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One of my favorite films when I was a kid was The Bear. It was roughly based upon James Oliver Curwood’s The Grizzly King: A Romance of the Wild, and although it was supposed to take place in British Columbia, it was filmed in the Dolomites of Austria and Italy.

The film follows the story of a brown bear cub that becomes orphaned and finds an adoptive father in a massive boar, played by the famous Kodiak, Bart the Bear. Meanwhile, a pair of fur trappers and market hunters comes into the great bear’s range, and try as they might, they cannot kill the big bear.

In one attempt on the big bear’s life, one of the hunters goes back up the river and brings back a pack of hunting dogs. One of these dogs is an Airedale, and she is mortally wounded fighting the big bear in the rocks.

In the original Curwood novel, the whole pack consisted of Airedales. In the early twentieth century, the Airedale was promoted as the ultimate hunting dog for the American sportsman. Even if the dogs often failed to meet the high demands for hunters, Curwood would have been aware that this breed was promoted as a great big game dog.

However, except for that one dog, the pack consists of Beaucerons. When I first saw this movie, I was quite aware of dog breeds, and I thought it odd that North American bear hunters would use a pack of herding dogs.

I suppose the filmmaker who made this film, Jean-Jacques Annaud, wanted a dog that could be trained to show dramatic aggression on film. Most of the French hounds would have been out of the question for this role, but hot Beaucerons would not have been hard to acquire.

So for dramatic effect the Beaucerons were the hunting dogs in this film. At one point, the little bear becomes the captive of the two hunters and is tethered near a wounded Beauceron. The Beauceron realizes that the bear cub is that close, and the dog tears after its quarry. The dog is also tied up, and the cub and dog chase each other around trees, becoming quite tangled.

The two wind up tightly fast in their tangling that the cub and the dog are left facing each other. The Beauceron barks wildly in its protection-trained bark, and at that point, I realized the breed was a better choice, even if it strained my adolescent credulity.

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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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The best thing you can do in life is admit error and move on, but it is not without risk. I’ve noticed that I’ve lost significant readership on this blog since I’ve tried to distance myself more from the “Pedigree Dogs Exposed” movement. It is not that I disagree with the movement entirely. It is that I have discovered that I was fundamentally wrong about one breed that has been featured in the movement.

This is the comment online of which I am the most ashamed.

It’s not so much what I said. If someone actually were trying to reverse engineer plantigrade in a dog, it would be a very bad thing.

But what I am most ashamed of is that this was the first comment on a blog post on the Pedigree Dogs Exposed blog, which is about a sable German shepherd named Paddy, who won best of breed at what we call the National Dog Show here in the United States.

If you sleuth around my blog for a bit, you will see a dog named Quest. He is a sable German shepherd from parents who are both AKC conformation champions. If you now that most well-bred German shepherds have their pedigrees listed on a site called “Pedigree Database,” you might want to play around with Quest’s pedigree a bit.

Quest is Hammersmith Can I Kick It. Trigger warning: he’s in a three-point stack. If you don’t want to see a GSD in a three-point stack, don’t click it.

His mother is Kysarah’s Whiskey In The Jar.

If you look at her, you can see that she looks a lot like the dog in the Pedigree Dogs Exposed blog I linked to earlier. She is female and long-coated, but they are very similar dogs.

The reason for this similarity is that if you look at her siblings on the website, Kysarah’s Pot of Gold, which is Paddy,  pops up as her full brother. Indeed, they are littermates. 

So yes, I have been living with a Paddy nephew for several months

This is Quest in a sort of free stack.

This dog has quite a bit of drive. He loves chasing the ball, and he recently discovered that herding sheep was the best thing ever.

This dog does have a show career, and he actually came in second at the 4-6 puppy class at the German Shepherd National Specialty in St. Louis in August (which was judged by James Moses). 

This dog is probably not going to be an IPO dog. He hasn’t been bred for so much drive and an ability to bite hard and hold on.

But he is obedient and gentlemanly as a puppy can be. He dogs very well.

Indeed, in this photo, he has been confused with a straight up working line dog:

He has many years of maturity to go. He will probably angle up a bit as he matures over the next two or three years.

But he’s a fit, active dog with a strong will to obey and do things.

