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Archive for the ‘working dogs’ Category

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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Scottish terriers by the tail

Crufts always brings about controversies, but this year, I truly do dream of the days when best of breed bulldogs and Clumber spaniels failed mandatory health checks and dog fancy had a collective meltdown all across the worldwide web.

This year, the big controversies have largely been outside the general interests of this blog. There are reports that an Irish setter was poisoned at Crufts, but this is such a serious accusation that I will leave it alone. We don’t know all the facts. If we were dealing with a dog poisoner, then we’re dealing with a vile person.

And I’m not really interested in talking about truly vile people. Individual malevolence is certainly worthy of scorn, but I’m a structuralist. I’m much more interested in the collective evils that plague society, and in this case, I’m interested in the collective problems with the dog fancy.

Crufts didn’t give us much of that this year, but at the Best in Show judging and presentation, two things happened that got large numbers of people riled.

The one I thought would be more consequential was when a PETA activist stormed the floor with a sign that read “Mutts Against Crufts.” If this had been Westminster, I’m pretty sure we would all still be talking about him. I am not a big fan of PETA, and I’m not sure that this publicity stunt really put the purebred dog reform movement in a good light.

But PETA is not interested in having a rational discussion. It is interested in the theater.

Now, the reason I say that this PETA demonstration would have stolen show if this had been Westminster is because it was overshadowed by another scandal.

This scandal never would have raised the slightest bit of attention in the North American dog show world. That’s because this second scandal involved a handling practice that is so common in North American dog shows that most people don’t even notice it.

When terriers are judged in North America, most of the smaller breeds of terrier are lifted up with one hand on the tail and one hand just beneath the jawline.  Supposedly, it is a way of testing to see if the terriers still have their sturdy tails. If a terrier gets in a bad place, it could be useful to be able to grab it by the tail and pull it safety.

You see this everywhere in North American dog shows. I don’t think it’s he worst way to handle a dog like this, but I don’t think the dogs particularly like it. I’m not someone who is prone to picking up dogs in this fashion, so I honestly don’t what the science is behind the welfare issues involved. I am officially agnostic on the issue.

The dog that won Best in Show was a Scottish terrier. This is one of the smaller terrier breeds that is generally lifted up in this fashion at American shows.  The handler of this winning terrier, Rebecca Cross, is an American, and I’m sure she’s done the tail lift scores of times in the show ring.

And no one said thing.

But when she did it at Crufts–in front of all those cameras– uproar quickly ensued!

100,000 people signed an online petition to have the terrier stripped of her win.

This, of course, created outrage among the show set. The claim pretty much goes that lifting them by the tail gives the judge an idea if the terrier has a sturdy enough tail. If this terrier happened to be deep in the ground battling with a whole clan of badgers and the only thing that the owner had to grab was its tail,  then that sturdy tail would be a life saver.

The problem with that claim is that Scottish terriers are actually working earth dogs.

In Scotland, terriers were used more to bolt the badger and the otter than their English counterparts. Both the badger and the otter are now protected species. The rural Scottish culture that created these terriers doesn’t even exist.  The Scottish countryside was once full of crofters.  In the eighteen and nineteenth centuries, the Clearances depopulated the land in much of rural Scotland. The crofters were driven off the land in favor of sheep, grouse moors, and deer stalking grounds.

The working man’s terriers became show dogs, and the general prick-eared terrier from Scotland became the West Highland white, the cairn, the Skye, the Paisley, and the Aberdeen. The Aberdeen type is the basis behind the breed we call the Scottish terrier.

Now, terriers are still widely used in the United Kingdom, even though “terrier work” is quite controversial over there. There are still plenty of working red fells, Patterdales, Lakelands, borders, Plummers, and Jack Russells. There are even working strains of Bedlington terrier, which is a breed that North Americans think is only for the show ring .

But there are no working strains of Scottish terrier. You will not find them anywhere. A lot of Scottish terriers still have the temperament needed for this sort of activity. George W. Bush had a Scottish terrier that loved to dig out armadillos, but no one can honestly say that there is a great demand for an armadillo dog.

