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I had an interesting conversation a few days ago:

Why is that people who keep fish and exotic pets are so open to new scientific knowledge about their animals?

Why is that the innovative ways of keeping these animals quickly gain acceptance among their owners, while in the world of dogs, the bulk of the culture has stagnated around a bunch of tired ideas (particularly dominance behavior models and the closed registry system)?

I think the answer has two parts two.

People have been keeping dogs for longer than we’ve cultivated fields, while fish and exotic pets are often only just a few generations removed from the wild.

The best ways to keep these animals are often in a somewhat experimental state, and it’s not always guaranteed that the ways that those who came before had the best way of caring for them.

Caring for dogs is pretty much cut and dry, or at least, that is how it seems.

But the world of dogs, unlike the world of exotic pets or aquarium fish, is very much caught up in some sort of tradition.

When you buy a breed, you buy into a  breed history, which may or may not be true, and you also buy into a culture that pays a lot of homage to those “greats” who came before.

Now, maybe those greats had some insight about the animals at hand, but there often gets to be a sort of cult based upon that great’s ideas– even if what that great happens to believe absolute garbage.

Take German Shepherd dogs and the worship of Lloyd Brackett and his cute incest formula. Brackett was an anti-Semite eugenicist who happened to win a bunch of dog shows, so in the world of show GSD, his ideas are treated as if they were wonderful. Of course,  I doubt that very many people in GSD’s share his views that the Jews were a “superior race” because they were inbred, but many people who show GSD’s hold onto that same logic.

Of course, it’s garbage.

But if you follow Brackett, you might win a few dog shows. Never mind that the bulk of the show GSD population is slowly deteriorating into a bunch of ataxic-gaited hyenas.

This never gets questioned, of course, because Brackett leads to success within  the culture.

And when you buy a dog breed, you’re buying into a culture. You’re also buying into a brand, and within a brand, there are all sorts romantic ideals about what that brand should be.

It is not just within show dogs  that people get caught up in the branding. One of the things I’ve always found amusing about the border collie is a belief that this is a traditional farm dog and that its abilities as a farm dog have been made better through trialling. Except that the original collie-type farm dog was not nearly as strongly-eyed or obsessive as a border collie, and in my part of the world, this sort of “collie” still exists in the form of English shepherds and farm collies, neither of which would ever be able to win a border collie trial in the first place.

A border collie is actually a dog created to manage very large flocks. It was never a dog for small farmers, and what’s more, it exists in its current form largely to win sheepdog trials.

But if you buy into the culture, then you accept that sheepdog trials are “traditional dog work,” when they really are something pretty new in the grand scheme of pastoral dogs.

If a dog person wants to think as an aquarist or exotic pet owner does, then one must be willing to go against the grain.

To accept new ideas is blasphemy in much of the world of dogs.

At some point, you almost have to deny the breed brand and also deny much of the wisdom that came before.

Because science tells us that dogs are organisms. All dog breeds are part of the same species, and special beliefs about dogs– like those that deny heterosis exists within crossbreeds– simply aren’t true. No matter what misrepresentations or jun science studies people come up with, the rules of population genetics still work in the world of dogs.

Further, we don’t now everything there is to know about dog behavior, but it is pretty clear that we were wrong in assuming that dog societies and behavior can be modeled on decades-old and somewhat discredited studies on captive wolf packs.

But if you’ve bought a breed where the people most successful in training it in the past have all adopted some form of  what might be called dog abuse axioms, then to question the way the dog is trained is also to blaspheme the breed.

But if we are to do what is truly right by dogs, then we have to be willing to blaspheme.

And if you blaspheme, there are countless numbers of people who will come after you. If your breed exists only as a specialists’ dog, then you might very well be run out of it– just for questioning shibboleths.

The sad thing about the world of dogs is that rationalists and skeptics exist in a very small minority within the various dog subcultures.

To question is to deny.

And to deny is heresy.

We have allowed our relationship with the domestic dog to stagnate.

