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Archive for July, 2019

dare legs

I know I have lost readers because I no longer write what I once did about purebred dogs. I was part of a movement, though of a keyboard warrior type, that had a lot of heart and passion but not a lot of practical skills in influencing people.

Further, as I’ve spent a lot more time in dogs, I’ve had time to reflect upon the true problems facing the species.  The real problem is almost never a serious hobbyist breeder producing health-tested puppies. Even if there are some potential welfare issues with extreme conformation, these are much more easily mitigated than I once believed or is currently being promoted on the internet.

The way this movement got started is through outrage. If you follow any of the personalities associated with this movement, especially me around the years 2010-2012, you will notice a tendency to use outrage as a muse, to use anger to inflect the voice, and to be a general asshole online.

Did I get a lot more hits doing this sort of writing? You bet. People are attracted to conflict. People are attracted to someone shouting at the powers that be, even if the words are all coming from a space of ignorance.

This movement has been around for about 25 years. When blogs took off, those that focused on these issues drew a lot of attention.

Over time, a sort of lynch mob mentality has taken hold when it comes to purebred dogs, and now there are people whose whole shtick is feeding that lynch mob.

But to do so one must find the outrage. The red meat is hard to come by, so bile will do.  And some of these personalities are the most obnoxious, joyless people you will ever encounter.

And I am sure that I was just as obnoxious and joyless back then.

I will admit that has been a challenge for me to come out as having changed my mind. The reason is simple. I promoted myself as an expert who knew facts. I fed the outrage machine, and to step away from the community that thinks it knows you and admit error is to invite lots of hatred. I am a Quisling, a Benedict Arnold.

I am in one of these weird positions where I get comments that contain all the information that I’ve not only read but have used in my previous life, and I now think this information is mostly, well, not the full story.

To become an adult is to accept nuance. To become a skeptic means to challenge what one believes on a regular basis.

But so much of what is being fed in this rather toxic movement isn’t speaking to adults. It is not encouraging critical thought or skepticism. It is about feeding the beast, and now the beast is coupled together with an animal rights movement that hates almost everything I stand for.

These lynch mobs will see dogs legislated out of anything meaningful. Unless you’re super wealthy, you will be forced to get a sketchy rescue dog from a shelter, because the well-bred ones either won’t exist or will be so expensive, no one but the super-wealthy can afford them.

And as we watch the final dying off of social democracy in the West, and corrupt and feckless politicians from these parties will throw what’s left of their base a bone with insane animal rights legislation. They won’t protect social safety net for the poor, but they will save the puppies from evil dog breeders.

I’d rather not feed into any of this nonsense. I’d rather enjoy dogs and hope that this beast can be kept at bay as long as possible.

So I am not feeding into this outrage anymore. The fact that so many will go elsewhere to find this outrage now that I’m not producing it gives me very little hope for the future.

All I can do is correct the errors and hope that someone might listen.

 

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slope back

I have to say that much of what I wrote in the early days of this blog came from ignorance. I had never been exposed to serious hobbyist breeders of purebred dogs, and much of what I thought I knew came from reading some books and reading blogs.

Over the past year, I have developed really good friendships with several breeders, including a few I used to have rows with on social media.

I must say that much of what I used to believe is utter rubbish. If you see these blog posts and ask me about them, I will instantly apologize and laugh at my own stupidity.  I suppose that is what happens to all of us, especially if we are capable of being objective and are always striving to keep an open mind.

Recently, a Facebook page shared a graphic that compared purebred dog breeders to used car salesmen. In my past life, I would have shared such a graphic without hesitation, but now I know better.

This page encouraged people to adopt a dog from a shelter or rescue, especially if the dog happened to be crossbred.

Having spent enough time dealing with dogs of various types, I’ve come to the controversial view that first time dog owners should avoid rescuing a dog from the shelter. First time dog owners are better off going to a show breeder.

Why?

Well, dog show people are breeding dogs, but they aren’t doing so haphazardly. No dog of any breed can do well as a show dog, even if it has stellar type and movement, if its temperament is terrible. I know breeders who place temperament above all when they make their breeding selections.

And although there are breeders of working strains, especially of the breeds I’m most familiar with (German shepherds and retrievers), who are thinking carefully about their dog breeding decisions,  these working strain dogs are often too much dog for the typical first time dog owner.

So my initial contention that people should always go for the working dog type was unbelievably stupid.

Now, ten years ago, I might have suggested rescuing a dog from the local shelter, but the shelters now don’t have that many dogs that would be great for novices.  The breed rescues and the shelters themselves have done a much better job finding homes for adoptable animals, and in 2017, it is estimated that only 780,000 dogs were euthanized in shelters. That same year, there were an estimated 89.7 million dogs in the entire country.

