased the mailman and beat him every day. You know, so that information is nice to have. But I think it's also important to sort of put it in context of, of what it really you know, of how reliable it is, and what it can really mean. But I think that's the best we can do is take two dogs who seem to be nice, breed them, and then socialize the heck out of the puppies. And I'm not 100% sure exactly what the angle of your question is, Mike, but I think a lot of people do come to me and say, but we really know what we're getting when we breed to purebreds. And when you breed to mix breeds, anything can happen. And I have a couple of answers to that. Which is first of all, honestly, a lot can happen when you breed to beer purebreds as well, I think, you know, there's a lot of, sort of, you know, oh, well, all golden retrievers are really nice dogs. And that's not true. There's a lot of Golden Retrievers who have, you know, guarding issues or anxiety issues. And just because the The breed is sort of that the goal for the breed is to have these super friendly, super sociable dogs doesn't mean that they all are doesn't mean that if you take two really nice golden retrievers, that there's not going to be something weird that shows up in that litter. So if you do breed to mixed breed dogs and something different shows up in the litter, I wouldn't necessarily say that it's because they're not purebred. I'd say it's because they're living creatures and reading living creatures can, you know there can be surprises. The other thing I'd say is that, you know, there's a lot of other trade offs for breeding pyramids, which you know, Kim and I have been talking about this decreasing genetic diversity correlated to increasing health problems. And that's something important to take into consideration as well. That that's something that we can't just keep going the way we've been going. Not just even at the studbooks are closed, but that then you have a litter of No dogs and you say, well, maybe one or two of these from this litter are going to be appropriate to show and therefore breed. And the rest, we're going to spay neuter in places pets, and maybe they do fabulous as pets, but they're not show dogs, so we're not going to breed them. And that really cuts down on genetic diversity that each litter, very few of the dogs are bred. So I guess I, you know, I hopefully that answered your question at that point. And I had a little just just to make that, you know, more painfully complicated. One of the things that I think about is that when we're breeding for consistency, right, so you talk about, like, we know, going back six generations on both sides, these dogs are friendly, friendly, friendly, friendly, and they're, you know, we've got wonderful lines very well tracked, very consistent, there's a tipping point in there, where the consistency itself is lending itself to such a compromised level of genetic diversity, then you're going to start having problems, not just you know, physically, but also behaviorally. Um, you know, one of the things that I've thought about a lot, particularly with like, the Golden Retrievers is like, what happens when paid a morphism or Nyan knee reaches such extremes, that they become crippled by anxiety? Because they're that the flip side of the juvenile flexibility is that, you know, I do I ever fully get into my comfortable loans, adult skin, like, or some of those dogs, you know, I just anecdotally have observed how many of the same dogs that are exceedingly friendly are also seem to be prone to things like, you know, lick granulomas, um, and separation anxiety and sound phobia and things like that. Now, that's all just completely, you know, hypothesizing in my mind. But but it would make sense, I guess, right, is that that could be an unwanted side effect of breeding for this extreme friendliness is that we also have an extreme sensitivity that goes with it. I mean, these are things we don't have the answers to, they're just things to think about. But I do think there's a danger to getting so much consistency that you've lost your diversity to. Yeah, that's interesting. I had never thought of that hypothesis before. And now I want to know, I want to study it. Yeah, no, I think exactly. I think that when you look at populations in nature, this is something that population geneticists have have noticed for a while and sort of been interested in is that a particular population might be well adapted to a particular environment, you know, the particular area where that population lives, but there's always some animals in the population that shows some different traits. And it turns out long term that that's beneficial over evolutionary time, because the area where this population of animals lives, maybe fairly stable for several generations, but then something happens, right, and new predators come in, or there's a change in the landscape, or there's a change in the weather, or there's a change in the food availability. And all of a sudden, those small number in the population who were the outliers, and were not super well adapted, all of a sudden, those guys are the ones who are very well adapted to the new landscape, and their genetic material will suddenly start spreading. And so it's a way that the population keeps itself able to adapt that if 100% of the animals were perfectly adapted to the existing environment, they would be very inflexible when the environment changes. And I think that's something that's important for us to remember that it is not healthy for a population to be more and more homogeneous, because the population has to be able to adapt to changing times. And with dogs, I would say the times are certainly changing for dogs. And the kinds of home environments that dogs find themselves in are changing right now. Definitely compared to how they were 2040 years ago. That's an important thing for us to think about to write if we've got the rate of environmental change as fast as it is right now in the 21st century, we almost need to be trying to anticipate looking forward. You know, here