Archive for the ‘dog breeds’ Category

Happy Boykin Spaniel Day!

happy boykin meme

September 1 is Boykin Spaniel Day in South Carolina.

It’s also the first day of dove season in South Carolina.

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Istrian smooth-coated hound.

Istrian smooth-coated hound.

I’ve written a few blog posts in which I have argued that Dalmatians are not actually from Croatia. I’ve pointed out that a lot of the supposed depictions of Dalmatians were rather dubious, and genetically, Dalmatians fit with pointing gun dogs.

Well, it turns out that there might be actually be something the Croatian origins of the Dalmatian after all. Some Croatian researchers, Bauer and Lemo, looked into the history of dogs in that part of Croatia. They found that a type of now likely extinct sight-hound was almost always black and white with some dappling, and some of them actually looked more like scent-hounds than sight-hounds.

However, that is far from the best evidence. Lots of dogs have dappling, and the Dalmatian dappling is very distinct. The authors discuss two of these sight-hounds. The male was black and white, and the female was ocher and white and had a habit of vomiting for her puppies, which the authors believe doesn’t exist in “thoroughbred dogs.” (Which is news to me. I’ve seen golden retrievers vomit for puppies, and Miley even vomited for a visiting laika puppy.)

I think the sight-hound discussion was pretty much a non-sequitur, because dapples and roaning are so common in many breeds that it cannot be used to determine any kind of relationship.

However, the best evidence the authors provided is that a type of scent-hound that is still used in Croatia also shares an unusual metabolic trait with the Dalmatian. Unless they are part of that well-known outcross program that introduced normal uric acid levels through a single cross with a pointer, Dalmatians have high uric acid levels. Their livers lack an enzyme for metabolizing certain proteins, and this is actually pretty unusual in the dog world.

The problem with this assertion is that it’s actually not “proteins” that Dalmatians have trouble metabolizing. It is something called a “purine.” Uric acid is a purine, and the liver in normal dogs converts uric acid to a water soluble substance called allantonin. Dalmatians can’t convert uric acid to allantonin, which the authors do recognize. It may just be a mistranslation on their part.

The authors claim that only the Istrian hound, which does look like a lot like a red and white Dalmatian, shares this trait, but the authors apparently don’t realize is in the West, the other breed that gets these uric acid stones fairly often is the English bulldog. In bulldogs, it is caused by exactly the same purine metabolism issue, and the inheritance is the same in both breeds.

So the claim that only the Istrian hounds have this trait is simply false.

It is possible that the Dalmatian and Istrian hound share a common ancestor. Perhaps there was a black and white version of this hound that was spread to France and the Low Countries and then to England. This dog was then crossed with setters and pointers and bulldogs to make the modern Dalmatian breed.

But this is idle speculation. Until someone does an actual DNA study on Dalmatians that uses a large enough sample of nuclear DNA from a variety of Croatian and non-Croatian breeds, including pointing gun dogs, the case that Dalmatian and the Istrian hound are derived from the same root stock in Balkans is still an extraordinary claim that needs extraordinary evidence.

The best evidence that Bauer and Lemo provided is depiction of a dappled hound in eighteenth century painting in Dubrovnik.

dubrovnik hound


Maybe this dog actually is a Croatian Dalmatian or the Croatian proto-Dalmatian.

I don’t know.

But I do know that Croatia, like just about every country that was part of the former Yugoslavia, has had a resurgent nationalism for about the past 20 years.

The dog called a Dalmatian is popular all over the world, and it makes sense that the Croatian nationalist zeitgeist would look to this breed as a symbol of something from Croatia that hit it big on the international scene.

I think it is important for us to remain skeptical about claims about Dalmatians actually coming from Dalmatia.  It simply doesn’t fit what we already know about this dog– many individuals readily point and long-coated individuals are not unknown– to make us assume that this name means anything.

Nice try, though.





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skull 1

A recent study of pit bull skulls using 3-D imaging technology has revealed that they have skull measurements that are more similar to the extinct canids in the genus Borophagus. Further analysis involving SNP technology revealed that the average of 24.6 percent ancestry that is from a canid that is neither wolf nor domestic dog.

Abbott Millard, a canid researcher with the Dog Origins Project, has performed the 3-D imaging research, which included 130 pit bull skulls. His a comparison with the measurements of the pit bull skulls with those of several extant and extinct canids.

