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Archive for December, 2018

Clive loves to be on the couch and get some love.

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Lots of footage of Algonquin Park’s wolves, which are heavily admixed with coyotes, even breeding with them now when both populations are relatively stable. You can really see the coyote influence in this wolves, for these are the closest thing to a population of 50/50 “coywolves” in the wild.

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River otters are pretty bad-ass.

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Gordon Buchanan hanging out with fully wild wolf named Scruffy on Ellesmere Island. These Ellesmere wolves and those of Greenland were recently found to be a very genetically distinct population of North American wolf.

Long-time readers of this blog know that I am particularly fascinated by studies on wolf DNA, and I was surprised that I missed this little gem that came out in PLOS Genetics last month.

The authors used 40 genome sequences of gray wolves, Great Lakes wolves, proposed Eastern and red wolves, and coyotes. The authors found further evidence to show that red, Eastern, and Great Lakes wolves are various mixtures of coyotes and gray wolves. The paper also found that all gray wolves derived in North America do derive from a single ancestral population and thus represent a single monophyletic clade within Canis lupus. 

The most interesting part of this paper though dealt with the genomes of wolves from the Queen Elizabeth Island, the famous arctic wolves, which are known for their white coats and curious nature around people.

The authors found that there were three distinct populations, which the authors define as East Arctic, West Arctic, and Polar.   The first two had some evidence of admixture with mainland gray wolves, but the ones defined as “Polar” did not. 

The wolves whose genomes came back that distinct were from Ellesmere and Greenland, which are the most northerly distributed of all North American wolves. The authors found that these wolves are relatively isolated from other wolf populations, and they do not have much genetic diversity.

These wolves have long fascinated me. They are curious and even socially open with people, and I think could give us a clue about how wolves could have hooked up with people in those Pleistocene days. 

But the discovery that they really are a genetically distinct population is also of great interest. Even more, we have full genomes from these wolves now, and maybe we can do a comparison study of these curious wolves that have never been intensely persecuted by man, normal gray wolves, and domestic dogs.  Maybe we can see what sorts of genes dogs and these polar wolves share that do not exist in other wolves, and maybe we could find out that my hypothesis is correct. 

This hypothesis is the one that states that the original wolves of Eurasia behaved more like these polar wolves than the timid and fearful wolves of lower latitudes. If these polar wolves share genes associated with tameness that are also associated with domestic dogs and their general behavior, then we might see evidence some evidence that the original wolf of Eurasia would have had the temperament that could have led to domestication.

But that will have to wait for another paper, which I am waiting for. 

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The story of people and dogs is always tied in some way to culture, which is itself tied economics and sociology. 

For example, I came of age in the Era of the Retriever, when in the late 80s and 90s, there was enough economic expansion as the result of a technology boom that middle class aspirations were always a house in the suburbs and a golden or Labrador retriever in the backyard.

Since the Great Recession, the middle class hasn’t been able to grow in most Western countries, and large sectors of people are coming of age in a world in which people must work long hours and live in little apartments.

Those are not the best conditions for caring for a gun dog breed, unless it’s a very toned down Labrador or golden. 

Ten years ago, there was bit of an English bulldog fad. Ozzy Osbourne had bulldogs, and several reality TV shows, not just his, featured the breed. The breed suffers from a myriad of problems, and it took about a decade before people began to realize that these dogs are a lot of work and heartache.

So the English bulldog’popularity boom never stood a chance at replacing the Labrador.

But traveling alongside its larger English counterpart in its popularity rise was the French bulldog, and it is this breed that has the potential to reign as the most popular breed in much of the West in a very short order.

You may think I’m a bit crazy for saying so, but right now, the French bulldog has already displaced the Labrador in the UK in terms of Kennel Club registrations.

The reasons why this is happening are quite interesting. These dogs are not easy to breed, so the prices of them are extremely high. They are not dogs that the middle class can buy, but as the good life is no longer being defined as having a big house in the suburbs and having children, the French bulldog fits in better with these expectations.

Someone once told me that the reason someone likes French bulldogs is because they don’t like dogs.  What was meant by that statement is that French bulldogs lack many of the traits we typically like in our dogs. They are not particularly trainable. They do have issues cooling themselves and breathing, as a result of their brachycephaly, and they really cannot be used for anything.

I’ve contended that the appeal of these dogs is they have more monkey-like faces, which we higher primates find particularly easy to relate to it,  and we now live in a world where it’s harder and harder to keep and handle dogs. So much so, that  we now have whole generations who don’t understand what a dog should be like.

So they go for the monkey dog, which won’t mind that it must live in an apartment or condo and certainly won’t care if its owner can’t give it much exercise or serious training.

The dog is cute to some people, probably because of our own ethology that predisposes us to monkey faces, and it’s not that hard to care for.

It’s now obvious that the market for these dogs is far from saturated, and people are plunking down as much as $10,000 for an eight-week-old puppy of some fad coloration in the breed.

There is now so much money in this breed, that thieves are stealing them from homes and even pet stores.

I am not going to argue for legislation that will tell you what kind of dog you must have, but it seems perverse that we moving so staunchly away from truly athletic and workmanlike dogs to these monkey dogs.

I can’t help but feel some sorrow about what we’re doing, because we’re not really doing it because of dogs but because of our own alienation from the natural world, an alienation that becomes more and more complete every year and with each generation.

The wolves that sat by the campfires of yore allowed their bodies to be bred in some many bizarre shapes and forms, but the current move is to step so far away from what a wolf is or was. It is step beyond the 35 million years or so this particular subfamily of Canidae, which has been to develop adaptations for distance running and cursorial predation.

We are engineering something new, just the way we have when we adapted wolves and primitive dogs for own new societies and tasks. It’s just what’s driving this distortion is human caprices and fashions, which are so rarely checked in when allowed to run amok in domestic dog breeds.

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Turning into a Whippet

Poet is turning into a proper whippet.

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Show dog leaps to catch the ball.

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