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Archive for the ‘dog breeding’ Category

A recent discussion popped up on Facebook this morning in which a member of a homesteading group bragged about what a good livestock guardian and hunting dog his Labrador was. This post got posted in a livestock guardian breed group, which resulted in much, much eye-rolling.

It is certainly true that there are dogs that make excellent livestock guardian dogs that aren’t of the typical breeds. Mark Derr has written extensively about the mongrel dogs of the Navajo that guard their sheep, but within those dogs, there is quite a bit of variance about which ones are good at the task and which ones would rather go roaming and hunting.

The breeds that have undergone selection for this work are much more likely to be successful. All these breeds have been selected for high defense drive and low prey drive. Little lambs can go jumping around these dogs, and their instinct to hunt and kill prey will not be stimulated.

Most dogs bred in the West are bred for the opposite behaviors.  The most popular breeds are usually from the gun dog and herding groups, and those breeds tend to have been selected for relatively high prey drive. Those dogs are much more likely to engage in predatory behavior towards them.

Further, breeds like Labradors are bred to have low defense drive. Labradors are very rarely good guard dogs. They have been bred to fit in the British shooting scene where they would regularly be exposed to other dogs and strangers, and these dogs have had much of their territorial and status-based aggression bred out of them. If the coyote shows up to a farm guarded by a Labrador, chances are very high that the Labrador will try to play with the coyote. It might bark at the coyote and intimidate the predator as well, but there aren’t many Labradors that are going to fight a coyote that comes menacing the flock.

The poster with the LGD Labrador claimed that Labradors were great herding dogs. When pressed on this point, he posted a photo of some yellow dogs moving a herd of beef cattle. These dogs weren’t Labradors. They were blackmouth curs, a breed that can superficially look like a Labrador, but it is a hunting and herding breed that is quite common parts of the South and Texas.  You could in theory train a Labrador to herd sheep, but I doubt you could ever train one to herd cattle. And the herding behavior would be far substandard to a breed actually bred for it.

The poster claimed that Labradors were “bred down from Newfoundlands,” and Newfoundlands are livestock guardians. The problem with this statement is that it is totally false. As I’ve noted many times on the blog, the big Newfoundland dog was actually bred up from the St. John’s water dog. Every genetic study on breed evolution, clearly puts this breed with the retrievers. This dog was mostly created for the British and American pet market, but it is a very large type of retriever.

And contrary to what I have written on this blog, it is now clear that retrievers and Newfoundlands are not an offshoot of the livestock guardian breeds.  A limited genetic study that also found Middle Eastern origins for all dogs had this finding, but a more complete genetic study found that retrievers and the Newfoundlad are actually a divergent form of gundog.

dog breed wheel newfoundland

I have not written much about this study, but it does change some of my retriever history posts. It turns out that Irish water spaniels are also retrievers and are very closely related to the curly-coated retrievers. It has been suggested that curly-coated retrievers are actually older than the St. John’s water dog imports, but conventional breed history holds that they are crosses between St. John’s water dogs and some form of water spaniel. It may actually be that something like a curly-coated retriever is the ancestor of the St. John’s water dog, and this dog would have been called a “water spaniel.”  I have not worked this one out yet. The dogs we call Newfoundland dogs, though, are much more closely related to the Labrador, flat-coated, and golden retrievers than to the curly-coated retriever and the Irish water spaniel. Thus, the Labrador and the Newfoundland dog are cousins, but the Labrador is not “bred down from the Newfoundland.”

The other clue that Newfoundland dogs and their kin aren’t good LGDs is that in Newfoundland, the sheep industry was actually severely retarded by the dogs. Fishermen let their dogs roam the countryside, and any time someone set out a flock of sheep, the water dogs, which I would call St. John’s water dogs, would descend upon the flocks and savage them.

So the natural history of the Labrador totally conflicts with its likely ability to be a good livestock guardian. The British bred these dogs to be extremely social, and their prey drive has been selected for.  They also have this entire history in which their ancestors went out hunting for their own food, which means they do have the capacity to become sheep hunting dogs.

