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Archive for the ‘dog breeds’ Category

Mullock, James Flewitt, 1818-1892; Charles Randell with Greyhounds at Stonehenge

One common trope that exists in old breed histories is an attempt to connect extant dog breeds with ancient ones.  These stories were fanciful, and with the advent of the molecular revolution in biology, almost none of these stories can be taken seriously.

Among these stories are those that connect “greyhounds” with the Middle East. Often cited are the texts in the Bible, which you may have noticed, were not originally written in English.  English Bible translations were done long before we had established breed or a firm understanding of dogs in other countries, so when one reads about greyhounds in the Middle East in the Bible, it is important to understand that “greyhound” was a translated term. The dogs in the original source are not the same as the greyhound known in England and Northern Europe at the time. They are most likely referring to salukis.

Salukis and greyhounds are often thought of as being similar dogs, but having lived with both, I can tell you they are quite different dogs. Salukis are distance dogs. They don’t have lots of round muscle over their body. Greyhounds are sprinters.

Further, if I were going to pick one to train as a pet, I would go with the greyhound. They are far more biddable. Indeed, I find myself losing my temper far less with the greyhounds than I ever did with the salukis.

The reason for this difference is that the two breeds are out of entirely different stock. We know this from study of their genomes. We know that greyhounds–and whippets, Italian greyhounds, and borzoi– are from a root-stock that is most closely related to herding dogs of the general collie-type. This discovery came about through study of genetic markers.

This same study found that salukis and Afghan hounds are in a whole other clade with several livestock guardian breeds. The prick-eared sighthounds of the Mediterranean– the so-called Pharaoh hound of Malta, the Ibizan hound, and Cirneco dell’Etna– are in a different part of this same clade. They, too, are related to livestock guardians. Their closest relative is the Great Pyrenees.

In Edmund Russell’s work on the history of the greyhound in England, there is careful attention paid to the real history of these animals.

Russell contends that there is no real history of the greyhound in England until 1200, when they become common place in Medieval hunting art and literature.  The archaeology of British dogs shows that there was not much morphological variation in them until the Romans arrived. Indeed, the only main morphological variation observed in dogs in Britain before the Romans is that one specimen from the Iron Age had a shortened muzzle.

So Russell spends more time on the “greyhound” as a term that means the ancestors of these various British sighthounds, which we know from genetic data are most closely related to various herding dogs that originated in Britain.

He follows the evolution of these hounds from Medieval hunts, where there were many regional and quarry-specific strains, to the beginnings of club coursing to the modern racing and coursing greyhound. He clearly understands that some of these regional dogs become distinct breeds through political and cultural memes. The dog we call “the greyhound” today is a very specific animal that evolved through club coursing into modern racing and dog showing. The whippet is a subset that evolved from working class racing and rabbit coursing. The Scottish deerhound is a subset the was used to hunt red deer in Scotland on those large estates.

These three breeds have intertwined histories, and their evolution as breeds need to be understood within the cultural and political ideas of the societies that produced them.

Russell’s work is an environmental history, which means that he attempts to understand dog breeds and human tasks within the concept of a niche. “Niche” in this case means exactly what it does in ecology– a particular place or task within an ecosystem.

Hunting cultures will create niches. The gun dog breeds of Britain are all divided into three niches:  pointer/setter, flushing spaniel, or retriever.  We could try to understand their evolution in much the same way as Russell attempted with “the greyhound.”  The spaniel started out as the original dog, but some were good at stopping before the flush. These dogs became the setters and pointers. Later, with the advent of firearms, there was a desire to produce dogs from spaniel and setter stock that were good at picking up shot game. Having large numbers of dogs on a shoot that did different tasks was a symbol of patrician largess, and because British hunting cultures were patrician-based, these breeds evolved in this way.

