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Archive for March, 2014

Hailstone Labradors

The dogs above are two purebred Labradors, and the white spots you see on the coats are not the result of the distortion or aging of the photo.

They actually are black dogs with what might be called “reverse Dalmatian spots.”

This coloration is quite rare in Labradors, and because of its rarity, no one knows its genetic basis. It just occasionally pops up in Labrador litters.

Countess Howe, one of the major forces behind the modern Labrador retriever breed, called this color “hailstone.

A very similar color also pops up in greyhounds, where it is much more common.

I have tongue-in-cheek called this coloration “ich” (pronounced “ick.”)

If you don’t know what “ich” refers to, well, there is a condition that occurs in freshwater fish called “ich.”

The official name for the disease is called Ichthyophthirius multifiliis, but most aquarists shorten it to “ich.” It is also called “white spot disease,” because it is easily recognized when one sees small white flecks on the gills and body of an aquarium fish.

The disease is caused by a protozoan called Ichthyopthirius that establishes itself on the body of the fish. Each white fleck is actually where a protozoan has set up a residence. These parasites wind up damaging so much of the skin and gill tissue that the mortality rate from fish affected by the disorder is quite high.

Of course, these dogs aren’t affected by anything other than some novel color phase.

It just happens to remind me of the deadly fish disease.

However, looking at these Labradors, I’m sure many will be reminded of the old cartoon 101 Dalmatians, where at one point, the Dalmatians try to sneak past Cruella de Vil and her minions, Horace and Jasper, by rolling themselves in soot and trying to pass themselves off as Labradors. Everything goes according to plan, until melting snow hits the dogs’ coats, revealing that they are Dalmatians and not Labradors.

(BTW, if you can’t tell the difference between a Labrador and a Dalmatian that is dyed black, there is no hope for you!).

 

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talking points

This came from an evil crossbreeder.

The AKC’s now recognizes that its biggest threat are the intentionally bred crossbreeds, which are, unfortunately, called “designer dogs.”

Are these crosses being mass produced on puppy farms? Yes.

Are breeder making fantastic claims about them? Yes.

Are they inherently evil because they are crossbred? No.

Crossbreeding dogs is not inherently unethical, but it comes up against a fundamentalist religion in dogs. This is the religion of the fancy, which has as its number one command “Thou shalt not cross breeds. Breeds are like species.”

The AKC is very much threatened by these crosses, which are taking away a huge share of the market for them.

The American people have never really believed that these multi-breed registries really represent our values as country. And now that we are the only industrialized nation outside of South Africa, South Korea, and Japan with a non-Caucasian head of state (who was elected with majorities both times), I don’t think the average American accept the tenants of blood purity for people or for dogs.

People are questioning many things that were once believed to be true:

Should marijuana be illegal like cocaine and heroin?

Should marriage be allowed between people of the same sex?

Should women be paid equal to men?

These questions are running rampant in the body politic right now, and I can tell you it wasn’t so long ago–ten years to be precisely– that these issues were not discussed at all.

Now they are.

And if we’re questioning these values, it’s not really hard to see that Americans are question something as silly and oddly foreign as the institutionalized dog fancy.

These institutions were not created for a country with very strong democratic institutions. They were created largely by Tory elitists in England and then grafted onto the United States, which has never accepted truly accepted the dog fancy as most of Europe has. I don’t think such an institution could last long in a country that elected a Barack Obama.

The United States doesn’t have the strongest democratic institutions in the world, but it has always had a very strong egalitarian spirit that sometimes comes bubbling up when people least expect it. One of the great paradoxes of this country is that even though we have a lot of inequality, we are somewhat embarrassed by it, which is probably why we don’t talk about it very much.

The dog fancy that the AKC works for is not an egalitarian organization at all. It is openly elitist. At the major dog shows, the dogs that tend to win are those that are professionally handled, which means that their owners are rich enough to hire someone to show their dogs for them. How many breeder-owner-handlers do you see when Westminster is on television?

So the AKC is now reduced to talking points on “designer dogs”  in much the same way anti-gay activists are on the issue of marriage equality.

The American people are rejecting the product the AKC is selling– not only because it is elitist and caught up in a faith-based position on blood purity– but because the dogs it is producing aren’t what people actually want.

People love Labradors.

But they also like Benji.

And they would like it if their Labradors didn’t shed so much.