So the shelters now are filled with lots of dogs, usually pit bull type dogs, that might be great companions for the right owner. That right owner, though, is almost never a novice. Yeah, there are mild ones that easy as a typical Labrador, but there are also really hot ones that need careful management and skilled dog handling and training.

The reason these dogs are now so common in shelters is that virtually every other breed or type now either winds up in a breed rescue or is transported to another part of the country where the shelters can easily adopt them out.  Dog aggressive pit bull-type dogs are not among the desirables for these rescues.

So the pet overpopulation issue that tends to behind the nonsensical mantra of “adopt don’t shop” is now obsolete. You can buy whatever breed you want, guilt free.  A show bred GSD with health clearances and strong selection for a good temperament is not equivalent to a shelter bully breed mix.  The person who can handle the former might get lucky and be able to handle a mild specimen of the latter, but the same person will not be able to handle a particularly hot one.

A purebred dog from a serious hobbyist breeder offers you some consistency and knowledge that the breeding that produced your puppy came was one that was fully thought out. These dogs cost a lot of money, because it took a lot of money to prove these dogs worthy of breeding, through the shows, any working tests, and the health testing.

The people who shame those of us who buy purebred dogs because we’re killing shelter dogs are simply ignorant. They don’t know what is going on with shelters and dog populations right now. They know only what the world was like 20 years ago, when dogs were roaming the streets and mating all over the place. They don’t know that some people might want a dog that has more utility than being a pet, and they don’t know that breed actually does matter when it comes to proper dog management and husbandry.

So the purebred dog and its fanciers, though under attack by various lynch mobs, are ultimately the choice for better future for our species and theirs.

I don’t hate crossbreeds. I don’t hate mutts. I don’t even hate those who cross purebred dogs, and some of those breeders really do care about what they are producing. I don’t think dog people of any stripe should hate on other breeders, because dog breeders must stick together if we are to deal with the various lynch mobs and legislative fiats heading this way.

I only write these words in defense of the purebred dog and its fanciers and to offer encouragement for the public to support serious hobby breeders.

 

 

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dare stacked

The little Tasmanian devil is turning into a little lady.   She’s about to enter the “teething ears” phase in which she will look quite ridiculous.

 

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dare platz

Dare is learning very quickly. She has learned the difference between “sit” and “platz” (I prefer the German for her for that command), and the difference between the markers “yes” (you did the right thing!) and “good” (keep doing what you’re doing, like remaining in a sit or down position). She also has a good enough puppy recall that I can call her off the cat, which is her favorite playmate.

She has tons of ball drive for a puppy. She is already fetching toys and bringing them back to hand, which is amazing considering how many golden retrievers I know that have no natural or play retrieve to speak of.

I really enjoy training this breed. I find them far easier than any gun dog.

She is also learning valuable lessons from other dogs. If she gets rowdy playing with the whippets and runs over sleeping Erika, Erika will correct the puppy for her rudeness.  She has acute awareness of other dogs’ body language.  She respects the elder dogs, but she also enjoys playing with them.

She has a genetically sound temperament, but she is getting the upbringing she truly deserves to become a super dog. I cannot be prouder of this little pup.

fetching dare

 

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gsd wolf

So in the early days of this blog, I was wrong about something.  I wish I had never written a word about German shepherd structure and hips,  because I was essentially parroting nonsense that I’d read somewhere without asking for documentation. The rear angulation of the dog is not related to hip dysplasia. There are plenty of dogs with “extra: rears that have OFA excellent hips.

Also, although one can get worked up about “hock walking,” no one is actually intentionally breeding a German shepherd to walk on his hocks. The goal is to produce flowing side movement, where the dog opens up in the rear and shoulder.  Some dogs may walk on their hocks, but if the dog is just going to be a pet, it’s not a major welfare issue. We have some studies on GSD longevity that show that skeletal and spinal issues are a major reason why they die, but those studies do not provide a break down about the dog’s actual conformation or if the dog died of a condition called degenerative myelopathy, which is a genetic condition that results in the dog’s spinal cord degenerating when it is an older dog.

I know there will be people who refuse to believe a single word I’ve written in these two paragraphs, and they will comment away about what an idiot I am for changing my mind. I honestly don’t care. I have looked at the same evidence you have, and I don’t find it convincing.

At the same time, though, people who have written and promoted the position that I once held about German shepherd structure have unintentionally set the breed up for failure in pet homes.