we've introduced a Metaverse to our reality like is that going to become a really big thing? Are people literally going to be spending any large volumes of their days any more than we already are doing nothing but staring at a screen and not not even having available eye contact with their dogs? Because they're in virtual reality? I mean, I don't know. None of us know, we can't predict the future. But, you know, breeding for it, I guess the environmental conditions, if natural selection can't take the wheel, and it falls on us to use the tools of artificial selection to try to help our dogs be better adapted to the modern conditions and expectations. Then we need to have the filter one of the kind of global filters for all breeding, you know, whether that be for pet homes or sport homes or working homes to be are they coping well with these conditions and then also recognize that if they are put in conditions that are very different from the conditions for which they were selected, so you take a dog that was bred to be a highly successful For working or sport candidate and you put them in a pet home, they might do very poorly in those conditions. Because it a kind of mirror example to what you talked about with the population genetics, they aren't well adapted genetically to those conditions, because that wasn't our target. Right? So if we're the ones doing the choosing instead of nature, then we need to really be thinking it's not that we're just creating these global good dogs, you know of one breeder another, they might be good in one set of conditions and terribly dysfunctional in a set of another. Yeah, I think, you know, we talk about labels and defining things, and everybody feels like they know what good beads. But I think it's, it's definitely worth thinking through what good means to you and what your goals are, and how good is actually not a really useful label. I use it it's funny, I use it, you know, I give a talk, like, Where will the good dogs come from? But then I always start out the talk by being like, so what do I mean by a dog? You know, what are our assumptions when we assume that the default is that the dog will be basically healthy and basically interested in interacting with us and basically happy to have guests come over to the house. And those are, those should not be default assumptions, those should be things that you asked about true. Good point, because when you think about it, they just think about aggressive behavior. You know, in most people's minds, they're thinking bad, you know, bad, but actually, it can be good, right? When we want it to be, you know, somebody breaks into our home and the dog barks and lunges out that person. You know, that's good for us, right. So it's all how we kind of view it. And we have to remember that aggressive responses are quite normal in our repertoires. It's really any species for safe our own safety and our own preservation. So fascinating. Fascinating. This has been such an amazing conversation. Can we keep Jessica here for that? 48 hours, we're talking about? Like, go have lunch, maybe take a nap at some point. So I'm going to wrap it up there. But I do want to hear what you guys are up to next. So Kim, what are you up to these days? And where can people find you. So people can find me either at dog door behavior That's our little local company here for behavior consulting. And then they can also find us at our new website for our educational platform, family, dog, we have just released the public facing distilled one hour version of the big 30, our professional legs Applied Ecology, family dog mediation course. And that's very exciting, because we have been really trying to figure out a way to make the information of legs and all of these complicated questions and considerations available to the public. Wonderful. And Jessica, how about you? Functional dog collaborative is the is my big project right now. So you can check that out at functional So there's that Facebook group is a good way to get started. There's also the functional breeding podcast, which I am recovering from a brain injury. So the podcast was on hiatus for a while and I'm in the sort of the middle of spinning it back up. So there's a whole bunch of older episodes, which I encourage people to listen to. And and don't don't feel like that's all there is because it there will it will it will return soon. And the other thing I wanted to mention is that I have just finished writing sort of lay accessible summary of the paper that we've been talking about in this episode. And it should be published on functional In the next couple of days. Certainly by the time this podcast comes out, it should be published. Mike, can I get you the URL, and you could put that in the show notes. Yeah, so that all those links, that will be the best way for people to find that. And for those who are interested in following getting on my mailing list to know when I'm gonna be giving webinars and things like that, because I do do that stuff. Go to dog The joke is that I like dog brain. So I am a dog zombie. Go there, you can get on my mailing list and find out when I'm going to be presenting next. Excellent. Thank you guys so much. And really for both of you are revolutionizing the dog behavior and dog industry in general, a dog community as well. So I really want to thank you both for doing that. And thank you for coming on the show and having this amazing conversation. Thank you. Yeah, thank you so much, Mike for having us. I can't express enough how grateful I am to both Kim and Jessica for jumping on this episode with me in clearing up some of the misconceptions around the study, and for totally geeking out on dog behavior. If you liked the show, please don't forget to subscribe, share and give us a rating and hop on over to aggressive For more information about helping dogs with aggression. From the aggression in dogs master course two webinars from world renowned experts and even an annual conference. We have both options for pet pros and pet owners to learn more about aggression in dogs