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Archive for June, 2019

bulldog

For years, this blog and many others gained lots of views by constantly harping on brachycephalic breeds, especially bulldogs and pugs.  Those were in the days when I was a bit more edgelord in technique, and those were the days when I was significantly more sanctimonious and humorless as person, too.

Sometimes, the ol’ ‘possum spends all his time climbing the persimmon tree, only to discovery the tree is a hickory.  And then he has to climb down and figure out where the persimmon tree actually is.

This is where I am as a person, as a blogger/writer, and as a dog enthusiast. The persimmon tree is somewhere else, and that means taking stock of where I once was and how I can do better.

The issues with brachycephalic breeds are that they never fully oxygenate themselves, and they often have a hard time cooling themselves. I know of certain blogs that spend post after post looking a bulldog and pug nostrils with lots of shaming involved.

The problem is that pet people most don’t care what sanctimonious internet personalities think, and the dog show people, especially those at the top of the game, don’t care either.  The show dog people are going to spend money on health testing and c-sections on their bulldogs, and they will sell them at a high price to homes with resources to care for them.

As pets, they can live full and wonderful lives. They don’t have to have the endurance of a Dalmatian or  German short-haired pointer.

Further, all this shaming didn’t work at all. The popularity of these dogs continues to be quite high. And this shaming has given fuel to the anti-breeder sentiment in the country, which revels in creating division among dog people. This division is why we are getting so many weird laws passed in state houses, ones that ultimately harm responsible dog breeders and do nothing to improve animal welfare.

So I’ve come to the conclusion that what I’ve written about bulldogs and the like in previous years, though well-meaning,  has ultimately been harmful to the things I love the most.

Even if the welfare issues associated with brachycephalic dogs were the greatest issue facing dogs today, shaming people won’t solve the problem.  People will dig in and tell you how awful you are, and whatever wisdom you might have will be simply ignored.

And when we look at the actual welfare issues facing these breeds are they really suffering all that much?  If they live in homes where they are pampered and well-cared for, they are doing pretty well, better than perhaps a billion people living on this planet.

I support educating and disclosing what potential risks of owning a bulldog or pug might entail. I guarantee you that the ethical breeders producing these dogs are disclosing these risks to puppy buyers.

And that should be all that is required of breeder of any breed or strain.

If bulldogs, French bulldogs, and pugs really do have this level of welfare concern, then it will become obvious. In ten years, the craze will have swept through the pet market, and people will be buying something other fad breed.

But I suspect that these health and welfare problems are much easier to mitigate than we have been led to believe, and if they are, why did I waste so much time with this nonsense?

It didn’t even work. And I was a total jerk.

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dog_food_brands_named_most_frequently_in_dcm_cases_reported_to_fda

I don’t like posting dog food controversies on this blog, simply because dog food leads to lots of fights.

A few years ago, it was revealed that dogs had more copies of gene that leads to the production of amylase than wolves do. Amylase is used to convert starches into simple sugars, and dogs with these extra copies would be better able to get nutrition from grains.  These extra copies made it easier for dogs to live in human societies that were shifting from hunter-gatherer to the modern agrarian exist.

That study means that dogs can do well on a diet that is rich in grains.  Many members the raw feeding movement,  swear that dogs must be fed only meat and organs. Some dogs do have a real difficulty digesting grain-based dog food, and they certainly would do better on this diet. However, in the raw feeding community, there is a generally held belief that virtually all degenerative disease in dogs can be traced to having corn or some other grain in the diet.

That controversy is still raging, though not in scientific circles. The real controversy with grains and dog food right now comes from the discovery of a linkage between feeding grain free dog food and dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM).  Grain free dog foods have been all the rage in recent years. They provide the convenient kibbles, but unlike grain-based kibble, some sort of legume is used to create the mixture.

Last year, there was deep suspicion that dogs fed a grain free diet were having issues with DCM, and a few days ago, the FDA released a study that shows a very strong linkage between these diets and contracting DCM.

