Working Dog Breeds MRI Study

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Many dog breeds undergo selection for behavioral traits in addition to physical traits. We have previously found that those selective pressures have led to differences in brain anatomy across dog breed groups (click here to read more).

But does neuroanatomy vary across breeds, too? What about within breeds? How does lifetime experience further shape the brain? Are aspects of a dog's brain anatomy directly related to their behavior in the real world?

The purpose of this study is to determine how selective breeding and training shape the canine brain. Dogs participating in this study undergo a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scan and genetic testing via a cheek swab. We also offer complementary sensory exams for all dogs who are involved in the study.

We are currently recruiting purebred dogs from the following categories:

1. Dogs from working bloodlines who are involved in breed-specific skills like herding, retrieving, and guarding.
2. Dogs from working bloodlines who are not involved in any breed-specific skills.
3. Dogs from conformation bloodlines of historically working breeds.
4. Dogs from ancient breeds/landraces.

To see if your dog qualifies for the study, please fill out this pre-registration form or email Sophie Barton at

Further Information


Study Details:  Scans are supervised by a board-certified veterinary anesthesiologist, Dr. Lauren Duffee. In order to participate, your dog must not have metal anywhere in or on his or her body, must be generally healthy, and must have had a vet exam with bloodwork within 3 months prior to the exam. Additionally, Dr. Duffee will confer with your dog's attending vet prior to the exam and will perform an additional exam on the day of the scan. We are scanning dogs aged 1-8 years, but younger or older dogs may be included on a case-by-case basis.

Scheduling: During the pandemic, scheduling appointments are limited. We are currently collecting scans on Wednesday mornings and early afternoons, but additional appointments may become available in the future. This will be a multi-year study and scheduling will be ongoing.

COVID Safety Procedures: During the COVID pandemic, all Harvard visitors must wear a mask at all times and are asked to maintain social distancing.

Coming to the Lab:  Our dog MRI scans take place on Harvard campus in Cambridge, MA. The address of the parking garage is 52 Oxford Street, Cambridge, MA, 02138. Your parking pass will be pre-purchased for you and a study team member will walk you from the garage to our lab. The scan visit will take approximately 4 hours. We have a private waiting room with comfortable seating, a TV, and wifi where you can relax during your dog's scan. There is also a cafe in the building.

Canine Brains Project