Archive for April, 2010


I know you were expecting something else.

And yes, that’s an American badger.

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We don’t have these in my part of the country.


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Yes, I know they look like coyotes.

Because golden jackals are more closely related to wolves and coyotes than the other two species of jackal, I think they need a new name.

How about Old World coyote?

Sloth bears may look placid, but they have been known to become quite aggressive toward people.

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Chatroom tonight


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This is pretty good

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What do dog breeding and economics have in common?

They are both dismal sciences.  They appear to have little in common, but the truth of the matter is they actually share a certain amount of similarities that leads to me to make some analogies. I am not a trained economist, but I am a political scientist, who has been trained in some economic theory. If I get something wrong in this post, it is because I am not an economist by trade and because I am oversimplifying for the purposes of making an analogy.

When Thomas Carlyle described economics as “the dismal science,” he was actually writing a very bizarre and racist essay on why the British Empire needed to re-institute slavery in the West Indies. He contended that slavery was better for the moral development and economic security of the people of  the West Indies. However, there is some suggestion that his critique of Malthus, who wrote about the virtues of letting the “excess” poor starve to death, may have been where he first called economics a “dismal science.”

But I think the reason why it is called a dismal science today has very little to do with Carlyle.

One part of economics looks at the various trade-offs associated with policies and decision. The best known type of this analysis is the Cost-Benefit Analysis (CBA), which has been used in the US since the 1980’s for budgeting purposes. The ideal economic policy is one where the costs are totally outweighed by the benefits. The problem with doing these type of analysis is we don’t always have “perfect information”– that is we don’t know what all the real costs and benefits inherent in the policy or decision are, nor do we know what these could be in the future.

That’s why things get to be dismal. Even before the formal CBA became part of many policy making decisions, economists were always looking at costs. When one policy is pursued, another is not or some “horrible” is risked. Because we don’t have perfect information, the best economists are always looking for these potential costs and pitfalls in order to get the best information possible.

I think the Eagles got this issue best with this line from the song “Lyin’ Eyes“:

“I guess ev’ry form of refuge has its price.”

And if you think about it,  it fits– although economists would change “price” to “cost.” (Price has a very different meaning in economics.)

Harry Truman once said, “Give me a one-handed economist! All my economists say, ‘On the one hand on the other.'”

And that’s exactly how economists think.

But in a weird way, it is also how dog breeders think.

At least that’s been my experience.

Every possible decision that a breeding program makes has consequences– some of them negative and some of them positive. This is the “micro-economic” equivalent of dog breeding.

Every breed club or registry makes policy that also has also consequences for the breed at a much more macro-level.

Dog breeders want to produce dogs that 1. have good temperaments, 2. have good health, and 3. have some qualities that make the dogs superior in either conformation or some defined behavioral trait.

There are lots of ways to do this.  If one wants consistency, one line breeds. If one is really experienced and wants certain traits established in a line, close line-breeding and inbreeding can be used. One can also use those methods to cull out particular genetic disorders and conformational faults. This is actually what is described in most dog breeding manuals.

However, there are negative consequences to doing this. Over many generations, the genetic diversity of a line becomes weakened. One can experience what is called an inbreeding depression.  Over time, the animals lose their fertility and ability to thrive. However, it is very hard to observe this phenomenon unless one has been in a breed or strain for a very long time. Inbreeding depressions are ultimately comparative, because the fitness and fertility is something that is reduced over time. If one does not know what the original fitness was, one cannot see the inbreeding depression. However, that does not mean it is not real.

So one should be open to outcrossing with other lines. Because of the way most registries operate, one can only breed with other lines of the same breed.

However, here’s the “on the other hand.”

Outcrossing does increase genetic diversity. However, it can also introduce bad things you didn’t see before. Maybe the other line has a hidden genetic disorder that the breeder suddenly introduces into his or her line. Or maybe the other line has traits that interact very poorly with the genetics of the original line. Maybe the dogs are developing bizarre conformation, or they simply lose their working abilities. It is always a “horrible” that exists when bringing in new blood to counteract the effects of line breeding and occasional inbreeding.

Such problems that result from outcrossing are what is called an outbreeding depression.Outbreeding depressions happen whenever crossing two populations results in offspring that are either poor fits for the environment or task at hand or results in offspring that are unhealthy.

