University of California at Davis is offering a DNA test looking at behavior traits in Belgian Malinois. The test looks for a genetic sequence that is tied in with the protein that helps to regulate dopamine transmitters in the brain. Researchers at Davis have found two gene patterns that can be associated with some behaviors in affected Belgian Malinois. These gene patterns are associated with seizures, episodes where the dog “glazes over” and is not normally responsive, and biting episodes. In addition, the presence of specific gene patterns can also be associated with increased activity levels. One of the research papers can be read here.
To conduct the research, which was partly funded by the Morris Animal Foundation, researchers analyzed blood samples from the dogs involved (both Belgian Malinois and other breeds) and had the owners fill out questionnaires about behavior situations. Dogs were also judged by their responses to new situations and their activity levels at centers at Davis, California and in Phoenix, Arizona.
Age of the dog, sex and neuter status (if the dog was an intact male or female) were not considered to be factors in the results. The presence of the Poly A22 gene sequence was associated with the undesirable behaviors and high levels of activity. Having two copies of the A22 gene sequence meant a high risk of high level of activity accompanied by adverse behaviors. Even one copy could be associated with those behaviors. None of the other breeds evaluated, including Belgian Tervurens, had dogs with two copies of that gene.
Results from the genetic test will show how many copies of the A22 sequence are present. Dogs with one copy should be bred with care and dogs with two copies of that sequence should probably only be bred by experienced people with planned homes already carefully selected. It is possible that these may be the very high drive dogs that military handlers would desire. That is not always true however, as military handlers do need dogs who are comfortable with control and partnering with their handlers. In addition, seizures are never desirable.
Certainly more work will need to be done to determine how much of the expressed behaviors are due to genetics and how much to environment. The genetic test does provide an excellent tool for Belgian Malinois breeders. Most breeders are breeding dogs as family companions and working dogs within a family setting. Not doubling up on the A22 is important for those settings. Test kits can be ordered from the Veterinary Genetics Lab at UC Davis for a cost of $50 for one dog or $45 for 3 or more dogs. Breeders can collect the samples for testing at home as it uses cheek cell cytology.