“Our results show that pit bulls have skull morphology most similar to the extinct dogs of the genus Borophagus. These results were quite shocking because Borophagus has been classified with an extinct group of canids that were thought not be related to modern dogs at all,” said Millard.

However, knowing that canids have a tendency towards convergent evolution in skull morphology, it is quite possible that pit bulls, a breed known for its massive jaw strength, evolved similar jaws to the Borphagus through similar selection pressures.

Which is why the Dog Origins Project decided to do some research on pit bull DNA. The researchers used SNP chip technology, which allows for extensive genome-wide assays. Similar research has been used to disprove East Asian origins for the domestic dog and raised real questions about the taxonomic status of the red wolf.

Otto Klinger, lead geneticist at the Dog Origins Project, compared DNA from 20 pit bulls, 15 boxers, 4 dingoes, 6 wolves from 4 different regions in the Old World, 12 coyotes, and 3 golden jackals. Pit bulls were found to be mostly domestic dog in origin, but a large sample of their genetic material didn’t match any extant canid.

“It is possible that this mystery canid was actually an undocumented wolf subspecies, but the finding that pit bulls have similar skulls to the Borophagus raises intriguing questions. It could mean that the pit bull terrier developed in America was crossed with a relict population of Borophagus,” said Klinger, “There are many mentions of strange wolves in the colonial literature that might be very suggestive of Borophagus, and there are mentions of blocky-headed wolfdogs belonging to the Algonquin peoples of the Northeast. Maybe these dogs and wolves were the relict Borophagus. They certainly would have been great fighting dogs.”

The discovery of the hybrid origin for the pit bull, though, does raise some important questions.

Millard believes that these studies mean that pit bulls deserve their own species status:

“The hybrid origin of the pit bull strongly suggests that we should not be classifying pit bulls as part of the greater dog species. We propose that the scientific name for the new pit bull species be Canis horribilus. Pit bulls are the grizzly bears of the dog world, so we think that we should use the grizzly bear’s name [Ursus arctos horribilus] to define the pit bull.”

With this new definitive DNA research on pit bulls, breed specific legislation will now be much easier to enforce, and the Dog Origin Project plans on donating its findings to law enforcement to develop a definitive pit bull genetic test.

“Our research will now have a positive impact upon society. I can’t tell you how thrilled I am wih the possibilities!” said Klinger.

So we now know why pit bulls are so different from other dogs. They are hybrids with a mystery canid that might be a survivor from the days of the ancient Borophaginae.

*The above is an April Fools’ prank. Not a single word of it is factual. Reposting or quoting this article as if it were fact will make you look extremely stupid.





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undocked rottweiler

I don’t know where this idea came from, but there is profound misunderstanding about what rottweilers are.

Rottweilers are sometimes referred to as Metzgerhund, which means “butcher’s dog,” and someone decided that this meant the same thing as the English “butcher’s dog.”  In Medieval and early modern England, butcher’s dogs, which became the bulldogs, baited cattle before slaughter. When the dogs were released upon bulls, many people would show up to watch the spectacle. These events eventually became the bull-baiting contests that were quite popular throughout England.

However, that is not the function of a rottweiler. Rottweilers are not closely related to bulldogs at all. A few years ago, researchers at UCLA released a study on dog origins, which posited a close relationship between domestic dogs and Middle Eastern wolves. Because the researchers looked a large sample of DNA from each dog, they were able to draw a phylogenetic wheel of domestic dogs.

dog breed



Rottweilers don’t fit with any of the mastiffs, bullmastiffs, or bulldogs. Instead, they share a common ancestry with the Great Dane, the Bernese mountain dog, and the St. Bernard.

Only two Swiss mountain dog breeds were sampled for the study, the Bernese and the St. Bernard. I bet if the researchers had included the Greater Swiss, the Entlebucher, and the Appenzeller, I think we would find these breeds were even closer to the Rottweiler than the Great Dane.

If you think about it, this makes perfect sense. If you look at where Rottweil is on the map, it is not that far from Switzerland. It actually joined the Swiss Confederacy in the fifteenth century, and there was extensive trade between Switzerland and Rottweil for many centuries.

