Genetic, Neural, and Hormonal Bases Behavior of a Dog

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Biologists and philosophers have observed animal behavior for centuries. However, in the last century, there has been a significant progress in understanding this behavior. One approach to the study of animal behavior is comparative psychology. Comparative psychologists highlight studies of the genetic, neural, and hormonal bases of animal behavior. Genetic psychology, also known as behavioral genetics, is a category of psychology that investigates the genetic influence on human behavior. Studies of neural encoding aim to characterize the relationship between sensory stimuli or behavioral output and neural signals. This field of study involves psychology, biology, genetics and statistics. As you will read along, this paper consists useful information about genetic, neural, and hormonal bases behavior of a certain animal (dog) that will help us understand more about how they interact and their environments, and why they behave the way they do.

Our Dogs' Genetics VS. Their Environments

Is our dog’s behavior genetic? “In the multifaceted interaction between genetics and environment, sometimes genetics takes the upper hand. Researchers have tested just how far genetic influences on personality can go by breeding animals for particular temperaments and absolutely nothing else (Hekman, 2016).” That much of dog behavior has genetic foundations is clearly obvious. The differences in nature and ability among breeds are well known and these differences are usually related with the purposes for which the breed was created. “This brief summary, which is typical of how dog breeds are classified, proposes some of the traits that have been subject to selection (Breed, 2003)”:

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  1. Sheepdogs (shepherds, collies, etc): They are selected for their strong ability to focus on sheep or cattle, their ability to manipulate the behavior of these animals, and their ability to learn and follow their handler's commands.
  2. Terriers: They are energetic hunters and they are very attracted to small animals.
  3. Scent hounds (beagles, bassets, fox and coonhounds): They are able to behavioral exploit their strong sense of smell in tracing prey.
  4. Retrievers (Labrador, golden): They are also known as gun dogs and they are selected for retrieving ability. An exact behavior that has been selected is a 'soft mouth' which is the ability to track prey without injuring the item or trying to consume it.
  5. Companions and Toys (poodles, Pekinese, Chihuahua): They display behavioral traits that makes them eye-catching household pets.
  6. Sighthounds (Afghans, borzois, greyhounds): They use their vision to track prey and are usually selected for high running speed, stamina.

In The Minds of Dogs (Neural)

Do dogs recognize and use language? The focus is on whether dogs use their numerous barks, growls, whines, and whimpers, combined with tail wags, body postures, and ear positions, to communicate with people as well as with one another. Some scientists argue that dogs are more in harmony to the emotional features of our word sounds than their actual meaning, and that their own signals are just noticeable expressions of their emotional state. According to Cattet (2013), author Jaak Panksepp and Lucy Biven, “The Archaeology of Mind: Neuroevolutionary Origins of Human Emotions (Norton Series on Interpersonal Neurobiology) (2012”, stated that there are 7 basic animal emotions, or as he calls them, 7 emotional systems, based on specific neural systems that have been identified: Seeking, Rage, Fear, Lust, Care, Panic and Play.

Animal emotions are also considered to be at the basis of cognition or thought. In many ways, at the root of the majority of our actions is an emotion. Our emotions drive people and animals into action and dictate our decisions. However, there is a difference between our dogs and us. “The human neocortex offers us the ability to further process some of those primary emotions into more elaborate emotions like shame or guilt (Cattet, 2013).”

Humans and animals are so emotionally driven that it is significant to be able to classify and understand the seven basic emotional systems. Once we recognize what emotional state our dog is in, this can help us adapt our own behavior for a more positive and productive interaction. At the same time, we need to take accountability for our own emotions and understand their effects of our reactions and behavior on our pet.

  1. Seeking: This system is at the basis of many behaviors. When we are involved in a task that we enjoy, we experience a certain amount of desire from the activity itself. In dogs, this system is triggered when engaged in behaviors they have been bred for, like herding, stalking, chasing or running.
  2. Rage: This system is stimulated but cannot be content, like with extreme frustration, hunger or thirst, the person or animal can get angry. Rage can correspondingly ascend when the animal is limited from activity or when experiencing irritation or pain. Lack of love and acceptance, restriction from rights and pleasures, neglect or abuse, these all have the potential for damaging effects on the animal.
  3. Fear: There are three separate neural trails have been known:

The high road: When the animal hears an unexpected noise or sees a frightening object, the info is passed to the sensory cortex where cognitive processing will take place. This is when the dog can make a choice of the best action to take to stay safe or to hide.

The low road: After the high road trail, this is when a dog has been previously exposed to a scary situation, that reminiscence is now kept and the information will go directly from the thalamus to the amygdala. In this system, there are no choices made then the dog will have an instant emergency response.

The royal road: This system is when the animal is recurrently visible to demanding situations, it will develop neural pathways that will help it expect and perhaps evade the situation overall.

  • Lust: This system is involved in all reproduction activity and will provoke extremely wanted feelings.
  • Care: This system is serious to the existence of the offspring. The care system is activated by a change in hormone levels and starts the mother’s capability to look after her young, but it is also involved in the bond that our dog and we develop for each other.
  • Panic: This system triggers the areas in the brain that control also display significant overlay with areas responsible for physical pain suggesting that separation can trigger distressing emotional reactions to the animal.
  • Play: This system is categorized by the release of endorphins or other opioids generating a euphoric state of mind. This is very important in animals as it indorses a more relaxed and happy state of mind. It also eases social attachments as well as better social skills.

Hormonal Influences on Dogs

Like many behaviors, aggression is a mixture of both nature and nurture. Early life experiences can form adult aggression in dogs, but so can the dogs’ nature, a characteristic partially controlled by hormones. A dog’s endocrine system is composed by several glands that are meant to produce hormones which are then pass on through the bloodstream where they have some effects on the dog’s body and mind.

Although a number of studies have looked at the role of testosterone and serotonin in aggression in dogs and other mammals, those hormones may be only portion of the story. According to Blue (2017), MacLean- a researcher in the University of Arizona- and his collaborators looked exactly at oxytocin and vasopressin — hormones that are also found in humans — and found that they may play a significant role in shaping dogs' social behavior.

Oxytocin, which is significant in childbirth and nursing, is occasionally called the 'love hormone,' as its levels in humans have been shown to rise when we hug or kiss a loved one. Vasopressin is a closely related hormone involved in water retention in the body. In dissimilarity to oxytocin, it has been related to aggression in humans, with previous research suggesting that people with chronic aggression problems have high levels of vasopressin.

Understanding the behavioral impacts can help us recognize the fundamental drives or needs that our dogs may display. When a dog is barking, chasing, or even biting, he or she is experiencing an emotion that can sometimes develop and get worse if left unaddressed. Punishing a dog for reacting to other dogs, for example, may deliver the desired results by constraining the behavior, but has done nothing to lessen the underlying feelings associated with the behavior. In the long run, the problems are likely to come back. Incorporating these new ideas into our lives could help us develop even more operational procedures and help foster a positive environment.

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Genetic, Neural, and Hormonal Bases Behavior of a Dog. (2022, July 08). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 30, 2024, from
“Genetic, Neural, and Hormonal Bases Behavior of a Dog.” Edubirdie, 08 Jul. 2022,
Genetic, Neural, and Hormonal Bases Behavior of a Dog. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 30 May 2024].
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