This basic dog became something different in Germany, where hunting became much more egalitarian following the failed revolutions of 1848.  Commoners were given access to the forests in the various German states, as a way of alleviating class antagonisms. Because commoners could not keep vast hordes of specialized dogs, German hunters bred all-rounders. Even dachshunds have been used to pick up shot game and flush birds and rabbits. The various Vorstehhund of Germany not only did the gun dog’s task, but they were bred to flush and bay wild boar, dispatch badgers and foxes, and to retrieve any manner of game.

Russell might have made his work stronger if he had looked at other Northern European sighthounds. Dogs of this type were widespread across the North European Plain into Russia and Ukraine. Some societies lost their traditional sighthound. France, Germany, and the Benelux are without their traditional sighthounds, but Hungary and Poland have their hounds. Russia has several breeds of these type, including the widespread borzoi.  Of course, Russell’s main area of focus is the British Isles, specifically England, where the coursing greyhound was developed.

So the real histories of breeds are often a lot less fanciful than what we read in old dog books. The truth of the matter is that it is complex, and we should try to avoid putting the cart before the horse when trying to figure out the truth.

Assuming that we can piece together a breed history based upon folklore or what was written in one of those all-breed books from fifty years ago is an act of folly. We need to understand that the molecular revolution is changing how we understand how dogs evolved, and right now, it is tearing away much of our understanding of how dog breeds themselves came to be.

 

 

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andsdell deerhound

The dogs we call “greyhounds” today are smooth-coated. Some, like Drake, grow pretty thick winter coats, but they are all smooth-coated dogs.

This breed feature, one would think, would have been well-established in the breed, but it did not become a feature until the rise of “club coursing” in England. English patricians were part of clubs that had vast holdings where hares were managed to abundance, and each club member would come and run dogs on these hares in what were greyhound field trials.

In his book Greyhound Nation: A Coevolutionary History of England, 1200-1900, Edmund Russell writes about how memes affected greyhound evolution in England. One of these memes that arose in the 1820s was that no rough-coated greyhound could be entered. Russell even quotes the rule-book from the Swaffham that “No rough-haired dog to be deemed a greyhound.”

The reason for this dismissal of rough-coated greyhounds is that rough-coated greyhounds were better suited to the North of England and to Scotland and Ireland. The wire coats protected against thorns, rocky terrain, and the cold weather. Smooth-coated dogs were better for the open land, which was more easily found in the South of England.

And it also fit within the general prejudicial views of the elite society of the South of England, which saw itself as being “better-bred” than the North.  This division is one that sort of posits the Anglo-Norman parts of the country against the areas where Celtic people held on the longest. This same view was even more exaggerated when these elites looked at the traditionally even more Celtic lands of Scotland and Ireland, where rough-coated greyhounds were the rule, not the exception.

Further, Russell points out that was about this time that lurchers began to be stigmatized among elite coursing circles. The lurcher was seen as the poacher’s dog, and the poacher’s dog very often was a rough-coated creature. Never mind that the intellectual ancestors of these elite coursing men were very much into the business of crossing greyhounds with lurchers, Italian greyhounds, and bulldogs. The lurcher and the wire-coated greyhound began to be seen as debased and low-class and Celtic.

One should also take into account the coursing men were never running hares for food. This was sport. The lurchermen was always running dogs on what could feed him and his family the next day. The wealthy coursing men were interested in the dogs as sport, not survival, and for this difference, they castigated the rough greyhound as a lurcher too.

So these ideas permeated what became the modern greyhound breed. Wire coats are dominant, and it is quite easily to expel them from a breeding program.

Thus, what became the greyhound resulted from the prejudices of the elites in the South of England and Yorkshire, rather than any practical reason.

In the Scottish Highlands, the “deer greyhounds” of that region remained wire-coated, and they eventually became the basis of the modern Scottish deerhound breed. By the time these dogs became part of the modern kennel club registry system, no one really thought of them as being related, and no one really considered the bizarre class and regional reasons why the two breeds wound up with different coats.

