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Archive for April, 2009

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The Serama comes from Malaysia, and it is a small chicken. We usually call small chicken breeds “bantams.” And they are so small, that they can be kept in a relatively small place. Now, bantams of all breeds produce tiny eggs, and if you want to eat one, there’s not that much to make a meal.

These little chickens are the Yorkies of the chicken world. They are bold and curious, and they are quite lively.

Now, if you’re not into that, well, there is a breed of bantam that is the golden retriever of the chickens– the silkie.

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Silkies make perfect brood hens for hatching other birds’ eggs. They very easily can be coaxed into taking eggs that aren’t theirs. This broodiness trait has been bred out of most egg producing strains of chicken.

Also, they have black meat, skin, and bones. They don’t produce much meat, but the Chinese value this black meat for medicinal purposes.

These are but two breeds of chicken that are small enough for the average person to keep. Now, I won’t say that either is a great egg or meat producer, but both can make wonderful and rather exotic looking  pets.

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Music by Ludwig van Beethoven.

Lyrics by Friedrich Schiller

Lyrics in German and English!

Golden hamsters are from Syria.

Tegus are from South America.

They are not natural enemies in the wild.

The only thing that has me worried about this video is the hamster bit the tegu a few times. Those bites can cause an infection.

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How a breed gets started

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Remember the Andean tiger hound and the various strains of double-nosed pointer?

According to that video, it seems that some South American dog fanciers are trying to create an “improved” breed of double-nosed Latin American dog.

This is a good example of how many breeds got started.

If these two dogs in the video did not have the double nose trait, we would think them ordinary pariah-type dogs. We wouldn’t give them a second thought.

However, because they have a double nose, it is now considered a worthy endeavor to turn them into a strain that breeds true.

After all, my breed started out as an unusal color in the wavy/flat-coated retriever breed. It was simply selected for this unusual color in one strain of these dogs.

We are a highly visual species.

Anything unsual in appearance catches our eye. Very often, we get quite excited about unusually colored animals or those with other abnormal physical characteristics.

We breed dogs in so many shapes, sizes, colors, and coats that they all look like separate species, but also have bred virtually all of our domestic animals into such unusual strains. It is simply because dogs have lots of tandem repeats in their DNA sequences that we can produce such unusual specimens in the canine species. I think that the accumulated effects of breeding for so many novelty traits has been detrimental to dogs, but as a species, their ability to morph through selective breeding into so many forms is quite remarkable.

I don’t know whether the South American double-nosed dogs will become a breed, but selecting for an unusual physical trait or behavior is how this process gets started.

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Dachshunds come from Ancient Egypt. Yes, there are people who believe this!

Dachshunds come from Ancient Egypt. Yes, there are people who believe this!

Have you ever gone through one of those compendium dog books that lists or tries to list every breed? Have you ever read the de rigueur “Origins” or “History” section that accompanies every breed’s entry?

Well, most of what you are reading in those histories is unsubstantiated lore, and sometimes outright falsehood.

The golden retriever once had in its official history that it descended from Russian circus dogs that were crossed with bloodhounds. This story is so nonsensical that it is amazing that anyone would believe it. However, with that story lay the ability of the golden retriever fanciers to deny any relationship with the flat-coat. Its whole existence as a separate breed required an adherence to a story that was absolute malarkey. I’m sure it was easier to get the KC to recognize the breed as distinct if they believe it was some exotic form of canine and not just a color-selected strain of the flat-coated retriever.

This story was debunked when Lord Ilchester, the 1st Baron Tweedmouth’s nephew, discovered and perused carefully the kennel records. They were meticulous, and they were unequivocal. The golden retriever was a color selected strain of the wavy or flat-coated retriever.  Not only that, it was bred very closely to the top strains of the wavy or flat-coat of its day, which meant the golden shared a close common ancestry with the flat-coat.

However, the Tweedmouth strain started in the 1860’s, when the principles of scientific selective breeding were well-established. We can trace every golden back to the foundation dogs “Nous” and “Belle,” just as we can trace every GSD back to “Horand von Grafrath” and every boxer to “Flora” and “Boxer” and the other Munich bullenbeiser types.

Those breeds all have a recent heritage. The documentation of their bloodlines is well-known, and any bullshit stories made up about them can easily be debunked.

But how can you debunk more ancient  and more poorly-documentedcanine lore?

How likely is it that the Ancient Romans had dogs exactly like Rottweilers?

How likely is it that Dachshunds are from Ancient Egypt?

How likely is it that Dalmatians even come from Croatia?

How likely are Catahoula curs to descend from de Soto’s war mastiffs? (I think they are descended from the Beauceron-type dogs but not Spanish war mastiffs.)

And who can forget the Chinese crested dog people who think their dog is actually from China and that it once killed rats on Chinese junks during the golden age of Chinese navigation.  (Here’s the truth!) That’s a good case of people simply making it up, and even today, when confronted with the truth, they still don’t accept it.

The truth is we often get dogs because of what they say about us. I know this is silly, but we are humans. We select things, both consciously and unconsciously, to reflect our image.

