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How Humans Have Affected Dogs’ Brains

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Those scary wolves have transformed into fluffy, happy-go-lucky animals that provide the emotional support to get us through the day.

Believe it or not, a recent scan of dogs’ brains have indicated that we have impacted their very structure. This research was conducted by Erin Hecht, a Harvard University neuroscientist, who worked with colleagues to compile a library of MRI scans from 62 purebred dogs from 33 different breeds. As soon as she could see the scans, the evidence was right in front of her. She and her team were able to identify six networks of brain regions that varied in size depending on the type of dog being studied.

This variation made her wonder whether these differences were due to the behavioral differences between dogs. After careful study, the team saw that each of the six brain networks correlated with at least one behavioral trait. For example, dogs that are sometimes used as police dogs were linked together in their sight and smell. Dogs that are bred for sport fighting showed changes that highlighted fear, stress, and anxiety responses.

They then turned their attention to looking at the difference between dogs bred for sight hunting and those that hunt by scent. Scent hunting dogs showed differences in the more sophisticated areas of the brain that help them understand and communicate information. This makes sense because dogs do not need to be trained on how to smell, but rather, they need to be trained how to communicate that smell. This was evident in that region of their brains.

Hecht believes that the trend would continue with those kinds of dogs, who really specialize in certain behaviors. With this power that was have to impact the mind of dogs, it is our duty and responsibility to treat dogs in a very mindful manner.