The poster didn’t appreciate when these facts were pointed out. The response was that the other people were racist for saying that Labrador isn’t likely to be a good LGD, especially a Labrador that has been used for hunting.

This is problematic because dog breeds are not equivalent to human races. Human races are just naturally occurring variations that have evolved in our species as we have spread across the globe. Most of these differences are superficial, and none are such that it would justify any racial discrimination in law or policy.

Dog breeds, however, have been selectively bred for characteristics. The eugenics movement, the Nazis, and the slaveholders who selectively bred slaves are the only people who have engaged in the selective breeding of people. And all these periods in history have lasted only a very short time before they were deemed to be gross violations of human rights.

For some reason, people have a hard time accepting these facts about dogs, but the very same people often have no problem with an analogy with livestock.

If I want high milk yields, I will not buy Angus cattle. If I want marbled beef, I won’t buy Holsteins. If I want ducks to lay lots of eggs, I wouldn’t get Pekins, which will lay about 75 eggs a year. I would get Welsh harlequins, which might lay 280 a year. But they don’t get very big, and their meat yields are very low.

Angus cattle and Holsteins are the same species. Welsh harlequins and Pekins are too. But they have been selected for different traits.

Dogs have undergone similar selection. A Labrador retriever has its own history. So does a Central Asian shepherd.

Accepting that these dogs have different traits does not make one a racist. It merely means that one respects the truth of selective breeding.

And that’s why a Labrador isn’t really a good LGD.

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model

In the English language, the term “basset hound” refers to a specific breed. We recognize it as sort of a dwarf bloodhound that comes in the more “beagly” colors of tricolor and lemon and white.  It is immortalized in the cartoon character Droopy and is the mascot for the Hush Puppy shoe brand. One of my favorite stuffed animals as a boy was a Pound Puppy named “Droopy,” and the majority of these toys were based upon how basset hounds look.

This animal is well-established in Western pop culture, but its origins as a distinct breed are very rarely discussed. It is usually said to be a French breed, but anyone who has looked at French dog breeds closely very quickly discovers that there are many basset breeds. “Basset” just means a dwarf hound.  Dwarf dogs have shorter legs for their body size, and it very common in a variety of breeds, which can easily be “grafted” onto different strains through crossbreeding. For example, within the bleu de Gascogne breeds there is a basset. It is very similar to the long-legged petit and grand bleus de Gascogne. It has short-legs, and short legs define it as a basset. It probably derives from the longer-legged bleus being crossed with some form of basset.

Short-legged hounds are quite useful in hunting rabbits and hares while the hunter is on foot and especially if the hunter has a gun. Short-legged hounds will put pressure on the quarry and drive out in the open where it can be shot, or the slow running hounds will  put pressure on the prey to continue the chase.

France is the world’s leader in producing scenthound breeds. I say this as an American, a nation that has produced many find scenthounds, but the French have been at it for centuries.  It is usually suggested, though with a bit of exaggeration, that the major scenthounds of Britain, which are also the root source for most North American hound breeds, are all derived from French strains.  After all, hunting with hounds in England was always the realm of the wealthy and high positioned, and for many centuries, the noble class of Britain largely consisted of French or French-speaking gentry.  It would have made sense that they would have brought hounds from France into England and established them there as distinct scenthound types.

But until the 1870s,  there was never a native British basset breed.  For hares and rabbits, the British sporting men ran various forms of harrier and beagle. These are all longer-legged dogs with great endurance, and a beagle pack was usually attached to the leading boarding school in the country. Eton has a famous beagle pack even now, and these beagle packs were used to introduce the elite’s sons into the culture of sporting hounds.

In Picardy and Artois, a long-legged harrier type of hound was developed for much the same purpose. The Artois hound (or “Chien d’Artois) developed quite a bit of fame in French history as a superior hare hound. Some of these dogs are believed to behind the modern beagle, for this part of northern France is but a short distance across the channel from England.

