Studies on domestication are blooming, but the developmental bases for the generation of domestication traits and breed diversity remain largely unexplored. Some phenotypic patterns of human neurocristopathies are suggestive of those reported for domesticated mammals and disrupting neural crest developmental programmes have been argued to be the source of traits deemed the ‘domestication syndrome’. These character changes span multiple organ systems and morphological structures. But an in-depth examination within the phylogenetic framework of mammals including domesticated forms reveals that the distribution of such traits is not universal, with canids being the only group showing a large set of predicted features. Modularity of traits tied to phylogeny characterizes domesticated mammals: through selective breeding, individual behavioural and morphological traits can be reordered, truncated, augmented or deleted. Similarly, mammalian evolution on islands has resulted in suites of phenotypic changes like those of some domesticated forms. Many domesticated mammals can serve as valuable models for conducting comparative studies on the evolutionary developmental biology of the neural crest, given that series of their embryos are readily available and that their phylogenetic histories and genomes are well characterized.