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Quest in a trot

The stills do not do this trot any justice. You have to see it in person to see how amazing it is. His inner hock is not touching the ground either.

flowing gait quest

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Quest in fight

Ever see an AKC German shepherd engage in a double suspension gallop? Well, you  have now.

quest in flight

Diva

diva

Erika is the top bitch in this house. Male puppies cannot bother her and certainly cannot hump her with impunity.

But she is a sweetheart who loves her people.

 

A New Direction

Poet and Quest

I made name for myself on this site once. I was an angry young man, Bolshie as all hell, and my target was the purebred dog fancy.  I allied myself with all sorts of angry people, and people came here to read my latest tirade.

The truth of the matter is that anger is not strength. It is my weakness. Some bloggers can maintain an angry outraged voice for years and years at a time, but I am not among them.

The topic that used to make me see red was conformation dog shows. I would rail against extreme brachycephaly in bulldogs, pugs, and pekingese, and I would attack German shepherds for having too sloped a back, which I was sure was causing them to have spinal degeneration and hip dysplasia.

Many people came to read this stuff. From my current stats, I see that some of my pug posts are really getting attention even now.

I thought I was part of a movement that was going to reform purebred dogs for good. I now no longer think that this movement, such that it exists, is going to solve much of anything. Yes, some European kennel clubs are trying reforms, but the problem isn’t the going to be solved through shaming people.

The documentary Pedigree Dogs Exposed was something I greatly celebrated. I am not so sure that I agree with it now.  I initially thought that it would be used to bring about real reform in the purebred dog culture. I thought this because I misunderstood human nature, and I also totally misunderstood the nature of the modern animal rights movement

These errors led me into nearly a decade of folly. Every attack I made on a particular breed’s conformation just meant that the top breeders would ignore me and the lower tier would spend hours making asses of themselves in the comments section of the blog. The latter part was pretty entertaining, and I’m sure I made quite a bit of money off bulldog fanciers coming to this blog to insult me.

But did it change anything? Well, it added fuel to the fire for modern animal rights movement. I had no real understanding of what the animal rights people wanted, but it seems the most extreme elements of that movement want to create a fundamental change in how we relate to animals, even to the point that we destroy the human-animal bond that has existed ever since some Pleistocene wolves hooked up with people.

This movement has a real problem with breeding dogs for a purpose.  If you breed German shorthairs for field trials, they are as angry with you as they are with pug breeders who breed for the show ring. They will attack pugs for their extreme brachycephaly with the same venom that they will attack tail-docking and dewclaw removal in GSPs.

If there were no animal rights extremist movement out there, then maybe there would be some merit into having a discussion about dog breeding practices. But because there is one,  all this discussion does is create division. Divide and conquer, and soon, you’ll have all sorts of laws passed that make hobby breeding as difficult as possible.

This is not an academic discussion. Every serious pug breeder loves his or her dogs.  They don’t really respond well to campaigns that portray them as dog abusers. And all you’re doing is creating drama that will change little.

And the animal rights movement will make things harder for breeders to fix things. I can see legislation passed that outlaws crossbreeding, which would make attempts like the LUA Dalmatians and the Retromops impossible.

Now, that is the theoretical framework of why I have decided to go a different direction, but in my own life, I’ve had experiences that have changed my perspective. In 2017, I attended a dog show in Florida, where I saw the German shepherds being judged. I didn’t see any of the ataxic gaits that I expected from years of feasting on propaganda.

Instead, I saw dogs with sound temperaments that moved a lot like paso fino horses.  Every single one of them had intelligent, deep eyes, and one puppy that was being handled by an older gentleman who could not make him move out just right had the perfect look of canine joie de vivre as he tried his best to put on a show.

In the spring of 2018, I found myself sitting on the floor of a breeder’s dog room. Little sable and black-and-tan German shepherds cavorted around me. One of the sable males was to be living with us. My girlfriend had just purchased him, and we were awaiting a well-known judge’s evaluation before we were to know which one we were getting.

These puppies were full of joy and happiness. The sable males often would form the three-point stack on their own volition as they played. But what amazed me was how interactive they were. They wanted to be in communion with humanity. The drive was there at six weeks old, and I knew at that moment that there was something special about these dogs.

