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gsd wolf

So in the early days of this blog, I was wrong about something.  I wish I had never written a word about German shepherd structure and hips,  because I was essentially parroting nonsense that I’d read somewhere without asking for documentation. The rear angulation of the dog is not related to hip dysplasia. There are plenty of dogs with “extra: rears that have OFA excellent hips.

Also, although one can get worked up about “hock walking,” no one is actually intentionally breeding a German shepherd to walk on his hocks. The goal is to produce flowing side movement, where the dog opens up in the rear and shoulder.  Some dogs may walk on their hocks, but if the dog is just going to be a pet, it’s not a major welfare issue. We have some studies on GSD longevity that show that skeletal and spinal issues are a major reason why they die, but those studies do not provide a break down about the dog’s actual conformation or if the dog died of a condition called degenerative myelopathy, which is a genetic condition that results in the dog’s spinal cord degenerating when it is an older dog.

I know there will be people who refuse to believe a single word I’ve written in these two paragraphs, and they will comment away about what an idiot I am for changing my mind. I honestly don’t care. I have looked at the same evidence you have, and I don’t find it convincing.

At the same time, though, people who have written and promoted the position that I once held about German shepherd structure have unintentionally set the breed up for failure in pet homes.

When we go on and on about how terrible the show dogs are, the pet buying public will naturally turn to breeders who have dogs that lack the rear angulation. The vast majority of German shepherds bred without this angulation are those bred for bite-work or for bite=work competitions. These are wonderful dogs.  It was one of these dogs that turned me into a lover of the breed.

But they are not for everyone. These dogs have lots and lots of drive. They are smart. Some have really high defense drive and little social openness. Some poorly-bred ones are sketchy, and yes, some poorly-bred show dogs are sketchy freaks too.

But when the best dogs of this type are very high drive dogs and the worst are potentially dangerous, you are setting the public up for a disaster. People are getting super working dogs that need constant work and training just to feel content in the home, and the owners work 40 or 50 hours a week.  People are also getting dogs that are neurotic and potentially dangerous.

This is not what most people want when they get a German shepherd, but because people like the me from a decade ago would go on and on about the “crippled” show lines, it has become received wisdom that the pet buying public should not buy a dog bred for conformation.

This is problematic, because most people would be better off with a conformation-bred dog. The reason is that dog shows themselves do place several unintentional selection pressures on breeding stock. A show dog is forced to deal with many, many dogs and lots of people walking around. All of these dogs are intact. Some may be in heat.  Further, every show dog must accept fairly extensive grooming (even whippets!, and they must be able to receive an examination from a judge.

A dog that has a poor temperament simply cannot go through these selection pressures, and although there are dogs that have weird temperaments that do succeed in the ring and do get bred, the general average is for a dog that is far more mentally stable than the typical pet dog.

Also, because no one is breeding show German shepherds to break through windshields to get bad guys, no one is breeding for crazy drive and pain tolerance. The show dogs do have a quite a bit more drive and a need for exercise than the typical pet dog, but their needs are much easier for the typical family to meet.

I say this as someone who loves working line GSD and who will happily own another. I say this as someone who deeply cares for this breed.

But I think we have done a poor job by our constant haranguing of the show dogs in this breed. It is not serving the breed, the dogs, or the public well.

And it is also creating divisions between breeders, the people who should be standing together to ensure that every puppy goes into a loving home and that our favorite disciplines and activities for our dogs remain legal.

So I do feel a lot of guilt for what I have written. The best I can do is correct the errors from here on out.

And if you want a pet German shepherd, check out a breeder who specializes in good conformation stock. You’re far more likely to get what you really want than if you deliberately go searching for “straight-backed” dogs on the internet. The really ethical working dog breeders will steer you away from their dogs anyway, but the working dogs aren’t the first place to look for a pet.  I’m sure there are working GSD breeders who are getting tired of the inquiries from people who are just seeking pets.

So all this rhetoric about crippled show dogs has done a very poor service to the breed. I am deeply sorry that I participated in it.

 

 

 

 

 

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If you watch this clip, you can see several things.

