Archive for August, 2009


What is it? And why does it freak me out?

It’s a candiru.

Read Full Post »


Read Full Post »


We’ve already gone over the bulldog part of this documentary. I think there are people who are really starting to push for reform in the bulldog–which is getting harder because of the bulldog’s increased popularity.

The Pekingese bit is far more troubling. I happen to have a book called The Lost History of the Canine Race by Mary Elizabeth Thurston. It happens to have some interesting piece on the first Pekes ever imported to the UK.

And it has photographs of them.

They were different from the typical Chinese street dog.

They did have some exaggeration in type.

However, they looked a lot more like Tibetan spaniels than the dogs you see in the show ring. (Tibetan spaniels are not spaniels, in case you were wondering).

These small brachycephalic dogs have been in Asia for a very long time. Indeed, they may be one of the oldest forms of domestic dog. Remains of small, short-muzzled dogs have been found in kitchen middens in the Gobi Desert. These dogs have been dated to 10,000 years ago. And they were very similar to the pug or Peke type.

They were scavengers. Their small size was most likely an adaptation to the Spartan conditions of the human settlements and camps. The shortened muzzles may have been an adaptation to elicit more food from these ancient people. Short muzzles look cute to us, and it is a very human response to want to indulge animals we find cute.

Now,  their short muzzles and small sizes were functional in that environment, but it now seems to me that we’ve gone too far with the Pekingese.

Any dog that has to sit on a ice pack after just a short run around the show ring is not “fit for function” — even if that function is to be a pampered pet.

What I find interesting about Pekes is that one almost cannot find the photos of the early dogs in websites associated with breed clubs or show breeders. Their looks have entirely disappeared down the memory hole.


Although looks alone should never determine the quality of a dog, I have noticed something disturbing about the fancy. One must train one’s brain to think of exaggeration as beauty. I find the early dogs much better looking than current show dogs. I am not a Pekingese person, and I’ve not been indoctrinated into their culture.

But I once worked with an assistance dog organization that used golden retrievers. All but one dog was from show lines. This particular dog had no problems retrieving. She did not have to be taught at all. She was gracefully built and reddish in color.  Because of her abilities, she was going to be a brood bitch for the program.

The other dogs had no retrieving instinct. They had to be taught to retrieve. They were calmer than she was, but they were a bit harder to work with.

But what was interesting was what the uninitiated public thought of the dogs. We had to do a program for a summer youth program, and the children thought the red bitch was prettier than the other dogs.

Now, they were not indoctrinated in the breed standard. Lightly-built goldens that are red in color are thought of as ugly in the show ring. The average person tends to find these dogs better looking than the show dogs. (I also do, but that’s not my fundamental attraction. Lightly-built dogs are in keeping with working conformation, and darker colors are more in keeping with the breed’s history.)

I think that’s because our brains are designed to reject exaggeration. We have to be trained to learn that exaggeration is good.

Of course, this dog was 8 months old, as were the other dogs.  I was told by the director that when the pups were 8 weeks old, no one thought the red bitch was cute. The show dogs were far cuter puppies. They looked like little polar bears. And I think that’s what drives exaggeration in golden retrievers, coarse dogs produce cute puppies.

It was only when they started to mature that the working strain puppy started to look better than the other dogs. She was also learning at a far more rapid rate than the other dogs. Now, this program was more interested in form rather than function, and if one dog was learning so much better than the other dogs, they started to go for those working lines.

The last time I checked with this program, the majority of their dogs were working strain goldens and of the darker color. There were goldendoodles and Labrador or two, but there were no show-type goldens.

But I did find this experience instructive. One must be indoctrinated to like extreme exaggeration.  However, when confronted with cute puppies, this tendency is often overridden.

So cuteness is driving certain breeds off the cliff.

And the rest are being distorted through the fancy’s indoctrination.

Read Full Post »

This man is the Kennel Club’s “Baghdad Bob” :

Source (Jemima Harrison)

The Crufts winner had to be bleeped for legal reasons.

The Finnish spitz is actually a gun dog. It be used as a treeing dog and a flusher– just like spaniel. (Although, unlike spaniels, it is required to tree or “perch” the bird.)

So it actually still does have a purpose for which we can breed it.