Our puppy moved in with us. Quest started out as a floppy creature with massive paws, but over the months hes matured into an amazing dog. His temperament is dead solid. He loves other dogs, and he will play fetch for hours. My girlfriend can train him to do just about anything. His hocks do not touch the ground, but he has that beautiful floating gait that I personally find aesthetically appealing. Experts in the breed think he is special stuff, which tells me that no one in the breed wants to produce dogs that walk on their hocks or have ataxic gaits. They want that sound flowing movement and a gorgeous three-point stack.

And the people I’ve met in the breed are the best dog people I’ve ever encountered. They are mostly down-to-earth and welcoming. They let you ask questions. They want you to  learn. They love the dogs so much that they know the only future is to work together and bring in new people. As a breed, they have a good understanding of how to health test and use those results intelligently so that they don’t bottleneck the breed even more.

And the thing that really shortens the lifespan of GSD is not related to their conformation at all. It is related to a recessive allele that puts the dogs at risk for spinal cord degeneration. This condition, called degnerative myelopathy, is a problem for the breed,b but it exists in “straight-backed” working dogs, backyard-bred dogs, and show dogs. We recently fostered a GSD cross that was three quarters GSD and one quarter “supermutt,” and he was found to be homozygous to be at risk for DM.  This dog was as straight-backed as a beagle, but in 7-10 years time, he could be paralyzed, and this is a dog that supposedly has hybrid vigor because of his mixed breeding.

No one has produced a scintilla of evidence that American-bred German shepherds suffer because of their conformation, and because the breeders of these dogs have taken hip dysplasia quite seriously,  many dogs from these lines have OFA excellent and OFA good hips.  I can’t say that about the non-AKC English shepherd, a type of collie,  which is bred solely for work and has a semi-open registry. These dogs have real problems with hip dysplasia, but they have never received much scrutiny from the purebred dog reformists.

They are working dogs, and they get a much more vaunted status in that community. Blame Donald McCaig for creating that illusion that has created this exculpation. He thought that working dogs were just exempt from that scrutiny.

So yes, living with these dogs and becoming part of this community has changed me. And yes, it is profound.

And at the same time, I am as troubled by the hypocrisy of the reformers, who turn a blind eye to extreme behavioral conformation and even health issues in working strains and breeds. It doesn’t matter that real working-bred German shepherds are dogs with so much drive that the average person has no business having one. And yes, I do love working German shepherds. They are great dogs, but if you don’t want a dog that is about as smart as a border collie and about as active that also may engage in protective behavior, you really don’t want one. You’re better off with a more chill show dog.

Every single breed and every single strain of dog has its problems. Breeders can fix those problems, or they can ignore them because they like other traits. Accepting that this is a reality is quite hard for some people, but accepting this reality is the first step towards understanding. Yes, there are problems. And yes, people really do care.

I am now of the mind that I want to support hobby breeders. I want to support a movement that gives them power to produce dogs that are wonderful in their eyes.  I want to be able to have a saluki that is half desert-bred and half Kazakh, even if the official kennel clubs will never recognize him as a saluki. I want to be able to breed AKC German shepherds that have sound flowing movement, sound temperament, and high intelligence.  And I want other dog lovers to have that freedom. I don’t oppose crossbreeders. I don’t oppose show breeders. I support dogs and dog people.

That’s why I am leaving this older movement that has empowered animal rights fanatics too much. It is bittersweet that I am stepping away. I am sure that I’ve lost a few readers since I’ve changed my mind on German shepherds. I will probably lose more after this post. But this post had to be written. I couldn’t live with myself any longer.

What drove me to this movement was a deep sorrow. I missed a working-type golden retriever that I had known in my youth. This dog haunts my psyche. She haunts my prose.

But in some way, I was being held hostage to the past.  I no longer am.  Golden retrievers will never be my breed in the same way again. I will love those old dogs. I will still celebrate their history, but I’ve given up the fight to keep them lithe and wiry and smart and dark. That was an uphill battle that was lost long ago. My prose kept that hope alive only in my mournful delusions.