First of all, the trainer makes no claim that his methods will reform this dog into a dog that will never fight other dogs, and when you see the dog enter the room, it absolutely is on the hunt. She is looking at other dogs that way many dogs look at squirrels.

Some pit bull strains have a had a deliberate selection for this sort of behavior. It’s not all in how you raise them. They absolutely will throw it down to get to another dog and kill it.

That’s why these training techniques, which include the judicious use of the electronic collar, are effective.  This dog is being trained so that whatever drive she has that makes her want to kill other dogs can be managed, and she can have a life.

Positive reinforcement is a powerful tool for dog training, but it is not the only way to deal with them.

The foundation of getting this dog under control was set through this session. It will take lots of work and dedication to keep her safe.

Contrary to what people may have thought about my views on this blog, I was never opposed to electronic collars. I was opposed to using them to inflict unnecessary pain on a dog.

After dealing with several pit bulls in my professional and personal life, I can say that many of them do need a firmer hand than most people are willing to give them.  Some of these dogs, once they know you mean business, will absolutely give you their all.

But you have to give them fair and clear leadership signals. You cannot let them walk all over you.

So if this type of dog is going to be popular (and they are very popular), owners and trainers are going to need all the available tools to deal with their behavior.

Electronic collars are now made with so many features and stimulation levels that they are quite humane devices. There are countless trainers doing wonders with them. There are also quite a few jagoffs who are using them for abuse, but we should not punish those good trainers because of bad ones.

About ten or fifteen years ago,  positive reinforcement only became an idea in the dog world.  Positive reinforcement isn’t a bad thing. It’s a great way to teach stylish obedience. It’s also great for teaching commands.

But this good idea took on a sort of unreasoning fundamentalism.  People would often point out that polar bears and orcas could be trained with positive reinforcement alone, so why not dogs?

Well, the problem with that logic is that orcas and polar bears aren’t walked down city streets. They don’t really live in civilization. When they are in captive situations, the public has almost no access to them– and for good reason.

Anyone who has ever walked a dog on a public street knows fully well that many people believe a dog on a public street is public property that must be approached and talked to, regardless of whether the person walking the dog happened to have been in hurry or not.  Can you imagine walking a positive reinforcement only trained polar bear down a street and have some well-meaning stranger walk up to pet it?

Obviously, that won’t ever happen, but we expect dogs to behave with such extreme composure and control.  Most dogs will be able to handle it well, but the dogs that don’t may require different training tools and methods.

And we should, as open-minded individuals living in a free society, be accepting that it’s going to take a lot more than giving a dog treats and ignoring unwanted behavior to make certain dogs safe in public.

If we can’t accept that reality, then we really must accept the consequence that lots of dogs are going to be euthanized for their behavior, because they do require other tools and methods to manage their behavior.

I am not knocking the great strides that have been made in modern behavior modification and training techniques that have come from positive reinforcement/rewards-based training. Those methods are the absolute gold standard in making well-behaved pets.

But they are not the solution for every dog or for every problem dog.

To say otherwise is to be a bit dishonest.

If you’re going to train dogs, the rule of thumb should be to learn as much as you can from as many people as you can, and never stop learning.  An open mind is as useful as an open heart.

And that’s where I come down on the great dog training debate as it exists.  Too much heat has been exchanged by both sides and not enough light.

The truth requires more nuance and understanding than our social media culture can currently handle at the moment. But if you really want to know things, you can find out.

Just keep that mind open.

And for the record, I have trained a dog using an e-collar at low levels. She got so many treats and praise while doing so that she gets quite excited when I pick up her collar and put it on her.  She knows the fun is about to start when that thing comes out.

xolo

The dog world is always an interesting place to observe human behavior.  A few days ago, someone posted a coated Xoloitzcuintli (“Mexican hairless dog”) on an FB group, and I happened to mention the new evidence about the genetics of this dog breed.

This breed has a strong connection to the Mexica/Aztec identity in Mexico. The dog has a Nahuatl name, and when we discuss the Americas pre-Conquest, the civilization that existed in Mexico  was certainly the equivalent of anything in the Old World.