Here’s a good example of an unplanned outbreeding depression–my “golden boxer.” This dog was a terrible guard dog, as one would expect from a golden. However, she was a terrible swimmer with no retrieving instinct.  She had the traits of both breeds. It’s just she had them in ways that were incompatible with either being a retriever or being a watch dog. The boxer line she from which she came had a very high amount of osteosarcoma, and it is from that disease that she died at the age of 11. Her “inbred” dam was a golden retriever who made it to the age of 14.

Now, these same consequences exist at the registry and kennel club level. However, the consequences at this level affect more dogs and affect the entire population in the registry or kennel club for the long term.

We can keep registries closed and allow breeding only with dogs in those same registries. We will be able to maintain some consistency in type and behavior over the entire breed or strain. In performance registries, we will get consistency in the desired behaviors. We will also be able to get some handle on the genetic diseases– at least in the short-term.

We can also allow breeders to breed from just a select few studs, which produce huge chunk of the puppies born per generation. This also will allow the breed to have consistency in type, behavior, and disease.

But at some point, these genetically depauperate breeds and strains are going to experience trouble. The inbreeding depression problems will pop up, and reduced genetic diversity always makes the immune system weaker over the long term, which can mean digestive issues, skin problems, and maybe even  increases in cancer.

So what can what can registries do about this problem?

Well, they can open the registries. That will allow a gene flow between populations again, and it can take care of some of the problems. It can reshuffle the genetic deck so that dogs don’t get exposed to negative recessives. It can eliminate some of the problems associated with the inbreeding depression. Over the the long term, it is likely that it could have very real effects on these gene pools.

But there are problems here, too.  One is that the consistency in conformation will disappear, and if one breed is known for its working ability and the other is not, it is possible to introduce nonworking characteristics into a strain. This is also an outbreeding depression but at a much larger level.

Let me make myself clear: I am in favor of opening up the registries. I do not think in that in the long term the breeds are all that viable.

But when I say this, I’m also aware that there are potential negative consequences to doing this. The most obvious of which is the breeds are not going to be as consistent in type and behavior, and the other is that if related breeds are used as outcrosses, the differences between related breeds are going to become little more than theme and variation on the same dog. I am willing to accept some of that.

And I am also aware that we are not going to breed out genetic diseases. It’s impossible. All organisms have genes for bad things. It’s just the way things are. One can line breed and inbreed to cull these diseases. I think this is illusory in the long term, because at some point, the diseases caused by negative recessive are going to line up and a whole new disease will pop up. It’s not a matter of if. It is a matter of when. And what are you going to do? Line breed and inbreed until you get rid of that?

In the long-term, breeders would be better off focusing on genetic diversity rather than trying to breed out everything, but of course, that has all the possible negative consequences I’ve just mentioned.

Also, not all genetic diseases are recessive or can even be answered with simple Mendelian genetics. With those, the answer is far more complex.

And all of it is complex.

I think it ultimately comes down to how much variance a breeder can tolerate and how consistent a breeder wants to be with his or her line. In the old days, this was actually much easier, for breeders kept their own distinct lines, which they would use as outcrosses every couple of generations. Most breeding today is a collaborative effort, and that means dealing with another person’s desires and goals. Different people will have different ideas about how much variance will be tolerated in the dogs.

So what is the solution to all of this?

I think the solution in the end is to give breeders more freedom to use whatever breeding system they feel is appropriate. I’m not for banning inbreeding and close line breeding, but such breeding cannot exist within a closed registry system. It is asking for trouble over the long term. If we are to maintain a closed registry system, then we are going to have think hard about how many litters a stud can sire and how often a breeder should outcross.

But still, we have to keep in mind that breeding “in and in,” as Bakewell did, and outcrossing both have positive and negative aspects. Those of us who advocate for greater genetic diversity in dogs and more open registries should at least admit this reality, and we should also admit that opening the registries doesn’t always solve the problem and can have some negative consequences.

I think that if we tried to talk like this, we might be able to get a dialogue going.  And if we have a dialogue, maybe we can actually come up with ways to solve these problems.

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If you noticed that one of your comments didn’t appear in the past two weeks, my spam filter ate them!

If you were a bit miffed that your comments didn’t appear on this particular post, it’s not because I censored them!

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One final question

I’m still getting views on this blog.

Do you think I should revive it?

If I do, it means fewer posts here.

I don’t talk doggies on that one, unless they are 1. wild and/or 2. weird.

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This goes out to all the coyotes and coyote coursers and their dogs:


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