Archive for July, 2009


The dog above is an American cocker spaniel. Very few of these dogs are ever used to do their original work– for obvious reasons. The very few that are used for this work are clipped very close. Many, however, don’t have working spaniel instincts. Indeed, you are more likely to find a Cavalier King Charles spaniel with working instincts than you are to find an American cocker with them.

Some of these dogs have very bad temperaments– the result of decades of unscrupulous breeding. This breed was once the most popular breed in the United States, and numb skulls started breeding.

I don’t know who thought it was a good idea to go crazy with the feathering on this dog. But whoever it was, they really had no interest in having a small flushing spaniel.

If you want a small flushing spaniel, there is an alternative.

Remember, there are two breeds of cocker spaniel in this country. The English cocker still has a working form.

Now, its mass-bred pet form in Europe is as screwy as the show American cocker– and then some. This is the breed of cocker that is well-known for a condition called avalanche of rage syndrome, which seems to be associated with the dark red color that is so popular in pet English cockers. This condition, as far as I know, doesn’t exist any cocker population in this country (it’s just regular aggression). But a dog with this condition will be nice one second, and then fly off the handle the next. Dogs with this condition are often euthanized. I’ve heard of this condition in English springer spaniels in this country, but not in the cocker breeds.

The working form of English cocker is very much like a small working English springer that comes in more colors than the springer. And they do look like gun dogs.

working english cocker

Yes, that's a cocker. That's not a giant pheasant!

And another one:

field cocker

I could see myself with one of these working English cockers.

Small dogs are much more useful in heavy cover than large ones. And actually, the are more useful than short-legged dogs. Anyone who runs beagles knows this. Those 13 inch dogs are very good in dense cover.

A little spaniel can get into dense cover that a bigger one might not be willing to traverse or even reach.

But if you load one up with coat like the modern American cocker, you are just shooting yourself in the foot.


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Have a look at this!

And here’s one fetching a gray fox!

The Germans love to use their Drahthaars for other purposes.

We Anglophones prefer to have division of labor among hunting dogs.

On the European continent, this is not the case.

In Germany and other German-speaking countries, there are a few national HPR’s that are meant to do it all. Even dachshunds and jadgterriers are often expected to do things that we wouldn’t expect, like retrieve shot game. Believe it or not, but fox terriers and Jack Russells are used on boar in those countries.

The French have the same system, but they are very much into regional varieties, many of which occur in a basset (short-legged), griffon (wire-haired), grand (big), and petit (small) varieties.

It was only foppish British gentlemen who believed that there should be retrievers that only retrieve game, flushing spaniels that only flush game, and index dog that point game. And scent hounds are entirely out of the picture. A forester or game-keeper would never keep a few hounds or scenting dogs just for the purpose of finding wounded game, but in German-speaking countries, that’s still very much the custom.

But in most Europe, a working hunting dog is supposed to play the role of a jack of all trades.


Now, I’m going to have to do a post in a few days on what the difference is between a Drahthaar and what we call a German wire-haired pointer.  It gets confusing, and of course, it gets controversial. Let’s just say that if those are two separate breeds, I hereby suggest that the working form of golden retriever secede from the show version.

The Germans have generally been smarter dog breeders than we have. If it has a function, it must be able to prove itself at that function. Now, that system has detiorated over the years, but it’s better than what we have over in the English-speaking countries and light years ahead of what we have in the US.

It’s got them to this point: a show quality Weimaraner can still do its work.

Imagine that!

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Vintage Steve Irwin

Just when you think he’s got the shark close to the boat to look it over, he jumps in!


And you wonder why this used to be my favorite show!

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This movie is obviously false– no North American rabbit digs burrows!

But what could be scarier than a swarm of man-eating rabbits that are the size of pick-up trucks?

Best clips:


And the climatic ending:


I’m telling you that shark in Jaws has nothing on these rabbits!

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Arctic fox trivia


Now, I’m going to test your taxonomic skills.

What is the Arctic fox’s closest relative?

If you have been a long-time reader of the blog, you should know the answer.

And if wordpress generates a hint (as it’s been known to do), then you’ll know it!

But I’ll tell you this– it’s not exactly what you’d think their closest relative would be.

Let’s just say, that if you take a good look at its close relative and the Arctic fox in its summer pelt, the similarities are striking.

Update: The answer is the swift fox.

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pai dog

I’ve never understood this one.

But lots of people call dogs their children

I don’t.

