Humans are changing dog brains

Lily  is a three-year-old female border collie/Lab mix who would love a home with no cats but she does love other dogs.

Lily is a three-year-old female border collie/Lab mix who would love a home with no cats but she does love other dogs.

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Erin Hecht, a neuroscientist from Harvard, recent revealed that human’s selective breeding of dogs for certain characteristics has altered the structure of dog brains. By examining MRI scans of 62 dogs representing 33 different breeds, scientists were able to map the different areas of the brain.

Maps were created of the six neural networks linked to specific functions such as smell and movement. Amazingly, they found the shape of these networks correlated significantly with traits associated with each breed. For instance if a dog is bred to be a retriever, that part of the brain was developed more than in a herding dog.

Even though this study links specific behavior to breeds, there needs to be a follow-up study that tests dogs while performing specific tasks like herding or retrieving. Most dogs today are pets who don’t perform the tasks they were bred for. It’s possible a dog who is bred to be a Labrador retriever and actually does that job might have a brain that looks different from a Lab who retrieves cookies.

Scientists working on this project are also trying to understand the difference between high-skill performers and low-skill performers. For example, consider border collies who win competitions in the real world and their siblings who prefer to be couch potatoes.

Actually, I think dogs have altered human brains. I know for sure that Watson has altered mine. He gets me up for breakfast, his not mine, and makes sure we go for walks and I supply him with treats. Maybe it a mutual brain alteration fueled by love. After all, dogs are man’s best friends.


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