But the British were uninterested in obtaining any of the basset breeds for hunting purposes.

However, in the nearby province of Normandy, a strain of basset was developed for hunting hares on foot. It was a grafting of the basset trait on the now extinct Normand hound, and someone began adding the same feature onto the Artois hound, producing the “Basset d’Artois.” These two breeds have since been combined into the modern Basset Artesien-Normand, but originally there were two breeds.   The Normand breed had crooked front legs, and the Artois had longer legs.

The Count le Couteulx de Canteleu kept a pack of the Artois basset, consisting of two distinct types. One was heavily built and usually tricolor or red and white. The other, which was said to be crossed with beagle, was usually lemon and white or tricolor. Another strain bred by Louis Lane of Normandy were gray and white or lemon and white and had very heavy bone. It is from these dogs that modern basset hound descends.

Eventually a few of these dogs wound up with George Edmund Milnes Monckton-Arundell, 7th Viscount Galway (“Lord Galway”) in the 1860s.  In the 1870s, these dogs became property of the William Hillier Onslow, 4th Earl of Onslow, (“Lord Onslow”), and they were the only pack of these hounds in the entire country, where they used to run hares

In 1874 Everett Millais, the son of the famous painter Sir John Everett Millais, took in a dog show at Paris’s Jardin d’Acclimatation.  At the time Millais was interested in dachshunds and decided to check out the breed in Paris and compare them to those in England. He had traveled to the continent to import some in 1870, and he was looking for more examples of what was then a novelty breed in England.

At this French dog show, however, there were two dogs of the basset Artesien-Normand-type being exhibited. He was instantly drawn to these bassets, eventually purchasing one, which he was named “Model.” The other hound also wound up in the hands of an English dog fancier, George Krehl, and this dog, which as named “Fino de Paris.”

Millais hadn’t been much into dog shows until he brought Model over, and it wasn’t long before he exhibited this new dog at English dog shows. The dog was much celebrated in the press, and the dog received the attention of Lord Onslow.  It wasn’t long before Model was being bred to his bitches, including some that he recently imported from The Count le Couteulx de Canteleu. George Krehl also joined in the breeding venture, and it wasn’t long before they had good-sized but very inbred population.

It was then that there were attempts to find an outcross. Beagles didn’t work, because the crosses just didn’t look or bay correctly.

So it was Millais who came up with the novel idea of crossing the basset with the bloodhound to save the breed.  The bloodhound bitch was bred to a basset using artificial insemination. The reason he wanted to use the bloodhound as an outcross is to perform what we know as genetic rescue but also add bone and stronger-scenthound features to the breed.

That cross was initially thought of as a way of helping this breed of basset in England, but what Millais essentially did was create an English basset breed. The French breeders of basset Artesien-Normand wanted their dogs to have more moderate bone and not be particularly large dogs, but when bloodhound was added to this breed, those traits took off in the English breed.

Millais, who had loved dogs but wasn’t particularly interested in showing them, eventually became the leading expert on bassets and dachshunds in England. Indeed our association with bassets and dachshund as being similar breeds is really an English concept. Millais believed dachshunds were a sort of German basset, and he argued extensively that dachshunds be bred with a stronger emphasis on their scenthound traits.

But he had created inadvertently crossed the bloodhound and the basset. Now we think of the basset hound and the basset Artesien-Normand as distinct breeds. Europeans continue breed for heavier and heavier boned English bassets, while the pack hounds still run through the North of France. North American basset breeders have tried their best to keep their dogs lighter built and less exaggerated. The dogs have proven themselves on our native lagomorphs, especially snowshoe hare. And now there is a large divide between North American and European-style bassets.

A few years ago, I suggested that the basset Artesian-Normand or even the Artois hound be reintroduced to the basset breed, but modern fanciers wouldn’t want that blood any more than Millais did.  European-style bassets are much larger than the old basset Artesian-Normand.  Some of these dog approach 90 pounds in weight, and the obese ones certainly exceed it.

In England, some bassets have been crossed some strain of native harrier to produce a lighter built hound.