I don’t think the Finnish hunters think these dogs are of poor quality. I think they would probably think the UK show dogs are. I’m not familiar with them, but I do know that gray Norwegian elkhounds have some similar characteristics.

When I first watched it, I laughed so hard that I nearly fell out of my chair.

It’s not the Mr. Cavill is stupid. He does know dogs, but his understanding of dogs is entirely within the framework of fancy. And that has him blinkered.

Read Full Post »

Charlie Vandergaw with one of his patrons.

Charlie Vandergaw with one of his patrons.

I was channel surfing  last night when I stumbled across a new Animal Planet “reality” series. I had always thought that Timothy Treadwell had an extremely bizarre relationship with bears. However, he had nothing on Charlie Vandergaw.

Six months out of the year, Charlie Vandergaw lives  by himself in the Alaskan Bush. He’s a former wrestling coach and science teacher, and he’s a bit of an experienced naturalist and outdoorsman. However, while living in his cabin, he has a somewhat hazardous (and illegal) hobby.

He feeds the bears.

Now, as everyone who saw The Grizzly Man knows, Timothy Treadwell got very close to Alaskan brown bears. He often got very close to them, but he seemed to know when to back away. He also didn’t feed them.

And Vandergaw has vast swarms of black and brown bears milling around his cabin at all hours of the day. This is a disaster waiting to happen. Indeed, it is far worse than Treadwell’s case, simply because the bears are at such high densities. Further, they associate him with food-. Timothy Treadwell didn’t have that problem, and a bear killed him and partially consumed him. How Vandergaw has survived twenty years of bear feeding is beyond me.

Alaska now has very strict laws against feeding game. The most recently passed law on game feeding has penalty of a $10,000 fine and up to a year in jail for anyone whose feeding of a game species increases the risk of injury to another person.  We know that feeding bears makes them associate people with food. If a person does not have food, what is to stop the bear from taking the person as food? Also, bears have very short fuses. If one becomes frustrated because it cannot have food, it is very likely to take its frustration out on a person.

Just this March, Vandergaw was cited by the Alaskan authorities on 20 counts of illegally feeding game. 20 counts.

Now, Vandergaw lives in the remote Alaskan Bush when he’s feeding these bears. How do the authorities know that he’s even feeding them?

Well, here’s the deal–Vandergaw has had film crews at his cabin. I don’t know why he thinks this is such a good thing. It’s a bit like a marijuana grower (who doesn’t live in California) having the local news crew over to show off his crop. He’s just giving the authorities reason to come down on him. And he’s likely to be found guilty.

From what I’ve seen of this man, he’s not got the Steve Irwin demeanor, but I think that deep down, he wants to be the next Steve Irwin. And if he gets a high profile case, all the animal lovers and libertarians will come to his defense. (The libertarians already have. Apparently, they don’t realize how dangerous it is for people to feed bears. This is a public safety issue.)

And he’s not the only one they have on this channel.

You have Dave Salmoni, who I call the Farley Mowat of the lions, who actually has had two series on the channel in which he interacts with a pride of wild lions outside a vehicle. He is an animal trainer who was part of the “Bengal” tiger “rewilding” project. (None of the cats was a Bengal tiger, and none of them went wild. They can be found at a for-profit, private zoo in South Africa.)

He does know the big cats and their behavior. However, I think he’s going to push his luck one of these days. Wild animals are not that predictable– especially male lions that are protecting their lionesses and cubs.

It seems that Animal Planet is in search of its next Steve Irwin. Steve Irwin taught me some interesting things– mainly Australian slang and that sometimes it is a good thing to get so filled with joy that it becomes infectious. (I noticed that Vandergaw uses Steve’s wonderful word “muck,” which is used as a replacement for f-bomb. That should tell us much.) I don’t think I could tell you the names of the lizards he’s captured or the names of all the snakes.

He also got a few things wrong. I remember one episode about introduced animals in Australia in which he claimed that feral camels were of no consequence ecologically. That simply isn’t true. They eat lots of vegetation, which causes erosion. They do have soft feet, but that does not mean that they don’t cause erosion through their movement through the deserts. They also ruin waterholes with their feces, and camels do compete with native species for water resources.