And a nine-banded armadillo is nothing like a European badger or otter.

So if no one is really breeding a working Scottish terrier, the entire ritual of picking it up by the tail is just playing make believe.

At the most charitable, it is a hypothetical abstraction. It’s not a real adaptation on a real working dog.

This year’s big controversy, which I’m calling “Tailgate,” is more revealing about the culture of the dog show than it is about welfare concerns.

My guess is that the Kennel Club will make a very strong stand against picking up terriers by the tail at its shows.

And that will be it.

Meanwhile, Scottish terriers will continue to have very high rates of cancer and von Willebrand disease. They will continue to suffer from their own peculiar disorder called “Scottie cramps,” and they will continue to have an average lifespan of about 10 years.

Which, for a terrier, is pretty pathetic.

And it is a shame. This breed does occasionally have a reputation for being a bit surly, but a lot of these dogs are real characters, very sharp and responsive and clever creatures.

They are known for the deep loyalty to their people, and it is a real shame that people have allowed this breed to go so far downhill.

They have come a long way from the badger setts and otter holts, but now they must be looked at more realistically.

Playing pretend about the sturdy tails isn’t helping the discussion at all.

All of this rancorous debate over the ethics of terrier-lifting isn’t going to amount to much.

It’s just going to continue on. One camp will say that it is causing the terriers too much pain and stress, while the other is pretending they are evaluating real working dogs.

There is no real room for a discussion about the issues raised by closed registries and popular sires in this debate, and as this debate rages, much time and energy is being wasted.

Such is the tragic condition of the dog world in 2015.

Side-tracked by Tailgate.

 

 

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Central European retrieving tests require the dogs to retrieve fur, including foxes.

Note that this GSP has not been docked.

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Pavel goes ermine hunting

Pavel the West Siberian East Kentucky Laika goes ermine hunting in Alberta:

Source.

You don’t see the ermine, but he’s from old sable hunting stock.

 

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vermont foxhunter and hound

The hound is of a strain that was called the old black and tan foxhound, which was common through the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. It was not a pack hound, but it was used by the fur-taker and market hunter. I believe these dogs are descended heavily from a English hound called a “Southern Hound,” which was primarily used to hunt deer and hares.

The many political crises of the British Isles in the seventeenth century resulted in large numbers of dispossessed people relying upon poached deer as a source of protein, and when things eventually settled down, the forests were depleted of deer. The nobles began to develop their hound packs for the pursuit of the red fox.

And the old Southern hounds found themselves without a job. They simply couldn’t run the fox as well as the true fox hound.

So large numbers of these dogs were sent to the North American colonies, which were full of deer and other game that didn’t need to be run as hard as a fox.

Further, red foxes were uncommon south of New York State until the end of the nineteenth century, and when the red foxes wandered down through the Eastern US, these dogs were used to drive foxes to the gun.

The Vermonters would have had a long time to train and develop foxhounds for gun before the rest of the East got their chance.

This photo comes from Fox Trapping (1906) edited by A.R. Harding, which says that the range for the red fox is from Virginia to Alaska. They’ve since made it as far south as Florida.

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It is one of the great myths that North American red foxes are derived from English imports that were brought over in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Our red foxes are native but only colonized south of New York State after colonization.

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pavel killed thunderchicken

Dave has had Pavel out “bark-pointing” ruffed grouse in Alberta.

The other dog is Riley, a Swedish vallhund gnome wolf.

Pavel treed two grouse, and Dave shot both.

But one wound up falling into a deep hole where the only thing that could get it would be a little terrier or maybe a ferret.

 

 

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This one was a hunting mastiff from the north of Italy. My guess is the scars come from the dog’s use as a boar catcher. I doubt that the dog is 10 or 12 years old, but it is certainly an older dog. This is probably very similar to the kind of mastiff-type that the Alani would have had.

Source.

 

 

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