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Exploring the Connection Between Behavior and Breed with the Darwin’s Ark Project

May 8

4:00 pm PT

This talk is eligible for CEUs from: CCPDT, IAABC, KPA


Does a dog’s breed, or breed mix, predict their personality or how they will be behave? Using information provided by owners of over 20,000 dogs who have participated in Darwin’s Ark, we explore common breed stereotypes. Dog breeds are often described as having particular personality traits and behaviors, and it can be tempting to assume that most dogs in a breed will have those traits the same way they share physical traits like size and coat color. Behavior and personality, though, are incredibly complex, shaped by genetic variation in thousands of different genes as well as by environment. In this presentation, we will discuss what breed can and can’t tell you about individual dog’s behavior and why we should be cautious about using breed tests to understand our dogs.

Presented By:

Elinor Karlsson, PhD

Elinor Karlsson, PhD, (she/her) is associate professor in Bioinformatics and Integrative Biology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and director of Vertebrate Genomics at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. Her research combines new technology, citizen science, and the power of evolution to investigate how DNA works.

Dr. Karlsson has a special interest in dog genetics and her international Darwin’s Ark project ( invites all dog owners to enroll their dogs in an open data research project exploring the genetic basis of dog behavior, as well as diseases such as compulsive disorders, food allergies, and cancer. Dr. Karlsson’s research also includes Zoonomia (, an international effort to compare the genomes of over 240 mammals, from the African Yellow-spotted Rock Hyrax to the Woodland Dormouse, to identify critically important segments of DNA. In collaboration with Zoo New England, she is developing tools that uses genomics to tackle heritable diseases, like heart disease, common in some zoo populations (a project dubbed “Zoonomics”).

Elinor received her Bachelor of Arts in biochemistry/cell biology, her Bachelor of Fine Arts from Rice University, and earned her PhD in bioinformatics from Boston University. She was a postdoctoral fellow with Pardis Sabeti at Harvard University before starting her research group at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in 2014.