To some pet owners, the appearance of their pups involves more than just looking for a beautiful dog. Things like size, coat texture, and certain personality traits are just some of the characteristics people like to consider when deciding which puppy to choose. So, do puppies take after mom or dad?
The offspring of canines inherit one set of chromosomes from each parent, which could mean that the hereditary genes of the offspring can go either way. Some puppies within the same litter can pull more towards the dam while the rest more towards the sire – or in some cases, neither.
The situation is more complex than pups looking like dad or having a closer resemblance to mom. When the female and male are the same breed type, at least you’ll have an idea of the general appearance characteristics of that specific breed. And, what happens when the parents are different breeds?
How Canine Genetics Influence Characteristics
Canines (as with all other animals) inherit two sets of chromosomes from each parent. Female dogs are XX and male dogs XY; this tells us that unless you breed specifically according to genetics (selective breeding), the offspring’s characteristics are up to mother nature.
Do Puppies Behave Like Mom or Dad?
This question will be harder to answer if the pups have purebred parents that should have the same character traits to a general extend (not referring to individual personalities).
In the interest of curiosity, it would be fun to see what happens when two breeds with different character traits were to have puppies. So, we follow Dr. Stanley Coren (PhD., DSc, FRSC) as he runs us through a scenario of personality tests on puppy litters of a Newfoundland mom and a Border Collie dad.
They had five personality traits they wanted to test:
- Demand for affection (Newfoundland)
- Excitement barking (Border Collie)
- Low startle response (Newfoundland)
- Good with other dogs (Newfoundland)
- Dominating staring (Border Collies)
Coren says that the first-generation puppies fell somewhere in the middle when it came to their personalities, not as intense as a Border Collie but more intense than a Newfoundland.
The second-generation (the result of breeding two first generations) was a different story altogether. Each puppy appeared to present with a strange mix of traits from each bloodline, with some characteristics even falling back to the Border Collie’s purebred parents.
So, this means not only will it be difficult to predict which traits the dogs will inherit, the skip a generation phenomenon applies to dogs as well. Just as with humans, puppies can inherit specific characteristics from their grandparents that skipped their parents.
Do Puppies Behave Like Human Mom and Dads?
Because a lot of owners almost raise their dogs as they raise their children, it begs the question: could human nurture overrule canine nature? Is genetics possible to take a back seat to how puppies are raised by their human parents?
A study published in Science Direct supposes that it is more likely that humans gravitate towards the same general characteristics in dogs that they find in themselves.
In an article in PetMD, where the link between humans and their dogs is given a closer look, Jenn Fiendish (veterinary behavior technician) states that dogs feed off human emotions.
If you are a dog owner, you are well aware that squealing in excitement is a sure-fire way to get your dog to jump in and just enjoy whatever made you excited. They don’t care what the event might be; they only care that you are happy, so they are happy.
The same would apply if you are stressed or anxious at a particular place; your dog will feel these emotions. Don’t be surprised when they are less than excited the next time you visit the place that made you feel scared.
So, while our dogs take the lead from our emotions, and we can train them to act a certain way or not to do naughty things, we can’t really change their inherent personalities.
Dominant and Recessive Genes Can Impact Characteristics
Understanding genetics can be very tricky, but Dr. Matthew Breen, writing for the American Kennel Club (AKC), found a good way to illustrate how dominant and recessive genes work.
Dominant genes (technically called a dominant or recessive allele) are represented with a capital A, while the recessive gene has a lowercase a. The possible results (or genotypes) can only be either AA, Aa, or aa.
If both dam and sire have the dominant A-gene, then the puppy will also have the dominant A-gene (AA). The same applies if both have the recessive a-gene, the puppy will receive the same gene (aa).
It changes a bit when one parent has the dominant A-gene and the other parent the recessive a-gene. Naturally, the dominant A-gene would be superior to the a-gene, and the result would be Aa.
Granted, the science that explains genetics is a bit more complicated than that, but this should give you some indication of how characteristics are passed down.
Unless you are willing to run genetic tests on the breeding pair, it would be challenging to establish which genes are dominant and which are recessive.
The Characteristic Variances of Purebred Puppies
Dr. Stanley Coren (PhD., DSc, FRSC) writes about how dog genetics can influence appearances in Psychology Today. He uses chicken soup as an example for purebred puppies, saying that you’ll get nothing but chicken soup with each scoop.
He states that the technical term for this is homozygosity, and what it means is that a puppy that shares two purebred parents has similar genetic material.
Mating Practices Cause Variables in Puppy Characteristics
The canine reproductive system is quite remarkable and very unlike that of humans. A female dog produces multiple eggs that stay fertile for ten days, give or take. And Canine male sperm can survive for up to eight days (human male sperm will expire in about five days).
If two male dogs mate the female while in heat (during the ten days), there is a good chance that some of the pups will have one father and the other puppies will have another father.
However, the likelihood of puppies in the same litter having different fathers are less than 1% if the individual mating events happen within 24 hours of each other. The chances increase after 48 hours.