When we go on and on about how terrible the show dogs are, the pet buying public will naturally turn to breeders who have dogs that lack the rear angulation. The vast majority of German shepherds bred without this angulation are those bred for bite-work or for bite=work competitions. These are wonderful dogs.  It was one of these dogs that turned me into a lover of the breed.

But they are not for everyone. These dogs have lots and lots of drive. They are smart. Some have really high defense drive and little social openness. Some poorly-bred ones are sketchy, and yes, some poorly-bred show dogs are sketchy freaks too.

But when the best dogs of this type are very high drive dogs and the worst are potentially dangerous, you are setting the public up for a disaster. People are getting super working dogs that need constant work and training just to feel content in the home, and the owners work 40 or 50 hours a week.  People are also getting dogs that are neurotic and potentially dangerous.

This is not what most people want when they get a German shepherd, but because people like the me from a decade ago would go on and on about the “crippled” show lines, it has become received wisdom that the pet buying public should not buy a dog bred for conformation.

This is problematic, because most people would be better off with a conformation-bred dog. The reason is that dog shows themselves do place several unintentional selection pressures on breeding stock. A show dog is forced to deal with many, many dogs and lots of people walking around. All of these dogs are intact. Some may be in heat.  Further, every show dog must accept fairly extensive grooming (even whippets!, and they must be able to receive an examination from a judge.

A dog that has a poor temperament simply cannot go through these selection pressures, and although there are dogs that have weird temperaments that do succeed in the ring and do get bred, the general average is for a dog that is far more mentally stable than the typical pet dog.

Also, because no one is breeding show German shepherds to break through windshields to get bad guys, no one is breeding for crazy drive and pain tolerance. The show dogs do have a quite a bit more drive and a need for exercise than the typical pet dog, but their needs are much easier for the typical family to meet.

I say this as someone who loves working line GSD and who will happily own another. I say this as someone who deeply cares for this breed.

But I think we have done a poor job by our constant haranguing of the show dogs in this breed. It is not serving the breed, the dogs, or the public well.

And it is also creating divisions between breeders, the people who should be standing together to ensure that every puppy goes into a loving home and that our favorite disciplines and activities for our dogs remain legal.

So I do feel a lot of guilt for what I have written. The best I can do is correct the errors from here on out.

And if you want a pet German shepherd, check out a breeder who specializes in good conformation stock. You’re far more likely to get what you really want than if you deliberately go searching for “straight-backed” dogs on the internet. The really ethical working dog breeders will steer you away from their dogs anyway, but the working dogs aren’t the first place to look for a pet.  I’m sure there are working GSD breeders who are getting tired of the inquiries from people who are just seeking pets.

So all this rhetoric about crippled show dogs has done a very poor service to the breed. I am deeply sorry that I participated in it.

 

 

 

 

 

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If you watch this clip, you can see several things.

First of all, the trainer makes no claim that his methods will reform this dog into a dog that will never fight other dogs, and when you see the dog enter the room, it absolutely is on the hunt. She is looking at other dogs that way many dogs look at squirrels.

Some pit bull strains have a had a deliberate selection for this sort of behavior. It’s not all in how you raise them. They absolutely will throw it down to get to another dog and kill it.

That’s why these training techniques, which include the judicious use of the electronic collar, are effective.  This dog is being trained so that whatever drive she has that makes her want to kill other dogs can be managed, and she can have a life.

Positive reinforcement is a powerful tool for dog training, but it is not the only way to deal with them.

The foundation of getting this dog under control was set through this session. It will take lots of work and dedication to keep her safe.

Contrary to what people may have thought about my views on this blog, I was never opposed to electronic collars. I was opposed to using them to inflict unnecessary pain on a dog.

After dealing with several pit bulls in my professional and personal life, I can say that many of them do need a firmer hand than most people are willing to give them.  Some of these dogs, once they know you mean business, will absolutely give you their all.

But you have to give them fair and clear leadership signals. You cannot let them walk all over you.

So if this type of dog is going to be popular (and they are very popular), owners and trainers are going to need all the available tools to deal with their behavior.

Electronic collars are now made with so many features and stimulation levels that they are quite humane devices. There are countless trainers doing wonders with them. There are also quite a few jagoffs who are using them for abuse, but we should not punish those good trainers because of bad ones.

About ten or fifteen years ago,  positive reinforcement only became an idea in the dog world.  Positive reinforcement isn’t a bad thing. It’s a great way to teach stylish obedience. It’s also great for teaching commands.

But this good idea took on a sort of unreasoning fundamentalism.  People would often point out that polar bears and orcas could be trained with positive reinforcement alone, so why not dogs?

Well, the problem with that logic is that orcas and polar bears aren’t walked down city streets. They don’t really live in civilization. When they are in captive situations, the public has almost no access to them– and for good reason.

