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Archive for the ‘dog breeds’ Category

chow-chow

Dog breed origins are often shrouded in a “creation myth.”  If you ever read an all-breed dog book, the official breed origins come across as awfully fanciful. Virtually every breed is regarded as ancient or derived from some private stock belonging to some notable:  Afghan hounds were the dogs Noah took on the Ark.  Beagles appear on the Bayeux Tapestry. Pharaoh hounds were the hunting  dogs of the Ancient Egyptian dynasties.

These stories posit the breed as being part of something deep in the past and maintaining the breeds is magnified as a way of paying homage to the past.

Some breeds are, however, pretty old, or at least genetically distinct from the rest of dogdom to be seen as something unique. Chow chows are a good example. They retain a lot of unique, primitive characters, and as East Asian primitive dogs, they may be among the oldest of strains still in existence.

Konrad Lorenz deeply admired the breed’s wolf-like attributes, believing they represented the best of the so-called “Lupus dogs.” Lorenz believed that most dogs were actually the descendants of golden jackals, and the dogs were friendly to most people and easily broken to fit the will of man. These were the “Aureus dogs.” But the dogs that were more aloof and more independent of the wishes of their masters were seen as the direct descendants of wolves. Lorenz preferred this type of dog, and he kept many chows and chow crosses in crosses as his own personal dogs and “study subjects.”

Lorenz later rejected the dichotomy between the jackal and wolf dogs, but the idea is still worth exploring. What Lorenz actually discovered was a profound division that exists in domestic dogs:  the primitive versus the derived.

In terms of evolution, an organism is considered primitive if it retains characters and behavior that are very like the ancestral form.  For example, lemurs are considered more primitive than other primates because they have the long muzzles and wet noses of the ancestral primates.

Primitive dogs are those that retain many features in common with the wolf. These features include erect ears, pointed muzzles, howling rather than barking, bitches having only one heat cycle per year,  pair-bonding behavior, and general tendency not to be obedient.  Many primitive dogs bond with only a single person, and in the most extreme cases, allow only that person to touch them.

Lots of “Nordic” breeds fall into this category, but this list also includes many of the drop-eared sighthounds from Central Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, and the Indian Subcontinent. It also includes many of the village dogs from undeveloped countries, as well as the semi-domesticated pariah dogs and dingoes.

The chow chow sort of fit between both Nordic breed type and the village dog type.  It has many of the features of the Nordic breeds– curled tail and prick ears– but it also has had a long history as a village dog in China, where it had periods in which it freely bred.

One would think that chow chow fanciers would be into celebrating their dogs as primitives, like owning something between wild and domestic.

But dog people being dog people are more than willing to add embellishments.

Westerners have done a lot to add to the bear-like features of the chow chow, which Konrad Lorenz actually castigated.

However, dog breeders will often go to great lengths to justify breeding decisions, including putting out absolute science fiction as scientific fact.

A few years ago, I heard an acquaintance mention that a well-educated chow owner she knew firmly believed that chow chow were derived from bears.

I laughed at it.  I did not think there was a serious discussion that chow chows were derived from bears.

And then I received notice of this website, which purports to have the full history of the chow chow. The history begins as follows:

It´s assumed that during the Miocene period (between 28 to 12 million years back), the evolution of the Hemicyon, an intermediary between the Cynoelesmus [sic], “father” of all the canine ones, and the Daphoneus [sic] – from which the bears descend as we know them today, – originated the Simocyon, an animal that varied between a fox and a small bear that inhabited in the sub-Arctic regions Siberia and the Northwest of Mongolia and of which it is known had 44 teeth.

I don’t know where this actually comes from, but it is entirely in ignorance of what we now know about the evolution of bears and dogs.  Dogs and bears are indeed closely related, but the division between the two is much deeper than the dates proposed here. Their most recent common ancestor was the ancestral stem-caniform miacid, which lived about 40 million years ago.  Most of the “ancestors” mention here are actually evolutionary dead ends that have little to do with modern bears or dogs.