The mutation that causes hairlessness in these dogs has been traced to Mexico around 4,000 years ago. It is conferred by an incomplete dominant allele, and thus, it was able to spread from Mexico into South America, where hairless village dogs still exist in some areas.  Later, these hairless dogs were crossed with various toy breeds to found what has (laughably) been called “the Chinese crested dog.”

Further, we have really good evidence that shows that the indigenous dogs of the Americas were replaced with a genetic swarm of European dogs. This means that the xoloitzcuintli, though it has this mutation that originated in the Americas, is mostly European dog in its ancestry.

What is even more shocking is that a genome-wide analysis that traced the origins of many dog breeds found that the xolo fits in a clade that includes the German shepherd, the Berger Picard, and the Chinook. When a prick-eared regional Italian sheepdog called a Cane Paratore is added to the analysis, the xolo and the Peruvian hairless dog fit closer to that breed than the GSD and Picardy shepherd.

If one thinks about the history of Mexico, the Spanish became deeply involved in turning Mexico into a great place for herding cattle, sheep, and goats, and it would make sense that the typical dog that would have been brought over would have been an Iberian herding dog that is probably quite closely related to the Cane Paratore.

So more analysis was performed with an emphasis on Italian dog breeds. Some of the clades changed position, but xolos and Peruvian Inca orchid dogs remained in this clade closely related to the German shepherd, the various Italian herding dogs, the Berger Picard, and the Chinook.  The Catahoula leopard dog, a celebrated cur dog from Louisiana that is said to have derived from French and Spanish herding dogs brought over by colonists, were found to be closely related to the xolos.

This means that the dog called the xoloitzcuintli is mostly rough pastoral dog from the Iberian Peninsula, and it is not an ancient American breed.

I mentioned all this information on that Facebook group, and it was as if I blasphemed against the Almighty.

Sadly, we have almost lost an entire lineage of domestic dogs. The Conquest of the Americas and the resulting Columbian Exchange changed the genetic fortunes of humans and animals on these continents.

And though people would love for the xolo to be this untouched pure strain of dog. It simply is not.  In fact, it is very heavily admixed with southern European herding dog to the point that the dog is almost entirely that in ancestry. If that hairless trait were not dominant, it likely would have disappeared in the Mexican village dog population, and there would not have been any suggestion that these dogs were anything special.

So by a fluke of the allele, a mostly European herding dog-derived village dog from Mexico became the ancient dog of the Aztecs.

Yep. I ruined that one, too.

quest fourth of july

arctic fox crosses from Norway to Canada

The Guardian reports that an arctic fox has been documented walking 2,000 miles across the sea ice from Spitsbergen in the Svalbard Archipelago to Canada’s Ellesmere Island.

The vixen, a blue phase arctic fox, was collared with a tracking device on Spitsbergen. The Norwegian Polar Institute then followed her travels for the next 76 days. She wandered across the sea ice to Greenland, probably scavenging polar bear kills and catching sea birds. She then wandered across northern Greenland, eventually the sea ice again to settled on Ellesmere.

She traveled an average of 46.3 km per day, which is a little less than 29 miles day. On one day, she traveled  155 km or 96 miles across the ice sheet in Greenland.

Arctic foxes are significantly smaller than red foxes, which kill them where their ranges overlap.  The two species have hybridized in captivity, but the offspring are sterile. Arctic foxes are most closely related to the kit and swift foxes of North America, and they probably could produce fertile hybrids with them if they were ever given the opportunity.

Arctic foxes are not extremely dependent upon sea ice for survival, but the sea ice is useful for augmenting their diets in the winter, when they can follow polar bears.

Because it is unlikely that this fox’s journey is but a fluke, sea ice has been essential in retaining gene flow in the species across northern Eurasia and North America. More research must be performed on the genetics of this species, but it would surprise me if there wasn’t at least some gene flow across the arctic.

Arctic foxes are about the size of a toy dog, averaging 6-7 pounds in weight, but they are so well-adapted to long-distance travel that they can make such amazing journeys.

bulldog

For years, this blog and many others gained lots of views by constantly harping on brachycephalic breeds, especially bulldogs and pugs.  Those were in the days when I was a bit more edgelord in technique, and those were the days when I was significantly more sanctimonious and humorless as person, too.

