Breeding is Altering Canine Brain Shape
We’ve always known that one of the goals of breeding dogs is to alter their personality types, to give us the right dog for the right job. Bird dogs who are ‘birdy’, Border Collies who are ‘herdy’, police dogs who are scent oriented. We’ve known we can breed for certain characteristics, such as high drive prey drives or the desire to go to ground after rodents.
In Frenchies, we’ve bred our dogs to perform the ‘job’ of companionship – placid temperament, lower energy levels, a certain need and desire for human companionship, as opposed to the aloof temperament of dogs bred to work alone. We’ve assumed that we’ve accomplished this through intentional selection, but what we haven’t realized is that breeding for flatter faces has actually been altering the actual structural shape of our dogs’ brains.
From Science Daily –
The brains of many short-snouted dog breeds have rotated forward as much as 15 degrees, while the brain region controlling smell has fundamentally relocated, researchers from the University of New South Wales and University of Sydney have found.
The large variations in dog skull size and shape follow more than 12,000 years of breeding for functional and aesthetic traits.
The discovery of such dramatic reorganisation of the canine brain raises important questions about impacts on dog behavior.
The research is published this month in the Public Library of Sciences journal PLoS ONE.
Scientists aren’t yet sure what overall differences in canine personality type and brain function these structural changes may have caused, although they speculate that, at the least, this had led to radical differences in the ability of flatter faced dogs to be able to determine scent.
Co-author Associate Professor Paul McGreevy from the University of Sydney noted: “We think of dogs living in a world of smell — but this finding strongly suggests that one dog’s world of smell may be very different from another’s.”
“The next obvious step is to try to find out if these changes in brain organisation are also linked to systematic differences in dogs’ brain function,” Dr Valenzuela said.
It is interesting to ponder whether the change in brain structure can be linked to any definitive changes in behaviour or personality. One thing is for sure, this makes the occasional tracking titled French Bulldog even more of an accomplishment of merit!
Did you read the full text? http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0011946#pone-0011946-g002
It’s absolutely FAB. What a fascinating study.
A few things that I think are jump-out-of-my-seat exciting: Brachycephalic dogs are better at following human gestures than long-faced dogs are (http://www.biomedcentral.com/content/pdf/1744-9081-5-31.pdf) – which may be why in ages past the mutation was so attractive (they’re geared to respond to humans and human direction in a more specific way than the longer-headed dogs) and the shorter-headed dogs put their smell cells where ours are! The rotation of the brain places the olfactory bulb just about where ours is – the entire brain of the short-faced dog looks much more human than the brain of the long-faced dog.
So by making short-faced dogs we do more than make them resemble us in the way they look; we make them resemble us in the way they see and think and smell. It’s no wonder that so many of the companion dogs are brachycephalic.
Also interesting: The study defined short-skulled as being any foreface shorter than the backskull – they have an Akita mix defined as brachycephalic, for example (thus letting my beloved corgis into the club!). The one with the biggest effect is a Shih Tzu, who looks like he or she had a breed-standard head. No dogs that we’d typically define as really flat-faced were checked.
I’d read something like this in relations to collies – I think it might have been in one of Temple Grandin’s books. (I actually am not impressed by what she writes about dog breeds. Much of it reads like sheer speculation and is quite hostile. She knows her livestock but I think her publisher might have told her “you need a chapter on dogs.”) But what I recall is the assertion that rough collies have had intelligence bred out of them with the emphasis on narrow heads. Since I have barely met any rough collies, I have no opinion.
Temple Grandin is vehemently PRO BSL and breed bans. I have the quotes from correspondence between her and a breed ban opponent in Denver, when the Denver BSL laws were being proposed.
She actually thinks most herding breeds and ALL bull breeds need to be allowed to die out, and that human selection for mates (ie; breeding in any form) is unnatural.
So, yeah – Temple is great for cattle, but sucks for dogs.
