Archive for January, 2020

Playing ball

Dare blue ball

The throw the damned thing face.

throw the damned thing

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And your solution is?


A quite a bit of social media buzz about the pekingese that won the AKC National Championship last month. The show was televised on Animal Planet this week, and the pekingese won it.

Pekingese are, to put it mildly, an extremely derived form of domestic dog. They are brachycephalic and achondroplastic. They are not my favorite kind of dog, and if you go through the old posts on this blog, you will see that I generally hated them. When you’re doing the angry dog blogging, this breed is great cannon fodder.

But the truth is I have very limited experience with pekingese. I have spent some time with a backyard-bred one, but I seriously doubt that he is representative of the top-level show dogs in this breed.

And this is a problem. Most of the people making these health claims about this breed have never been around one.  This backyard-bred one does have some health and  grooming challenges. He also does not possess the best temperament, which these show dogs clearly do have.

Most of the commentary I’ve seen suggest that we return to the days of yore, when the British were smuggling pekes out of the Forbidden City.  You know, the time when the dogs had less coat and more muzzle, and we could all be satisfied and happy if we just went back to those days.

This is a common trope in this sort of commentary. The original dogs were always better, because they are less derived, less exaggerated. It’s a trope that I once parroted without considering the dynamics as carefully as I should have.

Someone might want to return to that older style of pekingese, which is interesting. Very few pekes are show-bred. The vast majority of them are bred as pets, and most of those have that desired Forbidden City phenotype.  If you want one, you can buy one.

But the idea that we can somehow force the show community to accept that aesthetic as the new standard of excellence is a bit off. It is the case of someone thinking they know better than someone else and then forcing that opinion into some sort of edict.

And that is a recipe for any concerns to fall on deaf ears. There are issues with pekingese. There are issues with all breeds. To address them rationally requires a certain understanding of the subculture of the breed, and the social media and internet commentary takes almost no time to do this.

Instead, it’s a game of playing with aesthetics.  If your aesthetic is a dog that is only barely derived from a wolf, like a West Siberian laika or a basenji, then a pekingese will never match it.

But not everyone has that aesthetic, and grown-ups in free societies are okay with others having aesthetics that differ from our own.

We also need better science around the issues of dog welfare and conformation. Studies about the welfare issues surrounding brachycephaly do exist. We need more of those, and we need better ones, ones with large sample sizes and even more rigorous statistical methodology.

But even if we had all the science in the world that suggests the pekingese phenotype is somehow cruel, the breeders would want to produce them. They would be open to suggestions, I’m sure, but I don’t think they would want to change the pekingese fundamentally.

And this raises a simple question. We have all these people spouting about dog health and conformation issues these days, but not a single one has come up with a practical solution to the problem, other than, of course, shaming the breeders who produce those dogs.

And you know what those breeders do with those shaming rants? They ignore you, and they double down. They will not take you seriously.

The solution, then, is more nuanced. The solution is understanding that we don’t know everything and that our chest-thumping will lead us nowhere.

So in my long apology tour for the damage I once did here, I offer yet another mea culpa.

I don’t think I served the dogs very well, even though I thought I did. I was just spinning my wheels and asking for adulation. I got the adulation, but I did so without considering the impact of my words.

And for that, I will always be sorry.







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tibetan fox vs. marmot

The 2019 winner of the London Museum of Natural History’s “Wildlife Photographer of the Year” is Bao Yongqing, who took this amazing predator-prey action shot on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau. It shows a Tibetan fox (Vulpes ferrilata) trying to catch a Himalayan marmot (Marmota himalayana).

In an interview with the photographer, it was revealed that the fox was a vixen with young that needed meat. Even after a long stalk on the marmot, the prey was not easily subdued. Other marmots came to its defense, which is something that our groundhogs would never do. The fox had do dive around the defensive marmot to get at its prey, but eventually, the targeted individual collapsed and fell to the fox’s jaws.

Tibetan foxes have only recently become well-known. The initial descriptions of them were based upon pelts, and it is only now that we have a popular concept of these foxes with their oddly-shaped, squared-off heads.

I was surprised that this species of marmot would engage in altruistic behavior. The marmot species I know best, the groundhog (Marmota monax) does not do this. They are way more solitary than those marmot species of Central Asia, though, and this social behavior can be of great benefit for life on the exposed ground.

This is a pretty cool photograph that reminds me of another winner. In 2015, a photograph of a red fox killing and eating an arctic fox in Canada won earned the photographer this same award.

So foxes killing things– well, that’s an award winner these days.

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