Does colour effect behaviour?

Discussion in 'Labrador breeding & genetics' started by Lucy and Mia, Feb 24, 2020.

  1. Lucy and Mia

    Lucy and Mia Registered Users

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    I have been doing a bit of research into colour types and how that correlates into personality recently,m y reason for looking into this is that I have two fox red labs currently and they really could not be more different, I've had several comments on how Mia has an unusual temperament for a fox red which I find odd. Growing up my family had a black and a chocolate lab, Misty (our black lab) was the most easily trainable dog I have ever known, her willingness to do her job and please us was like nothing I have seen before - which obviously fits the stereotype for black labs but I wonder if it had more to do with her bloodlines coming from working stock rather than her colour.
    Filly (our chocolate) was bred with amazing genes for the show ring coming from the likes of Crufts winners, I can't remember exactly which but I think I will try and pull her paperwork out at some point to look. Everyone who met her commented on how pretty and well put together she was (as well as the usual 'she must have been a nightmare to train'), she would have done amazing in the show ring but she was just a pet for us. She was by no means hyper or untrainable, in fact she would do pretty much anything that I asked her to. If anyone else asked her then she had little respect for them and wouldn't always do things straight away. Although she was never interested in fetching a ball, she learnt loads of cool tricks like jumping through a hoop, presenting her face for a kiss, putting a paw on me to tell me she wanted to go out instead of creating a scene by the back door and loved to spend most of her time stretched out in front of the fire. I was a child when Filly came to us at 6 months old, her previous family said she out of control and wouldn't/couldn't do anything right but I trained her myself when I was just 10 years old which makes me believe it was the previous family getting it wrong not her colour. My dad often commented on well trained she was for me for such an apparently uncontrollable dog.
    This brings me to our two current labs, both fox red, Mia is a bit of a nightmare and Bramble is a complete wuss. Bramble was bred to be a gun dog but is terrified (not just nervous, absolutely stand still and quiver terrified) of absolutely anything - noises, new people, other dogs, new places, literally anything! Needless to say we have just kept Bramble as a pet, she was an absolute delight to train and would have been absolutely perfect to do a job if she wasn't so nervous of the world. We had her from 8 weeks old and she was brought up exactly the same as all of our others but she's just such a timid soul. The only thing that can bring her out of her comfort zone is a ball, she is obsessed with playing ball!
    Mia on the other hand, was bred by a field trial breeder, he got rid of her at 4 months old because she wasn't keeping up with her training at all. Mia is absolutely my shadow and loves everybody she meets, people or dogs, but she has been a nightmare to train. She zooms around from one thing to another without concentrating on anything. She has the sweetest temperament but is not interested in fetching a ball, she's not interested in learning little tricks, she's not interested in agility training, she's just really not interested in 'work' of any kind. Her favourite thing to do is ride in the car, she's not even fussed about getting out at the other end, while car rides are among the list of things that make Bramble anxious! So as I say, our fox reds are complete opposites the only thing they have in common at all is their colour. This really makes me believe it is more about the bloodlines than the colour.
    Has anyone else looked into this and can offer any insight?
     
  2. sarah@forumHQ

    sarah@forumHQ Moderator

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    This is such an interesting topic!

    There are far more anecdotes about how coat colour affects behaviour than there is actual scientific evidence .

    Several years ago a paper was published about aggression in English Cocker Spaniels, and an observable link to coat colour. It also mentioned a veterinary hospital which reported significantly more cases of aggression in yellow Labs than black or brown. The paper couldn't explain the link but suggested it could be a result of two genes for color and temperament being very close together in the genetic code, and therefore usually inherited together. Or one gene somehow affecting both qualities. Or it could be because melanin (which gives coats pigment) and dopamine (which affects behaviour including aggression) partly share a biosynthetic pathway.

    Unfortunately I'm not aware of any of these theories being tested or pursued any further, or any links between colour and other personality traits being explored. So we're just left with anecdotes!

    I'm still undecided as to what degree I think each Labrador colour has it's own temperament, versus to what extent we just fix our expectations of them from birth and (intentionally or unintentionally) shape them to live up to it. Also, if the tradition of using black Labs for work has created lines of black Labs which are exceptionally trainable, would that connection still be fixed if breeders stopped deliberately working towards both qualities at once? Are they inextricably linked now, or would they would they unravel? I'm not sure we're going to have a solid answer any time soon.

    Thanks for posting, I really enjoyed reading about Misty, Filly, Bramble and Mia!
     
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  3. Ski-Patroller

    Ski-Patroller Cooper, Terminally Cute

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    All of our Labs have been Chocolates, and all have been tennis ball retrievers and swimers, friendly to people and dogs and relatively easy to train, but they definitely had different personalities. Tilly whose dad was a field trial champion and mom a Master Hunter was the least birdy Lab I have ever seen. If I had planned to hunt her, I would have been very disappointed. Ginger was a rescue so we don't know her background but she looked more field and was very birdy. Cooper's dad was a Master Hunter and her mom was a Senior Hunter. Cooper is very birdy and the most athletic dog I've every had. She absolutely loves to run, though she is not an escape artist at all, and has the best recall of all our Labs.

