Archive for June, 2013

Here’s a hint:

golden retriever prick ears

Photo by Nicole Schmied.  

This is actually not a prick-eared golden retriever, but a normal working-type golden retriever whose ears happened to have been caught in the wind.

Golden retrievers, especially working-type ones, are pretty much natural-looking dogs. The drop ears tend to make people think they are pretty far removed from their wolf-like ancestors, but as I’ve mentioned on here before, there was a study of body language signals in wolves and several domestic dog breeds at the University of Southampton in England. Of the breeds sampled, it turned out that golden retrievers had retained more of the wolf’s body language than all the other breeds in the study except the Siberian husky. Goldens even bested German shepherds in this regard.

There is a lot of discussion about whether pedomorphosis or neoteny causes these deficits in the various breeds of domestic dog, and as someone who thinks we need to be very careful about using neoteny and pedomorphosis as a catch-all for the domestication process, I still think it needs to be explored a bit more.

I do know there is a clear difference in body language from smaller breeds of dog and larger ones. I’ve never met a Jack Russell that knew what a play bow was, and I’ve seen golden retrievers respond to wolf body language on television in almost exactly the same way they’d respond to another dog.

It’s a very complex question, and I don’t think we have the answers yet.



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Brian Plummer was an eccentric dog breeder, hunter, ratter, and ferreter. He was also something of a dog historian and was somewhat prone to romantic flights of fancy.

He is most famous now for founding a strain of terrier that bears his name.

But he was into far more than that.

He bred a shaggy merle strain of lurcher, tried to recreate the Medieval hunting alaunt, and used Cavalier King Charles spaniels to hunt rabbits.

If you read his books, he was deeply into the romance of the British working class, especially its rural working class, the one so exemplified by the highwayman and the poacher.

If he was not a puppy millier, then he was a very high volume dog breeder, and it is very doubtful that he had a full grasp on how to breed for the absolute best dogs in all his strains.

You simply can’t get that level of knowledge when you’re doing so many different things at once. The truth is even those who have specialized in a breed or type often have no clue what they’re doing.

However, I’m fairly certain that if my id were allowed to go unchecked, I’d probably be something like Mr. Plummer.

I’d be recreating all sorts of esoteric breed types:  English Old Southern hounds, St. John’s water dogs, and wavy-coated retrievers are just a few I can imagine!

Plummer was a popular writer, and to perfect one’s writing skills, one must remove one’s self from the arena a bit. There must be detachment from the way things actually are in order to explain them to others, but in that detachment, Plummer detached himself from the way all the serious working dog people were operating.

This is why every lurcher person will say that Plummer was a great writer but his ideas were next to useless.

But I’d like to see these guys write some good dog stories.

Writing is a skill people simply do not appreciate. Writing good stories requires as much work as breeding the fastest lurcher.





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Changes in diet lead to changes in morphology and behavior:


These are precisely the same changes that have happened between wild and domestic Canis lupus populations.

Domestic variants are called Canis lupus familiaris.

In the same way that these lizards have evolved to eat vegetation, domestic dogs have new digestive adaptations to consume carbohydrates.

But these does not mean that new species have been created.

In the case of dogs and wolves, there has continued to be a small but not insignificant gene flow between wild and domestic populations. Black wolves in North America obtain their melanism from a mutation that was introduced into their population through breeding with domestic dogs, and now melanistic Italian wolves have been found to have exactly the same mutation that was also introduced in exactly the same way.

I don’t think dogs and wolves will ever become divergent enough to become distinct species, but I do think that smaller dogs, which are genetically isolated from the larger ones, could eventually evolve into a new species.

If there is no gene flow between the lizards on these two islands, they will also eventually become so genetically distinct as to lose chemical infertility.

I should also note that Dawkins hits the nail right on the head when he makes the caveat that we should not automatically assume that the lizards of Pod Kopiste haven’t also experienced rapid evolution as the ones on Pod Mrcaru. They could have indeed experienced similar rapid evolution, but the two would have derived from a common ancestor.

I think some of the problems in doing comparison research on dogs and wolves is that people are unwilling or unable to understand that this possibility exists.

There is an assumption that the wolves we are studying in captive situations are truly reflective of the ancestral population that gave rise to domestic dogs.

Most of these wolves are large wolves from northern Eurasia or northern North America.

It’s very unlikely that any of these wolves has contributed much genetic material to  modern dog populations.  North American wolves haven’t contributed much at all.

Further, most wolves in captivity descend from ancestors that were heavily persecuted by man.