Wait, there is a Benji-type Labrador cross that doesn’t shed as much as a pure Labrador?

Where do I get this amazing creature?!

Not the AKC, I can tell you that!

And that is why the AKC is in panic mode.

Now, I’m not a big fan of the doodles myself. The big reason is that I really don’t like the poodle coat, and as someone who keeps clean-shaven, I am not a big fan of beards.

If we were going to cross a Labrador with something, why not a golden retriever or a Chesapeake?

But one thing that that these doodles and other intentionally-bred crosses have done is that they have caused people to question the blood purity religion.

And yes, there are charlatans breeding doodles left and right.

But you really don’t have room to criticize these people when you keep bulldogs and Neapolitan mastiffs in your registry, and many of those dogs are being bred by absolute moonbats of the worst order.

A registry that would celebrate the rolling cushion of a dog known as the pekingese as the epitome of canine soundness has very little moral authority indeed.

The problems with all the “designer dogs” certainly do need to be corrected.

But I don’t reject them outright.

To reject them outright is to deny innovation in dogs. It is to accept on faith alone that blood purity is a virtue that must never be compromised.

And I don’t accept it.

I don’t think anyone with even a high school understanding of population genetics ever could– but you’d be surprised.

This is the big religion in dogs, and now it’s under assault.

It may be for very superficial reasons, but it is under assault.

And the AKC is totally caught flat-footed.

Talking points aren’t going to save it, and I must confess I’ve heard them all before.

They all amount to a dog fancy equivalent of a Gish Gallop, including misrepresenting a study on whether purebred dogs are healthier than mixes. (See Christopher Landauer’s (Border Wars) attack on this misrepresentation in the comments!).

The dog fancy is on its knees.

A country that now wants marijuana legalized is fine with Labradoodles.

And the AKC cannot handle it.

Don't hate me because I'm crossbred.

Don’t hate me because I’m crossbred.

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Skye terrier

I am not fan of journalism by press release.

It’s not really “journalism” anyway. It is simply media relations, and media relations might as well be called spin. Spin is not really about the truth. It’s about advocacy, and it’s often about deception.

There is so much of this in the world of journalism about dogs that it is very hard to tell if something is true or not.

And if you want to see a very good example of it, take this puff piece that appeared on the BBC’s website last May. It is called “Why is the Skye terrier is an endangered breed?”

It discusses how popular Skye terriers were for a time. For a period in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, It was a breed that was quite fashionable to have, especially in the burgher classes in Scotland.  Indeed, I’ve written about how the Marjoribanks family, who started the strain of yellow wavy-coated retrievers that are the basis for the golden retriever, were actually better known for the Skye terriers than their retrievers.

But now their retriever has taken the world by storm, and their terrier is a breed on the verge of extinction.

The BBC piece could have done some really good homework on this breed. The question of why breeds become popular and then become extinct is a very fascinating question to me.

Instead, the reporter who wrote the piece decided to do the laziest thing possible:  Go to the Kennel Club and get their media relations expert to spin a tale for the presses. It goes like this:

Caroline Kisko, secretary of the Kennel Club, says Skye terriers are good house dogs with a very loyal and friendly character.

She says: “They are very glamorous. Their coats are very attractive. They are a very friendly, nice dog to have around and they are certainly very weather-proof.

“If you are out and about they will not get cold.”

So why has the breed fallen out of favour?

Ms Kisko says: “Much of this is about the profile of the dog, whether or not people are aware that the breeds exist.

“Some of the problems we have with the vulnerable breeds is that people have simply forgotten that they are there.”

Well, that actually didn’t answer the question at all. People just don’t know about them.

Except that they do.

I grew up on the story of Greyfriars Bobby. Disney made a movie about this dog, a Skye terrier that stayed at his master’s grave for fourteen years.

Too bad the entire story was a hoax. The truth is it was an elaborate hoax to promote tourism and business in that part of Edinburgh.

People know about this breed. They just don’t want them.

Now, I thought we could delve into why this breed’s popularity collapsed, but the Kennel Club representative decided to use this opportunity as a chance to smear Labradoodles, a dog that has nothing to do with Skye terriers at all. Although in fairness, it is a representative with the parent club of the Skye terrier in the UK who starts down this bizarre comparison.

Designers breeds such as the labradoodle – a crossbred created by crossing the Labrador Retriever and the Poodle – have become very fashionable.

