Archive for January, 2009

From the youtube user goldensonly.

Again, this is the image that comes to my mind when the words “golden retriever” are mentioned.

For those of you who don’t know goldens, this rolling around on the floor and nipping each other is a very common behavior. I call it the “Break-Dancing Crocodile” maneuver.

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Leave your guesses in the comments section.

Also, I will take the industry name for this species. It has a wonderful industry name.

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My grandmother's red miniature dachshund was a biter.

My grandmother's red miniature dachshund was a biter.

There are certain breeds of dogs that are forever etched in my memory.

Among these is a red miniature smooth-coated dachshund (Teckel, Dackel– I’ll explain the distinction later). I should mention here that I’m of German-American extraction, and one of the signs my family’s ethnic pride was to get one of these dogs.

The first of these lived with my grandparents while my father and uncle were adolescents to young adults. He was a standard dachshund with a smooth coat. Apparently, he was an oddity among standard dachshunds with smooth coats because he had all the hunting instincts and ability of the wire-haired hunting dachshund of Germany. He was a superb rabbit hunter, and he could game trail shot large game, just as his ancestors were used in the old country. He was a clever dog. Highly trainable for a sort of hound/terrier.

When he passed on, he was replaced with another red smooth-haired dachshund. However, this dog was treated like a small baby. She was only a few inches long when she arrived. She was also clever, but she used it to devious ends. She also was able to use her teeth to get what she wanted, and by the time she was two, she was biting people regularly. My grandmother never bothered to train her. She just coddled her little baby.

This was the only dog to have ever bitten me, and as a result, I have a few issues with red dachshunds, especially little ones with smooth coats. This dog bit me on more than one occasion, so you know how much this could affect my perception of this breed. I’m sure they’re not all nasty little red Nazi dogs, but I’m still unable to get the image out of my mind.

However, I happen to be somewhat of an admirer of the working Dachshund, which is still used in Germany. It is not called a Dachshund, which means “badger dog.” This term is a generic phrase that can mean the breed we call the Dachshund and to mean the two breeds of Dachsbrache (badger hound) that still exist in the Old Country (the Westphalian and the Alpine). The Westphalian is very rare, although its close cousin, the Drever, is still known in Sweden. The Alpine dog still exists in limited numbers.

The breed we call the Dachshund is known as the Dackel, which is probably a diminutive of the word for Dachsbracke. The Dackel was originally a smooth-haired dog, probably derived from crossing pinschers (German pseudo-terriers) with  the Dachsbracke. This dog was then crossed with the old German spaniel and English cocker spaniels to create the long-haired variety. And crosses griffon bassets, schnauzers, poodles, and maybe Dandie Dinmonts created the wire-haired variety, which is much more preferred as a working dog. All of these dogs are called Dackel, until they pass a scent trailing test. At that point the dogs become Teckel (I know them more as Teckel than Dackel for some reason. Perhaps it is  the dialect of German I’m more familiar with).

In the US and UK, the dachshund comes in two sizes: a miniature and a standard. Standards, according the AKC, run from 16 to 32 pounds (quite a range), while the miniatures are all under 11 pounds. The reason why there is such a gap is probably to prevent cross-breeding of sizes. In the US, the coat types are typically never interbred, even though they are members of the same breed.

In Germany (and the FCI standard), there are three sizes: Standard/Normalschlag, Dwarf/Zwerg, and Rabbit/Kaninchen. The Standard dog has a chest circumference of 35 cm. The Dwarf variety has a chest circumference of 30-35 cm. The Rabbit variety has a chest circumference up to 30 cm.

The reason why the chest is so important is that it determines which game the dog can be used against. The Normalschlag/Standard can be used on wild boar, foxes, and badgers, while the little Rabbit dachshund is a small game hunter and ratter. It is a specially designed dog for flushing rabbits. The ideal weight for one of these little ones is about 7 pounds.