What we’ve done is something like the Belyaev experiment in reverse. Whereas Belyaev selected for lack of fear in foxes, man has selected for something akin to paranoia in wolves.

We’ve trapped and poisoned them across the northern hemisphere.

The only ones that have survived, with the exception of some populations in the high arctic, have been those that have been most overly cautious. It’s well-known that many wolves won’t even cross highways, which stymies their recolonization of much of their former range, and in Yellowstone, at least one “Casanova wolf,” a bachelor wolf that mated only with the non pair-bonded wolves in established packs, used the highway as a buffer zone to keep from being killed by the main breeding male  in the pack.

The wolf that once ranged over the northern hemisphere couldn’t be like these animals. It had to have been much more adaptable and less timorous than these very reactive and fearful animals.

The ancient wolf had to have been an animal that was very easy to domesticate.

I’ve occasionally stolen from an insurance company’s advertisements when I’ve written about these issues, but I do think that dog domestication had to have been so easy a caveman could do it.

Modern wolves, in general, are difficult animals to tame. There are exceptions, and I’ve written about them at length on this blog.

But they are exceptions.

And just because some modern wolves have proven to be quite like dogs when socialized to humans doesn’t mean they are all appropriate pets.

It just means that the analogy that says dogs and wolves are as different as chimps and humans is false one.

You’ll never find a chimp that can do all the things that a human can do, but occasionally, you’ll find a wolf that is as tractable as any retriever or a dog that is as obstinate and reactive as any wolf.

Because some wolves are quite like dogs when they are imprinted and socialized with humans, I think it’s actually much more important to tell people not to keep them as pets.

Just because one tame wolf is as nice as a golden retriever doesn’t mean they all are. In fact, most are not.

But it’s not like the difference between humans and chimps.

It’s really the difference between wild and domestic.

I don’t know why it is that with this one domestic species very intelligent species spend hour after hour trying to deny the proper classification with its wild ancestor.

It’s almost creationist in a way.


I should also note the wall lizards have been introduced to southwestern Ohio. One of the members of the Lazarus department store family introduced a few lizards to the Cincinnati suburbs from Italy, and the wall lizards have expanded their range into adjacent Kentucky and Indiana.

Because they were introduced by a member of the Lazarus family, they are called “Lazarus lizards.”

I wonder if these lizards have any unique adaptations that separate them from the ones in Italy.




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In Amman, Jordan, there is a conformation show for Damascene goats.

It is called “The Most Beautiful Goat Contest,” and although I’m having a difficult time finding the “breed standard” by which these goats are judged, the goal is to breed a snub-nosed goat with an undershot jaw.

A Google Images search of similar Damascene goats shows that many of these goats have really strange profiles.

My guess is this type of conformation is a hindrance for the goats when they forage. Goats are browsers that need to be able to put their heads in narrow places to pull leaves off branches.

And I’m sure that a large number of Western goat owners don’t approve of the practice.

However, you won’t find as much complaints when the same conformation type when it’s applied to dogs.

What breed is snub-nosed with an undershot jaw?

Well, there is the bulldog.

English Bulldog Looking Up

Damascene goats are primarily kept for dairy purposes, so they actually do have a function.

The Kennel Club bastardized bulldog has no purpose. It’s just an artifact that people can distort and twist with no regard to actual health or welfare.

These goat shows are becoming more and more popular in the Middle East, especially among wealthy Arabs.

Just as the bulldog is derived from the hardy catch and baiting dogs of Medieval England, these show goats are derived from hardy Nubian-type stock that have been the staple of goatherds throughout the region for thousands of years.

When England became industrialized and the British Empire rose, there was a class of people who could afford to breed animals with distorted and quite dysfunctional conformation.

It is that society that produced the bulldog as we know it today.

In the Middle East, great fortunes have been made in recent decades with the rise of petroleum prices.

There are lots of young Arab gentlemen who want to have objects of what Thorstein Veblen would call objects of conspicuous consumption. These are objects that have no utility other than what they symbolize about the status of the person who owns them.

Bulldogs were perhaps the first dog ever destroyed by the concept. They were already in quite poor shape within two decades of the rise of the modern dog fancy, and they have been messed up for so long that people don’t even recognize the very real problems they have.

This Middle Eastern goat fancy is fairly new, and it has not yet had time to reach the pathology of the dog fancy in the West.

But it very well might.

One feature I noticed on the prize winner at the Damascus show is that her ears were cropped:

Damacene goat cropped ears

The cropped ears add even more to the grotesque appearance.

