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The work of the late Dr. Dmitry Belyaev, now under the direction of Dr. Lyudmila Trut,
(seen here with one of the program’s domesticated foxes) had proven what this research
paper concludes “…humans have altered the brains of different breeds of dogs in
different ways through selective breeding.” Vasily Kovaly; Creative Commons
Significant Neuroanatomical Variation among Domestic Dog Breeds
Review of a behavioral/cognitive research paper
by Sue Hamilton
In September 2019, a research team lead by evolutionary biologist Erin E. Hecht, Ph.D. published “Significant neuroanatomical variation among domestic dog breeds”, a study exploring the behavioral differences in selectively bred dogs and how human involvement could alter neuroanatomical structures. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) had been performed for other reasons on sixty-two American Kennel Club (AKC) purebred dogs representing thirty-three breeds. Studying those test results was the source material for this project.
The paper says, “Most modern dog breeds were developed in an intentional goal-driven manner…This strong selection pressure suggests that brain differences between breeds may be closely tied to behavior…recent genetic research indicates that this behavior variation is highly heritable.”
The MRI-represented breeds were divided into groups based on their various purposes as describe by their official AKC breed standards, such as, but not limited to: scent or sight hunting, vermin control, guarding, herding, sport fighting, running/racing, explicit companionship.
Results demonstrated that “Neuromorphological variation is plainly visible across breeds,” and that “…brain organization is strongly tied to selective breeding for behavioral traits…” Further, “Dogs show intraspecific (i.e. existing within a species or between individuals of a single species) variation in morphology to a degree rarely seen in nature.” This last bit makes me wonder if aboriginal landrace dogs could be diagnostically identified as being more a part of natural selection process than modern breeds.
The paper concludes that “…brain evolution in domestic dog breeds….are…lineage specific… Associations between brain networks and related behavioral specializations are apparent…These finding strongly suggest that humans have altered the brains of different breeds of dogs in different ways through selective breeding.” This has been shown neurochemically by the landmark work on domestication by Dmitry Belyaev.
According to a 2014 paper by Lofgren, Weiner et al., and for me this is a biggie:
“…as dogs are increasingly bred to be house pets rather than working animals, selection on behavior is relaxing; significant behavioral differences have been found between working, show, and pet animals within a breed.”Bill Carpenter may not have known it on January 31, 2001 when he said in that piece in the New York Times, "The future of this dog is not with southern dog shows, not with pet owners on leashes. The future of this dog lies in its cultural setting. The future of the dog is in the hands of the northerners." Nearly nineteen years later his words have been validated by the conclusions reached in this neuroanatomical research paper!
This research also suggests that someday dogs might be able to be distinguished from one another by “neural features that are linked to different breeds’ specializations for specific behaviors.” This research represents my hope that there exists a way to quantitatively identify differences between aboriginal landrace dogs and modern/cultured dog breeds.
As in “Behavioural correlations of the domestication syndrome are present in ancient, but weak in modern, dog breeds”, reviewed elsewhere in this issue of PostScript, this work was based on already available material, in this case MRIs of sixty-two purebred dogs. When I contacted the lead author, I asked her if she considered the possibility of incorporating aboriginal landrace dogs. Without hesitation Dr. Hecht replied, “I’m absolutely interested in studying landrace dogs…Unfortunately, I’m not quite sure how to access these dogs here in Boston (or in Georgia, where we still have some research operations). If you have any suggestions or recommended points of contact along those lines, I’d be very interested to hear about it.”
I have been outspoken, without regret, in my belief of what happens to a dog when it is removed from its native habitat and bred for other than its fundamental qualities. Although our numbers are small and confined to our kennel over a period of thirty-plus years, and our observations are purely anecdotal, I am adamant that our Alaskan Malamutes, which were from the original lines of the breed AKC registered back in 1935 and were derived from what were then called Eskimo Dogs (from Alaska and likely Labrador) had long lost the qualities of their landrace ancestors. We first came to that revelation out on the Canadian Arctic ice behind teams of Inuit Dogs even before we brought our first three back from the north Baffin in 1996.
Is the phrase, use it or lose it, an oversimplification or does it cut to the core of this research’s findings? “Behavioural correlations of the domestication syndrome are present in ancient, but weak in modern, dog breeds” studied behavior testing results. “Significant neuroanatomical variation among domestic dog breeds” pinpointed differences in behavior to brain anatomy. I see this as moving even closer to being able to distinguish landraces from cultured dog breeds.
On a purely feasible basis I don’t envision how these techniques can be practical in identifying and selecting traditional working dogs for reproduction. Besides, they still need to prove themselves worthy in the field. But just to be able to recognize that aboriginal landrace dogs are biologically unique and distinct from modern domesticate dogs is still huge. Back in the March and June 2009 issues of The Fan Hitch Journal, zoologist and founder of the Primitive and Aboriginal Dog Society, International, Vladimir Beregovoy described these landraces as, "…profoundly different from "cultured" breeds, they are still domestic but: have evolved by natural selection under conditions of free life and close interactions with people; are a unique piece of nature, time bound and place bound, most similar to zoological subspecies; are historically associated with ethnic groups and cultures; are the oldest and the only natural…dogs in existence.” This current research might represent a way to scientifically reaffirm Dr. Beregovoy’s definitions and the differences between aboriginal landrace dogs and modern/cultured dog breeds.
Some of the quotes used in this article were taken from “Significant neuroanatomical variation among domestic dog breeds”. You may wish to visit “How selective breeding has altered dogs' behavior”, published in the September 4 2019 edition of Medical News Today, for a lay interpretation of the research.