The origins of the rottweiler actually lie with the Swiss mountain dogs that would be used to drive cattle into the butcher shops.

The dogs were not baiters. They were herders and guards.

So when you see someone lumping rottweilers with members of the bulldog, mastiff, and bull and terrier dogs, this person simply hasn’t the foggiest clue about the proper classification of dogs.

I also think it is past time to drop the term “Molosser” to describe dogs that have big, broad heads. It assumes all these breeds are related, but they clearly aren’t. Never mind that the history behind that term is either misinterpreted or the result of wild speculation.

A rottweiler is a droving dog, a farm dog, and a guard. The bulldog and mastiff family have their origins in the big game hunting dogs of Western Europe, which were later used on domestic stock.

I know this discussion of breed classification may seem a bit trivial, but there are real world issues involved here.

Some people promote the mythology of a monophyletic Molosser family of dogs because it romantically connects their boxers and French bulldogs to the war dogs of Rome or the mountain dogs of Tibet. Others use it to conflate bogus statistics about dog attacks. The former better realize that the latter are a clear and present danger when it comes to BSL.

So it might be wise for everyone to correctly classify dogs based upon actual science and a more careful reading of history.

The monophyly of Molossers has simply been discredited.

So stop using the term!



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I have been writing about the issues around purebred dogs for quite some time now, and one of the breeds that constantly comes us is the English bulldog. I know that this is not the “official name” of this breed, but in common parlance, it is the word used to describe this breed that was largely developed in its current form by English dog dealers. Because dog shows were created by the British, this breed gets called the “bulldog” by default, but in the common parlance, when I say “English bulldog,” people know exactly what I mean.

The bulldog wasn’t always what it is today:

At one time, bulls were baited for sport. Active bulldogs and mastiffs were turned loose on bulls in a way that resembled a sort of Medieval hunt scene against the aurochs. The bulldog’s ancestors were used to hunt the aurochs,  and then they were used to control domestic cattle. In those days, cattle had very tough beef from a life wandering the forests and common pastures, and it was believed that if the dogs baited the cattle, it would tenderize the meat. When they let the dogs fight the bulls, it became a spectator sport, and it was not long before there were bull and bear-baiting contests all over England. The dogs became greatly valued as sporting dogs, and their function was greatly esteemed throughout the British Isles. Queen Elizabeth I was a noted lover of baiting both bears and dogs, and her court bred dogs for that purpose.

However, baiting animals began to fall from favor over the next few centuries.

In 1835, parliament passed the Cruelty to Animals Act, and bull and bear baiting were both banned. The bulldogs were without a job, and it wasn’t long before dog dealers got their hands on the animals.  The infamous Bill George of Kensal New Town in London bred several lines of toned down bulldog for British consumers.  He bred little ones and big ones. He may have crossed the dogs with pugs, but it was pretty clear that pug got into the bulldog at some point.

But without a task for which one could breed a bulldog, British dog dealers and, later, British dog fanciers began to produce bulldogs that were totally unfit for anything. By the 1890s, the top-winning bulldogs were known for lacking soundness. One of them infamously got worn out on a walking race against a more athletic but less fashionable competitor. By 1900, bulldogs were known to be difficult to breed and rear, and for most of their history in the twentieth century, bulldogs were relatively rare.

The dogs became known for having so many genetic and conformation problems that essentially the only disorder they can’t suffer from is a matted coat. They have issues cooling and fully oxygenating themselves. They are known to suffer severe infections from inverted tails. The difficulty in breeding such animals almost sounds as if mother nature doesn’t want them be reproducing. Because the dogs are heavy in the front, they often have issues mounting the bitches. Mating cradles are often needed to hold the dog over the bitch, and many breeders simply do AI to produce their pups. And once conception happens, things get complicated when it comes to whelping. Virtually all bulldogs born in the US are delivered through Cesarean.  The pups have such big heads, and there mothers have such narrow pelvises that the pup very often cannot be born naturally.

The average lifespan of a bulldog is just a little over six years, so if you get one of these dogs, your chances of it dying before it hits middle age for most dogs is actually quite high. Many people have purchased bulldogs as companions for their children, but this breed has the potential to cause a lot of heartache for a young child when the animal suddenly dies.