And that certainly is an option.

But in Europe, the basset hound of England is very much a show dog.  It can be bred for exaggerated features because that’s what the fancy and the public ultimately want.

Indeed, I’ve come across people over here selling massive European-style bassets to the pet market for very high prices. Usually, these dogs are never shown in the AKC ring, because the AKC standard still calls for a much more moderate dog.

The Millais family hailed from Jersey in the Channel Islands, right between England and France, so it was very fitting that a family– with such an obvious French origin name– would be part of creating this English breed out of French stock.

The creation of the basset hound in England shows that just the odd desires of one person can led to sudden breed creation.  All it takes is just some odd trait or two to select for, and we suddenly have a breed.

Even if it was unintentional.

***

In a subsequent post, I am going to discuss another member of the Millais family and his love of dogs. Unlike Everett, this member was far less interested in dog shows and didn’t hold them in much esteem. He had a very different kind of dog, though.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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huddesfield ben

Huddersfield Ben, the main foundation stud behind the modern Yorkshire terrier

For a variety of reasons, I’ve been looking at golden retriever pedigrees.  One rather unusual thing about golden retrievers is that they are a common breed, but they have relatively complete pedigrees. They were created by elites in the United Kingdom, many of whom were students of English agricultural improvement.   For example, the Marjoribanks family, which founded the yellow strain of wavy-coats on which the breed is based, were active in breeding Aberdeen-Angus cattle, the famous “black Angus” that now dominate the beef market.

Golden retriever pedigrees are easily accessed online. This website has vast listing of goldens living and dead, and it isn’t hard to follow the links back from any backyard-bred dog to animals that might have sat next to Winston Churchill’s aunt or may have been shot over by George V.

But it is also easy to trace virtually any dog back to the foundation stock. The pedigrees merge after just a few generations. The popular sire effect is really strong in the breed, with certain males siring many puppies that went on to sire many puppies. The foundation stock for the breed appears to pretty diverse. Any line-breeding that exists is relatively loose. I find it hard to find early pedigrees in which someone bred tightly for more than a generation or two.

Retrievers were the dogs of the elite. They were bred from stock that had to serve a purpose, and what’s more, they came from diverse stock.  Every one of these breeds is a distillation of crosses of St. John’s water dogs.  They were bred much like lurchers are now.  Sir Bufton Tufton would breed his own sort of retriever, maybe crossing the St. John’s with a foxhound or perhaps he’d breed to a setter or a collie.   Lord Fauntleroy might say nuts to that, and he would breed Irish water spaniel dogs to his St. John’s bitches.

But they were still molded in the breeds we have today. Different features, such as the smooth coat of the Labrador retrievers or the tight curls of the curlies, would be selected for within the strains.  These strains eventually were molded into breeds that we know today, but it was a process that took place over 80 years or so.

Going through these golden retriever pedigrees, I’ve come to appreciate this process of formation, but my curiosity has been piqued.  We have very good records on the foundation of golden retrievers. Virtually no other breed has these records.

So I started perusing about the internet, looking into breeds I don’t really know that well.  Golden retriever pedigrees include listings of dogs that were alive in the 1860s. I began to wonder about what other breeds have parallel histories in this fashion.

Well, I found another common breed, the Yorkshire terrier, had a very different sort of breed foundation. They aren’t like retrievers at all.  In fact, their history is sort of the inverse of golden retrievers.

Golden retrievers have their foundation in Scotland. Their founders were among the elite who had made big money in England over the generations and were now living large across the Tweed. The Yorkshire terrier breed is derived from dogs belonging to Scottish migrant laborers who had come into the Industrial North of England to escape poverty and the Highland Clearances.  These Clearances were the Scottish Enclosure, and they made possible the vast estates that fell into the hands of the wealthy, who shot grouse and needed gun dogs to retrieve them

Laborers from Scotland brought the terriers south.  Terriers are useful dogs for the rural poor. They keep the rats down. Grain stores will always attract them.  You need a dog that will murder them.