Modern science has been relegated only toward a celebration of health testing, as if breeding out genetic diseases within increasingly inbred populations is the best way to manage them. As soon as someone who knows better points out that this is not a good long-term solution, it is automatically denounced as animal rights issue or “socialism.”

It’s very sad that so much of the world of dogs resembles a religion, and in the past, I’ve actually called much of the world of dogs a series of ersatz religions.

One of the things that religion often does is it puts mental blocks when understanding is not complete or when accepted truths are contradicted with obvious facts. In the former case, dogma will fill in the gaps, and in the latter case, facts will be denied or dismissed (often in a vast conspiracy theory).

I have had very stupid people post things to my blog and to my Facebook page like “If every time you breed it’s a crap shoot, then shoot the crap you breed.”  The “if” in this case is what you have to accept if you allow for a certain amount of genetic diversity in a breed– some dogs aren’t going to be winners or have the preferred conformation or temperament one wants in a breed. But if you inbreed, you will get lots of dogs that look and behave alike. Of course, such animals might be fine or even quite healthy, but if an entire population of a breed gets subject to such consanguinity, then the chances for higher levels of genetic load will be heightened and the chance of a real inbreeding depression is almost certain.

But no one cares about that when you’re winning the prizes.

You will be rewarded for pissing away the genes, and it will be successive generations who will have to deal with the consequences.

And it will continue up and until one of two things happen:

The real animal rights agenda comes to power and pushes upon dog breeders a ton of regulations.

Or there is rationalist revolution in the world of dogs.

My hope is for the latter, but I am not holding my breath.

There just isn’t enough blasphemy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One of the great shibboleths in the dog world is that there is a creature known as the “responsible breeder.”

Each person has a definition about what one is, but for many years, the biggest defining point was the adherence to blood purity cult. Usually this would be mixed in with all the delusions of preservation, as well as the delusion of improvement.*

The unfortunate thing is none of these things have much to do with the real world.

In the real world, crossbreeding isn’t evil. It’s innovation.

Take this nice post by Suzanne Phillips over at the Hoof &Paw blog.

In her part of Oregon, it’s not unusual for someone to breed this:

Photo by Suzanne Phillips.

Photo from Suzanne Phillips.

This dog is a German short-haired pointer/Labrador retriever cross. It’s basically a purposely-bred cross that mixes the ruggedly versatile German HPR wit the always popular, hard driving Labrador. Suzanne mentions that when a friend of hers bred such a cross people drove from hundreds of miles to pick up one.

Such is the reputation of this cross.

She mentions another variant of the cross in the post as well. This time the retriever in question is a Chesapeake, but she has been bred to a German shorthair.

Photo by Suzanne Phillips.

Photo from Suzanne Phillips.

It’s hard for anyone in that old way of thinking to say that these were not well-bred animals.

Chesapeakes, Labs, and German shorthairs are all very useful animals. Not a single one of them was created through maintaining closed registries until very recently.

And even now, many people who want a useful dog don’t pay much attention to the old blood purity rules.

That’s because these blood purity rules are way outside of the average person’s experience with dogs. Almost no one owns a dog that is very tightly bred, and virtually everyone in the public would be repulsed by the idea.

Many people talk about the reason why the American Kennel Club is in such terrible financial straight. Animal rights activist get the blame. The puppy mill paper mills get their share, too.

But I think the real problem is that the American Kennel Club, though it is headquartered in the United States and always has been, is really a foreign institution.

Its values were imported from Great Britain at the height of its imperialist glory. As strange as it sounds today, most Americans were very anti-British during most the nineteenth century. Britain had burned down our capital. It allowed the Confederacy to have the delusion that it was on the side of their rebellion.  It was also a major competitor in the Northwest. Plus, tons of Americans were Irish famine refugees.

As America grew wealthier, wealthy and upper middle class Americans began to emulate the British Empire. Some of the first retriever trials in America were held on Long Island. Labradors were the breed of choice, and they were run almost exactly as they were in the mother country.