And yes, he does do the stack:

Now, I have since admitted that I was wrong about these dogs, and I’ve noticed something:  readership on this blog has gone down quite a bit.

It is true I’m not writing all that controversial stuff that I once did. I’m writing lots of lyrical and philosophical stuff, and those things do take times to read.

But I can’t help but wonder if my change of mind had something to do with my sudden drop in readership. 

I also know that I have lost online friends over this dog, and his presence has even led to me leaving my Facebook Group over this dog, simply because I got tired of people constantly berating him.

I have learned my lesson about using one’s position online to promote causes:  you’d better know what you’re talking about before ginning up an electronic lynch mob.

And I didn’t when I attacked this breed. Yes, there probably are some dogs that have poor rears and ataxic gaits, but no one is breeding for those traits.  In this country, the goal is make perfect smooth trot.

These dogs are no threat to the police work-type dogs, which are bred in their own lines. I very much like these dogs, too, but I don’t think my criticism of the show dogs is correct.

I was wrong, and if you hate me now because I’ve changed my perspective, then I’m very sorry.

But I’ve changed my mind. I’ve been around enough dogs of this type now to know that I was wrong.

They are not breeding police dogs, but they are breeding dogs that can do so much and make wonderful pets.

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The Thinning of Ludlow

To name a dog Ludlow, one must have a truly avuncular animal. And basset hound with crooked legs, pendulous dewlap, and massive zebu ears certainly fit the bill.

Ludlow was purchased for $3,000 from a breeder who had true European basset hounds for sale, and these dogs hang more loosely than the typical American basset, which still (in theory at least) being bred for the pursuit of hares and rabbits.

But Ludlow’s job was not to run the rabbit. He really didn’t have much of a job at all. Just wander the grounds of Judge Smith’s stately Georgian home, and not tear anything up.

As a pup, he’d failed a bit as at his task. He’d chewed up an expensive sofa, gnawed away at the binding of a few good books, and let his excrement fall on some imported rugs.

But he’d made it through the scoldings, and the exasperating fights where Judge Smith’s wife demanded that the pup be sent back to the breeder but eventually relented when she looked into those deep brown puppy eyes and couldn’t resist him.

A six-week obedience course smoothed out Ludlow’s rough edges, and by the time he was 18 months old, he was a nice dog to have around the house.

He got meatballs and sausage as daily treats. Sometimes he got ice cream just before bed, but he lived on dog food and bits of cheese parceled out of the fridge.

And he grew to be a fat old basset that waddled down the lawn and bayed at squirrels that leaped among the treetops of the stately oaks in the Judge’s lawn.

Such is the life for an American dog. It is a life of luxury that few other beings in the history of life have experienced, and unlike the people who daily toiled to maintain the home, he could live the life of a retiree while at the prime of his life.

When he was seven years old, though, the discs of his spine began to act up. Some weeks, he could barely walk. The vet who prescribe anti-inflammatories and rest, and above all, he would demand the Smiths put the old boy on a diet. 115 pounds is not a healthy weight for a basset, even a big boy like Ludlow.

And the Smiths would do the diet thing. They’d get Ludlow back down to 100, even 95 pounds, and then the Judge, who’d locked up his fair share of criminals, would see those sad basset eyes staring at the refrigerator.

And the fattening of Ludlow would begin again. 

For three years, Ludlow was on this seesaw diet regime. He would still have back trouble, but how could anyone refuse to feed the poor dog?

But when Ludlow hit ten years of age, it became apparent that something had to be done.  The vet said the dog was falling apart, and he had to go on a diet soon.

And it just so happened that the Judge retired within a week of the vet’s stark advice.

And this time, the Judge decided that he would do it. This time, he would switch to salads for himself and diet dog food for Ludlow and the walking would begin.

For the first two weeks, Ludlow barely made it around the neighborhood, but after that second week, he’d built up some nice muscle and a bit of endurance.

And for six months, man and dog walked and dieted. And both grew trimmer and more fit.

At next annual checkup, Ludlow weighed in at a strapping 83 pounds. The vet estimated that his ideal weight would be 78 pounds, but he was closer to that weight than he’d been since his was a puppy.

Ludlow’s back and joints were tighter, and he looked like a true hound of noble breeding and not some slobby old seal of a dog.