And the Scottish working class had many sort of terriers, including several strains with silky coats.  Two of these breeds were developed into show dogs. The Skye terrier is still around, but there was another breed that was developed from that same stock. It was called the Paisley terrier, and it is from this breed that the Yorkshire terrier was created.

What essentially happened was that clothing factories in Lancashire and Yorkshire became breeding grounds for rats, and rough-bred strains of Paisley terriers were used to control them.

A woman living in Yorkshire named Mary Ann Foster (or “Mary Anne Foster” as some sources spell it) happened to obtain some of these factory rat catchers, and she exhibited them in shows.

And unusual dog of this strain was born in Huddersfield, and Ms. Foster wound up owning him.  He did very well at shows. He was called Huddersfield Ben, and over his short life of only six years, he was bred extensively to other dogs of this sort of Paisley-type terrier. Although it is almost impossible to find the pedigrees of these early Yorkshire terriers, it is likely that all Yorkshire terriers descend from him.

This dog’s pedigree was very tight.

pedigree ben

A sample golden retriever pedigree from roughly that time period is not nearly that tight.

The reason the golden retriever pedigree is not as tight is because there was a belief that retrievers should have some amount of crossbreeding, and these dogs were being bred by nobles with access to lots of different gundogs of different breeds. They had money and resources to develop strains much more slowly.

Yorkshire terriers arose in a different milieu. They came about when working and middle class people in the North of England wanted to produce a distinct show dog strain. These people did not have access to all the elite strains of terrier, and they did not have unlimited resources to devote to breeding programs.  In order to establish the strain, they bred very tightly.

The British Empire had long promoted “breed improvement” in livestock. Since roughly the year 1800, livestock showing became a major part of the common culture.  Livestock shows were widely attended, and the landowner or noble who produced the best strains of cattle, swine, sheep, and goats became much celebrated in the nation.  By the middle of the nineteenth century, these shows were a major part of British society,

But these big breed improvement shows were inaccessible to the working and middle classes. You have to have vast acreages to maintain herds of cattle and other hoofed stock, and anyone outside of the elite would have been unable to participate in these programs.

However, dog shows provided that outlet.  They were a way that the average man could participate in the elite’s game of producing new strains, and small terriers don’t require that much in terms of resources to maintain.

Yorkshire terriers come out of a society in which everyone wanted to produce animals for exhibition.  Breeding small terriers provided this opportunity.

To understand breed formation, it is important to understand the society in which these breeds were founded.  Britain in the nineteenth century was a class conscious society, but one in which people could move from the lower class to the upper middle class (at least in theory).  There was a tendency to imitate the nobility, even if this desire was inchoate or in defiance.

It is no wonder, then, that the foundation of Yorkshire terriers is almost the exact inverse of the founding of golden retrievers.  Different social classes do dogs differently.

So much about dogs is really about people, and the inverse foundations of these two popular breeds really does show it.

 

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loose skinned arctic fox

The animal above is a super-sized blue phase arctic fox that is of a type being bred in Finland. The exposed haw is actually the result of being bred for super loose skin, a trait that those in the dog welfare community know very well. “Typy” shar pei and Neapolitan mastiffs are well-known sufferers from loose skin problems, but even a in breed that isn’t as exaggerated, like Clumber spaniels, this loose skin can lead to all sorts of eye infections.

This is a full-body shot of the Neapolitan arctic fox:

wrinkled fox

Why are arctic foxes being bred with such loose skin?

Well, that loose skin actually makes for a larger pelt and a larger pelt goes for higher price.  In nature, arctic foxes are quite small, much smaller than Boreal red fox subspecies, but the arctic fox in its winter fur is a much more valuable animal.

Both red and arctic foxes breed well in captivity, and they have been farmed extensively for their pelts. Captive red foxes come in many colors now, but the naturally-occurring silver phase was once the staple of fox pelt market. The arctic fox, especially its blue phase, is also quite valuable, but the smaller pelts mean they cannot compete with the silver phase reds.