Meanwhile, American market duck hunters were blasting away with punt guns and heavy shotguns at vast flocks waterfowl. Their hardy “Chesapeake duck dogs,” water spaniels, and retrieving setters were earning their money. The backwoods market hunters were treeing grouse and turkeys with curs and feists. And very few of these people gave a rat’s behind about the pedigree of the dog.

In fact, most Americans didn’t care for this nonsense at all. The most common dog in much of the country was the generalist farm collie, usually called “a shepherd,” which did some light herding work and hunted everything it was asked to.

None of these dog were maintained within a concept of a “fancy.” There might be shows for foxhounds, coonhounds, and beagles, but every single dog in those shows was also a performance hound. And none of these dogs was kept in a true closed registry, and even now, pack hounds are still crossed on a routine basis.

But they are outside the AKC, and they are also outside the UKC.

Americans bred dogs to perform. In the early days of settlement, vast numbers of dogs couldn’t be imported from Europe. Our dog culture became based upon what can survive and what could do multiple tasks well.

The British dog culture was about specialization and arbitrarily classifying things based upon color and coat and size.

It became well-established among “learned circles” that American dogs, like our livestock, were in desperate need of improvement. From the 1870’s onward, there has been attempt to bring America the glories of canine improvement through closed registry breeding.

And it’s been a colossal failure.

It came closest to success in the middle to late part of the twentieth century, when the burgeoning middle class that had grown up out of the Second World War began to own purebred dogs as status symbol. It’s at this time that my own family got their first AKC dog, a registered rough collie named “Cam.”  Cam produced more than a few litters of collie-foxhounds, which were then quite in demand in West Virginia as varmint dogs.

I’ve noticed that when most laypeople watch dog shows, they only want their favorite breeds to win. They want to see the golden retriever go BIS at Westminster. They don’t care about the rare breeds. They are curiosities, novelties to be looked as if one were looking artifacts in a museum.

And that may be too charitable for some breeds.

I’m sure the untrained eye sees many of the really exaggerated dogs as creatures best belong in a freak show.

And of course, one really can’t argue with them.

Many progressive people rightly complain about how Americans have never adopted certain European ideals, but the notion of a national kennel registry to tell us how to breed dogs is one I’m glad we’ve never fully accepted.

So long as a dog fancy remains this insular, very foreign, and reactionary clique, the American people are going to ignore what these people say.

And buy gun dogs like these.

And doodles.

And Texas heelers.

After all, this culture produces good dogs.

And the dog fancy continues to produce freaks– many of which are unhealthy and very hard to care for.

This is how market economies work. There is failure, and there is success. The dog fancy has been a failure in the United States– and our dogs stand a much better chance because of it.

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*There will be a post on this at some point,

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Here’s Miley the deer-taming retriever trying to whisper a foal. She is doing everything to show him that she’s not a threat. She’s lying down and smelling the grass– just to show him that she’s not a predator out to kill him!

Of course, horses evolved on this continent with dire wolves nipping at their heels, and somewhere in his brain, a golden retriever is a fell beast that seeks to do nothing but evil to the horse kind.

Source.

I think this may be where she learned to tame deer. LOL.

Golden retrievers have a lot of social intelligence. That’s why they are so popular as pets and working dogs.

This is why I like them.

 

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Both of these breeds are pretty intelligent dogs, but they respond to this problem in very different ways.

Source.

Some people are commenting that because the border collie is faster in its retrieval, it therefore must be the more intelligent animal.

But look what’s going on here.

The golden retriever is being very judicious and deliberate. It’s that same sort of behavior that would allow a golden retriever to bring in a wounded pheasant or duck without giving it further damage.

Border collies are great Frisbee dogs. Golden retrievers almost always suck at it. They just aren’t as nutty about jumping up and grabbing things.

Border collies have been bred to move things and make things move.  If a border collie needs to use its teeth on stock, it is allowed to– though this is faulted in the border collie NASCAR events. Border collies are a very much a sporting dog that have been bred for almost neurotic behavior.  Everyone knows that border collies are smart, but they have another side to them, which actually makes them almost entirely unsuitable for general family pets.