So I’ve gone a new direction. I am different now. Someday, I’ll show you my litter of German shepherds that I’ve bred from titled, tested parents, and they will only exist because I was willing to admit that I wrong.

The dogs changed my narrow mind.

 

 

 

 

black coyote

For most of my life, scientists believed that the present era was still the Holocene.  Glaciers retreated with a global warming trend around 11, 650. Man went from being the apex predator over much of the world and became the apex consumer. Agriculture allowed our populations to expand, and we started to give up our wandering ways and became “civilized.”

It was generally believed that the past few centuries are but a continuation of this age, but now a growing number of scientists believe we have left the Holocene and entered into the Anthropocene. Several scholars have issues with this new distinction, but I think it is quite useful. In this era, human activity is the main factor affecting climate and ecology, which is why the age is named for the Greek word for human (anthropos).

The best argument I’ve seen for when this era began is 1610.  In this scenario, the era is dated to when European disease and conquest killed off enough Native Americans and enslaved and enough African had been enslaved to allow forests to grow back in former agrarian fields.  This process started in 1492, but by 1610, enough of those trees had grown to remove enough carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to push the planet into the Little Ice Age.

Darcy Morey and Rujana Jeger have a great model for understanding dog domestication as a change in trophic strategies.  In the Pleistocene ecosystems, most wolves were mesopredators, playing second fiddle to an ecosystem full of cave lions, machairodonts, large bears, and cave hyenas. When these wolves hooked up with people, though, they hitched their wagon to the species that often behaved as the apex predators in the ecosystems.  When humans switched to agrarian lifestyles during the Holocene, humans became apex consumers, and dogs joined us as beneficiaries of being allied to that apex consumer species.  During the Holocene, many wolves became apex predators, as the cave lions and other large predators became extinct.

I’ve always liked the framework that Morey and Jeger derived in this paper, but now that we’re entering into a new geological age, maybe we need to look at the change in trophic strategies of wolves in this new age.

Morey and Jeger don’t have a good framework for what happened to wolves in the Anthropocene, but across Eurasia and North America, wolves were gone from many human-dominated landscapes by the first decades of the twentieth century.  They existed only in isolated areas in Western Europe, and in the  lower 48 states of the US, they lived only in Minnesota and in an isolated region in East Texas and Louisiana, where the taxonomically controversially red wolves were located.

Large pack-hunting wolves were really in quite a bit of trouble.  In the United States, the coyote population began to expand out of its Western core range into the Great Lakes States. They eventually made to New England and the Maritimes of Canada, and they hybridized with relict wolves and the expanding population of domestic dogs.  Coyotes eventually colonized all the Eastern states, and as they did so, they largely became the apex predators in many parts of their range.

But in the 1960s, attitudes about wolves began to change. Many nations protected wolves, and there were often introduction plans in the works.  By the early decades of the twenty-first century, wolves were making significant comebacks in Germany and Italy. The wolves in Italy were often living very much like stray domestic dogs, living large at garbage dumps. Wolves live near large cities in Germany, and how these wolves are going to adapt to living in such human dominated environments is going to be a major question for researchers.

And in throughout Eurasia, we began to see that domestic dogs were mating with wolves.  Indeed, it is now estimated that a majority of wolves in Eurasia have relatively recent dog ancestry. 

Similarly, as coyotes expanded in North America, their genes began to work their way into the wolf population.  Yes, coyotes in a large part of the US have wolf ancestry, but we also have discovered that wolves across North America have coyote ancestry. Indeed, one interesting thing about these genome comparisons is that coyotes and wolves are much more closely related than we initially gleaned form mitochondrial DNA analysis. The calculation is that the gray wolf and the coyote last shared a common ancestor around 50,000 years ago.  This recent common ancestry has a taxonomic implication, which is that coyotes are themselves a divergent form of gray wolf in much the same way domestic dogs are.

In the Anthropocene, the wolves that have done the best have been the domestic dog and the coyote. The domestic dog’s ability to ingratiate itself into human society or live very nicely as an opportunistic scavenger/hunter on the periphery of humanity is a great gift.  The coyote can live as an opportunistic scavenger/hunter as well, and it also can live very nicely as a mousing fox or pack up and hunt deer.