Everything about this dog says that you don’t want it unless you have lots of money and rather weird tastes. The dog’s conformation isn’t just a hindrance to good health. It also a caricature. The dogs have been bred into a kind of canine John Bull figure, and unless someone would rather have the caricature than an actual dog, there really wasn’t a market for them.

But time, as they say, marches on.

In the first decade of this century, I began to see bulldogs on reality television shows. I thought it was a bit strange, but considering that the most prominent bulldog owner was Ozzy Osbourne, I thought that most people would just associate the extreme nature of the breed with the extreme nature of Ozzy.  People would want a bulldog in the same way they would want to bite off a bat’s head.

And I was wrong.

I started seeing bulldogs everywhere.

And that trend has only continued into the present day.

Last week, the AKC released its rankings of its top registered breeds of 2014. Labradors were the top breed in registrations, followed by German shepherds and golden retrievers. Labradors have been the top breed for over two decades, and the other two have had a long run of popularity as well. Those three were also the top three registered by the Canadian Kennel Club in 2014.

But what came in fourth in the AKC rankings was a bit of a shocker.  Bulldogs were the fourth most-registered breed by the AKC in 2014, and this is something that does require some attention.

And this bulldog attention has coattails. French bulldogs, the bat-eared little cousins of the English breed, have moved into tenth place. French bulldogs were once in the AKC top ten list. In the 1910s, Boston terriers were the AKC’s top breed, and their French cousin enjoyed high popularity just because the two breeds were related. A Boston terrier, in case you didn’t know, is actually a small bulldog that was created when fighting bull terriers from Boston were crossed with toy and French bulldogs from Europe.

French bulldogs have many of the same problems as the English breed, but this really doesn’t matter.  This is the decade of the bulldog!

With North America in the throes of bulldog mania, it might be useful to figure out why people are buying bulldogs.

As far as I can tell, there are a few reasons. One of these is that most Americans live in urban centers and have no real connection with other animals. There is no concept of what is “normal” for a dog or any other creature. If a person sees a cute dog on television, then they are instantly going to feel some connection to it. Extreme brachycephalic dogs are quite attractive to people. We forget that as primates we are predisposed to being attracted to things that look like primates. It is easier for us to have comradery with a dog that has a monkey face than it is with a long-muzzled one.

Another reason is that modern Americans work longer hours than every before.  The economic recovery after the recession has led to people spending more and more time at the office, and that means people have far less time to exercise dogs.

People are looking for dogs that don’t require much exercise, and if a dog breed has certain deformities that prevent it from running hard and long all day, then it is going to be the perfect dog for the modern world.

This is the real shame of the modern world.

We now live in a society where it is now much more difficult to own more active and more soundly constructed dogs, so we are turning to dogs that were largely cast aside because of their unsoundness.

It will take a long time for bulldogs to replace Labradors as the top breed. Indeed, I don’t see it happening any time soon. However, it is possible that they could make it into the top 3 breeds very soon. The AKC doesn’t release numbers of the dogs it registers. One reason it doesn’t is that most American dogs are not AKC-registered and that number has dropped over the past two decades. We really don’t know the relative popularity of particular dog breeds in the population at large, but the AKC registrations do suggest that bulldogs are rising in popularity.

The number of people who are willing to spend so much money for a dog must be much higher than I would have assumed. Bulldogs are not cheap.

And their vet bills aren’t cheap either.

But the allure of having a dog that looks like cartoon character, loves kids, and doesn’t have much of a need for exercise must be stronger than any of the money sense that goes into considering bringing a dog into a home.

Of course, my guess is there isn’t that much consideration going on at all.

The urban jungle and popular culture are working against good sense in choosing a dog, and if the future of dogs in this country is the bulldog, then we’ve totally lost whatever it means to appreciate Canis lupus familiaris. Just as the Chinese bred the peke with bent legs so it wouldn’t run off, the bulldog’s utter lack of physical soundness is now an asset in the modern world.

That’s just not a good future for dogs.

If the only way they can live with us is to be like bulldogs, then this is indeed a very dark development.

We have become so alienated from nature that we have forgotten what dogs are, and if we have lost sight of what dogs are about, then there isn’t much hope for the rest of the creatures on this planet.

We’re losing the plot.

We’re losing them, just as we’re losing ourselves.

And we may never regain any of it.