I think one of the byproducts of breeding for a soft mouth is that you get a dog that is deliberate in how it relates to the world. This is why golden retrievers, even those from working lines that have a lot more energy than most family dogs, still make very good pets as well as working dogs. This is why both Labrador and golden retrievers and the crosses between them have proven to be the ultimate assistance dogs. They are biddable and intelligent, but they are deliberate and gentle as the work.

Border collies are geniuses, but they have not been bred with the same sort of “nous” or “sagacity” as a retriever.

And I should note here that as much as I complain about how breeding for a particular conformation in bulldogs has essentially ruined them, breeding for extreme behavior in border collies has had almost the same effect.

The border collie is just too much dog for the typical dog owner– and it’s also why I don’t think the solution to the dog fancy’s problems is to adopt the solution that working border collie people have embraced.

A trial that rewards extreme behavior and popular sire selection is just going to produce a dog that is just as genetically compromised as the show dogs and is going to have behavioral problems that are just as questionable as the bulldog’s health problems.

Now, if border collies were bred more like English shepherds, things might be very different. English shepherds are a real farm dog landrace– not a sporting dog at all. They vary in temperament, but many of them are sort of golden retrieverish in temperament. Others are are more like Chesapeake Bay dogs that are docile and intelligent, but they are good guards.

But they are not trial dogs. A better term for an English shepherd would be “generalist collie.”  Because they were always used to do a lot of different things on the farm, they were intentionally bred for sagacity.

And border collies might be canine geniuses, but in some ways they are very limited in their utility.

They have almost gone down the bulldog path, but they have gone along a side road.

This is the over-selection for an extreme temperament in order to win a particular kind of sheep dog trial.

American trial Labradors have undergone a very similar selection, which is one reason why some might prefer a golden retriever or British working Labrador for general gun dog work. In the end, the best retrievers are a balance between docility and sagacity and a strong working drive.

Border collies are all drive and biddablity but are often lacking in docility and deliberation.

That’s why they aren’t my kind of dog.

I don’t care how smart they are.

 

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dachshund crocodile

Today, there much talk about a flesh-eating drug called “Krokodil,” which is derived from the Russian* word for crocodile. There is quite a bit of paranoia about the drug spreading to the US, but it doesn’t seem likely at this time.

However, every time I see a report about this drug, I instantly think of a dog– more specifically, a dachshund.

The dog is written about at length in Konrad Lorenz’s Man Meets Dog (1949). Lorenz was one of the founders of the science of ethology, and wrote extensively about dogs and other domestic animals. He is perhaps best known for the modern interpretation of the theory of imprinting, which posits that certain animals, particularly birds, come to identify their parent species by attaching themselves to the first moving object or living thing they see.

He is also famous for the discredited hypothesis that most dogs are derived from golden jackals and only a few dogs have wolf in them. The jackal dogs were juvenile and friendly toward everyone, while the wolf-derived dogs were one-mannish and reserved.

The dog named Krokodil was a jackal dog. He was purchased to replace a real crocodile that was given to Lorenz when he was a young boy:

I shall begin with the example of a dog whose apparently touching juvenile affection was so exaggerated as to result in the positive caricature of a dog.  It was a dachshund named Kroki which I was given by a kind relation with no understanding of animals.  At time I was a small boy but already an active naturalist.  The dog was called Kroki  because the kind donor had first of all presented me with a crocodile, which in the absence of heating my terrarium, refused to eat, and which we therefore exchanged in the pet shop for the animal which bore the nearest outward resemblance to it! The dachshund was an aristocratic creature, long-bodied and short-legged– truly resembling a crocodile–and its pendulous ears literally trailed the floor. He was of an affecting friendliness, and greeted me on our first acquaintance as only a dog can greet a long lost master. Of course I was flattered, until it became clear that he greeted everyone else in the same manner.  He was obsessed with an overwhelming love of humanity which extended to all mankind.  He never barked at anybody and, even though he probably preferred my family and myself, he would readily follow a stranger if we did not happen to be available.