Dogs are dogs.

A dog is a special subspecies of wolf that can live safely with people. It has evolved an ability to learn from humans that the other wolf subspecies don’t have. It is also a far better associative learner than virtually any other species or subspeces in the order Carnivora.

That’s the part of dogs I find fascinating. The fact that they are another organism, and yet they bond with us and easily learn from us.

My view on dogs is best summarized in this oft-quoted paragraph from Henry Beston in The Outermost House:

We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate for having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein do we err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with the extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings: they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.

To patronize a dog with our projections of parenthood does them a great disservice. What they really want is someone to understand them as they are. They don’t want to be babies. They want to be dogs. That means that they need to have an outlet for their drives and instincts, which are often quite different from our own.

I’ll give you a good example. Consider the absolute joy that dogs get in rolling in rotting and stinking things. There are lots of folk ethology reasons for them doing so. It’s camouflage, says one theory. They are covering up their scent so they can better stalk prey animals. Now,  I would think that deer and other ungulates would soon learn to fear the stench of rotting carcasses!

My own theory on why dogs do this behavior is twofold. Dogs are mostly olfactory organisms. They relish smells probably in the same way we relish beautiful land and seascapes.  The best way to enjoy those smells is for the dog to anoint itself with the object that gives off that odor. And we humans take photographs of land and seascapes that we find enjoyable. Dogs don’t have cameras, so in order to take the stench home, they have to get some on their bodies to take home. There must be some evolutionary advantage in wild dog and wolf societies to have a novel smell. Perhaps having that novel smell on your body gives you more political clout than if you just smelled like a dirty old dog.

For us, rolling in rotting redolent refuse is an unsanitary and unconscionable act. Our nose are weak things, and our species has evolved a heightened sensitivity to anything we perceive as dirty or stinking. Such a tendency allowed our ancestors to live in high densities without contracting disease very easily. We simply had a genetic (or perhaps cultural) aversion to the smell of feces and rotting corpse. (It’s got to be genetic. I don’t know of a single culture that likes lying around in feces and rotting corpses.)

But these two species are able to share the same homes, even the same beds and food. That’s really a weird thing. One animal anoints itself with rotting objects that give off pungent odors. The other avoids these objects at all costs. And yet we call each other family.

I don’t think you can ever truly appreciate what a dog is until you try to understand them as the animal that they are.

The more you realize what dogs are, the more you realize how unusual they really are. No other species of large carnivore lives in such an intimate as dogs live with us. Indeed, it’s not safe for us to live with any other large carnivore in such a way. Bears are too emotionally reactive to be safe companions, and big cats have rather deeply ingrained predatory motor patterns which humans can easily trigger.

Imprinted wolves have this same sort of problem, although it’s almost always children that trigger the motor pattern. But they are also more emotionally reactive than most domestic dogs are, and most of them are totally unfit for domestic life, even if a small minority are actually quite dog-like (like “Wags.”)

I find all of these aspects of dogs really interesting.

I don’t find it very interesting that people like to turn them into children.

To me, that does the dog a very great injustice. It narrows the human mind. It prevents us from asking questions– from wondering why dogs are the way they are and why on earth they live with us so well. Those are fascinating questions, and ones that could help us come up with better ways to fulfill our dogs and provide them better lives.

Maybe it’s because I’m very much a rationalist, but I like my dogs because they are dogs, not because they are furry toddlers that eat horse poop.

Maybe dogs need their own slogan:

I am canine. Hear me woof.

(Note: I am no animal rights lunatic or “animal liberationist.” Please train your dogs. Dogs require training– that’s actually an intrinsic part of their nature. They must be trained in order to be fulfilled.)

(Note II: Every dog I’ve known that was treated as a baby was neutrotic or potentially psychotic in some fashion. You cannot tell me that dog as child projection is very healthy for dogs.)

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lirung monitor

Well, we have a new species of monitor lizard: Varanus lirungensis.

This species was just discovered near the village of Lirung on the island of Salibabu, which is part of the Talaud archipelago, which are between Sualwesi and Mindanao, which is part of the Philippines.

German researchers discovered this new monitor species, and after analyzing its DNA and morphology, published their findings in the Australian Journal of Zoology.

This finding is important because “it highlights the high, but poorly known diversity of monitor lizards in Indonesia. Several species of water monitor have been found on Sulawesi and surrounding islands in recent years.”

Just think of the new monitor species that have yet to be discovered in Indonesia!

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