The current hypothesis is that the legumes interfere in some way with he excretion and production of taurine, which creates a taurine deficiency that leads to the DCM.

More research needs to be done, of course.  Taurine is not considered an essential amino acid for dogs, but it very well might be.

Maybe, though, the best thing to feed a dog is a scientifically formulated dog food from a long-established company, one that has performed decades worth of research on its products.

Until we know for sure, maybe it’s safer to feed dogs one of those brands.

I certainly think so.

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muzzled pit bull

For years, I’ve had a long-standing policy of never writing about pit bulls or bull breed mixes.  I oppose BSL, and I think if any breed or type of dog requires compassionate advocates, it is these dogs.

But just because I oppose BSL does not mean that I think that selective breeding is without importance when it comes to dog behavior.

I am also fully aware that there are millions of these dogs that haven’t had fighting ancestors for many, many generations. Lots of these dogs are pretty mild, even more toned-down the typical boxer.

However, I am aware that there are many of these dogs that still retain instincts to fight other dogs, and some of these dogs are particularly dangerous to people. I used to have strong beliefs that shelters and rescues base their decisions upon individuals and not the breed, and I still largely have this opinion.

But in recent years, pit bull advocacy has turned into a sort of base denial that selective breeding has any effect on the behavior of these dogs. We also are living in a time when people are encouraged to rescue dogs, rather than buy them from breeders.

We live in an era in which people are being encouraged to give up meat, reduce their carbon footprint, and generally do things that are compassionate and responsible. People are told that the best thing you do is rescue a dog. However, what we have seen in the past decade or so, we have seen really wonderful reforms in community shelters across the nation.  Purebred rescues have done a remarkable job in keeping their dogs out of shelters, as have truly responsible breeders. High intake shelters in the South have good relationships with shelters in other parts of the country, so dogs wind up in areas where there are good homes.

These developments are all good things for dogs in the United States. But a new problem has arisen.

Go to virtually any county pound or public shelter, and the vast majority of the dogs there will be pit bulls and pit bull mixes. The best shelters do evaluate these dogs and are careful at screening which homes get them, but not all shelters have the expertise to do the due diligence.

Meanwhile, because these dogs really do need homes, lots of pit bull advocates are encouraging socially conscious people to go to the shelter and adopt a pit bull. In many cases, it’s a match made in heaven, but in too many other cases, a really super hot pit bull winds up in the hands of someone who cannot control, manage, or contain the animal properly.

And this creates a dangerous situation.

Let’s take an absurd analogy to see why this is a problem. I love Belgian Malinois, but I know the most serious people in that breed do all they can to ensure their dogs wind up in the right homes.  These dogs have a lot in common with pit bulls, and because they are generally bred by only serious enthusiasts, they are more consistently a lot of dog than we see in the various pit bull types.

But no one says that Malinois are nanny dogs or that having one is just like having a Labrador.  If anyone were to say such absurdities, they would likely be driven out of the entire Malinois culture.

But in pit bulls, we hear all sorts of things about how docile they are. And yes, a lot of them are quite mild dogs, but the ones that are really aggressive certainly do exist.

So when these advocates are promoting that pit bulls are just like any other dog they are not doing the dogs any favors. Yes, you can get a mild and gentle pit bull, but if you’re getting the dog from the pound, there is a good chance that you could be getting something that is a bit much.

Newby dog owners and potentially aggressive dogs are not a good mix.  Add to this melange a new belief system that says that dogs must be trained and managed without any form of punishment or discomfort, and we’re talking a really dangerous situation.

I know that what I have written is controversial. It is controversial only because of context. No one would jump my case for saying that border collies go into stalking position when they herd sheep because of selective breeding. It is without controversy to say that pointers will hold their points when the see or smell quarry.

The level of dog aggression that some pit bulls have came about because of selective breeding. It is not all in how you raise them.  Most people are ill-equipped to deal with a dog that has that sort of behavior, and if you’re not, you should not just get a shelter pit bull. You might get a mild, gentle one.  Or you could get something that really isn’t a good dog for the typical family.

