Measuring temperament in dogs for breeding purposes

Last changed: 20 February 2015

There are about 800,000 dogs in Sweden, and the absolute majority are kept as companion animals. Dogs kept as family pets have to cope with various situations in their daily life. They are frequently exposed to noisy and crowded environments, and often have to interact with strangers, both people and other dogs. Behavioural problems in dogs are attracting more and more attention. High levels of fear and anxiety significantly affect welfare of the animals. Fear, anxiety and aggression in dogs can be inter-related, as fearful dogs can display aggressive behaviour when pushed into a “state of emergency”.

There are more than 4,500 working/service dogs in Sweden for which training and use are partly or fully financed by the society, e.g., for the police, armed forces, customs and for the visually impaired. These dogs generate a substantial benefit for the society, but it is difficult to find dogs with a temperament suiting the tasks. Furthermore, compared to almost all other countries, the proportion of the Swedish dogs used for hunting or hunting trials is very high – about 25% - and around 3% of the Swedish dogs are used for sheep herding. The skills of the dogs used for hunting or herding are of course important for the owners as well as for the animals being hunted or herded. A significant part of these skills are due to the dogs’ temperament.


In order to improve these traits by breeding, it is essential that we have good measurement methods for these traits. Therefore, our aims are to evaluate and compare a number of methods to measure temperament traits in dogs from a breeding perspective, thereby 1) examining the quality of each method, and 2) gaining general knowledge on how temperament traits are best measured for breeding purposes in dogs. This PhD-project consists of 4 studies:

1. Measuring herding behavior in Border collieeffect of protocol structure on usefulness for selection. Arvelius, P., Malm, S., Svartberg, K. & Strandberg, E. 2012. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research 8:9-18.

 2. How Swedish breeders can substantially increase the genetic gain for the English Setter’s hunting traits. Arvelius P. & Klemetsdal G. 2013. J. Anim. Breed. Genet. ISSN 0931-2668

3. Does the Swedish Armed Forces’ temperament test give information on genetic differences between dogs? 

4. Quantitative genetic analyses of Dog Mentality Assessment and everyday life behaviour data in Rough Collie