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The Dog Project: Researching Canine Behavioral Genetics
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There remains considerable resistance to the idea that behavioral problems may be genetically mediated. Zawistowski comments that people are uncomfortable with the idea of genetic predispositions to behavior because of the erroneous idea that genes are destiny. Hamilton points out that “Knowledge of the genetics helps shape the destiny.” A major hope that Chang has for the project is that it will have a positive impact on the way people feel about canine behavioral problems. “There’s often a refusal to believe that this is not the owner’s fault. Owners feel so much guilt. I’d like to change that.” Decades ago, psychiatry struggled with these same issues in the “If it’s not one thing, it’s your mother” view of mental illness, but now affected people and their parents are not generally blamed for anxiety or depression. The field of canine behavior is catching up to this more enlightened viewpoint as evidence mounts in its favor.

A Happy Ending
In the two months before Chang got him, Solo lived in five homes. After a few weeks with his littermates, he spent most of his first year in near-total isolation, or as Chang describes it, he lived like veal for a year. For a dog with any sort of predisposition to social anxiety or fear, this environment was far from ideal. Luckily for Solo, Chang listened to the voice in her head that told her to take him. While she may have originally regretted this decision, there came a day when her heart fully opened and she began her fierce commitment to keep Solo no matter what.

Now, in addition to describing Solo as her soul mate, Chang has many other things to say about Solo, including, “He’s the canine John Nash … This is a dog who thinks too much … He got me involved in a whole bunch of things. Solo forced me to learn a lot. If you’re willing to put in the effort and work with a dog with behavioral problems, you’ll learn more from him than from a hundred normal dogs … Having Solo has made me more understanding about other dogs … He’s got a very complicated personality. If he could speak, it would be in complete sentences and he’d use big words … Everyone had let this dog down, and I did not want to be the last person to give up on him.”

Perhaps the most insightful comment Chang has about Solo is one that can be applied to so many relationships where love takes over and everything else is just a detail. In a voice rich with emotion, she says, “Solo doesn’t have the greatest temperament, but he has the best personality!”
 

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This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 45: Nov/Dec 2007

Karen B. London, PhD, is a Bark columnist and a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist specializing in the evaluation and treatment of serious behavior problems in the domestic dog.

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