That’s a hard thing to say, because yes, there is a chance that you could get a gentle pit bull. Further, dogs in shelters may behave entirely differently at the shelter than they will after being at someone’s home for a few months.  When a dog becomes comfortable in its new home, then you can see what the temperament actually is, and it may not be something that is easy to handle.

I am not saying that anyone who gets a pit bull or rescues one is an idiot or that these dogs are universally dangerous. I am saying that there is a good chance that you can get a dog that is too much. And you’d better be prepared to manage and control this animal.

If you don’t know how or are unwilling to get one of these dogs off another dog, then you should look for another breed.

I mean this as no insult to the nice, well-managed pit bulls and bull breed mixes, but I am saying that there really are dogs out there in this general type of dog that will do a lot of damage to another dog. Some are so bad that they are dangerous to people.

Further, we, as dog people, should stop shaming people who get their dogs from responsible breeders. We are unintentionally driving people to get dogs they might not be able to handle properly, and this is not good for any dog anywhere.

Please note that I am not saying that this same problem exists only in pit bulls.  You can get German shepherds are totally dangerous.  Pretty much any large dog can be dangerous in the right circumstances.

But the issue I’m criticizing is the rescue culture that is pushing these dogs, which can potentially have these problems, onto a well-meaning but largely unskilled public. And with this type of dog, this is exactly what is going on.

And these dogs certainly deserve better advocacy. I don’t write these words because I hate the dogs or their owners. I love dogs, but I want dogs to be in homes that can full appreciate and manage what the dog really is.

I don’t think anyone can construe my position with hatred. Just disappointment.

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Dare and big quest

So Dare arrived Monday evening. Quest’s breeder dropped her off, along with the Brown Puppy himself, who had been up in New York State winning a few more points towards his AKC championship.

She is a fire-cracker of a pup. She doesn’t scream in her crate, and she eliminates as soon as her feet hit the ground.  She’s not going to be tough to house train at all.

She is also quite interactive. She already looking me in the eye when I talk to her, and she’s also talking back with her cute little German shepherd moans.

Dare and questy

She and Quest are getting along very well. He never really has any problem with little puppies, and he generally likes other dogs. So those two won’t be much of a problem.

Dare has that German shepherd look in her eyes. It’s hard to describe, but it’s one of their hallmarks. They have deep piercing eyes that fully portray their intelligence.

dare at home

I think she will be an awesome dog. She’s already a super puppy.

dare gaiting

And yes, I must fully admit that I am no longer a golden retriever person. They are good dogs, but they don’t do it for me the way a German shepherd can.

I am so fortunate to know so many good people in the breed in this country. I want to thank Frank De Bem of Kysarah Shepherds in New Hampshire for giving us this wonderful opportunity, and I want to thank Brianna Burkhart, Pamela Martin, and Anya Dobratz for transporting her across the Northeast to get her out here.

So I am happy with this little black and tan pup.  I know that I am in the right breed community, and these dogs are so awesome.

 

 

 

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narwhal hybrid.png

a: beluga skull b. “narluga hybrid” c. male narwhal skull.

In the 1980s, an Inuit subsistence hunter in Greenland killed three gray whales that looked suspiciously like belugas at first. However, they were oddly gray. The fins resembled a beluga’s, while the tail looked like that of a narwhal.

The hunter kept one of the skulls, eventually donating it to science, where became the property of the Greenland Fisheries Research Institute. A scientist working for that institute, Mads Peter Heide-Jørgensen,hypothesized that this skull came from a hybrid between a narwhal and a beluga.

It was only today that a study was released in the journal Nature that revealed that this whale was indeed a hybrid. The DNA analysis revealed that male beluga mated with a female narwhal to produce the creature.