These Finnish breeders have begun to produce large blue arctic foxes, some of which weigh 20 kg, and have very loose skin in order to make a much more profitable strain of arctic fox.

This development has several moral and ethical questions, as well as being something that those of us curious about dog domestication and evolution might find intriguing.

I should note that I am not anti-fur. I come from a long line of fur trappers, including my own paternal grandfather who used to trap red foxes to fund his union activities. He knew more about red foxes than anyone I’ve ever personally known, and he had a great appreciation for the species.

For some, the fact that these animals are being bred for fur is going to be the biggest ethical problem, but for me, it is the exaggeration in conformation that causes me greater worry.  When these animals are killed for their fur, it is done humanely. Finland is a leader in the humane treatment of animals, and killing fur-bearers on farms in a cruel fashion would not be allowed.  The standard practice is for the animal to be rendered unconscious, then electrocuted. (I don’t want to get into a long, drawn-out debate about these, because there are places where this practice isn’t followed. Finland isn’t one of them. )

But these foxes spent their entire lives with loose eyelids and a bulky conformation that puts an exorbitant amount of stress on their joints, and this truly is a welfare issue.

I see this as the main welfare issue of domestic dogs in the West. We’ve bred domestic dogs with such exaggerated conformation that we’re ultimately harming them, and the funny thing is these animal welfare sites that post shocking animal cruelty videos and images also generate web traffic with videos of cute little bulldogs and pugs with such shortened muzzles that they cannot breathe or cool themselves properly.

I find these loose-skinned arctic foxes appalling, in every way I find an extreme shar pei appalling.

And here I can agree with the animal rights activist. This is wrong.

But at the same time, my curious, scientific mind is intrigued. Fur farmed foxes are sort of parallel dog domestications.  Much has been written about the Belyaev fur farm experiments and what they might say about how dogs were domesticated, but the truth is virtually every fur farm breeding program for the various red and arctic fox phases is an experiment that could reveal some secrets about dog domestication.

It is amazing that we can selectively breed arctic foxes to reach the size of coyotes, and it is even more amazing that we can select for the loose skin in arctic foxes that we actively breed for in certain purebred dogs.

It would be interesting to get full-genome comparisons on these “monster foxes” and more typical arctic foxes.  Maybe the genetics are similar between these foxes and the super-sized and loose skinned domestic dog breeds we have produced.

If we are going to breed animals for agricultural purposes, we are going to have to do it humanely. I am certain the Finnish breeders of these foxes believe they have done a great agricultural improvement in much the same way their intellectual forebears in England in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries bred massive swine and beef cattle that could barely walk on their own hooves.

So yes, we have an ethical issue with these foxes, just as we have an ethical issue with the continued breeding of dogs with exessive loose skin and exposed haws.

 

 

 

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The Nadir of Dog Kind

nadir

The domestic dog is the most successful subspecies of wolf in the world.  All other subspecies have generally existed in spite of man’s persecution, but the dog thrives because it exists at some level domestication. Western culture exalts the canine, and many dogs living in North America and Europe have much easier lives than many people living in developing countries.

The dog in the West has been bred to be useful. Selective breeding produced many specialist forms, but most of these became antiquated as the Industrial Revolution continued on.

Because of our dog obsession, we began to breed these dogs as pets for the middle class. The fisherman’s dog of Newfoundland was bred larger and larger in Europe and the United States until it was a great shaggy beast that would be more likely to sink a dory from its ponderous girth than ride in it. The great fowling setters of Britain and Ireland were bred so profusely coated that their feathers do nothing but collect thorns and burs. The dachshund outside of its German performance registry is bred with such short legs and such a long back that paralysis from disc slippage is constant worry.

Such developments could have only happened when industrialization had created enough wealth and technological advancements to allow dogs to be bred solely as pets and exhibition animals. The value of a dog could come solely from what its parentage was, not its absolute functionality as a working animal.

One has to remember that this development is not necessarily a bad thing. Dogs that couldn’t perform very often wound up shot or left abandoned, but life for the bulk of domestic canines got better.

