Archive for June, 2009


The answer is yes.

After all, most dogs are brachycephalic when compared to the wolf and other wild dogs. Short muzzles are a diagnostic of a domestic dog.

However, when we breed for healthy conformation, brachycephalic dog breeds are going to have to have some muzzle– enough for the all the teeth, tongue, and soft palate. One of the reasons why these dogs have so much trouble breathing and cooling themselves is they don’t have enough room for their tongues and soft-palate. The tissue in the soft palate winds up obscuring the trachea, and that prevents air from flowing. In a dog, that also prevents the animal from effectively cooling itself.

So when we evnetually get around to correcting breed standards, we are still going to have bulldogs, pekes, bostons, and Frenchies. It’s just that they are going to have a bit more muzzle.

And I don’t think that’s too much to ask.


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I believe I can identify the mystery “deer” that was mentioned on the Fortean Zoology blog. It’s not a deer at all.  Instead, I think it is the creature featured below.


I think it’s a female steenbok. (Compare with this close-up. And this one.)

Female steenbok.

Female steenbok.

Steenbok are a common game species that are often taken by big game hunters. They are native to areas that were easily accessed by Europeans during colonialism, and even today, sport hunters take them.

If it’s not a steenbok, then it is an oribi, which is a somewhat larger antelope. It has a larger distribution in Africa, but I think the typical oribi has more white on its face than the typical steenbok. That’s why I’m wagering that it’s a steenbok.

However, old taxidermied specimens don’t often have all of the identifying marks of the living animal. My guess is that this animal had larger ears when it was alive. Some of the less arid races of steenbok have smaller ears.

I don’t think it’s a gray or common duiker, because the head shape is all wrong. The female common duikers have black marks on their heads, which demarcate scent glands. The red forest duiker lacks the lighter marks around the eyes, and it also has the wrong head shape. All the other red or reddish duikers have rather longer faces than this specimen does. I don’t think any have those lighter marks around the eyes.

So the “deer” is actually some species of small antelope from Africa– most likely a steenbok (which is not to be confused with what the Dutch call a “Steenbok”– that’s an ibex.)

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The black and tan coonhound descends from crossing the old black and tan foxhound with a bloodhound.

The black and tan coonhound descends from crossing the old black and tan foxhound with a bloodhound.

As a boy, I often heard stories about a black and tan foxhound that belonged to my grandfather. My grandfather said there was an actual strain of foxhound that was black and tan. It was distinct from the Walker and Trigg strains of American foxhound, and it was not the same thing as the black and tan coonhound, although he always thought they were relatives.

Well, I decided to peruse the lore of the local hounds, and it turns out that there was a distinct strain of black and tan foxhound that was common from the colonial period into the middle part of the twentieth century. The black and tan coonhound is derived from this black and tan foxhound, which was crossed with bloohounds to make a heavier dog with a better scenting ability.

Now, I did not seen a “show-type” black and tan coonhound until I was much older. The working strain and trial coonhounds I saw where I grew up were very foxhound-like. They were only slightly heavier in the ear and body than the best working foxhounds. It didn’t take much imagination to see the relationship between the coonhounds and foxhounds.

As far as I know, the black and tan foxhounds have disappeared or have been absorbed into other strains of working foxhound. I sometimes see the odd tricolored foxhound with the tan “kissmarks” of the black and tan, and I wonder if maybe that dog might have a touch of the old black and tan ancestry.

My grandpa crossed his black and tan foxhound with a farm collie, and that cross produced a superior varmint dog.  It was well-known in both Britain and this country that an excellent multipurpose hunting dog could be produced by crossing a foxhound with a collie. And this dog certainly was. He flushed grouse and squirrels, treed raccoons and gray foxes, and ran deer and red foxes toward his gun.

In my part of the world, people didn’t waste time with blood purity very much (at least in dogs), unless someone bought a foxhound or “bird dog” from a magazine. The typical hunting dog of the small farmer was a generalist that could work several different game species. If the dog could also bring in the sheep and milch cows, then he was certainly of even greater utility.

The demand for purebred dogs in this part of the world was far behind the rest of the country, but when that demand arose, the local multipurpose dogs soon found themselves out of favor. People wanted collies like lassie and thoroughbred coonhounds and foxhounds. Nobody wanted the old cur, feist, “rabbit biggle,” or farm collie.

