Dog researcher discusses breed-behavior link

· 2 min read

Dog researcher discusses breed-behavior link
Nebraska Headliners

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Craig Chandler | University Communication
Jeffrey Stevens, associate professor of psychology, works with his dog.

Even though a new study indicates 15,000 years of selective breeding has changed the shape of dogs’ brains, it’s too soon to make assumptions about behaviors based upon breeds, according to Jeffrey Stevens, associate professor of psychology and founder of Nebraska’s Canine Cognition and Human Interaction Lab.

Stevens was one of three scientists interviewed by the Washington Post about new research that provides the first evidence that selective breeding hasn’t just changed dogs’ sizes, shapes and colors – it’s also altered the way their brains are built.

Scientists reached their conclusions based upon MRI scans from 62 dogs representing 33 breeds that had visited the University of Georgia Veterinary Teaching Hospital for neurological exams. From Dachsunds to Dobermans, the scientists found well-defined differences between dog brains.

Stevens, who studies dog behavior in his laboratory, said the new study is both exciting and clever, but he cautioned that there still tends to be a lot of variation in individual behavior within breeds. He noted that the study’s MRI scans weren’t performed as the dogs were performing breed-specific tasks, making it difficult to draw major conclusions linking breed to behavior.

“You want to be really careful drawing any inferences about cognitive processes that are based on brain activity that you’re not directly testing,” Stevens told the Post.

Stevens uses high tech facilities at the Center for Brain, Biology and Behavior to study dog's cognitive processes. For example, tests conducted through the Salivary Biosciences Laboratory measure the amount of stress hormone in a dog's saliva.

Some of the research conducted in Stevens’ Canine Cognition Lab, as well as other exhibits and demonstrations about dog training and behavior will be on display during Husker DogFest from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sept. 21 on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln City Campus.