The deerhound retained the wire coat because it was practical for running deer in the Highlands. The greyhound lost its wire variety because the elite who coursed them saw them as a sign of debasement and excluded them from the breed.

Human whims and prejudices affect so much of how our breeds evolve. In this case, it is the deep division of the South of England vs. the rest of the British Isles.

Update: Apparently, when a real historian looks at the history of a dog breed within the context of the culture and with a clear understanding of canine genetics, it upsets the apple cart with the Sir Bufton Tufton Brexit and Boris set. I don’t have have time for to approve your comments and show you why the lore is not the same as actual history.

(And here is the genome-wide study that has a phylogenetic wheel in it that places Western sighthounds as close to British herding dogs.)

 

 

 

 

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Changing the Bullenbeisser

Bullenbeiser

When Europe was a wilder place, there were lots of big game animals. Bison, brown bears, aurochs, and vast sounders of wild boar were all abundant. Before the Neolithic Revolution entered Europe, these animals were often hunted for their meat and hides, but after the Neolithic, man began to consider these animals pests.

Dogs were used to hunt them, but as the Neolithic gave way to the Ancient World, the dogs began to change. For big game, heavy-headed, big-framed dogs were used to hunt this often dangerous game. The first of these dogs appeared in Assyria, but they soon spread to Europe. Drop all that nonsense you may have heard about mastiffs being the ancient Molossus or have their origins in Tibet. Their origins are in Western Eurasia, and they began as big game hunters.

Supposedly the Alans brought their own form of hunting mastiff in Europe when they wandered west into the Roman Empire. This dog gave rise to the rootstock of the various bulldog breeds.

For centuries after, various European countries had their own rough bulldogs. Spain is pretty much the only one that has held onto its alano dog. Everyone else has greatly modified this creature.

The bulldogs evolved once the big game of Europe ceased to exist. Some of them were turned into a bull and bear-baiting dog. Others were kept at butcher shops to control half wild cattle and swine. Some were still utilized as catch dogs in Medieval hunts. They became symbolic creatures that reminders of a more savage past.

But by the nineteenth century, Europeans turned against bloodsports. The bulldogs were out of a job. The British began repurposing the bulldog into a pet. The original pet bulldog was 3/4 bulldog and 1/4 pug. This “Philo-Kuon” bulldog was heavily promoted as a pet, but other strains were being developed. One was the Sourmug, which eventually replaced the Philo-Kuon as the desired bulldog in England. There were also several smaller bulldogs, which had more pug and some terrier ancestry. These eventually gave rise to the French bulldog and the Boston terrier.

This repurposing of the bulldog in England did not go unnoticed in Germany. The Germans had two rough bulldog types the Danziger and Brabanter bullenbeissers. Brabant is, of course, in Belgium, but this lither bullenbeisser was fairly common in parts of Germany.  It was this breed that was crossed with the Philo-Kuon bulldog to form the modern boxer breed. The Brabanter dog was preferred in the later days of German hunting as a catch dog on wild boar and deer, and it was favored among Bavarian huntsman.

Crossing the Philo-Kuon bulldog with the Brabanter bullenbeisser was an attempt to create a uniquely German pet bulldog.

The modern boxer’s history began at roughly the same time as the modern German shepherd dog.  The SV for German shepherds began in 1899, but earlier attempts to create a standardized shepherd dog in Germany started with the Phylax Society in 1891. The first attempts to standardize the bullenbeisser/Philo-Kuon crosses began in 1894 in Munich, and the Boxer Club was founded in 1896.

So this dog went from being a big game hunter to a pet, but by the time the First World War started, it was then shifted into a dog of war. It was the only war in which it was widely used, though.

There has been a tension in boxers about whether to maintain them as pets or working dogs. Some of these dogs have been good at protection sports, but the vast majority of them are kept as pets.

I know of no one who uses them as catch dogs, but I have heard of a few people using boxer crosses in this way. The Dogo Argentino has a lot of boxer blood.

So here, we have dogs that were used for hunting, then for various sports, then for war, and now are mostly family dogs.

 

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dick's dog.png

I grew up in rural West Virginia. One of the most common types of dog during my childhood was the scenthound. People had beagles for running rabbits.  The hardcore houndsmen kept coonhounds and foxhounds, and the really die-hard ones kept what were always called “bear dogs,” usually Plott hounds or really sharp strains of coonhound, that were used to tree bears.

A beagle was put in the playpen with me when I was of formative years. The first dog that was ever designated as mine was a beagle. Unfortunately, he came home with a bad case of parvo, and in those days, that disease was a death sentence.

5-to-10-year-old me was a fan of the hound. But I noticed something early on. Most of the coonhounds and foxhounds that I knew never were kept as pets. They were usually kept tied up to oil drums or dog houses or they were penned up in the back.

The reason for this husbandry was simple. These dogs were never kept to be obedient pets. Their job was to run the trails of the quarry, give tongue, and maybe tree it or run it aground.

The dogs themselves were usually quite docile.  But they were bred to make lots of noise on the trail, and many of them made lots of noise when tied up or penned up at home. Some houndsmen broke their dogs of this behavior. Others didn’t care.

But it was deeply instilled within me that large scenthounds usually don’t make the best pets. Beagles could make decent enough pets, but one had to make allowances for their baying cries and the simple fact that they were not biddable dogs.

As I have moved on from that world, I have seen a big problem that is not being widely discussed in the dog world. Currently, adoption groups and shelters in the Northeast and West Coast are in agreements with Southern and Midwestern shelters.

In some rural parts of the country,  scenthounds make up a large percentage of the dogs available, and they then get shifted to the more urban environments, where they are usually offered for adoption pretty quickly.

Most of these dogs are quite docile and social, which makes them quite attractive to potential adopters.  However, the staff at urban shelters often have no idea about these dogs. For example, I know of a dog that was offered for adoption as a greyhound mix when he is actually a Tennessee Treeing Brindle, which is a sort of standardizing Plott cur.

Greyhounds don’t make much noise at all. They don’t have much activity level either. But this dog loves to bay and bark, and he needs a lot of exercise.

If adoption groups and shelters are not familiar with traditional American scenthounds and the potential problems in owning one, they will be doing the dogs and the adopters a disservice.

I ran into a older woman on Facebook. We were in agreement in politics, and she liked a lot of what I had to say about various issues.  She friended me, and it was all fine.

Until I saw that she had taken in two Trigg foxhounds from Mississippi as foster dogs. They had been found wandering the edge of a swamp during hunting season, and they were taken to a pound, where they wound up going to New Jersey as potential pets. The woman was excited because the dogs would “never be forced to hunt again,” and they would love living with her small dogs and cats.

I left a comment on her page that I didn’t think this would be a good match.  I told her that those dogs were never forced to hunt. They were probably going to miss not being run around the pine forests and swamps down there, and they might not be the best friends with her cats. And they might not be friends with her little dogs either.

But, of course, she didn’t want to hear it. And our short little “friendship” ended.

We see lots on social media about the problems with pit bulls and poverty and pit bulls and neophyte owners.

However, the same sorts of issues apply to hounds. I remember hearing stories of  someVirginia deer hunters who would go into the West Virginia “dog trades” and buy up all the incorrigible deer running beagles.  In West Virginia, dogs are not allowed to chase deer during the season, and many hardcore deer hunters will shoot a dog if they catch it running deer. In Southeast Virginia, running scenthounds on deer is a time-honored tradition, but not everyone does right by the dogs.

Beagles are a dime a dozen in much of West Virginia, and selling them to Virginia deer hunters is a good way to get rid of a dog that is no longer wanted.

But at least, Virginia deer beagles get to live lives doing something very much like what they were bred for.

Foxhounds and coonhounds in apartments and suburbia could be quite disastrous.  It is one thing to have an AKC-registered black-and-tan coonhound, which you got as an eight-week-old puppy. It is another to get a Treeing Walker that has been started on raccoons or even bobcats or bear and expect that dog to fit in nicely in civilization.

The amount of exercise such a dog requires is not trivial. The sound it will make will annoy the neighbors, and if it is really been trained on the raccoon or bobcat, it will probably not be safe around cats or possibly small dogs.

These dogs not make good pets for the average dog owner. They simply don’t.

You make think I hate these dogs, but I have seen enough people trying to make adopted scenthounds into tractable pets.  And no, they don’t have the potential issues that one might get into with pit bulls and BBMs.

But there are issues.

Now, a lot could be done on the supply-side of this problems. In some parts of the country, there are too many hounds being bred and offered to people who will not do right by them. If a foxhound or coonhound fails as a hunter, it is going to be a hard dog to pet out. No two ways about it, and it is incumbent upon people breeding and training these dogs to find these homes.

And no, the racing greyhounds are not equivalent. Most racing greyhounds transition better as pets than large scenthounds do.  Most of them will lie around the house all day, and if you ever hear one bark, you will be lucky.

These scenthound problems go even deeper than this adoption problem. Once a large scenthound breed loses its quarry, it isn’t long before it becomes defunct. Otterhounds are one of the rarest breeds in existence.  Virtually no place with otters allows them to be hunted with dogs anymore.

The dogs do have their devotees.  But they have the problems of all large scenthounds.  They make the noise. They aren’t particularly biddable. They have a lot of need for exercise.

How you adapt such a breed into modern existence is a good question. Either new quarry is found for the dog, and for a time, they were used on invasive American mink in the UK. But then the UK banned most forms of hound hunting, and the dogs became truly obsolete.

North American houndsmen have generally avoided all griffon hounds, such as the otterhound. All of the traditional American hounds are smooth-coated. Maybe if the dogs were found to be good at hunting coypu (“nutria rat”), they might have a future as a North American hound.

But that is an uphill battle.

The truth of the matter the otterhound’s problem is the problem of all these scenthounds. They are hard to fit into modern society.

And yes, there are people who love their dogs of these breeds, but just because you love your dogs and have no problems doesn’t meant that most people will have no problems with these dogs.

They just aren’t easy, and we need to be honest about them. Nice, docile dogs, yes. But they have real challenges.

 

 

 

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slope back

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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xolo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yep. I ruined that one, too.

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muzzled pit bull

For years, I’ve had a long-standing policy of never writing about pit bulls or bull breed mixes.  I oppose BSL, and I think if any breed or type of dog requires compassionate advocates, it is these dogs.

But just because I oppose BSL does not mean that I think that selective breeding is without importance when it comes to dog behavior.

I am also fully aware that there are millions of these dogs that haven’t had fighting ancestors for many, many generations. Lots of these dogs are pretty mild, even more toned-down the typical boxer.

However, I am aware that there are many of these dogs that still retain instincts to fight other dogs, and some of these dogs are particularly dangerous to people. I used to have strong beliefs that shelters and rescues base their decisions upon individuals and not the breed, and I still largely have this opinion.

But in recent years, pit bull advocacy has turned into a sort of base denial that selective breeding has any effect on the behavior of these dogs. We also are living in a time when people are encouraged to rescue dogs, rather than buy them from breeders.

We live in an era in which people are being encouraged to give up meat, reduce their carbon footprint, and generally do things that are compassionate and responsible. People are told that the best thing you do is rescue a dog. However, what we have seen in the past decade or so, we have seen really wonderful reforms in community shelters across the nation.  Purebred rescues have done a remarkable job in keeping their dogs out of shelters, as have truly responsible breeders. High intake shelters in the South have good relationships with shelters in other parts of the country, so dogs wind up in areas where there are good homes.

These developments are all good things for dogs in the United States. But a new problem has arisen.

Go to virtually any county pound or public shelter, and the vast majority of the dogs there will be pit bulls and pit bull mixes. The best shelters do evaluate these dogs and are careful at screening which homes get them, but not all shelters have the expertise to do the due diligence.

Meanwhile, because these dogs really do need homes, lots of pit bull advocates are encouraging socially conscious people to go to the shelter and adopt a pit bull. In many cases, it’s a match made in heaven, but in too many other cases, a really super hot pit bull winds up in the hands of someone who cannot control, manage, or contain the animal properly.

And this creates a dangerous situation.

Let’s take an absurd analogy to see why this is a problem. I love Belgian Malinois, but I know the most serious people in that breed do all they can to ensure their dogs wind up in the right homes.  These dogs have a lot in common with pit bulls, and because they are generally bred by only serious enthusiasts, they are more consistently a lot of dog than we see in the various pit bull types.

But no one says that Malinois are nanny dogs or that having one is just like having a Labrador.  If anyone were to say such absurdities, they would likely be driven out of the entire Malinois culture.

But in pit bulls, we hear all sorts of things about how docile they are. And yes, a lot of them are quite mild dogs, but the ones that are really aggressive certainly do exist.

So when these advocates are promoting that pit bulls are just like any other dog they are not doing the dogs any favors. Yes, you can get a mild and gentle pit bull, but if you’re getting the dog from the pound, there is a good chance that you could be getting something that is a bit much.

Newby dog owners and potentially aggressive dogs are not a good mix.  Add to this melange a new belief system that says that dogs must be trained and managed without any form of punishment or discomfort, and we’re talking a really dangerous situation.

I know that what I have written is controversial. It is controversial only because of context. No one would jump my case for saying that border collies go into stalking position when they herd sheep because of selective breeding. It is without controversy to say that pointers will hold their points when the see or smell quarry.

The level of dog aggression that some pit bulls have came about because of selective breeding. It is not all in how you raise them.  Most people are ill-equipped to deal with a dog that has that sort of behavior, and if you’re not, you should not just get a shelter pit bull. You might get a mild, gentle one.  Or you could get something that really isn’t a good dog for the typical family.

That’s a hard thing to say, because yes, there is a chance that you could get a gentle pit bull. Further, dogs in shelters may behave entirely differently at the shelter than they will after being at someone’s home for a few months.  When a dog becomes comfortable in its new home, then you can see what the temperament actually is, and it may not be something that is easy to handle.

I am not saying that anyone who gets a pit bull or rescues one is an idiot or that these dogs are universally dangerous. I am saying that there is a good chance that you can get a dog that is too much. And you’d better be prepared to manage and control this animal.

If you don’t know how or are unwilling to get one of these dogs off another dog, then you should look for another breed.

I mean this as no insult to the nice, well-managed pit bulls and bull breed mixes, but I am saying that there really are dogs out there in this general type of dog that will do a lot of damage to another dog. Some are so bad that they are dangerous to people.

Further, we, as dog people, should stop shaming people who get their dogs from responsible breeders. We are unintentionally driving people to get dogs they might not be able to handle properly, and this is not good for any dog anywhere.

Please note that I am not saying that this same problem exists only in pit bulls.  You can get German shepherds are totally dangerous.  Pretty much any large dog can be dangerous in the right circumstances.

But the issue I’m criticizing is the rescue culture that is pushing these dogs, which can potentially have these problems, onto a well-meaning but largely unskilled public. And with this type of dog, this is exactly what is going on.

And these dogs certainly deserve better advocacy. I don’t write these words because I hate the dogs or their owners. I love dogs, but I want dogs to be in homes that can full appreciate and manage what the dog really is.

I don’t think anyone can construe my position with hatred. Just disappointment.

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