Or so it seemed, but even today, I can see dogs that are of these strains lounging near remote farmhouses. Not everyone gave up on these dogs. There are a stubborn few who keep them. Sadly, I’ve yet to see a single dog of that  black and tan foxhound strain.

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Sandbar shark

I’ve been spending a few days at my relatives’ beach house in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina– a place I call “West Virginia’s coast,” simply because so many people from West Virginia come here on holidays.

Now, I am far from the typical beachgoer.

I don’t like spending hours sitting in the sun. I’m very fair-skinned, and I have to put on very high-powered sunscreen. And I actually don’t like swimming in salt water.

But I am a nature nut.

And I love to go on long nature walks.

Here, I have to walk three or four miles before I get beyond all the resorts and into the open beach, where I can see all sorts of little shore birds. I have yet to see any dolphins or porpoises here, but I know that if I’m going to see any of those, it will be away from the crowded beaches. That’s why I’m willing to take such long journeys away from the beach house.

I did, however, see something quite amazing this week.

On the Outer Banks of North Carolina,  I have seen many dolphins and porpoises, and from the shore, I’ve seen a few blacktip sharks and bonnetheads. I certainly wasn’t expecting to see those animals. The female sharks whelp just off the coast where I used visit in North Carolonia, and in June, the fishermen would catch scores of young blacktips and bonnetheads from the shore.

But I’ve never seen anything like that here.

But as I was walking along, I noticed a brown triangle poking above the foamy wayes. As I walked closer, a distinctive shark tail appeared behind the triangle. I knew instantly what I was observing. It was a sandbar shark. it was only about 3 or 4 feet long, and it was probably chasing small bait fish that it had chased into the surf.

What amazed me was the shark was only about ten feet from the beach in about 18 inches of frothing water.

Now, I’ve always been fascinated by sharks. My grandparents took me to the beach when I was about two, and according to my grandpa, he took me on a beach combing expedition, when we came across a ghastly sight. A large hammerhead, which could have been a bonnethead, had been caught by a fisherman. It had been fileted, and the rest of its body was left to lie there on the beach.  According to him, I was so fascinated by the creature that he knew that the next thing to do was to take me to the local aquarium. And so fascinated was I by all the fish at the aquarium that he had to take me three times a day on that particular vacation.

To see that sandbar shark rise from the surf took me back to that time. I long for that childlike sense of wonder, back when I was a fully subjective human being without all of this rationality to cloud my thinking.

I saw the sandbar shark for only a few brief seconds. Then the waves crashed down upon it, and it swam back into the depths. But for a brief moment, I was a child again.

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A crocodile has been spotted in a pond near the village of Xertigny in the Vosges region of France. Now, a crocodile has no place in the Vosges region, so it is either an escaped pet or zoo animal. Or an common animal that has been misidentified.

In true crocodile hunter style, the local authorities have placed a chicken near the pond to see entice the saurian from its depths.

Lacking any other option, some in the village want the pond drained, which, of course, is the nuclear option.

My guess is that someone has come across a large carp or pike. That’s also what the local anglers are saying.

I have seen very large carp in ponds, and they do look a bit like alligators.

Now, I’ve never been in an area where one could see both pike or alligators, but I cand see where someone could mistake a pike for a crocodilian.

It could be a pet caiman that has been released. Heck, we have a population of spectacled caimans in Florida that was founded by escaped pets.

This story does have my curiosity piqued, so stay tuned.

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The following is from Pedigree Dogs Exposed:

I have some experience here, for I grew up in “Rabbit biggle” country.

Bassets are almost never chosen to be working rabbit hounds. According to my grandfather, bassets were used occasionally. These dogs weren’t beagles, so the average rabbit hunter didn’t know how to react the working basset’s somewhat different from behavior.

Because hunters often didn’t register their dogs, cross-breeding was common. A lot of beagles in West Viurginia have a touch of foxhound or bluetick coonhound in their ancestry. And then there are the bench-legged beagles. A bench-legged beagle is a beagle and basset cross, usually 3/4 beagle and 1/4 basset. Sometimes, dachshunds are crossed in, rather than the basset.

Bassets were not thought of as working hounds in many parts of North America and Europe, and as a result, the only standard of quality for so many strains of basset was the show ring.