When both the dads and the mom are the same breeds – Rottweilers, for example – the resulting puppy can still be considered a purebred dog because only one sperm can penetrate an egg.
Since both the sires are purebred Rottweilers, there would be no question if another breed might have fathered some puppies in the same litter.
The Characteristic Variances of Mixed-Breed Puppies
Dr. Coren continues his soup analogy as he explains the variables in mixed breeds, only now we have beef vegetable soup, where each scoop can give you something else. The technical term for mixed breeds is heterozygosity.
If appearances can vary with two purebred dogs, imagine the possibilities of combining two distinct breeds, let’s a Beagle and a Staffordshire.
The results will be nearly unpredictable. Would the pups look more like the Beagle mom or the Staffordshire dad, and vice versa?
Added to that, remember that we explained that there could be more than one father in a single litter of puppies. So, if the fathers are also two different breeds, you can end up with a crazy blend of different-looking pups.
Canine genetics, dominant or recessive genes, and the mating event determine what the pups look or act like.
A Hybrid’s Lineage Can Affect Its Characteristics
Hybrid (or designer) dogs result from the intentional crossing of two different breeds to create a new type of dog that, in theory, has more desirable traits. The most popular hybrid range is that of the doodle dog.
In the late 1980s, the calculated crossing of a Labrador Retriever and a Standard Poodle – the Labradoodle – is what set off the doodle craze. Today, there are more than 40 doodle dogs, and the list is still expanding.
The creator, Wally Conron, wanted to design a new breed that had the working ability of a Labrador Retriever and the low-shedding coat of a Poodle. The low-shedding coat of the Poodle is the best option for people that are allergic to pet dander.
While the idea is brilliant, Conron appears to regret the creation. You would understand his distance from the doodle dog when you realize that supply and demand lead to irresponsible breeding in the name of profit.
Designer Breed Generations
The variables in appearance outcomes (as we explained with mixed-breeds above) will depend on the doodle dog’s lineage. F1 Labradoodles are first generations, which means the offspring is the result of breeding a Labrador with a Poodle.
With F1 breeds, it can go either way. Would the puppy take on his Labrador dad’s endless appetite or his Poodle mom’s intelligence?
F2 Labradoodles are the second generation where two Labradoodles are bred, but this still means that there is an equal split in the puppy’s DNA: 50% Labrador and 50% Poodle.
Things get more complicated when the breeder starts to backcross the breed (crossing a Labradoodle with a Poodle), which affects the dog’s appearance again.
Backcross breeds are marked with a “B” and the end, for example, F1B or F2B or F2BB. The double B in some breeds means that the F2B was backcrossed with a Standard Poodle.
And lastly, there are F3 Labradoodles which are multi-generations of Labradoodles. These pups have F2 breeds as parents. Once you’re in the F3 phase, you’ll be able to predict a general standard for characteristics in a multi-gen Labradoodle.
Would Backcrossing Eliminate Desired Traits?
For the sake of interest, if we were to take another low-shedding breed that was not as intelligent or trainable as a Poodle, would backcrossing with that breed still have produced a good guide dog?
Let’s say that we cross-breed a Standard Schnauzer (for the low-shedding coat) with a Labrador (for the working ability). The F1s will still shed since they are still 50% Labrador, so we backcross with the Schnauzer until we get the desired coat.
How much of a Labrador’s intelligence and working ability would there be left when we reach the F2BB category? Breeders should carefully consider variables such as this before they try to design a dog.
Can Puppies Be Genetically Customized to Look Like Mom or Dad?
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) sound like something straight out of a horror show waiting to go spectacularly wrong. Putting the word animal into that equation and I can’t help but shudder as images of The Pet Cemetery flash through my mind.
While humans have used selective breeding for many years (like with the hybrids above), GMOs are slightly different.
- GMOs are a lot like unnatural evolution, where artificial equipment manipulates or modifies an organism that would not have happened in natural circumstances.
- On the other hand, selective breeding doesn’t use artificial means to alter DNA; breeders select a breeding pair with the sought-after traits they want to produce.
News from the Dog Gene Editing World
Chinese scientists have been dabbling in GMOs to create more muscular and, therefore, stronger dogs. The mutated dogs are used for all manner of things, like military service or lab testing.
However, we must question if this is the same thing as chickens bred to have more meat on the bones? Do they even consider if the other parts of the dog, such as their bones, joints, and organs, can keep up with genetically modified traits?
Unfortunately, you won’t be able to foresee if your puppy will look or behave like its mom or dad, especially when both are different breeds. You will just have to wait and see, while all you can do is hope for a healthy pup.
You’ll get a reasonable prediction on breed-standard appearances, health, general temperament traits, and characteristics with purebred or F3 hybrid breeds. But still, there is no way to be genuinely sure if they’ll take after mom or dad.
I have a bachelor’s degree in Computer Information Systems and over 10 years of experience working in IT. I have a wife and two children and love taking them to the zoo to see all the animals. I grew up with dogs and fish and now have two dogs and two cats. I’ve also played guitar for almost 20 years and love writing music, although it’s hard to find the time these days.