His back stopped bothering him, and that winter, Ludlow realized a new activity: chasing squirrels.

For the first time in his life, Ludlow began to run the squirrels, and he would do it for several hours a day.  No longer encumbered by so much fat and a lack of muscle, he was now a lithe running dog.

And at the age of 11, he was now fitter and more trim than he had ever been.

The next time the vet weighed him, he was 80 pounds, but he was no longer the fat dog he once was. He was a fit beast at last.

Never again did Ludlow get fat. He lived on to the ripe age of 16, truly ancient for a basset.

Fat is never good for a dog.  They are adapted to run long and hard. and we’ve made them softer and less healthy than we ever have in history.

But we can make it right. If we can refuse the sad eyes at the fridge and take them out for a good run.

That’s all they need.

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Beautiful  N Red

Beautiful N Red at turn out at Derby Lane. St. Petersburg, Florida, on Christmas Day 2010.

I am not known for my conservatism. Indeed, I am definitely on the other side of the spectrum, but on some issues, I am not an ideologue, especially those issues that deal with animals that have a purpose.

What I am about to write might cause me to lose some readership, but I feel I have to say what I do think about this issue. This issue is the continued existence of commercial racing greyhounds in North America.

Many states have banned wagering on greyhound. My native state of West Virginia is still one that is very much into greyhounds and wagering on them. The former governor’s family was a devotee of greyhounds and greyhound breeding, and his successor has made a point to keep the hounds subsidized in the state budget.

But West Virginia will not keep the practice alive. The real market for greyhound racing is in Florida, and now Amendment 13 is on the ballot for this coming election.  My guess is that Florida will ban it. Democratic voter enthusiasm is way up in Florida, which is a good thing for 95 percent of the things I care about, but the odds that the typical Democratic voter is going to see through the nonsense that everyone “believes” about greyhound racing are not particularly high.

Greyhound racing may have been cruel in the past. They may have shot the racers after they couldn’t run anymore. They might have let the dogs run live meat rabbits that would be hung down from the lure.

I saw all these things on tabloid news shows when I was a kid, but I didn’t assume that the entire enterprise of greyhound was immoral. Even at that age, I thought they should just ban cruel practices, and I thought that greyhound adoption was just a great idea to stop people from shooting their retired dogs.

star in a crate

Star enjoying her spacious crate.

In the end, that’s what most states did for a while, but big money wanted the practice to end entirely. Casinos didn’t like having their revenue tied to racing, and many states had requirements that casino licenses be tied to greyhounds. Ban the practice, and the casino licenses would be liberated from the dogs and whatever fines and regulations go along with them.

I have come to know several track insiders, including my current partner. I’ve heard stories about the old trainers, true dogmen of the highest order. These were men who could tell which muscle was pulled simply by how the dog was limping and could tell you the bloodlines of the greyhound simply by looking at it.

They were not like the horse trainers who make massive salaries training their racers. These were men who made money on the dogs, but they lived mostly austere existences. The dogs were their passion, and the skillset was passed on from generation to generation. Whole families devoted themselves to breeding for and caring for the dogs.

If this Amendment 13 passes, the biggest state with legal greyhound racing will end this whole culture. All this knowledge and all this passion will be dashed away.

And all because people simply believe that greyhound racing is inherently cruel. I’ve been told by my friends in Florida that many dishonest political ads are filling the airways. Some are making claims of mass fatalities at tracks, with no supporting evidence given.  One wag even put up a Halloween display showing greyhound tombstones with the names of greyhounds that supposedly died at the tracks.  Strangely, people on social media who owned the dogs wound up sharing live photos of the dogs named on the fake monuments, showing that the dogs were not dead at all. They had been adopted.

Further, the end of greyhound racing is also the end of greyhound adoption. Many people have relied upon a steady supply of retired racers to fill their homes with their favorite breed.

What likely will happen is that those in the know will buy up racing greyhounds from the trainers and kennels. NGA dogs can still be registered in the AKC, and these dogs certainly will be.  They will then be bred for amateur racing and dog sports, and because they will be bred like any other sport breed, you will likely be able get an eight-week-old puppy from a breeder. But you will pay a big price for it. The racing greyhound will become like the racing whippet, a dog owned by amateurs only, and not one easily procured at retirement.

derby land greyhounds

Fuzzface Monte counter-surfing at Derby Lane. Note the size of the crates in the background.