But at the same time, the unintended consequence of dogs being valued for what their ancestry represented is that all sorts of weird fads and styles could work their way through breeds, often crippling or severely encumbering them as individuals.

The bulldog, for example, did not typically have the best life as a working dog. Bulldogs were bred to attack bears and bulls– and sometimes big cats, like lions and tigers– in baiting contests that were meant as reenactments of the days when mastiff-type dogs had to battle with any number of fell beasts in the wilds of Europe. In Britain, those beasts had largely been subdued by the time baiting contests became popular, and the dog was bred for the bloodsport.  These dogs did not live long, happy lives as gladiators.

In the nineteenth century, the sport was made illegal, and the bulldogs soon found themselves out of work. They could have had the fate of the modern otterhound, a breed of griffon bred for pack work in the rivers.  When the otter finally became a protected species, the otterhound found itself without a job, but the introduced American mink provided it a possible redemption– until pack hunting with dogs became severely curtailed. The otterhound now exists almost solely as a fanciers’ dog, a relic of a time when the otter was so numerous as to threaten trout and salmon stock and thus needed to be hounded and harried along the banks and marshes.

But enterprising dog fanciers and dog dealers figured out that the bulldog could be redeemed through crossbreeding with the pug. an import from China by way of the Netherlands, and a few of the smaller, more docile terriers.  The goal was to make a bulldog that wasn’t so big and fierce and scary, a bulldog as toned down and tame that a baby could pull its flews not receive even the slightest growl from the beast.

This experiment largely succeeded, and as the bulldog became more and more popular as a show dog, the fad became to breed for the so-called “sourmug” type.  This type is the basis on which the modern bulldog, usually called the “English bulldog,” was formed. Breeding for a more and more massive head and narrower and narrower pelvis did cause problems with reproduction, but as we’ve advanced as a civilization, the AI and the Cesarean section allowed us to push the limits further and further.

Bulldogs were a breed that was not particularly popular through most of the middle and late twentieth centuries, but as we’ve moved in the twenty-first century, the much of the West has gone bulldog mad.

The breed was much celebrated on reality television, and when it became known how gentle they were, the public was intrigued. When it became well-known that they didn’t have that much of an activity level– which is largely the result of their constricted airways–the overworked post-industrial middle class went gaga for them.

Over time, though, it soon became well-publicized that the bulldog had atrocious health. About the only condition they didn’t suffer from was matted fur, and the English bulldog is still a relatively large dog. The modern West is an increasingly urbanized world in which weight limits are now being placed upon what dogs can be kept, and smaller-sized dogs are much more convenient to keep in a small space, even if no limits exist.

For decades, North American breed registries have been dominated with Labrador retrievers as their top most registered breed. The same goes for the Kennel Club in the UK. This is a large breed that is noted for its intelligence, and although not all individuals are well-wired for gundog work, many of them clearly are.  Some Labradors do well in city. Others eat down the furniture in the studio apartments where they are forced to dwell.

But now, it looks like change is afoot.  With the amount of inconsistency in the activity level in Labradors, urbanites have gone out in search of a replacement dog. They didn’t find it in the English bulldog. They didn’t find it in the Chihuahua either.

But after years of looking for that perfect urban pet, the perfect candidate has started to materialize. In the UK, the Kennel Club reports that the French bulldog is about to replace the Labrador as its top registered breed. The French bulldog is also the top dog registered with the American Kennel Club from the Los Angeles zip code.

The French bulldog is an offshoot of that original British dog dealer scheme to produce a nice pet from bull-baiting stock. This type of bulldog became popular in Paris (hence the name “French bulldog”) and Vienna, and it did have a bout popularity in the United States in the early part of the twentieth century, when its close cousin from Beacon Hill was the AKC’s most popular breed and the French dog came along for the popularity ride.

Its health is somewhat better than the English bulldog, but that isn’t saying much.  But it is smaller, and it has a short coat and a lower activity level. And it has been bred for docility.