And it wasn’t very long before the fancy itself began producing larger dogs with far shorter legs than would ever be useful in a long ranging basset.

Case in point: the French have maintained several different breeds of working basset. They are all primarily working hunting dogs, and not a single one is as exaggerated as the dog we call the basset hound.

Right now, we are living at a time in which so many working breeds are losing their status. The only way to judge their quality isn’t to work them but to show them. And once the dogs get far removed from being selected for working behavior, it isn’t long before the dogs exist as nothing more than bench stock.

And then you can see why backwoods people keep only unregistered beagles and beagle crosses to work the cottontails. And no one I know is seriously considering a basset for the task.

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The truth is I’m really bad at making predictions, but I think I’ll try my hand at prognostication.  I think I might know what the next fad dog will be, and this time, it might not be as bad as the previous dog fads.

In the past few years, we have seen the rise of mass-produced tea-cup poodles, yorkies, Chihuhuas, and diminutive hybrids like the malti-poo. We have also seen the bulldog’s popularity increase, despite all of its various health problems.

What do all of these dogs have in common?

They are all good urban dogs.  None of these breeds have very strong predatory behaviors, even though one can find individual dogs that exhibit some strong predatory behavior.

Border collies might be super easy to train, as are working strain golden retrievers, but they are also dogs with particular predatory motor patterns that they exhibit almost to the point of obsession.

My guess is the future of dogs will be heavily marked with popularity in more easily urbanized dogs. I mean people do prefer golden retrievers that don’t have their predatory motor patterns. I find them very different from the ones actually bred for those motor patterns.

So the breeds people will be keeping won’t be retrievers, collies, and shepherds. Those are so twentieth century.

After all, in the nineteenth century, the most common large breed was a dog called a “Newfoundland,” which could mean the big prototype to the Newfoundland we have today or the ancestral retriever. By the First World War, their popularity had waned, and the collie and German shepherd had come to the fore. By the 1960’s, these dogs began to loose ground to American cockers, who then lost ground to the golden and Labrador retrievers.

Now retrievers. standard poodles, and German shepherds remain popular, but they are the only larger breeds that consistently remain in the top ten of the AKC’ registrations. Smaller breeds continue to grow in popularity.

Some of this increase popularity comes from the rather obvious fact that they can be more easily milled than the larger breeds. They mature faster and start producing soon. ‘They can be stacked in tiny cages much more easily. And soft-headed celebrities buy them.  Americans seem to do what soft-headed celebrities do, so they wind up buying even more mill fodder.

More people are buying dogs as child substitutes, and little dogs look like babies their entire lives. I highly suspect this transferance of parental behavior onto our population of diminutive canines is the main force that created the current epidemic of little dogs with behavior problems. Not only are many of these dogs born in terrible places, but they then are treated inappropriately their entire lives.

Mass production has exacerbated genetic problems in these little dogs. And if they are developing a reputation as poorly behaved dogs with lots of health problems, their fad status is probably tenuous.

What do I think the next fad dog will be?

Well, I try to be optimistic.

And I think we’re at a tipping point with purbred dogs. The public writ large is very aware of health problems in purebred dogs .

That’s why people are drawn to designer dogs.

But even the designer dogs aren’t always as carefully selected for health and temperament as people hope them to be.

So I see the future of the dog going something like this.

I think that in 25 years, the North American dog fancy will de decentralized. The closed registry system will not exist as it currently does, and dogs will be documented in registries that are purpose-based.  Dog shows will probalby become little more than curiosities, where a few strains are still handled in the shows. But the big shows will have disappeared.

For pets,  the public will look for dogs that are healthy and well socialized. Those performance based registries will probably steer pet owners away from their dogs.

That means that the “lowly mongrel” will once again become the pet of choice for the average family. The demand for these dogs has grown in recent years, even during the recession. As more and more of the public questions the legitimacy of the fancy as it currently exists, more of the public will be taking in randomly bred dogs.

I think society is finally becoming informed about what dogs are, and people want dogs to be much closer to the core considerations for the family. That means people will be looking for more healthy dogs, and they will be trepidatious of buying a dog from a breeder.

So as the eternal optimist, I think the next fad dog will be a “Canardly”– as in “I canardly tell what kind of dog he is!”  (Yes, bad Kent Hovind joke.)

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