So people who own retired racers now are essentially setting up a situation where when their current dog dies, it will become so much harder to find another dog to fill the void.

I would urge Florida voters to vote down this Amendment 13.  I would urge them to speak to the real greyhound people, who are not the monsters portrayed in 30 second ads.  These are among the last of the true dogmen, and their ideas and thoughts and expertise are not to be laughed at.

And certainly not squelched because a well-funded animal rights campaign has deemed them and their livelihoods undesirable.

 

 

 

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The Salukis

streamer

One week ago today, Jenna and I went to Pittsburgh to pick up some puppies at the airport. We found ourselves at some desolate warehouse place, but yes, they had our delivery from Albuquerque.

They loaded the shipping box into our van. Zoom, the old whippet, raised his head to watch the proceedings, and out of that crate rose of cacophony of primitive puppy barks.

The barker was the brindle named Streamer but called “Baz” at his breeder’s home. He had gone through enough moves and jostles, and to be face to face with that short-eared dog was the last straw.

Jenna quickly got both pups out of the crate. Streamer glowered at me from the passenger seat, but the other puppy, the cream and white Mango, stared up at me with abject suspicious. “You’re not gonna eat me, are you?” his eyes seemed to ask.

And I drove them home. Mango decided that I was his safety, and he began to follow me from room to room. Streamer, a hot-blooded Arabian stallion of a pup, decided to snap at the old whippet on the sofa, and he received a muzzle snap for his impudence..

Thus began my journey with an even more different sort of dog.  I should add that these are not normal AKC salukis, but they are a cross between a tazi with ancestors from Kazakhstan and Middle Eastern or “desert bred salukis.” Their sire is Tavi, a dog that has been featured on the Qurencia blog many times. Their mother is brindle and white, and thus controversial to the saluki purists. Both live with Shiri Hoshen in New Mexico, and this is the first litter produced between the two parents.

Mango is not ours. He will be going through a vaccine and titer regime over the next few months before he will be send to live with a good friend of this blog in Australia.

But right now, Mango is just learning about this foreign land, where the grass is green and spongy, and the rain drops from the sky regularly and make the air cool and crisp.

He is learning about wolf-like dogs with prick ears and intense eyes, and drop-eared almost Saluki-like things that carry things in their mouths. He will need much socialization to be made ready for that long trip Down Under.

But he has the softest, brownest eyes I’ve ever seen on a dog. He will be a great dog. I just hope to do him justice.

mango

Streamer will be staying here, and I hope will be reformed into a nice high status dog.

/And so I will learn a new breed once again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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reccent westminster winner

There was time when this blog was part of an official network of bloggers. We would amplify each other’s posts.

The most important thing was to be anti-kennel club and anti-dog show. If one could be rude as possible about it, then do so.

Such an environment is not exactly designed for close collaboration, for eventually we all turned on each other.

I became a pariah from that group, and things sort of died down. I still blogged about dogs. I still got pageviews.

But over time, I’ve slowly given it up.

For the sake of my own art and my own sanity, I’ve consciously moved away from dog writing. I do write about dogs on occasion, but so much about dogs has already been said.

The problems of closed studbooks and breeding exaggeration in conformation are still there. They have been highlighted much more in the past decade, but I’m reaching the point in my life that I’ve written enough about them.

I am not writing one of those “Westminster rewards breeding freaks” posts, because the usual suspects likely already have the draft written and just need to cut and paste the problems associated with the winner next Tuesday.

People are moving on in the world of dogs. I’m okay with it. And I’m certainly okay with finding comfort in my own skin as a mostly wildlife and natural history blogger.

I’m not writing about Westminster on Tuesday or Wednesday next week. I don’t know what I’ll write about, but my guess is I’ll try my hand at producing something like Rick Bass or Aldo Leopold or Annie Dillard (and fail because those are masters) and post it here.

And no one will get into a big argument with me, and I will feel better for having tried do something artful with this here English language and what it is I think I know about nature.

I’ll trundle on. I’ll try to write. I’ll hope you read it and don’t hate it. I’ll get better over time.

And so it goes.

It’s the silly work I do online.

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