Sometimes, the ol’ ‘possum spends all his time climbing the persimmon tree, only to discovery the tree is a hickory.  And then he has to climb down and figure out where the persimmon tree actually is.

This is where I am as a person, as a blogger/writer, and as a dog enthusiast. The persimmon tree is somewhere else, and that means taking stock of where I once was and how I can do better.

The issues with brachycephalic breeds are that they never fully oxygenate themselves, and they often have a hard time cooling themselves. I know of certain blogs that spend post after post looking a bulldog and pug nostrils with lots of shaming involved.

The problem is that pet people most don’t care what sanctimonious internet personalities think, and the dog show people, especially those at the top of the game, don’t care either.  The show dog people are going to spend money on health testing and c-sections on their bulldogs, and they will sell them at a high price to homes with resources to care for them.

As pets, they can live full and wonderful lives. They don’t have to have the endurance of a Dalmatian or  German short-haired pointer.

Further, all this shaming didn’t work at all. The popularity of these dogs continues to be quite high. And this shaming has given fuel to the anti-breeder sentiment in the country, which revels in creating division among dog people. This division is why we are getting so many weird laws passed in state houses, ones that ultimately harm responsible dog breeders and do nothing to improve animal welfare.

So I’ve come to the conclusion that what I’ve written about bulldogs and the like in previous years, though well-meaning,  has ultimately been harmful to the things I love the most.

Even if the welfare issues associated with brachycephalic dogs were the greatest issue facing dogs today, shaming people won’t solve the problem.  People will dig in and tell you how awful you are, and whatever wisdom you might have will be simply ignored.

And when we look at the actual welfare issues facing these breeds are they really suffering all that much?  If they live in homes where they are pampered and well-cared for, they are doing pretty well, better than perhaps a billion people living on this planet.

I support educating and disclosing what potential risks of owning a bulldog or pug might entail. I guarantee you that the ethical breeders producing these dogs are disclosing these risks to puppy buyers.

And that should be all that is required of breeder of any breed or strain.

If bulldogs, French bulldogs, and pugs really do have this level of welfare concern, then it will become obvious. In ten years, the craze will have swept through the pet market, and people will be buying something other fad breed.

But I suspect that these health and welfare problems are much easier to mitigate than we have been led to believe, and if they are, why did I waste so much time with this nonsense?

It didn’t even work. And I was a total jerk.

dog_food_brands_named_most_frequently_in_dcm_cases_reported_to_fda

I don’t like posting dog food controversies on this blog, simply because dog food leads to lots of fights.

A few years ago, it was revealed that dogs had more copies of gene that leads to the production of amylase than wolves do. Amylase is used to convert starches into simple sugars, and dogs with these extra copies would be better able to get nutrition from grains.  These extra copies made it easier for dogs to live in human societies that were shifting from hunter-gatherer to the modern agrarian exist.

That study means that dogs can do well on a diet that is rich in grains.  Many members the raw feeding movement,  swear that dogs must be fed only meat and organs. Some dogs do have a real difficulty digesting grain-based dog food, and they certainly would do better on this diet. However, in the raw feeding community, there is a generally held belief that virtually all degenerative disease in dogs can be traced to having corn or some other grain in the diet.

That controversy is still raging, though not in scientific circles. The real controversy with grains and dog food right now comes from the discovery of a linkage between feeding grain free dog food and dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM).  Grain free dog foods have been all the rage in recent years. They provide the convenient kibbles, but unlike grain-based kibble, some sort of legume is used to create the mixture.

Last year, there was deep suspicion that dogs fed a grain free diet were having issues with DCM, and a few days ago, the FDA released a study that shows a very strong linkage between these diets and contracting DCM.

The current hypothesis is that the legumes interfere in some way with he excretion and production of taurine, which creates a taurine deficiency that leads to the DCM.

More research needs to be done, of course.  Taurine is not considered an essential amino acid for dogs, but it very well might be.

Maybe, though, the best thing to feed a dog is a scientifically formulated dog food from a long-established company, one that has performed decades worth of research on its products.

Until we know for sure, maybe it’s safer to feed dogs one of those brands.

I certainly think so.

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