The skull was quite strange. Belugas have 40 homodont teeth. Narwhals are toothless, except males. The males have one really long canine tooth that sticks out as a tusk. Sometimes, they have two, but most have only one true tooth. It is spiraled like what is expected form the mythical unicorn. They do have only a few vestigial teeth.

The hybrid had 18 teeth, many of which were pointed out horizontally and spiraled like the vestigial teeth of the narwhal.

Isotopic analysis also revealed that the hybrid had a different diet from either parent species, both of which catch fish or squid in the open water. The beluga hunts fish at depths of up to 500 meters, while the narwhal hunts fish or squid at depths exceeding 800 meters. The isotopic analysis revealed that the narluga was eating mostly benthic prey, which means it was eating mostly shellfish from the sea floor.

So this study raises so many questions. Analysis of the narwhal genome revealed that gene flow between the two species stopped between 1.25 and 1.65 million years ago. The initial split happened around 4 million years ago, and that study thought that an viable hybrids would be unable to reproduce. However, the authors of the study cautioned that a larger sample size of individual narwhal and beluga genomes from across their range might reveal more recent dates on when gene flow stopped (if it did at all).

So it is not entirely clear that this hybrid would have been sterile, but we also have no further evidence of hybrids anywhere else.  It is quite possible that these hybrids could be fertile, and if they are, climate change could cause the eventual genetic extinction of the narwhal.

The morphology and feeding behavior this odd whale might point to the origins of the narwhal. Perhaps the ancestral narwhal was a benthic feeding whale that later lost its teeth to become a whale that hunts squid and fish at great depths with an almost toothless mouth.

Having teeth like the hybrid is a great adaptation for this particular diet, because the forward pointing teeth can poke around and dislodge shellfish more easily.

If these hybrids are fertile, then one could see the eventual development of a hybrid whale species that has its own niche as a benthic feeder in the arctic.

It is an amazing find, and chances are there will be more discovered. Further, as scientists examine genomes from belugas and narwhals from a wide geographic distribution, we might see evidence of some hybridization.

Hybridization could also increase genetic diversity in narwhals, but if these hybrids must eat a fundamentally different diet than narwhals do, it might become difficult for these hybrids to add their genes to narwhal populations. They just cannot hang out for extensive periods of time, before they have to split off and engage in divergent feeding behavior.

So this discovery does generate lots of speculation and raises several important questions that need to be addressed.

Pretty cool.

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dare being cute

As I mentioned in my post about letting Anka find a new home, new opportunities were on the way.

When Anka left, though, I was not expecting to get this great new co-own opportunity. Frank De Bem of Kysarah Shepherds in New Hampshire offered us a co-ownership deal with one of his hot show prospects.

So on Sunday, Kysarah’s Dare To Be Different will be part of our household. She is 1/4 West German show line. The rest American show line.

I’m told that she is a total hellion. She has lots of drive and good nerves, which is good because I do want to train her in obedience and herding. The sire has a PT, so we could have a herder on our hands.

So yes, it’s obvious I’ve moved onto a different breed, and when she gets here on Sunday, I’ll give you a full assessment.

But I am so excited about this pup.

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dog eye muscle

Dog domestication needs to be understood as a coevolution between our species and this form of gray wolf.  Today, an amazing finding was released in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that most domestic dogs have a muscle on the inner part of their eyebrows that allows them to make intense expressions that humans can easily read or anthropomorphize.

This muscle, called the levator anguli oculi medialis, was present in 5 out 6 dogs that were examined.  The only dog that didn’t have this muscle was a Siberian husky, which is considered a primitive dog in most dog classification schemes.

This ability to make such intense expressions that we regard as cute or “puppy dog” faces would have selective advantages in ancestral dog populations. Looking cute could elicit nurturing behavior from humans, who would make sure the dog got better food, and dogs with this muscle would have had a greater chance of survival and passing on their genes than dogs that were lacking it.

So, dogs have indeed co-evolved with humans. They have evolved several cognitive short-cuts that allow them to communicate and learn from us, and they also have evolved ways of manipulating us to benefit themselves.

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