Anyone who has ever walked a dog on a public street knows fully well that many people believe a dog on a public street is public property that must be approached and talked to, regardless of whether the person walking the dog happened to have been in hurry or not.  Can you imagine walking a positive reinforcement only trained polar bear down a street and have some well-meaning stranger walk up to pet it?

Obviously, that won’t ever happen, but we expect dogs to behave with such extreme composure and control.  Most dogs will be able to handle it well, but the dogs that don’t may require different training tools and methods.

And we should, as open-minded individuals living in a free society, be accepting that it’s going to take a lot more than giving a dog treats and ignoring unwanted behavior to make certain dogs safe in public.

If we can’t accept that reality, then we really must accept the consequence that lots of dogs are going to be euthanized for their behavior, because they do require other tools and methods to manage their behavior.

I am not knocking the great strides that have been made in modern behavior modification and training techniques that have come from positive reinforcement/rewards-based training. Those methods are the absolute gold standard in making well-behaved pets.

But they are not the solution for every dog or for every problem dog.

To say otherwise is to be a bit dishonest.

If you’re going to train dogs, the rule of thumb should be to learn as much as you can from as many people as you can, and never stop learning.  An open mind is as useful as an open heart.

And that’s where I come down on the great dog training debate as it exists.  Too much heat has been exchanged by both sides and not enough light.

The truth requires more nuance and understanding than our social media culture can currently handle at the moment. But if you really want to know things, you can find out.

Just keep that mind open.

And for the record, I have trained a dog using an e-collar at low levels. She got so many treats and praise while doing so that she gets quite excited when I pick up her collar and put it on her.  She knows the fun is about to start when that thing comes out.

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xolo

The dog world is always an interesting place to observe human behavior.  A few days ago, someone posted a coated Xoloitzcuintli (“Mexican hairless dog”) on an FB group, and I happened to mention the new evidence about the genetics of this dog breed.

This breed has a strong connection to the Mexica/Aztec identity in Mexico. The dog has a Nahuatl name, and when we discuss the Americas pre-Conquest, the civilization that existed in Mexico  was certainly the equivalent of anything in the Old World.

The mutation that causes hairlessness in these dogs has been traced to Mexico around 4,000 years ago. It is conferred by an incomplete dominant allele, and thus, it was able to spread from Mexico into South America, where hairless village dogs still exist in some areas.  Later, these hairless dogs were crossed with various toy breeds to found what has (laughably) been called “the Chinese crested dog.”

Further, we have really good evidence that shows that the indigenous dogs of the Americas were replaced with a genetic swarm of European dogs. This means that the xoloitzcuintli, though it has this mutation that originated in the Americas, is mostly European dog in its ancestry.

What is even more shocking is that a genome-wide analysis that traced the origins of many dog breeds found that the xolo fits in a clade that includes the German shepherd, the Berger Picard, and the Chinook. When a prick-eared regional Italian sheepdog called a Cane Paratore is added to the analysis, the xolo and the Peruvian hairless dog fit closer to that breed than the GSD and Picardy shepherd.

If one thinks about the history of Mexico, the Spanish became deeply involved in turning Mexico into a great place for herding cattle, sheep, and goats, and it would make sense that the typical dog that would have been brought over would have been an Iberian herding dog that is probably quite closely related to the Cane Paratore.

So more analysis was performed with an emphasis on Italian dog breeds. Some of the clades changed position, but xolos and Peruvian Inca orchid dogs remained in this clade closely related to the German shepherd, the various Italian herding dogs, the Berger Picard, and the Chinook.  The Catahoula leopard dog, a celebrated cur dog from Louisiana that is said to have derived from French and Spanish herding dogs brought over by colonists, were found to be closely related to the xolos.

This means that the dog called the xoloitzcuintli is mostly rough pastoral dog from the Iberian Peninsula, and it is not an ancient American breed.

I mentioned all this information on that Facebook group, and it was as if I blasphemed against the Almighty.

Sadly, we have almost lost an entire lineage of domestic dogs. The Conquest of the Americas and the resulting Columbian Exchange changed the genetic fortunes of humans and animals on these continents.

And though people would love for the xolo to be this untouched pure strain of dog. It simply is not.  In fact, it is very heavily admixed with southern European herding dog to the point that the dog is almost entirely that in ancestry. If that hairless trait were not dominant, it likely would have disappeared in the Mexican village dog population, and there would not have been any suggestion that these dogs were anything special.

So by a fluke of the allele, a mostly European herding dog-derived village dog from Mexico became the ancient dog of the Aztecs.

Yep. I ruined that one, too.

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