The domestic dog, Canis familiaris, exhibits profound phenotypic diversity and is an ideal model organism for the genetic dissection of simple and complex traits. However, some of the most interesting phenotypes are fixed in particular breeds and are therefore less tractable to genetic analysis using classical segregation-based mapping approaches. We implemented an across breed mapping approach using a moderately dense SNP array, a low number of animals and breeds carefully selected for the phenotypes of interest to identify genetic variants responsible for breed-defining characteristics. Using a modest number of affected (10-30) and control (20-60) samples from multiple breeds, the correct chromosomal assignment was identified in a proof of concept experiment using three previously defined loci; hyperuricosuria, white spotting and chondrodysplasia. Genome-wide association was performed in a similar manner for one of the most striking morphological traits in dogs: brachycephalic head type. Although candidate gene approaches based on comparable phenotypes in mice and humans have been utilized for this trait, the causative gene has remained elusive using this method. Samples from nine affected breeds and thirteen control breeds identified strong genome-wide associations for brachycephalic head type on Cfa 1. Two independent datasets identified the same genomic region. Levels of relative heterozygosity in the associated region indicate that it has been subjected to a selective sweep, consistent with it being a breed defining morphological characteristic. Genotyping additional dogs in the region confirmed the association. To date, the genetic structure of dog breeds has primarily been exploited for genome wide association for segregating traits. These results demonstrate that non-segregating traits under strong selection are equally tractable to genetic analysis using small sample numbers.