Temple Grandin is NOT great for cattle. She spends her time thinking of more effective ways to pen and slaughter them. The only thing that Temple Grandin is great for, and it’s a biggie, is to promote the idea that autistic individuals can work and make contributions to society. She sucks for dogs AND cattle.
Also, I find it rather disturbing to think that Clovis and I have the same brain shape. I mean, we both fixate on food, but still…
To be fair, she thinks of less stressful ways to pen and slaughter them. She’s used some of those techniques to manage her own stress.
I don’t have a problem with animal agriculture per se; if we can make it more humane without huge increases in cost to the consumer, I am behind it. Poor people need healthy protein.
But her chapters on dogs were sort of like science fiction – extrapolation with little or no anchor in fact. I had to put the book down.
Yes – her emphasis on cattle (and sheep and so on) is all about reducing stress. She wants the entire process to be completely invisible to them, to have them very literally never know what hit them. It’s a huge improvement in the life of a cow who (let’s face it) was headed there anyway.
I am usually on the warpath about BSL but the great points of her books still make me recommend them. And her POV on show dogs is just the classic cattleman’s bias; it’s not unique to her. She’s saying what everybody says, just with zero social buffer (which is her hallmark). It’s a complete focus on utility – not just function but utility. If a dog doesn’t have a current job for which it is in demand, or if it is difficult in any other way, it shouldn’t exist.
If she was writing it 100 years ago, when the definition of a “good” dog was that he would never back down from a fight and was often very forward and would deliberately bite humans (do you know how many people Lad and the other collies bit in the Terhune books? Easily a dozen, and they badly injured all of them, which was a sign of heroism and perfect collieness!), I am sure she’d have the exact opposite view.
Look, I adore Frenchies, but we shouldn’t be breeding dogs the way we are. Frenchies in particular – we breed them to look “cute,” and they suffer their whole lives for it. The snuffling is adorable, but when you think about the fact that they’re snuffly because they CANNOT BREATHE – that’s torture.
People who REALLY care about dogs should breed with dog health in mind as goal number one. If you say you love Frenchies, look in your heart and really ask yourself: “These dogs have much shorter life spans and many more health problems than a mutt. And that is our fault for breeding Frenchies with such short muzzles and narrow hips. Is it worth it?”
It tears me up to say it because I adore them, but to really love a Frenchie means to want to see a Frenchie mutt. Longer nose, wider hips, longer and happier puppy lives.
If you say you love Frenchies, look in your heart and really ask yourself: “These dogs have much shorter life spans and many more health problems than a mutt.
Look, your intentions are noble, but you’re wrong in so many ways. As someone who does rescue, time and time again I have seen MIXED breeds (like our Ema) who have the most horrific health issues, while at the same time my own dogs routinely live to be 13 or 14 years old with minimal veterinary care.
The key to breeding healthy dogs is not simply tossing together two dogs of any random breed – the key is judicious breeding, based on health testing. And yes, of course – breeding for less exaggeration of features, face and body type also play a role in that, because without proper structure, you can not have health. If people would actually bother to LOOK at the illustrated standard, you would see the image of a moderate looking dog with reasonable back length and a quite reasonably foreshortened muzzle.
I don’t think “snuffling” is cute – I don’t think any form of impaired breathing is cute. That’s why I don’t breed to or from dogs that have had palate clips, nares corrections or any other form of impaired breathing. I don’t think overly short backs and narrow hips are ‘cute’, either – I want a longer back, properly shaped French Bulldog who can gait like a working dog and preferably free whelp. I breed for and to smart, healthy French Bulldogs who will, with any luck, live long healthy lives.
Moderation, care and a goal beyond breeding for what is ‘cute’ or trendy are why some of us are still doing this 21 years later, instead of having given up in despair after the first two or three litters. A long breeding career means breeding for dogs that have long lives.
Perhaps before you jump in and start telling me how I should or shouldn’t breed French Bulldogs, you should share with us a little bit more about your OWN background, seeing as how you refer to the inclusive “We” in the beginning of your comment.