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Canine behaviours that are both desirable and undesirable to owners have a demonstrable genetic component. Some behaviours are breed-specific, such as the livestock guarding by maremmas and flank sucking seen in Dobermanns. While the identification of genes responsible for common canine diseases is rapidly advancing, those genes underlying behaviours remain elusive. The challenges of accurately defining and measuring behavioural phenotypes remain an obstacle, and the use of variable phenotyping methods has prevented meta-analysis of behavioural studies. International standardised testing protocols and terminology in canine behavioural evaluations should facilitate selection against behavioural disorders in the modern dog and optimise breeding success and performance in working dogs. This review examines the common hurdles faced by researchers of behavioural genetics and the current state of knowledge.


© 2014 van Rooy et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly credited. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.