My grandmother’s little terror weighed 7 pounds. If only my grandparents had known that the little ones are also designed for work, they might have worked with their little biter and made her into a great hunting dog. Then maybe she wouldn’t have decided to hunt everyone in the neighborhood.

P.S. I prefer not to type umlauts. Keep the comments in “Die Englische Sprache.”

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the old wavy-coat and the curly.

The first two retriever breeds: the old wavy-coat and the curly.

I know I have written a similar post on the various histories of the golden and flat-coated retrievers, but I think that this history is worth repeating.

The story of retrievers begins with the end of the last vestiges of manorial system in Britain and the Industrial Revolution. Both of these events happened in the late nineteenth century. Theorists have long argued about the causal relationship between the two, but both events complemented each other. Large numbers of people in England were driven out of the countryside during several centuries called “the Enclosure.” These people largely provided the first labor market for the first factories and provided the muscle behind the British navy and private and crown armies.

The technology that had developed as result of the new industrialized production and the opening of new markets as a result of imperialism created great wealth. A whole new class of rich and upper middle class was created. These new rich were deeply influenced with the Romantic movement, which argued that man was happiest in the country “doing country sport.” There were large agricultural lands in Britain that were now overproducing food as result of the agricultural revolution that occurred at roughly the same time. There were far fewer people living in the countryside, because of the centuries of the Enclosure. Thus, there was enough land for these sporting individuals to set up their own shooting preserves, complete with gamekeepers to control game stocks.

Gundogs in Britain evoloved rather peculiarly. In most of Europe, a dog could point, flush, and retrieve, and it would be considered a good dog. In Britain of that day, however, spaniels were used to flush game, and setters and pointers were used as index dogs.  This created a division of labor among gundogs.

The idea of a dog for picking up game is not new. The British had always had their rough water dogs and water spaniels for that purpose. However, these dogs were not exactly what the sporting gentleman had in mind. He needed a much faster dog for picking up, and by the early nineteenth century, various dogs began to be used for this work.

The Rev. Thomas Pearce or “Idstone” in his seminal work The Dog (1872) believed that the retrievers evolved from some sort of setter. However, William Nelson Hutchinson’s Dog Breaking  (1869) finds that all sorts of breeds were used as retrievers.  Idstone does mention that collies and “Newfoundlands” were used in their founding. He also points out that water spaniels played a role in creating the curly-coated retriever. However, Hutchinson is very specific in which breeds made up the main retriever lines of that period.


Hutchinson believes the dogs are derived from the following breeds: the dog on top is a water spaniel/”Newfoundland” cross, the dog on the lower left is a cross between a water spaniel and a setter, and the dogs on the lower left are “Newfoundland”/setter cross. The reason why I put “Newfoundland” in quotations is that this word could mean any sort of water dog from Newfoundland, including the big one. (See this pic of a Landseer Newf retrieving.)

Out of this retriever soup came the foundation of all the modern retrievers developed in Britain. In 1854, the curly-coated retriever was standardized as  distinct form. The original curly was a diverse breed, as one could expect from its ancestry in various forms of water spaniel. The early photos of curly show as smaller dog with longer hair than the modern breed. By the late nineteenth century, this breed was bred to be a much larger dog with a very tightly curled coat. One one working strain of curly, the Norfolk, continued on for several years as a distinct breed, but the big curly began to shift from a working dog to fancy show dog. It is the first retriever breed to be standardized by the fancy. It was also the first one to be ruined by it.

By the late nineteenth century, this breed was on its way out as a working dog. It was unknown in retriever trials in early twentieth century, although its cousin, the Norfolk, was still around. It was rapidly being replaced by the other early retriever breed, the old wavy-coated retriever.

Wavy-coats became popular through the exploits of two dogs in early retriever trials, “Old Bounce” and “Young Bounce.” These dogs were very common in Britain, probably because of the use of Welsh black setter in the outcross and the fact that Newfoundland fisherman and hunters often gave away long-haired puppies to British merchants. William Epps Cormack, who once walked across Newfoundland in 1822 wrote that “[t]he smooth or short haired dog is preferred because in frosty weather the long haired kind become encumbered with ice on coming out of the water.”  So the long-haired St. John’s water dogs were probably easily procured from Newfoundland, but the smooth-haired ones were very hard to come by. They were simply too economically useful.

