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Archive for the ‘dog breeding’ Category

baby quest

Photo by Casey Biederman of baby Quest. 

When I started down this path of being a dog writer, I bought into this basic framework:

Purebred dogs were okay, but the only legitimate ones were performance-bred ones. Breeding a purebred dog for aesthetics was ultimately going to lead to their downfall as a species. If you didn’t accept that framework, then the dog you should absolutely get is one from a shelter, whether it’s purebred or not.

If you read my early posts, that was the basic ideology. I pretty much disavow those ideas.

I’ve lived with several dogs of true working strain, and I must say the average person has no business owning one. You have to put in your time and effort into exercising that dog.  It doesn’t matter what kind of working dog it is. Dogs that are bred for a purpose will have really strong behaviors that might not make them easy to keep as house pets.

If you want a true working line dog, then you must be willing to commit to it, and if you cannot, please consider getting a different kind of dog.

When I initially started writing about dogs, the No Kill Revolution was in its infancy, and shelters were killing scores upon scores of adoptable dogs. Now, we have connected shelter systems. Different municipalities have agreements with shelters where the demand for dogs is still very high, and as a result, popular purebreds and mixes of those breed generally tend to wind up in loving homes once they are surrendered.

What this has done to animal shelters is that it has created a real problem. The least desirable dogs are a pit bull types or BBMs (bull breed mixes).  I have nothing against these dogs at all, and I always been against BSL. I know there are great dogs of these breeds and mixes that make wonderful pets.

However, the modern world has made it so that these dogs aren’t particularly in demand.  Municipalities have BSL. Homeowners policies say you can’t have one, and yes there are some of these dogs that require lots of dog acumen to manage and keep safely. If you have the dog skills, you can easily find one of these dogs to be exactly what you want, and there certainly are dogs of this type that are superb pets.

But unless you know what lines you’re dealing with (and in the shelter system, you won’t), it can be a dicey choice. This is not to denigrate anyone with a pit bull.  Lots of these dogs are fine as a pets. I just fostered a dog of this type that is wonderful with other dogs and not aggressive in the slightest.

But not every dog of this type is for the typical family, which you can say about a lot of breeds. For example, the Malinois breeders do a pretty good job unselling their breed to the general public, but because pit bulls and pit bull types are deemed undesirable, the opposite has been true with their advocates. Part of it is because the dogs vary so much in what they can be like, and part of it is because of the need to find these dogs good homes is certainly

So yes, you can go to a shelter and rescue a dog, but rescuing a dog is not the only choice people have.

And that’s where I think we should be easier on dog breeders. These are legitimate sources to get an animal that may have some consistency in behavioral and morphological conformation, and they don’t have to be hardcore working bred.  Most people can handle a show-bred dog that has been selected through generations for dogs that are tolerant of strangers and strange dogs and to be a good traveler. That’s why all those old dog books said to get your pet dogs from show breeders. After spending as much time with show dogs as I have in the past year, I think the process is good for selecting for good pet traits, just by accident. It is not universal in all breeds or lines of course, but it clearly is something that should be understood.

Finally, I was a follower. I was a dumb young kid with lots of idealism and lots of demons and general stroppiness that needed to be worked out. I followed what was essentially an authoritarian movement in dogs, led by someone I think who generally lost the whole story. Following his work now, I can see that his ideas don’t help dogs at all now. He says that we should own only true working dogs if they are purebred, which is the only legitimate reason for owning a purebred dog, even if we live in a high rise apartment and cannot handle anything with real drive. Then he tells us to go and rescue a dog, but the shelters have mostly pit bulls and BBMs. Then he tells us that we shouldn’t get one of those because they are all dog aggressive and nasty (which isn’t exactly true). So if you’re the typical family, you are given no real place to get a dog. It’s simply a one-upping cul de sac that ultimately puts people in impossible positions when it comes to getting a dog they can handle and live with.

So it’s funny but I’ve become so much less judgmental. I’ve developed an open mind, and I reject the authoritarianism of the movement I was once part of. And I couldn’t be happier.

 

 

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Egyptians saluki

A big part of what a dog breed is can be defined culturally.  A breed is often defined by what its fanciers believe its defining characteristics, and they set what the essential traits and bloodlines of that breed can be. We currently have breeds with rather open registries, like Carolina dogs, a breed of which I’m sure includes a few dogs that are just Down South chow mixes. And we have all those closed registry breeds in the various established kennel clubs and societies throughout the world.