We also long to reconnect with our past. The way we live now is vastly different from the way our forebears did. We use dogs as a way of reconnecting with the past.

Both of these tendencies lead dog people into thinking about dogs in terms that are fanciful and romantic and, at the same time, horribly unsubstantiated or horribly unfalsifiable.

We use these romantic histories as way of saying that I own a part of the past,and this part of the past says something about my character.

I am guilty of this human foible. I am not denying this.

However, I like to think I’m not as extreme as some people are.

I’m wating for someone to write a fanciful history of the Mississippi leg hound.

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London is a large comsopolitan city. Its citizens are very much removed from rural life, so some of them try to recreate that rural life. They keep chickens and try grow their own food.

Others feed the large numbers of urban red foxes that live there. They anthropomorphize the animals. They dwell on their personal lives.

And then the foxes start to kill the chickens, and then the people who keep the chickens want to kill the foxes.

I think you’ll enjoy this documentary. Some of these people are nuts.

And the foxes might be able to have a constant food source in the city, but their lives are much shorter there than in the countryside. Cars kill them. People call in pest control to exterminate them. Life isn’t that easy for the urban fox.

Here are the other parts:

Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI,

In case you were wondering, it is not happy ending.

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Yes, jackals do hunt!

Here’s a pack of them fighting over a fur seal pup:

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Kipling wrote about the related golden jackal in The Jungle Book:

“It was the jackal — Tabaqui, the Dish-licker — and the wolves of India despise Tabaqui because he runs about making mischief, and telling tales, and eating rags and pieces of leather from the village rubbish-heaps. But they are afraid of him too, because Tabaqui, more than any one else in the Jungle, is apt to go mad, and then he forgets that he was ever afraid of any one, and runs through the forest biting everything in his way.”

And this is largely how we think of jackals. (I don’t think Kipling understood rabies or was deliberately using the term “madness” to demonize the jackal.)

The truth of the matter is jackals hunt and scavenge. They live in family groups, where offspring from the previous litter help rear their parents’ younger offspring.  They later disperse to form their own territories. This is very similar to the way that wolf packs operate. However, wolves tend to stay with their natal pack longer, and because wolves operate in a different ecological niche than jackals, their pack hunting behavior allows for more group cohesion in their hunting behavior.

In the West, we have had a cultural shift in how we view the wolf. We see wolves as noble hunters that keep the large prey species in check. We still see jackals as Kipling did. It doesn’t matter that wolves sometimes scavenge kills. They sometimes surplus kill, and there are situations in which controlling their numbers make sense in terms of wildlife management (There aren’t that many situations in which this is the case, I should add.)

Konrad Lorenz, one of the founders of ethology and winner of the Nobel Prize, wrote a book on dogs called Man Meets Dog. He postulated that some dogs were derived from golden jackals and others were derived from wolves. The ones derived from jackals were called “aureus dogs” (from the golden jackal’s scientific name– Canis aureus). These dogs were the wimpy ones that were easily scolded and always demanding human attention, never bonding closely with anyone. Those derived from wolves, however, were something else. These dogs demanded human respect before they would ever show affection. These dogs bonded much more closely to those humans they chose to accept.

It was obvious Lorenz, who loved chow chows, preferred the wolf-like dogs.  Of course, he was merely projecting onto these dogs our cultural perceptions of jackals and wolves.

Today, we know that the so-called “aureus dogs” are actually dogs with higher levels of neoteny or pedomorphosis. Neoteny or pedomorphosis (there’s  a debate on which one it is) prevents domestic dogs from developing the full wolf behavior. One study of body canine body language found that golden retrievers retained an unusually high number of wolf body signals. The only dog breed in the study that had a higher number of the signals was the Siberian husky.

Konrad Lorenz probably would’ve put the golden in with the aureus group.

So our cultural perceptions of the jackal have distorted with our understanding of canine ethology. Dogs are derived from wolves or, to be more accurate, the ancestors of wolves. They are not derived from jackals.

But even at that, why is it that even educated people like Lorenz would see the jackal as the desireable species?

Jackals are far easier to observe than wolves. I have seen lots of footage of jackals hunting seals and other animals. I’ve seen very little footage of wolves hunting.

Jackals make do with their situations, which is what all wild beasts must do if they are to survive. For us to project these images onto any wild beast is to do them a great disservice, for it keeps us from truly understanding them as they are.

So if there is the David Mech of the jackals, you have as my respect.

Update: I’ve found a source that argues that Lorenz’s theory about aureus and lupus dogs partially came from the anti-Semitic pseudo-scientific culture that existed in the German-speaking world. Here is the source. Lorenz was a Nazi scientist, who was captured by the Red Army. It was during his captivity that he began to realize the error of his thinking, and he recanted. He later would be one of the early supporters of the Austrian Green Party, which is a social democratic environmental party.

He also wrote an interesting and quite controversial book called On Aggression.

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Look at this!

The dog’s normal coloration is easy to compare. It is the same dog as the one in the header.

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