Long-haired St. John's water dog.

Long-haired St. John's water dog.

This breed was prefectly designed for English driven shoots for pheasants and hares. By end of the ninteenth century, this breed replaced the curly as the main working retriever.

I should note here that there were wavies of colors other than black, probably as the result of crossbreeding with setters. Landseer painted a reddish gold retriever named “Breeze”, and Sir Francis Grant’s “Shooting Party-Ranton Abbey” depicts a yellow wavy-coat with some rather unsual ears. Both of these depictions are from the 1840’s. Yellows and reds were always part of the old wavy-coated breed, in part because of the red setters and yellow water spaniels that were crossed into the breed.

These two breeds did have slightly different bloodlines. The curly had a sharper temperament than the old wavy. In the big trials that developed, aggression with other dogs could not be tolerated, so the original curly really had lots of trouble fitting into the new scene.

However, the splitting of the British retrievers into new breeds had only just begun. The Labrador and golden retrievers appear to be absent from this analysis. And what about the Chesapeake Bay retrievers, the Murray River curlies, and Nova Scotia duck tollers? These three breeds are not British, of course, and they developed on a very different trajectory.

I shall continue this analysis in another post to come.

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This dog isn’t a working dog. He’s a pet.

But he does retrieve with a rather stong intensity:

He’s what used to be average, pet quality for a golden. I could get a dog like this out of the newspaper.

With some work, he’d be a find working dog, although probably not a top trial contender.

In most parts of the US and nearly all parts of Europe, finding a good goldens is a bit like looking for a rare breed. In fact, you’d probably be better off looking for flat-coats or trial quality Labs, because the quality of these dogs are a bit better able to ensure.

A dog like this one could be trained and molded into a decent working dog. All I look for in a pup is relatively strong retrieving instinct. If I have that, I can work with it. (I’m much more concerned about genetic disorders and the conformation of the parents. I don’t want to get a blond Newfoundland.)

A dog like this one wouldn’t last five minutes in a dog show. He’d just be a point dog for some flowing coated, blocky “beauty” to beat.

This dog is probably a bit too much for the average pet owner, but he’s not entirely unsuitable as a pet. Provided, of course, that he receives exercise.

It’s very likely that he’s just a pet-line dog, whose ancestors aren’t that far removed working dogs. Where I live, most pet-line dogs are of this type.

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white golden retriever wikipedia

I often get comment that there is such a thing as a “white golden retriever.”

I hate to explain this again, but sometimes, it’s worth repeating.

All golden retrievers are recessive e/e (yellow to red) for their coat color. All of them. No one has found a dog that carries the white masking gene, which is found in bull terriers and boxers. No one.

Even these dogs that appear to be white are not white in terms of genetics.

And there is an easy way to test this: get the dog wet. Usually, one of these dogs gets wet, it will have a yellow tinge to its coat.

These people who are selling “rare white goldens” are con artists or ignorant of the actual genes involved. There is no such breed as a “British white retriever.” It is actually the European show-line golden that is very pale in color.

Again, my next question is why do you want a dog like this?

Is it because of the novelty of color?

Is it because the breeders tell you the dogs are calm and mellow?

Is it because Oprah has a couple?

It might surprise you to know how recently this color variety developed. I’ve looked at paintings and photographs of hundreds of early goldens. None of them are of this color. None. The much peddled myth that the first Guisachan dogs were of this color doesn’t hold much weight when there are actually paintings of the first litter. They were light gold, not cream. And the 1st Baron Tweedmouth bred in setters to darken the color.

I can explain this 100 or 200 or 50,000 times, and I still have explain the genetics of the color.  Also, because there is recessive nature to the light color gene, if you breed for light color, you cannot breed dark colored dogs from light colored parents. That’s why in Europe, dark colors very quickly got bred out of the lines.