Gene flow among wolves, coyotes, and dogs has made these entities much more fuzzy than we once thought they were. Dog genes are working their way into both the coyote and wolf population.  Strange pelt colors are popping up in the wild animals. The black coloration in domestic dogs was conferred onto the North American wolf population during the Holocene, but this same mutation for melanism has entered the coyote and Italian wolf population in very recent years. Dogs have introduced dewclaws on the hindlegs to some wolf populations, and I have seen photos of Eastern coyotes that have those hind dewclaws as well, which likely were introduced through breeding with domestic dogs.

Coyotes in the East are evolving larger size to become better predators of deer, but becoming larger and more effective ungulate hunters will have a trade-off. As carnivorous mammals grow larger, they become more and more dependent upon large prey to survive.  Very large wolf-like coyotes will lose their ability to live well on small prey and garbage.

So in the Anthropocene, dogs remain allied to the apex consumers. Some coyotes operate as apex predators, and some wolves live as opportunistic scavengers.

And as these creatures adjust their trophic strategies in a much more predator tolerant world, the pseudo species barriers that exist among wolves, coyotes, and dogs can break down. Hybridization among these creatures is likely to be a major feature of their continued evolution, a definite feature and not a bug.

These canids  thus make the leap with us into this human dominated age, an age that is experiencing a mass extinction of amphibians and great retrenchment of large sharks and big cats.

Yet they are still there. Evolving as the winds change. Winds that we ourselves are changing and are only now starting to understand.

Streamer the saluki pursued by Poet the whippet. Streamer is half desert-bred saluki and half tazi from Kazakhstan. He’s a saluki by DNA and by common sense and maybe by the UKC.

Kazakh vs. all england

The Grounding

streamer on the run

I readily admit that I am an odd human being. A lot of times, my mind is lost in thought and contemplation, and more than a few times, I become transfixed by animals.  I am a hard person to know, because my mind is drawn deeper into those forces than is typical for a member of my species.

I suppose these are the traits of someone who wishes to write about animals, but they are also the traits of an oddball. And I’ve always been an oddball.

I grew up in rural West Virginia, where things were meant to be a certain way, and I never fit the mold very well. I tried to be Christian through my youth and early adulthood, but slowly, I began to realize that I couldn’t be a Christian and be honest with myself.

I came to worship nature, the rocks, the trees, and the animals, and I realized I didn’t need a faith imported Palestine by way of the Roman Empire and the Anglo-Germanic Reformation to understand the world.

Add that problem with the simple fact that my worldview has drifted to the left as I’ve matured, and I now know that I am fully estranged from the land in which I was born. Fundamentalist religion, xenophobia, and fossil fuel worship have generally pushed the people of this forgotten Eastern Outback towards the right.

In so many ways,  I am unmoored, adrift.

But dogs are always going to ground me, though. Their magic is that they exist somewhere between the untouchable animal world and our very contrived civilization.  They are the conduit through which I can be connected to that which is organically evolved and that which is domesticated.

I live with more than a few of them now, a motley crew of German shepherds and sighthounds.

Not one of them is a golden retriever, as odd as that now seems. I have come to the conclusion that my love for that breed comes from my relationship with one individual that was totally atypical for the breed, and she was certainly atypical for what people want to produce in the breed.  People want them to be easier to keep, lower drive creatures with lots of bone.

That golden flame has burned out in my desires. It will still haunt my psyche, but I have finally let it go.

My writings on other wildlife stem from my dog connection. I go to their to closest wild kin, the gray wolf complex and then out to the whole dog family. Then the whole order Carnivora reaches my conscience, and it is but short step before I begin to consider the rest of the Animal Kingdom.

And in short while, I am considering my own station as an insignificant being, a fluttering avatar of carbon in a banal part of the universe. This insignificant being, one with just enough gray matter to question existence, is brought into the deepest humility.

I suppose I do have a religion now.  It is mystical materialism, and my ethics are some form of progressive secular humanism.

And the dogs brought me here. This oddball person who never could fit in a land where conformity is the greatest desideratum now questions in his unmoored existence. But in my unmooring, I am strangely grounded in my own insignificance, as is revealed in the nature of dogs and the rest of nonhumanity.

 

 

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