I currently live with two dog breeds that have quite divergent cultural definitions of their breed.

The saluki-tazi or “salukimorph” type of dog has been in existence since at least the Bronze Age.  These dogs appear on lots of Ancient Egyptian artifacts, including a mummy from the 18th Dynasty.  Lots of debate exists on what is a true saluki here in the West, and because we do not have a true breed foundation date or complete pedigrees going back thousands of years, this debate can be quite subjective.

The German shepherd dog, by contrast, developed in its current form after the foundation of the SV on April 22, 1899. The breed is based off a breeding program that inbred quite tightly off a single Thuringian sheepdog that was bred to dogs with a similar “wolfy” phenotype from southern Germany. This organization was the second one founded in Germany to standardize a sheepdog breed from the various landrace herders that could be found throughout the nation. In 1891, an organization called the Phylax Society was created with that purpose in mind, but this organization was prone to infighting about whether working characteristics or conformation were most important in breeding a standardized German pastoral dog.  This organization was gone by 1894, and Max von Stephanitz and Artur Meyer revived the idea based upon breeding a standardized form of wolf-like shepherd dog.

German shepherds, unlike salukis, have a defined date for their formation, and although Stephanitz speculated about the ancient origins of these dogs, the dogs that we call German shepherd dogs today are clearly defined by phenotype and bloodline. Yes, a debate exists about their conformation, particularly the amount of angulation in the rear, but there is also a debate about whether white ones should be a distinct breed (and there are actually now two white German shepherd breeds in existence now). There are Shiloh shepherds, king shepherds, American Alsatians, Saarloos wolfhonden, Czechoslovakian vlcak, and the volkosoby. The first three are based upon breeding an oversized, less rear-angulated GSD, and the American Alsatian is supposed to resemble a dire wolf (somehow).  The final three are GSD crosses with wolf. An assumption exists that there is bit of wolf in GSD, and adding a bit more wolf will somehow improve them. The vlcak and volkosoby are mostly GSD in ancestry and have successfully been used as working dogs, while the Saarloos wolfhond remains a bit of novelty.

And then we have the Blue Bay shepherds, which have a little wolf in them, but they are based upon dilute GSDs, which are considered faulty by the breed standard.

But these breed exist only because there is a clearly defined breed with a culture and fancy that have clearly defined its traits and characteristics. The spin-off breeds exist because people want dogs with those traits, which will never be recognized as acceptable by the mainstream of the breed.

German shepherds do not have a lot of genetic diversity as a breed.  Even dogs that don’t really look like each other or share common ancestors all derived from Horand von Grafrath and three of his grandsons out of Hektor von Schwben.  The GSDs we have tested on Embark have had relatively high genetic COIs. The breed average is around 30 percent, while golden retriever breed averages are close to 20 percent.

This is not to say that German shepherds are a genetic mess. The breed founders must have purged a lot of weakness and genetic anomalies out of the foundation stock, which can be a way of establishing a relatively inbred strain that strong and viable.

Our saluki’s parents have come out as purebred salukis, but their genetic inbreeding coefficients have been less than 3 percent. I have seen crosses between Western breeds that have higher genetic COIs than purebred salukis.

The saluki breed must have developed over the millennia with selection for coursing traits out of a diverse set of dogs. My guess is that gene flow existed between what became salukis and the local pariah dog populations. Then they just selected which puppies could run, and then they bred back into the general saluki bloodline.

So we have one breed founded by late nineteenth and early twentieth century “scientific breeding” methods, and another breed that just developed over a vast territory over the long annals of history.

I’ve had people tell me that Streamer is not a saluki because he is brindle and because his father is a Central Asian tazi.  That’s because Western saluki fanciers have decided that salukis can be only from Middle Eastern countries, and brindle salukis in the UK, usually from caravan people, were often crossed with brindle greyhounds but still registered as salukis.

Most people are unaware that Iran borders on Turkmenistan, a place where tazis exist. The border between Turkmenistan and Iran was clearly defined during the Great Game period of competition between the Russian and British Empires in the nineteenth century.

But those dogs have been traded through Persia and Central Asia for thousands of years. The political demarcation by two European great powers in the past 150ish years is but a blip on a map. However, that political demarcation is seen as a breed barrier in much of the saluki fancy, and thus, my dog cannot be a saluki. He’s a cross between a desert-bred saluki and Central Asian tazi.

