Humans have altered dogs’ brains, research finds

It is the first evidence of how selective breeding can affect dog cognition 

Dogs are a weird bunch. They range in size from bearish behemoths to pipsqueaks like Milly, a Chihuahua holds the Guinness record for World’s Shortest Dog at less than four inches. 
Some breeds are fast runners. Others are jumpers, swimmers or diggers. Bloodhounds specialise in sniffing, while greyhounds hunt primarily by sight. Border collies excel at herding, Jack Russell terriers at flushing foxes from dens.

Over at least 15,000 years, and especially since a Victorian-era dog-creation craze, selective breeding by humans has resulted in a single species with more physical variation than almost any other in the animal kingdom.

By looking at the areas of the dogs’ brains that varied most across the breeds, the scientists were able to create maps of six neural networks linked to certain functions, such as the sense of smell or movement.

The team found the shape of these networks “correlated significantly” with common traits associated with each breed, as described by the American Kennel Club.

“Brain anatomy varies across dog breeds,” Dr Hecht said, “and it appears that at least some of this variation is due to selective breeding for particular behaviours like hunting, herding and guarding.” 

In other words, not only do the shapes and sizes of canine brains vary by breed, the structures within those brains also are different.

This discovery helps explain what makes a Maltese act like a Maltese, or a boxer like a boxer.

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