Choosing the best genetic strains of mice for developing a new knockout or transgenic mouse requires extensive knowledge of the endogenous traits of inbred strains. Background genes from the parental strains may interact with the mutated gene, in a manner which could severely compromise the interpretation of the mutant phenotype. The present overview summarizes the literature on a wide variety of behavioral traits for the 129, C57BL/6, DBA/2, and many other inbred strains of mice. Strain distributions are described for open field activity, learning and memory tasks, aggression, sexual and parental behaviors, acoustic startle and prepulse inhibition, and the behavioral actions of ethanol, nicotine, cocaine, opiates, antipsychotics, and anxiolytics. Using the referenced information, molecular geneticists can choose optimal parental strains of mice, and perhaps develop new embryonic stem cell progenitors, for new knockouts and transgenics to investigate gene function, and to serve as animal models in the development of novel therapeutics for human genetic diseases.