What I have found interesting, though, is that I have developed a certain cognitive dissonance about these two different types of dog. I am totally fine with the German shepherd dog as defined by the established breed clubs, but I do think the saluki people are being just a bit short-sighted.

It may be that I see the German shepherd as something recently created. The characteristics and bloodline are clearly defined in the breed. I don’t see salukis the same way. I see salukis as a more natural, more organic sort of breed, one that exists almost as a distinct subspecies of dog, one that even has its own ecomorphs that have been adapted for colder and hotter climates.

This dissonance and my acceptance of cultural norms are issues that I will continue to wrestle with in my head. We all have some level of cognitive dissonance as we learn to live in a complex world, but it is still worth exploring and ferreting out our contradictions to understand what we truly believe.

And belief is a big part of what a dog breed essentially is.  It is not an act of faith necessarily, but it is the acceptance of the society and strictures that allow that essentialism to accept what a particular dog is.

When we start thinking about dog breeds, we need to explore the cultures that define them as such, as well as how that culture developed over the years. This can lead to some uncomfortable conversations and some uncomfortable self-realization, but it can help our understanding of why we think the way we do.

And that self-awareness is useful if we wish to continue breeding and working with dogs.

 

 

 

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three boys on the run

A decade of experience in the “dog blogosphere” has taught me much. If you’re going to get a dog blog started, I thought the best thing to do was to be controversial. All the other successful dog blogs did this sort of thing.

If they weren’t trashing breeds they’d never own, they were going on and on with dog abuse porn.  I chose the  former route. I made a name for myself.

But I grew up. I had things happen to me that changed my perspective on certain issues, and I struggled with these issues over and over.

I’ve finally come to the point in my life where I can say that I am happy with where I am in dogs. It’s not the same place I started.

And in this, I have to accept that I am now a heretic. I don’t have to wallow in anger or post videos of poorly-bred and poorly-exhibited show dogs to stoke the fires of misery.

Too much misery already exists in the world. Dogs should not be an add-on to misery.  That is certainly not their purpose in the modern world.

I do like dog shows. Are they the most important thing in the world of dogs? Not by a long shot. But having lived with several show-bred dogs, I can tell you they have indeed undergone a selection for dead-solid, stable temperaments. Are all show dogs like this? No, but a lot of them are.

Are there problems with closed registries? Yes. Are there some welfare issues with conformation in some breed? Yes, but, most of these dogs are well-cared for, and their breeders are prepared for the issues that might arise.

I suppose at some point I lost my ability to be sanctimonious and full of shit. And that only happens when you are forced to be humble or when you get your ass kicked.

The dogs have humbled me more than any person ever could. And when you’re humbled, you have to check your ego and take stock. Otherwise, you’re never going to be happy. Or I’d be in my 50s and still writing pretentious twaddle about “real working dogs.”

And yes, I am now a sinner. But my sin is choosing to be happy.  I let the rest wallow in misery. And if you want to read that stuff, you know where to go.

And I’ll go on sinning, thank you.

 

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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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Light blue collar (male, AKA “Slurpee,” because he was born on 7/11!)  Darkest pup in the litter and currently the smallest, he has the working golden retriever traits of being quite bold and curious. His head has no blockiness at all.

light blue (Rush x Fontana)

Red collar (Female, AKA, “Apple”), darker-colored pup. She has working golden traits, but she is currently the largest puppy in the litter.

Red Collar (Rush x Fontana)

Yellow collar (male). Lighter gold in collar. He is the most people oriented of the litter thus far.

Yellow Collar (Rush x Fontana)

Green collar (male, “Mr. Green”). Darker-colored pup. This one has pretty strong working dog characteristics, darker color and less blocky head.

Green collar (Rush x Fontana)

Purple collar (male). Lighter-colored pup. His head shape strongly resembles his mother and her litter-mate, Chunk (Windridge Middle School Sweethearts).

Purple Collar (Rush x Fontana)

Uncle Chunk:

chunk

Orange collar (male, mid-golden in color). This pup has working dog characteristics as well but also has quite a bit of breed type.

Orange Collar (Rush x Fontana)

Blue collar (Female, “Crush,”) very small female puppy that is lighter in color. She has a cute little imp face that many of Fontana’s full siblings have.