Again, I’ll it ONE more time (although I’m kidding myself, I’ll say it again) there is no such thing as a white golden retriever. All we are doing in breeding for the light color in some golden retriever and the mahogany in Irish setters is messing around with the intensity of the yellow to red color. It’s the same color genetically, e/e.

Interesting, “white” German shepherds don’t exist either for the same reason. And West Highland white terriers are of the same color. It’s a very diluted e/e coloration. (Although in these breeds, it’s impossible to see the yellow color.) Check out this study on the cream color. And check out this page on “white” color.

Interestingly, all the supposed white e/e’s have close relatives that come in the more traditonal yellow or red colors for the gene. Westies are close relatives of the Cairn terrier, which does come in a goldish yellow color. American “Eskimo” dogs (American version of the white German spitz) and Samoyeds also come from dogs that can come in the reddish or yellow color. (See the coloration of some reindeer herding spitzes or the typical coloration of a Pomeranian. Some Samoyeds are creamy colored–“biscuits.”) I knew a gold-colored purebred German shepherd.  These white dogs are actually very diluted yellows.

But they are not white in the same way that bull terriers or white boxers are white.

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Some issues about dogs are just too contentious for me to discuss on this blog. There are two that I’m not going to touch with a ten foot pole.

1. Training methods.

I have my own opinions on which methods work best to train dogs. You probably have your own. Whatever I write about my views on dog training is not going to change your mind, because we both have a system that works for us. Why should we have this discussion anyway?

2. What you should feed a dog.

Same reasons. And in feeding dogs these days, we have so many different warring camps that I’m pretty sure a discussion of dog nutrition is going to launch some people. I have little interest in listening to these various polemics about dog food. If it works for you, continue using it. That’s my advice on dog food.

Those two issues right there start more fights among dog people than anything else. And I think we should be devoting more of our energies to making dog conformation and breeding practices better.

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From the user MandyLionWWIII, who is very concerned about breeding dogs for healthy conformations.

See what happened to the golden retriever here.

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The Article.

For your enjoyment, some videos with that feature a golden retriever and some cats.

From the youtube user comadano

And another, with a dog more of my type:

From the youtube user wintergray.

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The petition is here.

Why do I oppose breed specific legislation?

Pit bulls are the breed most often targeted. Pit bulls are not a breed. They are a type. Various dogs look like pit bulls, so al sorts of dogs can be deemed dangerous, even if they are nice Lab mixes. The Pit bull classification is a nebulous term.

Some lines of Pit Bull are very aggressive, game bred animals.  Most lines aren’t of this type. However, it’s very possible to buy a nice “American stafforshire terrier,” and maybe get a dog that bites someone. That does not mean that we need breed specific legislation.

Even if pit bulls are banned, there are dozens of other breeds that are bigger and even more likely to be aggressive than pit bulls or any of the other breeds usually mentioned in these laws. There are all sorts of fighting dogs from the developing world that could be imported as replacements for pit bulls.

Further, there are too many nice pit bulls around and too many nasty golden retreivers. Our idea about which dog is super-aggressive is really a matter of culture. Goldens might be a top biting breed now, but I’ve never heard of anyone wanting to ban them.

Finaly, if pit bulls or any other breed is banned, the owners will simply go underground. The dogs won’t get the vet care they need. In Ontario, where there is a total ban on bull and terrier breeds, the dogs still live there, but the law is haphazardly enforced. This means that there are lots of dogs living in the shadows. Do we really want dogs living in the shadows?

We do need laws to stop super-aggressive dogs. However, I’ve seen super aggression in Labs, and that breed is deemed the all-American family pet (even though it’s a Canadian-British breed.) We need laws that regulate bad dog behavior and irresponsible ownership.

Breed specific legislaton is a good thing for politicians to run on. Every pit bull attack is sensationalized, almost as badly as every missing white girl. But as a sound policy, it must be opposed. We have to think about the real unintended consequences of such a policy.

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