Mrs [Gail] Marshall [of the Skye Terriers Club] says this is another reason why traditional breeds such as the Skye terrier are being marginalised.

Ms Kisko, whose organisation does not register cross-breeds, says: “The designer crosses such as the labradoodle and the cockapoo (a Cocker Spaniel and a miniature poodle) are proving to be very popular these days and that is all on the pretext that they will be automatically healthier than the breeds they come from, which is patently untrue.”

She says people should do more research before buying a dog, checking out some of the British native breeds which have been popular pets for centuries.

I was not expecting this to be the reason why Skye terriers are becoming rare!

First of all, the purebred Labrador retriever is by far the most popular native British dog breed. It was actually developed in its present form from the St. John’s water dog of Newfoundland on a few select estates in England and Scotland. It is an easily trained dog, noted for its versatility in helping guide the blind, assist the handicaped, and sniff out bombs and contraband. It is also docile as can be.

Skye terriers, by contrast, have very hard to care for coats. They known for being difficult to train, and they do not have a reputation for being good family dogs.

The Labrador requires more exercise than the Skye, but if you’re in a world in which dogs with Labrador-type temperaments are more practical and desired, why would you expect Skye terriers to be able to compete?

Futher, the big reason people get Labradoodles is because they want the Labrador temperament, but they don’t want the Labrador hairs all over their houses. So they get Labrador/Standard poodle crosses, which are lower shedding than pure Labradors.

Now, there are a lot of claims about Labradoodles that are not true:

They are not hypoallergenic because people are allergic to dog dander, not dog hair.  Also they do get the health problems associated with both Standard poodles and Labradors, but because the cross has been around for only a short time there have been no good studies to see if there is a heterosis effect (though there probably is).

And Labradoodles are mass-produced, often in deplorable conditions. After all, there is a big market for a Labrador that doesn’t shed as much and looks like a bigger version of Benji.

And that’s precisely what doesn’t exist for the Skye terrier.

Further, the terrier and retriever markets are entirely different demographics, so this claim that people wanting Labradoodles is the reason why no one wants a Skye terrier might be the stupidest thing I’ve ever read on the BBC’s website.

I’m stunned that the answer to the question about why the Skye terrier is going extinct gets reduced to something so completely impossible.

This is actually a question for which I don’t have an answer.

I know that Skye terriers have not been used as actual earth dogs in many, many years, but that alone wouldn’t ruin their value as pets. Yorkshire terriers, which are also silky-coated terriers of Scottish ancestry and are almost never used as anything but pets, are quite popular little dogs.

Why would people be so Yorkie-crazed but so dismissive of the Skye?

There must be a good reason, and the answer absolutely is not that people want Labradoodles.

All that was done in this piece was to deflect what is a very good question into a hatchet piece on intentionally-bred crossbreeds.

Not all is perfect in the world of the doodles, but just because they are intentionally-bred mixes does not make them illegitimate. If done right, doodling is an entirely harmless activity, and if really done right, it could be a source for increasing genetic diversity in established retriever and poodle strains.

It just makes them a convenient scapegoat.

The Kennel Club has no answer for why the Skye terrier is in such dire straights.

I think the real reason it has no answer is the real answer is that this dog is a fanciers’ dog. It became a plaything of the dog pageant set. The dog pageant and freak show people are at the heart of the Kennel Club’s mission. It is their base in the same way the religious right is the base of the Republican Party. In politics, one does not go out of the way to insult one’s base. (Only Bill Clinton could ever get away with it!)

When a dog breed becomes something that can only be admired by a very narrow set of fanciers, then it is on its way to becoming rare already.

I also think there is a distinct possibility that the fanciers of this breed intentionally bred “one mannishness” into this dog after buying wholeheartedly into the Greyfriars Bobby hoax. If you breed a dog that naturally tends to bond with only a few people and then is reactive toward strangers, you might be asking for its popularity to drop rather quickly.

So if you breed a dog with a coat that is hard to groom and temperament that requires lots of work and socialization to make the dog docile and tractable, why would you be surprised that very few people want them?

You cannot blame the public for wanting Labradoodles.

The real blame is on dog fanciers who allowed a romantic story– one with huge gaping holes in it– to cloud their judgment on how to breed a dog for the twentieth century.

And because they allowed that story cloud their judgment, the breed won’t likely see the end of the twenty-first.

That’s definitely not the Labradoodle’s fault.

 

 

 

 

 

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