Docile, small, smooth-coated, and phlegmatic. These are the desired characteristics of the post-industrial pet.

These dogs are so much removed from what I understand a dog. To me, a dog will always be a hard-runner who glories in the chase and whose coat is anointed with burs and foul-smelling substances. They are domesticated but not debased.  They are relics of a time when man lived right as part of nature and not some entity that is under the delusion that it can be separate from it.

Post-industrial society with postmodern values has pretty much set itself on creating a post-dog canine. If these trends continue, we might long for the days of the big, fat Labradors that their owners believe are just “big-boned.”

At least the Labrador is still a dog, but the post-dog canine, like French bulldog, is but a facsimile of what came before. Through its veins courses the blood wolves that were first forged into the hunting and war mastiffs of yore and then into the brawny bullbaiters of Elizabethan times, which now lie in this bizarre permutation of an extreme brachycephalic toy with the ears of a big-eared bat.

If this breed does replace the Labrador as the most popular dog in the West, then I think we can say that the dog species has reached its nadir. No longer can the fit, active dog thrive in our societies. Domestication will finally end with this sad debasement.

I say this not as someone who hates French bulldogs but as someone who wishes that we were more aware of what we were doing to dogs through our casual selections for pets. If French bulldogs were bred for smaller heads and longer muzzles, I would not have much of a complaint, but then there wouldn’t be much separating the French dogs from those proper Bostonians.  And dog breeders like to accentuate the differences between related forms.

The post-dog canine isn’t something that should be celebrated. It is to be lamented.

Lamented, for it will mean that our kind has made yet another step toward denying our own basic animality. No longer are these creatures from campfires of old. They are merely distorted pets for our own convenience, no longer beings in their own right but caricatures of what a dog once was.

They are caricatures of the canine in the glow of the city lights and neon signs.

The campfires have long since burned out.

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faith

I didn’t think I’d do another one of these, but my conscience has been dragged back into it.

Jemima Harrison posted this morning (my time) about a friend’s flat-coated retriever who died at the age of 7. Both the dog’s parents were dead before they were 8 years old.

I used to follow this dog’s owner’s blog, way back when there was a more active dog blogosphere. I remember when she was born, and I remember when her mother died.

I’ve always admired this breed. It was once the most common retriever in Britain, and I love all those old paintings and photographs of the dogs at pheasant and partridge shoots.

At one point in my life, I thought I wanted one of these dogs. They were sleeker and more agile than golden retrievers, and I’d always preferred golden retrievers that came in that body type, even if the show ring never did.

But then I looked at the health of the dogs, and I decided that I would pass.

A golden retriever is already a notorious tumor factor. That there could be a retriever in worse shape with regard to cancer was something that really did bother me.

I used to wonder if this breed could be made more viable if they did some crossbreeding, but virtually every breeder in the breed is so opposed to it that having rational discussions with them is like talking to a creationist or someone who believes that Bush did 9/11. Their job, regardless of the facts, is to come up with ways to justify keeping the gene pool walled off.

And at that point, I knew the problem would never be solved.

It’s taken me a while to realize that no amount of explanation will change anything.

It’s that way with just about every breed of dog. If it’s not flat-coats and cancer, then it’s bulldogs and everything that’s wrong with them. Or pugs.

After doing this for years and years, I’ve stopped having any confidence that any of these problems will be solved, and I’m not wasting my time.

So we’ll hold onto closed studbooks, “linebreeding for health” or some other delusion, until we hit the eventually genetic dead-ends of several breeds.

The population of canids known as “domestic dogs” will continue on, because the vast majority of North Americans will choose things other than registered dogs. And the village, street, and pariah dog populations will still be there in other parts of the world.

But as for the Western “purebred” dog, its future is quite tenuous indeed.

And when you’re powerless to stop something, you’re better off giving yourself some distance.

That’s what I have done.

 

 

 

 

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A very sound specimen of a breed I really like a lot wins BIS at Westminster:

cj

Not complaining.

I wish the AKC allowed black roan in this breed though.

 

 

 

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