But that really doesn’t matter, I guess.

I used to turn to the only qualified biologist on that channel– Jeff Corwin. He had a show very similar to Steve Irwin’s, but unlike Irwin, Corwin actually knew what he was talking about. He was also something of a comedian. Too bad that an elephant nearly bit his arm off. If that had not happened, he probably would still have a regular show on Animal Planet.

The best program that Animal Planet ever had of this sort, though, has not been on for a very long time. I remember watching a show called The Nature Nut— a pun on the fact that the host’s name was John Acorn. This man knew what he was talking about. He was humorous (at least in my definition of humorous). And he didn’t do extreme things. And you gotta love the theme song! It was a show designed for children, but it was very educational.

I also remember another good show on the Discovery Channel called In the Wild with Harry Butler, which was kind of like Steve Irwin’s show– just without the  all bombast and sometimes incorrect information. Harry Butler is still alive, and he currently does environmental consulting for petroleum and mining companies. Okay, that’s why that show isn’t on anymore.  We can’t have people actually engaging industry to find solutions for environmental problems. We have to have people doing dangerous stunts with wild animals.

I remember many years ago when Marty Stouffer was found to have staged many scenes in his series called Wild America. He also did some animal fight scenes that were a bit on the edge of illegal. But at least he didn’t feed the bears or try to live with a pride of lions. He also didn’t try to “rewild” tigers that were of the typical crossbred circus variety in continent in which they were not wild. What he did was tame in comparison.  I also remember reading about how all the wolf biologists threw a fit about Farley Mowat’s book Never Cry Wolf.  But  that book isn’t 100 percent off-base, which is more than you can say for many nature shows today.

Good nature programming is hard to come by. It’s all becoming counterfeit, but what’s bothering me is that we’re becoming used to the counterfeit. But the only reason why it’s becoming counterfeit is that the vast majority of Americans never really get to experience nature. Nature is what passes them by on the interstate as they drive from one contrived piece of concrete to another. Nature is what they see on TV and in movies. Nature is what they read about in the works of Henry David Thoreau and other romantics.  The truth is nature is not something to be subdued as our European ancestors once believed.  It is also not something that exists without pain and dying.  Yes, we must learn to live with nature and not against, but no, we really do need to know that bears will kill us if the opportunity is right.

Update: Before spouting off about a certain tiger documentary, please read this.

Read Full Post »

This breed was once banned Down Under.

This breed was once banned Down Under.

Although German immigrants to Australia  had brought their herding dogs with them in early days of settlement and were actually part of the early herding dog scene, the standard German shepherd breed was actually subject to an importation band in that country for many decades. How such a policy developed is a very good example of what happens when the public’s perception is based upon nothing more than a name.

How did such a crazy idea get started?

Well, keep in mind that in many Anglophone countries, this breed is almost never known as the German shepherd dog. Because the dog had been evident in Britain before World War I,  it was decided to name the breed the “Alsatian” or “Alsatian wolf dog.” As someone of German ancestry, I’ve never much liked that name. Alsace is part of a German-speaking region in France called the Alsace-Lorraine ( Elsaß-Lothringen). It is on the western side of the Rhine, and because of its German-speaking population, it has been part of the German Empire. It is currently in France. (I have some ancestry there because the surname Metz appears rather close in my genealogy, and Metz is a city in the Lorraine.)

Now, I am not sure if German shepherds have any wolf in them or not. I’ve heard some rumor that wolves were crossed into them at some point. However, I do know that the two breeds that were created through crossing wolves and GSD’s (the Czechoslovakian wolfdog and the Saarloos wolfhond) have generally been failures at doing the German shepherd’s work. I’ll just say that GSD’s are most likely comprised of dogs.

The term “Alsatian wolf dog” is an utter lie. The dogs aren’t necessarily from Alsace, and they most likely aren’t part wolf.

But such a term could get the Aussie graziers all fired up, and the federal government of Australia banned the import of GSD’s to Australia in 1928.

However, maybe some of this hysteria was warranted–but for a very different reason.

The fear was that these dogs would go wild and breed with the dingoes, introducing “wolf” genes into the population.