This is the real story behind the bulldog’s rise, and no cute little press releases about the AKC’s top are going to change anything about this dire situation.

Only connecting the modern world with real dogs in a truly meaningful way will ever stem the dismal tide, and such a task may be all but impossible.

If we lose real dogs, then we truly will be alone on this planet. Even though we evolved from earlier earthlings, we will become aliens here.

Our only companions will be these deformed dogs, who might as well be aliens to the rest of their kind as well.

Information-filled but largely ignorant humanity will reign will reign with debased canids licking our fingers.

This should not be where dogs and people wind up, but unfortunately, it may be where the final story of our kind ends up.

And it may not be stopped.

This is the true tragedy of our kind and theirs.





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This is Kali, and before you go searching about what kind of dog she is, I’ll just tell you this:  She is a Nepali kukur– a Nepalese dog.

“Kukur” means dog in Nepali, and Kali is what we would call a village dog or what I have sometimes called a “nonbreed dog.”

What I mean by that is that her ancestors were never part of any kind of closed registry breed, but these village dogs were a source for all the breed diversity we have today.

There is some debate as to whether this type represents the original dog. I tend to think the original type was more or less something like a laika or a laika with wolf ancestry. That’s because the bulk of the evidence suggests that dogs were domesticated before there were ever villages or agriculture.

I think the village dog is the transition between the hunting wolfy spitz and the modern breed dogs. Dogs that became distinct from wolves were more like laikas, but as we came rely upon dogs less and less for protein and fur procurement, the village-type dog had a chance to evolve.

We don’t know about Kali’s exact ancestry. We just know that she was rescued from a bad case of mange and emaciation. She was born in the Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu, and when she was discovered, she was nearly hairless. She was taken to the Kathmandu Animal Treatment Centre (KAT Centre), where she was treated for her conditions.

And she met her best friend, Simona Savoldelli. Simona is the one who rescued little Kali from the temple.

And it is with Simona she now lives.

Not in Nepal, but in the wilds of the Swiss Canton of Graubünden.

Simona writes about the adventures she has with Kali on her blog, “A Dog in the Mountains,” and she made this lovely video about Kali, who has been trained to retrieve dummies, assist in wilderness SAR, and even do a bit of sled-pulling:


Kali is proof that a dog doesn’t have to be of a specific breed to be exceedingly beautiful. Svelte bodied with wolf-colored fur, expressive floppy ears, and brown eyes that reflect a sort of deep and noble intellect, Kali is having a wonderful life in Switzerland.

She is a good dog, and you can tell from her owner’s video that she means the world to her.

Yesterday was Kali’s third anniversary of arriving in Switzerland.  With such diverse ancestry, Kali could easily experience another 15 anniversaries.

She is a good dog who found the right person.




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A few years ago, I did a blog post about a wetterhoun/golden retriever cross.

A wetterhoun, as you may recall, is a water dog from the Friesland province of the Netherlands. The dog was used to hunt otters and polecats, as well as being used as waterfowl retrievers. In function, they are very similar to the market hunter’s water spaniels or water dogs that were once common across the North Sea from Norfolk to the River Tweed.

The owner of the above dog commented on my post leaving this photo of the dog in profile. The dog is much more retrievery in conformation than wetterhounesque. (I always wanted to use wetterhoun and -esque in a word).

wetterhoun golden retriever

Apparently, someone has bred this cross back into golden retrievers, because here is a dog that is 3/4 golden retriever and 1/4 wetterhoun.

The backcross is even more like a golden retriever. Indeed, if this same dog were seen in, say, 1890,  we’d have to call it a wavy-coated retriever.

I don’t know how common crossbreeding is in wetterhouns, but this is still very much a working breed in its native region in the Netherlands. There has historically been a lot of crossbreeding between wetterhouns and the other Frisian gun dog breed, the Stabyhoun. I had heard rumors that crossbreeding between stabyhoun and wetterhoun were again happening, though on a much more limited scale, but I cannot find any record of it.

If the dog in the last photo had been selected to be gold or yellow in color, I don’t think you could tell it from a purebred golden retriever.

So these two breeds, though similar in function and perhaps ancestry, could be used in a backcross program without many problems.

It’s just that in the dog world that exists right now, we don’t have the ability to do this with legitimacy.

This has to change.


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