First of all Hemicyon was not an intermediary between dogs and bears. The Hemicyon family was actually a branch of the bear lineage. Unlike the true bears, it was digitigrade and was probably a cursorial predator like wolves are today. The Hemicyon family lived between 11 and 17 million years ago, and it has left no living descendants.  That is, it is in no way an intermediary form between dogs and bears.

The author mentions “Cynoelesmus,” probably meaning Cynodesmus. My guess is this discrepancy comes from a poor cut-and-paste job, but although Cynodesmus was a primitive dog. It is not the ancestor of all living dogs. The ancestor of all living dogs was Leptocyon. Leptocyon was once considered part of Cynodesmus, but it is no longer.

The other two ancient creatures mentioned in the opening have nothing to do with bears or dogs.

“Daphoneus,” which refers to Daphoenus, a type of Amphicyonid. Amphicyonids were are really spectacular sister family to the canids, which had traits in common with both bears and dogs but really behaved more like big cats. This family has nothing to do with evolution of dogs, except that this is a sister lineage that went extinct.

Simocyon was actually something even a little bit cooler. It was not a dog. It was not a bear. It wasn’t even in the lineage of either family. Instead, it was a genus of leopard-sized animals much more closely related to the red panda. In case you were wondering, red pandas are not closely related to giant pandas. Giant pandas are actually a primitive form of bear. Red pandas are their own thing. Modern red pandas are the only species in their family known as Ailuridae. Millions of years ago, there were several species of red panda, and Simocyon was actually a large predatory red panda. Like the modern red panda, Simocyon had a thumb formed out of its sesamoid bone.  Giant pandas have this thumb, and it was thought to connect both modern species of panda.  Now, we know that the giant panda, which is a true bear, actually evolved its sesamoid thumb in parallel to the red panda. The red panda lineage evolved this trait so they could more easily climb in trees, while the giant panda evolved it to hold bamboo.

So that entire introduction to chow chow history is simply wrong. It may have been correct carnivoran paleontology at one point, but it also seems that the originators of this theory just went around looking for creatures that sounded like they might be fossil dogs that could be found in Asia.  “Cyon” does mean dog, but it doesn’t always refer to dogs in scientific names. Remember that there is a primitive whale the unfortunate name of “Basilosaurus,” which is in no way related to any lizard or dinosaur, and the raccoon family is called “Procyonids,” even though they aren’t that closely related to dogs.

Again, I don’t know why this theory is so popular, except that it can be used as a defense for breeding more and more bear-like features into chow chows than they had when they first came into the West. It’s also a way of making chows so much more super-special than the were before.

But it really makes chow fanciers look silly to anyone who has ever looked closely at carnivoran evolution.

It’s a fun story, but it’s not based in reality.

And when you get the paleontology this wrong, then virtually nothing of value can be trusted until the error is corrected.

Chows are cool as primitive dogs. They don’t need all the malarkey.

 

 

 

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I got to see these family photos for the first time today. This is a dog that featured heavily in my dad’s dog stories that he used to tell us when we were kids.

This is Cam, the first AKC dog that my family ever owned. She was a rough collie “like Lassie,” as they say.  My dad is standing to her right. The date is April 1962.

cam-dad-1962

And like Lassie, she had to have a litter. This one included some tricolors. My uncle Doug is sitting behind the mother collie in May of ’63– twenty years before I was born.

doug-and-cam-1963

I had not seen these photos before, though I had seen some rather poor photos of Cam.

The bottom photo really reveals what she was:  She was a collie from a time when they were still very close to the intelligent farm dogs from Scotland from which their kind descend.

She looks gorgeous but more rugged than the collies of one might see today.  She was still very much the “Scotch shepherd” of the American farm and dog fancier magazines.

 

 

 

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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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Source

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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