    In short there is a fair amount of variability in the dogs we have had, but all of them seem to fit the general Lab profile, and act like the Blacks and Yellows we have been around. One of our neighbors had a Fox Red that he bought because (supposedly) the line had the pointing gene. Dusty was rejected by the gun dog trainer he went too as being either stubborn or dumb, but his owner trained him to be a useful gun dog. He was a very nice friendly dog, but perhaps not the brightest candle on the table.

    I believe the Lab lines used by Dogs for the Blind in Oregon are primarily Yellow, but they may want the lighter color for visibility. They have created their own lines that work for them and have a high success rate.
     
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  4. Lucy and Mia

    Lucy and Mia Registered Users

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    I really think you are right about there being so many anecdotes in comparison to any real evidence on the matter. I haven't really come across much research into the matter, other than people like me sharing their stories while looking for answers.
    I know a chap who adopts spaniels through a local spaniel rescue charity and it is so obvious just by looking at his dogs how different their personalities are but it is generally not mentioned in Spaniels, I find it is mostly just brought up about labs (possibly because I've only ever had labs). I was shocked though, by how high the percentage of owner-direction aggression was in the survey from the link that you shared.
    I also think you are right to a degree about the human-shaping of the animals behaviour vs their own personality. I work with horses and it is often shown in how they have been handled and trained. Some horses are just naughty and there is no excuse for it but others are naughty because of the way they have been handled, either by inexperienced owners, owners who have been too harsh or owners who have been to soft and allowed the bad behaviour to increase. There is a beautiful stallion local to me who is super talented but has a real nasty streak, all of his offspring that I have come across have inherited that same nasty streak regardless of how kind and placid the dam may be. I think this is probably the best example of how genetic make up can effect the offspring so predominantly in behaviour more so than in looks. I believe you can work out the personality of the horse by just allowing them to be horses and observing without interfering. However, I don't find this works as well with dogs. I would guess that we, as humans, put more of our own stamp on a dog compared to a horse as the dogs tend to live with us in our homes.
    It really just shocks me how quick people always were to say how naughty Filly must have been when really she was a real sweetheart, maybe not the brightest but she loved to learn different things even if it took her a while. Now I often get comments on how odd Mia's behaviour is for a fox red, it just baffles me - obviously I seem drawn to the obscure ones!
    Our only one that fit the given description was Misty but she was bred from generations of working gun dogs so surely that would be more a predictor of her behaviour than her colour? Having said that, Mia was also bred from generations of field trial champions but is as mad as a box of frogs definitely not the most willing to train but with lots of extra time and patience she is getting there.

    Most people I have spoken to who actually have chocolate labs don't seem to agree with the general statement that they are the naughtiest colour of the breed, you are obviously the same. It is interesting how all of their personalities seem to differ in a variety of ways. One of our fox reds, Bramble, was bred to be a gun dog but would never make it as she is so timid so we didn't continue her training any further. Our other fox red, Mia was kept by the breeder as he expected her to be his next field trial champion but she didn't keep up with her training at all so he rehomed her to us. She really has been a nightmare to train but she is getting there and although I don't think she would ever do that well in competition, she would possibly do well at agility trials instead.
    They are all so different, I really would be interested in the results if there was to be a scientific study done on it.
     
  5. sarah@forumHQ

    sarah@forumHQ Moderator

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    The tricky thing about dog behavior studies is that they pretty much always rely on owners filling out surveys to collect data, so they're always subjected to the owners' biases. But there aren't really any feasible alternatives.

    Unless we each go out and buy five Labs of every colour, and agree to raise them all exactly the same... :idea:
     
  6. Lucy and Mia

    Lucy and Mia Registered Users

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    Yes I suppose you are right on that one. Each owner is just as different as each dog, we all tolerate different behaviours and work at different standards.

    Maybe before Mia I would have been game to try this but Mia is more work than 5 different labs on her own as it is I don't think I can manage any more!!!:rofl::rofl:
     
  7. sarah@forumHQ

    sarah@forumHQ Moderator

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    Fair enough :)

    The world will just have to wait for our groundbreaking scientific input!
     
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  8. Ski-Patroller

    Ski-Patroller Cooper, Terminally Cute

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    I should mention that our preference for Chocolates is based on the appearance, not on any behavior trait. We just like the look of Chocolates.
     
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  9. Labbielov

    Labbielov Registered Users

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    We have a three and a half month old fox red lab and have found she is a mixture of being very trainable on some things, but anxious on others. For example she already has great recall (most of the time) and reacts to the sit, down, stay commands. However she gets very anxious about being in the car to the point of drooling and weeing. I know some of this might be down to her age, but having had golden labs before I think perhaps characteristics are individual to the dog rather than colour. Just our experience.
     
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