Blue Collar (Rush x Fontana)

 

 

 

 

 

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birth

The hours passed on nice summer day. All day the mother dog has panted and stared. Her maiden litter was on its way, and I was there to watch them come.

A sweet little golden retriever, she was too sensitive to push unless she knew her people where there to stroke her ears and tell her what a good girl she is.

As the night drew near, she climbed on the bed between us and then began her long night of pushing and pushing. A wave of contractions would rise from within her, and she would rise in discomfort and turn around. Then she would go prone again against the bed, but the next wave would have her rise, pushing and turning in her primal mammalian dance of parturition.

At one point, her vulva was just inches from my face, and in her pushing, I could see the coming amniotic sack, and then I saw the head of a golden retriever puppy emerge from her body cavity. It was perfection just wrapped in a sheet of biological plastic wrap.

Another push or two, and the bitch screamed as the puppy passed from the prenatal state into the breathing and screaming existence that we call life.

Then the membrane that held him so securely then split away from his face,  and as the oxygen filled his little lungs, he inched over to the milk-filled mammaries and helped himself to a good helping of colostrum.

But he was still connected to his placenta and for what seemed an eternity to me, he was both nursing off his mother and tapping into her blood supply. He was trapped between both states, but one was about to let him go and sink into the other.

He suckled ravenously, and the mother dog expelled the placenta. And thus the first of a litter of seven little puppies entered the world. Through the dark hours of the night, two little girl puppies and four more little boys lurched forward into the great bursting of existence.

And the mother dog shared it with me. She, a beast perfected over the eons to serve mankind, needed us to hold her as she began to force her progeny into the world.

I have never before been privy to such a spectacle. I have no interest in producing a child of my own, and all of my experiences with dogs whelping have been fleeting memories from childhood, where the bitch whelped black crossbreeds in the back of the garage and I hoped that the daddy was a Labrador and not the fierce boxer from up the road. And obvious flattened muzzles exhausted those hopes very quickly.

But to know a dog like this one, one that trusts me enough to share this intimate aspect of her life, is a moving experience. I am better for having been privy to the entire spectacle.

And I am happy. I am content. And I am free.

 

 

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Rush Fontana

I am currently about 10-14 days out from the first golden retriever litter I have ever bred. The dam is Fontana (Windridge Love is All You Need!) and the sire is Rush (Joyful’s Fast-Trak Thrill of a Lifetime).

Fontana is a nice, calm dog. She has fairly strong retrieving desire and is quite biddable. She is a hair soft, but she is stable and nice. She can play fetch or she can sleep on the bed without much concern. She is good with children.  She is smaller, weighing 43 pounds in working weight.

Rush is from top obedience and agility lines  He is darker than Fontana, and he has full-blown ball drive. Like her, he is smaller and lighter boned, weighing about 50-55 pounds.

Most of the puppies in this litter will be on the smaller side for the breed, though we cannot guarantee that all of them will be that small. We should get a mixture higher drive pups that are like the sire, and we should also get some that are calm like the mother. We should also get a wide range of golden shades in this litter, for the dam’s parent’s have also produced a few dogs that approach the cream color. The sire comes from lines that produce very dark colored dogs.

This litter will have a very low COI by pedigree. Over 10 generations, it has been calculated at 0.01 percent, which is well below the breed average.

Sire has all the GRCA required health clearances, and his hips are OFA “Good” and elbows “Normal.” Dam has OFA prelims of Good hips and Normal Elbows as well.

Dam has been DNA tested by Embark and was found to be clear of all eye diseases that the company tests for, including various forms of PRA.  She is also clear for the peculiar golden retriever form of Ichthyosis.

I used to write a lot about golden retrievers on this blog, and the pups that will be produced from this breeding will match a lot of what I think golden retrievers should be. These pups should be great for working homes and as wonderful family companions.

We still have some slots available for this litter, so if you’re interested please send an email to dogsofwindridge@gmail.com or use the contact form at the Retrieverlady blog/Windridge website. I can also field inquiries through this site.

Pups will be sold with full registration at $1,500.  Deals can be made for a breeding guardian home, but those inquiries should fielded through the aforementioned contact links.

I am really excited to be around golden retriever puppies again. It’s been so long since I had a chance to see some grow up, and I certainly will be keeping everyone posted on this site about their progress.

 

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