Now, this dachshund’s behavior is utterly unlike the dachshunds I’ve known, and my grandmother’s dachshund could have also been named after the archosaur. Unlike Lorenz’s dog, she not only had the crocodile’s body, she had the crocodile’s disposition as well. She barked at everyone, and I don’t know how many different people she  bit.  She bit me and all the other grandchildren, and as a result, I have a bit of fear of smooth dachshunds. I don’t have the same reaction with the other coats– the long-haired ones look like really strange golden retrievers– but if I see small smooth one, I get a bit nervous.

In the US, the dachshund is the “wiener dog.”  I have always thought this was a stupid name.

Maybe a better name for them would be crocodile dog.

It fits them so much better!

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*Krokodil is also German for crocodile. Konrad Lorenz was Austrian and a German-speaker.

 

 

 

 

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The too free dog

IMG_4588

The very notion that a dog ought to have some autonomy over itself is an anathema to many self-styled “dog experts.”  Many have been raised with the mantra that the dog must be subordinate at all times to the whims and often mercurial desires of man in order for it to live a nature existence. They have taken the ethological term known as “dominance” and stretched it into a kind of “drapetomania for dogs.” If a dog tries to assert itself against the absolute wishes of man, then it must be dominated at all costs in the same way that the runaway “suffering ” from Dr. Cartwright’s “affliction” deserved a good flogging.

The sad thing is that humans are prone to being egomaniacs, and far too many egomaniacs have dogs. In some ways, the fact that dogs can be submitted to human desires makes them the perfect objects for such egomaniacs to act out their pathology. Of course, they don’t just do it to the dogs themselves. They also do it other dog people. I have seen the dark underbelly of “dog people,” and although one wishes not to dwell on negativity, I have seen a lot of things that are utterly lamentable and are very difficult to expunge from my consciousness.

There are people who want to take away the things that actually give others joy. There are people who cannot appreciate an unleashed dog running about an autumn forest, who have never seen how happy a golden retriever is when she’s covered in mud, and who cannot accept the fact that not all dogs like doing what their ancestors were bred to do.

Some dogs are like Ferdinand the bull, Though descended from long lines of Spanish fighting bulls, all that Ferdinand the calf ever wanted to do was to sit under the cork oak and smell the sweet flowers. One day– which just happened to be the day that the men who selected the fighting bulls came by to evaluate the young bulls for fighting prowess— poor Ferdinand moseyed over to hit favorite cork oak for a good flower smelling session. As he lowered his haunches to the shaded ground, he just happened to sit on a bee, which of course stung him. Ferdinand raced around in terror and pain, and the bull fight men thought he was a great fighting bull and hastened to take him to the bullfight.  The day that he was brought to be fought, everyone thought Ferdinand was going to be a holy terror, but all he did was sit down n the middle of the arena and smell the flowers in the women’s hats.

A dog may be of a certain breed. It may have nothing but trial champions in its ancestry, but all it wants to do is something else.

People hate this. If you buy a certain breed, it’s like buying a brand. And if one buys a particular strain, it’s like buying a particular model.

If you bought a car that didn’t do what you expected, you’d return it quickly or have it worked on until it finally started running the right way.

Many dogs have exactly this same problem.

People want them to be a certain way, and they aren’t. They send them to trainers, who do all kinds of “training” to rejigger the dog until it realizes why it was created in the first place. Or at the very worst, they get sent back to the breeder as a “defective model.”

Dogs are not machines, and there is a definite ethical consideration about dogs that simply does not exist for cars.

Dog culture celebrates the brand, not the individual, and it takes someone with a lot of intestinal fortitude to go against all the judgmental bromides and allow a dog to be.

Dog culture is not about letting a dog be. It’s about the dog being as a reflection of the human in his or her particular society. It’s in this respect that we have served the dog most poorly.

The dog that is too free is dog that is to be scorned. It exists beyond our human egos casting shadows into the ethology of dominance. It is unconquered. Still part wild, part savage.

It is the dog in its basic animality, still the ranging predator, still a beast.

And not a child or a slave.

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This guy makes Cesar Millan look like an angel:

Source

This is shocking abuse.

No other way to describe it.

 

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