I find these photos quite disconcerting.

Goats aren’t supposed to look this way.

But then I realize something even more disconcerting:  Bulldogs aren’t supposed to either.

But they’ve looked that way for so long and their appearance is so enshrined in our cultural understanding of what a bulldog is that we don’t see it as equally grotesque.

In fact, it is even more so, for I have not heard of any serious health problems that have resulted from breeding Damascene goats.

But bulldog health problems are legion.  They are almost impossible to reproduce without AI or “hand matings,” and virtually all of the ones born in North America have been delivered via a planned C-section.

So we can judge the “brown people” over there for their deformed goats, but the truth is we ought to be looking at the dogs we are producing over here.

We have no room to make such pronouncements.

We are even more guilty than they are.

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Indiana leopard

Yes. Indiana, not India.

ABC News reports:

An Indiana woman trying to protect her cats from wild animal attacks was stunned to discover that the animal she and her boyfriend shot, thinking it was a bobcat prowling in her backyard, was actually a leopard, and now authorities are trying to determine how it got there.

Officials at the Indiana Department of Natural Resources confirmed that a leopard, which is not native to North America — let alone Indiana — was found at the woman’s residence in Charlestown. The DNR is investigating where the animal might have come from.

Donna Duke, a friend and neighbor of the woman who found the leopard, told ABC affiliate WDRB-TV in Louisville, Ky., that the woman had been concerned about her cats after a spate of attacks on pets in her area..

“She’s got cats that are basically her family,” Duke told WCRB.

According to Duke, the woman and her boyfriend stayed up all night Thursday to determine whether there was a bobcat loose in their area. When they saw the big cat in the woods at the edge of her property, the woman’s boyfriend shot and killed the animal before it could get any closer, not realizing it was a leopard.

Residents of Indiana are allowed to own exotic large cats but they must have a permit. The owner of a local wildlife refuge center located near the woman’s home told WDRB-TV that none of his animals were missing.


There are Alien Big Cats out there, but to prove their existence, we need a body. These bodies are strangely lacking in the UK, where there is a strong cultural tradition of big black cats. Americans own lots of inappropriate wildlife. Many states, including Indiana, really don’t regulate the ownership of these animals.

After all, Indiana and most other states like it assume that their citizens have some common sense!

I don’t think there is a freely breeding population of leopards in Indiana or Kentucky, but it is possible that an escapee can last a while out in the bush.

And long-time readers of the blog know that I once made a comparison between letting pet cats wander and turning out a leopard into a neighborhood.

When this actually happened, you can see what the reaction was.

The leopard wound up dead.

There is now a lot of discussion in many states and at the federal level about how to regulate private ownership of big cats.

Some people want it banned entirely– which I think sounds good in theory.

But there are so many privately owned big cats in America that it is going to be next to impossible to regulate anything.

A ban will work about as well as a ban on marijuana or booze.

It could actually make things worse.

People could start turning their animals out into the wild, or moving so far back into remote areas with them that the cats never see a veterinarian and get proper care or housing.

What we need is an effective regulatory regime.

I don’t know why people want to own animals like leopards. but they do.

And maybe the best course of action is to find commonsense regulations on their ownership.

At very least, there should be prison time for anyone who intentionally releases one of these animals into wild.

These animals deserve so much better, but we need to think it through.

Good intentions can occasionally bring about very negative unforeseen consequences.

I don’t the North America needs a population of freely breeding leopards running around.

But we could get it if we don’t carefully consider how we are going to regulate their ownership.

Some might doubt whether these animals could survive long enough in the wild to become proficient hunters of deer, but the truth is this one was hunting house pets– much easier prey.

It’s very sad that this poor leopard lost its life. When it is fully examined, my guess is that they will find that it only recently escaped or was released from the wild.

It’s a strange animal to keep as a pet.

But people have always tried to tame the big Carnivorans.

We managed to domesticate only one.

So far…

And some people just won’t give up, no matter how many dogs and cats and kids get killed.


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Lily pad dog


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This poor box turtle didn’t survive the haymaking:


Box turtles are sometimes killed by the tractors and other heavy equipment. My guess is the local turkey vulture clan cleaned out the shell.

I wish I had poked around with a bit more, because I could have clearly shown how turtle shells are actually just modified ribs.

But don’t worry too much. I cam across this specimen, who quite obviously survived it all.


Box turtles could be quite threatened in the very near future.

They can no longer be exported for the pet trade, and in the neighboring state of Ohio, they are listed as a “species of concern.”

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