Now, I have to say that domestic dogs are destroying the pure dingo through interbreeding. Dingoes and dogs are the same species. Indeed, it is much more likely for a dog to breed with a dingo than it is with a wolf in the wild. In fact, pure dingoes are slowly disappearing in Australia. Only in the remotest parts of that country can one find pure dingoes.

Some of these dingo-dogs are larger than pure dingoes and are less afraid of people. They can truly reek havoc upon a flock of sheep.

However, dingoes will breed with just about any domestic dog, and German shepherds were chosen as a scapegoat simply because the Brits had renamed it the “Alsatian wolf dog.” If collies had been called the “Highland wolf dog,” my guess is they would have also been demanding to restrict the import of that breed.

I’ve always found this story to be somewhat ironic. After all, Australia does love its sheep-herding dogs. In fact, one of them, the koolie, is derived from the ancestral German sheep-herding landrace today called an “Altdeutsche Hütehund.”  Some of these dogs resemble German shepherds and other continental shepherds, while others resemble a shaggy dog called a “Schafpudel” (sheep poodle). Another variety comes in merle. Some of these look like Australian [sic] shepherds, and others look like koolies or rather unusual merle German shepherds. These are the famous “tiger dogs.”

So one of the staple sheep dogs of Australia is actually a close relative of the German shepherd.  That most likely means that if the British had called this dog a German shepherd, there would have been no ban. Indeed, I think they would have imported them by the score.

It has been legal to import German shepherds to Australia since 1973.

However, it just amazes me how a name like “Alsatian wolf dog” can cause so many misconceptions.

It reminds me of how it was commonly believed that bloodhounds (as in the heavy pack hound) are fierce. They usually are anything but aggressive. This misconception comes from dogs that were kept by the Spanish conquistadors and colonial authorities in the Spanish Empire in Latin America, which were used to attack the indigenous population. These dogs are often a cross between the war mastiff and the heavy Spanish scent hound, which was something like a bloodhound. In Cuba, there were specially kept for tracking slaves. These dogs became legendary, and the Southern slave-owners in the US imported them to track runaway slaves. Everyone seems to know the scene from Uncle Tom’s Cabin in which Liza runs across a frozen river, while the bloodhounds nip at their heels.  We also have the poem by Longfellow called “The Slave in the Dismal Swamp” in which another bloodhound is the villain.

This poem inspired a painting by Ansdell, which is quite instructive. The dogs in that painting aren’t bloodhounds as we know them. They are of the catch dog type, with maybe some traces of scent hound.

But even today, I am sure that there are bloodhound owners who tire of people asking them about how aggressive their dogs are. Again, it all goes back to the public’s perception.

And sometimes the public has about as much rationality as a flock of sheep with lobotomies. And in those cases, words do matter.

Read Full Post »

It is going to reset at some point today, which means the whole map will go blank.

Here’s it’s tally over the past year for some selected countries:

United States (US) 203,149
Canada (CA) 27,342
United Kingdom (GB) 21,122
Germany (DE) 10,057
Australia (AU) 5,296
France (FR) 4,985
Italy (IT) 3,325
Brazil (BR) 3,212
Poland (PL) 3,156
Netherlands (NL) 3,088
Sweden (SE) 2,629
Mexico (MX) 2,447
Norway (NO) 2,302
Spain (ES) 2,113
Finland (FI) 1,929
India (IN) 1,780
Belgium (BE) 1,680
Denmark (DK) 1,585
Turkey (TR) 1,360
Romania (RO) 1,323
Hungary (HU) 1,248
Ireland (IE) 1,236
Argentina (AR) 1,102
Colombia (CO) 1,076

My official tally so far (which counts every visit to the blog) is 383,222 (as of 8:55 EDT). I receive around 2,000 hits a day, and I have been since January. My top day was June 29, 2009, which, I think was the day after the World’s Ugliest Dog Contest. My post on the history of the Chinese crested dog usually is my top post in any given day, so it makes sense that on that day, the hits would be higher. The number of hits I had that day was 2,952.

Not a bad record for a sometimes terribly written blog.

Just don’t freak out when the Cluster Map goes blank.

And thank you for visiting the blog. I really enjoy your comments, criticism, and debate in the comments section. And here’s to another 380,000 hits!

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: