Archive for the ‘dog breeds’ Category

trump and hickory

“This dawg is terrific! A real winner!”

It’s that time of year.

The United States is having its big dog show Monday and Tuesday, and it will be watched.

And the laity will whine about why the Labrador isn’t Best in Show, because, um, aren’t they the best dog ever?

Then we’ll have a few  of the dog blogs writing a screed or two about how awful dog shows are.

This breed hasn’t been worked in a thousand years!

Dog show rings wreck our breeds!

And so on.

At one time, I would write these very same blog posts, but to be honest with you, I don’t see the point in them anymore.

In the grand scheme of North American dogdom, it really doesn’t matter what goes on with the major all-breed registries or the dog shows. Compared to what happens with the NFL, most Americans don’t care,  and they have never followed what the dog fanciers say.

You can make arguments all you want, but it isn’t going to change what the hardcore fancier wants to believe.

And the public is moving on. The AKC is a moribund institution that never really had that much support from American dog lovers.

So I’m to the point now of detente, but only because the horse is dead and continued flagellation isn’t going to get him moving any time soon.

I have more interesting things to think about than why people want to own a bulldog or participate in conformation shows.

When one is young, one can expend so much energy being angry that one forgets to think, and I think I can finally say I’m done being angry.

The dogs are going to be fine. If you think something is wrong, there will always be an alternative.

And there are more people who either bucking the system or operating outside of it than who are operating within it.

So I’m just going to chill the f*ck out.




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Over the years, I’ve made mention of the fact that English shepherds are a very common breed in West Virginia. Indeed, I knew what an English shepherd was long before I’d ever heard the words “border collie.”  English shepherds are pretty common in the Eastern and Midwestern US.

But only in the rural areas. In most towns around here, many people adopt “collie mixes” without ever knowing what they actually have.

They are derived from the farm dogs of the British Isles, with maybe a little bit of German, Swiss, or Native dog crossed in. They very strongly resemble the “shepherd’s dogs” that were commonly published in eighteenth and nineteenth century texts about dogs in the British Isles. He has the same broad head and curled tail, as well as the common black and white color. In America, they were used for livestock herding, but they were also used to guard properties and hunt game.

This dog came into area, probably because the gut pile from my deer isn’t 100 yards away in the woods behind the camera.

So Ol’ Shep was enjoying him a taste of raw green tripe, and no one had to spend a fortune on it.

Yes, these old dogs are pretty common, but I never thought I’d catch one on the trail camera!

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german short-haired pointer

I’ve been thinking about the future a lot. This blog has helped me reach a sense of closure following the deaths of two beloved dogs. I knew a working type golden retriever intimately well. She could retrieve anything, for she lived for the retrieve. She was one of those dogs who sought kinship with our species to the point where she began to take on some of our traits. The other was a half golden retriever/half boxer that was a truly fell beast. She was the menace of skunks and feral cats, and the coyotes hit the brush when they saw her approach.

Neither of these dogs would have fit into modern American suburban life very well. The intelligent retriever with such a desire to retrieve would probably drive her owners batty in the subdivision. And no insurance company would ever take on a household that included dog that could rather quickly dispatch a feral cat with a simple crushing bite to the skull.

These two dogs taught me a lot about their kind. For their tutelage I will be forever grateful.

But I don’t think it’s fair for me to quest after dogs in hopes that they can replace what once was. It was great when it was, but because it’s based upon the very finite existence of a dog, it cannot be replaced.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I really want in a dog. I suppose that deep down, I want a dog that is pretty unspoiled but also domesticated and useful.

On my trips into the woods, I’ve been coming across a ruffed grouse. I’m sure it’s the same one, but it is hard to tell for sure. I remember eating the ones my grandpa killed, along with the copious dishes of pressure-cooked squirrel. I remember it as the finest poultry I’ve ever tasted.

Grouse have had a rough time in West Virginia outside of the High Alleghenies. When timber industry fell apart in the early part of this century, the woods stopped being logged. The forests started to mature, and the grouse, which prefer younger timber, began to disappear. I’m also sure, though it has never been tested empirically, that decline of the fur industry meant a rise in the number of raccoons and opossums, which love nothing more than to eat grouse eggs, and and a rise in number of red and gray foxes, which love to eat the grouse themselves.

I’ve thought about getting a working golden retriever to hunt grouse, which they certainly can do. They were actually bred to pick up red grouse in the Scottish Highlands. Red grouse are British subspecies of a Holarctic species that we North Americans call a “willow ptarmigan.” Unlike the North American variant, the British red grouse does not turn white in the winter.

Ruffed grouse are more like the forest grouse of Scandinavia. Probably their nearest equivalent in the Old World would be the hazel grouse, which is quite a bit smaller.

These birds can be hunted with retrievers, but it’s more of a flushing dog situation. This sort of raises the question if maybe I’d be better off with a spaniel of some sort.

But the truth is most people who hunt ruffed grouse with dogs don’t use flushing dogs. That’s because ruffed grouse are notoriously good at lying low until the last moment. The one I encounter on a regular basis usually flies off as soon as I walk by where it’s been hiding. Most people use pointing dogs.

The problem is that I don’t like English pointers or Llewellin setters. Nice dogs.  But the American version of the English pointer is not the kind of dog I like. It’s more like a pointing white foxhound. To my mind, it’s a dog of the bobwhite plantation of the Deep South.

And it may seem picayune and petty, but I don’t much like the looks of a Llewellin setter. They look unrefined and unkempt, and when they point with their tails sticking up, it reminds me of a joke about all dogs having Ohio license plates. That’s a dog that shows it off!

But then I’m reminded that the pointing dog world doesn’t end with all the plantation stock. On the European continent, there are plenty of different breeds developed. Many of these are multipurpose dogs.

I know the German breeds of these dogs better than the others. The most easy one of these to find is the German short-haired pointer, which is split into several different lines right now. I’ve known one of these dogs from 4-H camp many years ago, and she was a very intelligent and docile animal.

The dogs that are closer to the German version of this breed are also quite capable of retrieving waterfowl, even though it would be unwise to use them during the dead of winter portion of the duck season that West Virginia has.

This breed is a sort of compromise between the Central European big game hound, the pointing gun dog and the retrieving gun dog. It’s not the only breed that Germany has produced that is like this. It just happens to be the most common one in the US.

But again, I’m thinking out loud here. I’m a long way off from being in the place to choose a dog.

But I know I want something unspoiled and something that is useful. I’m not seeking the most obedient dog on the planet. I like a dog with good sense and “sagacity.”

So here is where my mind is moving at the moment.

Idle thoughts about the future.

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Happy Boykin Spaniel Day!

happy boykin meme

September 1 is Boykin Spaniel Day in South Carolina.

It’s also the first day of dove season in South Carolina.

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Istrian smooth-coated hound.

Istrian smooth-coated hound.

I’ve written a few blog posts in which I have argued that Dalmatians are not actually from Croatia. I’ve pointed out that a lot of the supposed depictions of Dalmatians were rather dubious, and genetically, Dalmatians fit with pointing gun dogs.

Well, it turns out that there might be actually be something the Croatian origins of the Dalmatian after all. Some Croatian researchers, Bauer and Lemo, looked into the history of dogs in that part of Croatia. They found that a type of now likely extinct sight-hound was almost always black and white with some dappling, and some of them actually looked more like scent-hounds than sight-hounds.

However, that is far from the best evidence. Lots of dogs have dappling, and the Dalmatian dappling is very distinct. The authors discuss two of these sight-hounds. The male was black and white, and the female was ocher and white and had a habit of vomiting for her puppies, which the authors believe doesn’t exist in “thoroughbred dogs.” (Which is news to me. I’ve seen golden retrievers vomit for puppies, and Miley even vomited for a visiting laika puppy.)

I think the sight-hound discussion was pretty much a non-sequitur, because dapples and roaning are so common in many breeds that it cannot be used to determine any kind of relationship.

However, the best evidence the authors provided is that a type of scent-hound that is still used in Croatia also shares an unusual metabolic trait with the Dalmatian. Unless they are part of that well-known outcross program that introduced normal uric acid levels through a single cross with a pointer, Dalmatians have high uric acid levels. Their livers lack an enzyme for metabolizing certain proteins, and this is actually pretty unusual in the dog world.

The problem with this assertion is that it’s actually not “proteins” that Dalmatians have trouble metabolizing. It is something called a “purine.” Uric acid is a purine, and the liver in normal dogs converts uric acid to a water soluble substance called allantonin. Dalmatians can’t convert uric acid to allantonin, which the authors do recognize. It may just be a mistranslation on their part.

The authors claim that only the Istrian hound, which does look like a lot like a red and white Dalmatian, shares this trait, but the authors apparently don’t realize is in the West, the other breed that gets these uric acid stones fairly often is the English bulldog. In bulldogs, it is caused by exactly the same purine metabolism issue, and the inheritance is the same in both breeds.

So the claim that only the Istrian hounds have this trait is simply false.

It is possible that the Dalmatian and Istrian hound share a common ancestor. Perhaps there was a black and white version of this hound that was spread to France and the Low Countries and then to England. This dog was then crossed with setters and pointers and bulldogs to make the modern Dalmatian breed.

But this is idle speculation. Until someone does an actual DNA study on Dalmatians that uses a large enough sample of nuclear DNA from a variety of Croatian and non-Croatian breeds, including pointing gun dogs, the case that Dalmatian and the Istrian hound are derived from the same root stock in Balkans is still an extraordinary claim that needs extraordinary evidence.

The best evidence that Bauer and Lemo provided is depiction of a dappled hound in eighteenth century painting in Dubrovnik.

dubrovnik hound


Maybe this dog actually is a Croatian Dalmatian or the Croatian proto-Dalmatian.

I don’t know.

But I do know that Croatia, like just about every country that was part of the former Yugoslavia, has had a resurgent nationalism for about the past 20 years.

The dog called a Dalmatian is popular all over the world, and it makes sense that the Croatian nationalist zeitgeist would look to this breed as a symbol of something from Croatia that hit it big on the international scene.

I think it is important for us to remain skeptical about claims about Dalmatians actually coming from Dalmatia.  It simply doesn’t fit what we already know about this dog– many individuals readily point and long-coated individuals are not unknown– to make us assume that this name means anything.

Nice try, though.





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skull 1

A recent study of pit bull skulls using 3-D imaging technology has revealed that they have skull measurements that are more similar to the extinct canids in the genus Borophagus. Further analysis involving SNP technology revealed that the average of 24.6 percent ancestry that is from a canid that is neither wolf nor domestic dog.

Abbott Millard, a canid researcher with the Dog Origins Project, has performed the 3-D imaging research, which included 130 pit bull skulls. His a comparison with the measurements of the pit bull skulls with those of several extant and extinct canids.

“Our results show that pit bulls have skull morphology most similar to the extinct dogs of the genus Borophagus. These results were quite shocking because Borophagus has been classified with an extinct group of canids that were thought not be related to modern dogs at all,” said Millard.

However, knowing that canids have a tendency towards convergent evolution in skull morphology, it is quite possible that pit bulls, a breed known for its massive jaw strength, evolved similar jaws to the Borphagus through similar selection pressures.

Which is why the Dog Origins Project decided to do some research on pit bull DNA. The researchers used SNP chip technology, which allows for extensive genome-wide assays. Similar research has been used to disprove East Asian origins for the domestic dog and raised real questions about the taxonomic status of the red wolf.

Otto Klinger, lead geneticist at the Dog Origins Project, compared DNA from 20 pit bulls, 15 boxers, 4 dingoes, 6 wolves from 4 different regions in the Old World, 12 coyotes, and 3 golden jackals. Pit bulls were found to be mostly domestic dog in origin, but a large sample of their genetic material didn’t match any extant canid.

“It is possible that this mystery canid was actually an undocumented wolf subspecies, but the finding that pit bulls have similar skulls to the Borophagus raises intriguing questions. It could mean that the pit bull terrier developed in America was crossed with a relict population of Borophagus,” said Klinger, “There are many mentions of strange wolves in the colonial literature that might be very suggestive of Borophagus, and there are mentions of blocky-headed wolfdogs belonging to the Algonquin peoples of the Northeast. Maybe these dogs and wolves were the relict Borophagus. They certainly would have been great fighting dogs.”

The discovery of the hybrid origin for the pit bull, though, does raise some important questions.

Millard believes that these studies mean that pit bulls deserve their own species status:

“The hybrid origin of the pit bull strongly suggests that we should not be classifying pit bulls as part of the greater dog species. We propose that the scientific name for the new pit bull species be Canis horribilus. Pit bulls are the grizzly bears of the dog world, so we think that we should use the grizzly bear’s name [Ursus arctos horribilus] to define the pit bull.”

With this new definitive DNA research on pit bulls, breed specific legislation will now be much easier to enforce, and the Dog Origin Project plans on donating its findings to law enforcement to develop a definitive pit bull genetic test.

“Our research will now have a positive impact upon society. I can’t tell you how thrilled I am wih the possibilities!” said Klinger.

So we now know why pit bulls are so different from other dogs. They are hybrids with a mystery canid that might be a survivor from the days of the ancient Borophaginae.

*The above is an April Fools’ prank. Not a single word of it is factual. Reposting or quoting this article as if it were fact will make you look extremely stupid.





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undocked rottweiler

I don’t know where this idea came from, but there is profound misunderstanding about what rottweilers are.

Rottweilers are sometimes referred to as Metzgerhund, which means “butcher’s dog,” and someone decided that this meant the same thing as the English “butcher’s dog.”  In Medieval and early modern England, butcher’s dogs, which became the bulldogs, baited cattle before slaughter. When the dogs were released upon bulls, many people would show up to watch the spectacle. These events eventually became the bull-baiting contests that were quite popular throughout England.

However, that is not the function of a rottweiler. Rottweilers are not closely related to bulldogs at all. A few years ago, researchers at UCLA released a study on dog origins, which posited a close relationship between domestic dogs and Middle Eastern wolves. Because the researchers looked a large sample of DNA from each dog, they were able to draw a phylogenetic wheel of domestic dogs.

dog breed



Rottweilers don’t fit with any of the mastiffs, bullmastiffs, or bulldogs. Instead, they share a common ancestry with the Great Dane, the Bernese mountain dog, and the St. Bernard.

Only two Swiss mountain dog breeds were sampled for the study, the Bernese and the St. Bernard. I bet if the researchers had included the Greater Swiss, the Entlebucher, and the Appenzeller, I think we would find these breeds were even closer to the Rottweiler than the Great Dane.

If you think about it, this makes perfect sense. If you look at where Rottweil is on the map, it is not that far from Switzerland. It actually joined the Swiss Confederacy in the fifteenth century, and there was extensive trade between Switzerland and Rottweil for many centuries.

The origins of the rottweiler actually lie with the Swiss mountain dogs that would be used to drive cattle into the butcher shops.

The dogs were not baiters. They were herders and guards.

So when you see someone lumping rottweilers with members of the bulldog, mastiff, and bull and terrier dogs, this person simply hasn’t the foggiest clue about the proper classification of dogs.

I also think it is past time to drop the term “Molosser” to describe dogs that have big, broad heads. It assumes all these breeds are related, but they clearly aren’t. Never mind that the history behind that term is either misinterpreted or the result of wild speculation.

A rottweiler is a droving dog, a farm dog, and a guard. The bulldog and mastiff family have their origins in the big game hunting dogs of Western Europe, which were later used on domestic stock.

I know this discussion of breed classification may seem a bit trivial, but there are real world issues involved here.

Some people promote the mythology of a monophyletic Molosser family of dogs because it romantically connects their boxers and French bulldogs to the war dogs of Rome or the mountain dogs of Tibet. Others use it to conflate bogus statistics about dog attacks. The former better realize that the latter are a clear and present danger when it comes to BSL.

So it might be wise for everyone to correctly classify dogs based upon actual science and a more careful reading of history.

The monophyly of Molossers has simply been discredited.

So stop using the term!



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