Inheritance in Dogs

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From Inheritance in Dogs: With Special Reference to Hunting Breeds by Ojvind Winge:

The hunting instinct has been proved to be hereditary. One must not believe that one can cultivate a feeling for the hunt in a dog that does not already possess an innate inclination for it. Respect for heredity cannot be too great, but it is quite common for people to believe that they can cultivate interest for the hunt in a breed by industriously going hunting with the animals through several generations. It is a great error to believe that what one teaches a dog can, in the slightest degree, be transmitted to its offspring. Each child must begin laboriously with the simplest teachings, and each encounters the same difficulty in learning that men have encountered for a thousand years. The same is true of dogs; no inherited improvement of the dog’s characters can be obtained by influence or training through generations. But how did the hunting dog’s special ability appear? As previously mentioned, continual mutations, or inherited changes of greater or lesser degree, occur in all species. With the knowledge that the inheritable units, the genes, are types of molecules, we can say that molecular changes occasionally take place in the genes. These changes go in all possible chance directions, as for example in the direction of a greater or a lesser interest in game. There is no doubt that the dog’s wild ancestors already possessed a natural basis for interest in game, which served as their sustenance. It is known that the dog’s cousin, the fox, “stands” for game when it stalks its prey, although its stance is, naturally, more “sly” than the hunting dog’s because it intends to make a crafty assault upon the prey. But often a badly trained dog jumps loose after the game and tries to seize it. By the selection of the individuals most interested in the hunt and those with the best noses, best stance (pointing instinct), and other important hunting attributes, man has gradually elevated the hunting dog to its present high standard.

I should hope so! Let’s keep it that way, eh? Further on he says:

The inclination for backing (taking a pointing attitude at the sight of another dog on point) is determined by heredity but is independent of the pointing instinct.

“High-style” hunting, with erect head, as in the English hunting dogs, is dominant over “low-style” with nose to the ground, as in the Continental hunting dogs.

The desire to go in water is, as is well known, very different in the various breeds and is, without doubt, based upon heredity.



Ojvind Winge, Inheritance in Dogs: With Special Reference to Hunting Breeds (New York: Comstock, 1950), 40, 49–50.