Breeding Causes Changes in the Anatomy of a Dog’s Brain

Kristin Osika

Dating back thousands of years, humans have bred dogs for their temperaments, personality traits, and physical characteristics. If someone wanted to develop a strong hunting dog, they might breed two hunting dogs, expecting a puppy skilled at hunting as a result. 

Due to selective breeding over many years, there are more than 400 types of dogs recognized across the world today, with different temperaments, physical traits, and behavioral patterns. Despite popular belief, breeding not only affected external features, but the anatomy of a dog’s brain. Although humans bred their furry friends for specific characteristics or personality traits, recent studies have shown that they also inadvertently changed their companions’ brains.

Researcher Erin Hect and her colleagues tested the brains of 33 different dog breeds using MRI scans. They noted various structural and anatomical differences between the dogs’ brains that were unrelated to the size of their skulls or bodies. By focusing on areas of the brain that differed most dramatically across breeds, researchers were able to map six brain networks. Each network was responsible for a different function such as hunting, guarding, or companionship. Each of these networks could be inherited along with a characteristic. The researchers discovered that the variation in the anatomy of each network corresponded to the diversity displayed in the characteristics of dogs.

Overall, the research team determined that external behaviors and characteristics of dogs are directly correlated to the size and shape of their brain. Due to these findings, scientists will likely use dogs in the future to study the correlation between neuroanatomy and behavioral characteristics. 

Kristin Osika ’22

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