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Archive for the ‘dog breeds’ Category

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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sartorius small greyhound

As a result of my recent experiences with a whippet, I’ve been thinking a lot about how a breed can evolve such a strong bond with its special human.

Some of this strong social bond has some roots in their origins as sighthounds. Most sighthound breeds are somewhat more primitive in their development compared to more derived breeds.

With whippets, though, this devotion to just a select handful of people borders on separation anxiety.

It seems that the evolution of this trait has to do with the development of the whippet as a commoner’s dog.  The origins of the whippet come from the larger greyhound, which have been bred in the British Isles for centuries for the pursuit of deer and hares.  Coursing was mostly a pursuit of the wealthy, especially in the Middle Ages, but within greyhound kennels, there would be born smaller individuals that obviously could not handle a deer.

So these dogs were either killed or given to the commoners. Commoners had to have their dogs “expeditated” to prevent the dogs from bothering deer. This procedure involved cutting off two of the toes on the front feet, so the dog could not run a deer at all.

The commoners had an incentive to breed for smaller size. Smaller dogs eat less food, and a smaller dog would not get the attention of authorities that might lead to a dog being confiscated.

Further, there was a selection pressure placed upon a commoner’s greyhound that would select for dogs with a stronger tendency to bond to one owner or family. Dogs that wandered in the forests would be killed, but dogs that stayed at home had a much stronger tendency to pass on their genes.

As time progressed and the poaching became a way of survival in much of rural England, the need for a dog intensely bonded to its owner became even more of a necessity.  Any dog that ran off and got lost would either be killed by the gamekeeper or offed by the fierce “night dogs” or mastiffs that would be patrolling the estates.

So the evolution of the whippet as a commoner’s greyhound forced the breed to evolve a tendency to bond to just a handful of people.

Now, these thoughts could be entirely wrong, but breed temperament often follows its history. The super social temperament of golden and Labrador retrievers has to do with their use as retrievers on shoots where lots of strange people would be wandering about.  Livestock guardians have been selected for a very strong distrust of strange dogs, while pack hounds have been selected for super tolerance of other dogs living near them.

So it is very possible that the whippet’s strong devotion to just a select few people has to do with its evolution as a breed among the working class of England.

 

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Several books came back with me from Florida. Among them is this book edited by Gail Goodman:

img_5098-e1507921753280.jpg

Better photo of the cover and title:

IMG_5094.JPG

Because I have such an eclectic interest in dogs and breed history, I’ve been told by more than a few people that I need to read this book.

So I have it now, loaned to me by Jenna Coleman. I think this will be an interesting expansion of the book I recently read by Stephen Bodio about the tazis, the Central Asian “salukioid” dogs.

 

 

 

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Meeting a whippet

 

zoom whippet

My experience with sighthounds is limited.  There really isn’t much of a culture of them in my part of the country, except that we do have greyhound racing.

But I spent last week helping a friend of mine move from Florida to Ohio, and among the creatures I spent time with during this adventure was a whippet named Zoom.

The extent of my knowledge on whippets goes as follows:

They are extensively used for racing in parts of Northern England, and I associate them heavily with the actor Robert Hardy. Most people associate him with Cornelius Fudge from the Harry Potter series, but to me he will always be Siegfried Farnon, the senior partner of James Herriot’s semi-fictional Yorkshire veterinary practice. Hardy’s character was always wearing a green cap and walking with a whippet. I did not know when I saw the series that the whippet in the series was actually Hardy’s own personal dog named Christie.

I’ve see footage whippets assisting in ferreting, catching runaways that bolted from the warrens and didn’t get caught in the nets, and I’ve seen footage of them ratting like terriers.

And that’s what I knew about whippets.

I didn’t know exactly what devoted creatures they are.  Zoom has one concern in life, and that concern is the well-being of his human. If she is sad, he trying to make her feel better. If she is happy, he is charming and playful.

These dogs have very small “circles of trust.” They just don’t run off with anyone, but within just a few days, Zoom included me in his circle. He even slept with me a few nights, and when I went into a Walmart alone and he and his human were forced to wait on me, he kept examining every male human coming out of the store.

The only other dogs I’ve been around that have this sort of devotion are terriers and dachshunds, but unlike those breeds, he’s totally docile. He does not snap at strangers. He doesn’t enjoy a good fight with another dog.

He’s a just a devoted English country squire of a dog, a special creature, always thinking and feeling. He is a sort of quiet intellectual that gives his devotion to few, but once he has given it, he is truly a truly friend.

He stands like a fine piece of art, which he can fold into the cushions and the background, but then he can launch those muscles into a speed approaching 30 miles per hour.

He is truly a special being.

He’s certainly won me over.

I now know the whippet, and I can see why Robert Hardy loved them so.

 

 

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A recent discussion popped up on Facebook this morning in which a member of a homesteading group bragged about what a good livestock guardian and hunting dog his Labrador was. This post got posted in a livestock guardian breed group, which resulted in much, much eye-rolling.

It is certainly true that there are dogs that make excellent livestock guardian dogs that aren’t of the typical breeds. Mark Derr has written extensively about the mongrel dogs of the Navajo that guard their sheep, but within those dogs, there is quite a bit of variance about which ones are good at the task and which ones would rather go roaming and hunting.

The breeds that have undergone selection for this work are much more likely to be successful. All these breeds have been selected for high defense drive and low prey drive. Little lambs can go jumping around these dogs, and their instinct to hunt and kill prey will not be stimulated.

Most dogs bred in the West are bred for the opposite behaviors.  The most popular breeds are usually from the gun dog and herding groups, and those breeds tend to have been selected for relatively high prey drive. Those dogs are much more likely to engage in predatory behavior towards them.

Further, breeds like Labradors are bred to have low defense drive. Labradors are very rarely good guard dogs. They have been bred to fit in the British shooting scene where they would regularly be exposed to other dogs and strangers, and these dogs have had much of their territorial and status-based aggression bred out of them. If the coyote shows up to a farm guarded by a Labrador, chances are very high that the Labrador will try to play with the coyote. It might bark at the coyote and intimidate the predator as well, but there aren’t many Labradors that are going to fight a coyote that comes menacing the flock.

The poster with the LGD Labrador claimed that Labradors were great herding dogs. When pressed on this point, he posted a photo of some yellow dogs moving a herd of beef cattle. These dogs weren’t Labradors. They were blackmouth curs, a breed that can superficially look like a Labrador, but it is a hunting and herding breed that is quite common parts of the South and Texas.  You could in theory train a Labrador to herd sheep, but I doubt you could ever train one to herd cattle. And the herding behavior would be far substandard to a breed actually bred for it.

The poster claimed that Labradors were “bred down from Newfoundlands,” and Newfoundlands are livestock guardians. The problem with this statement is that it is totally false. As I’ve noted many times on the blog, the big Newfoundland dog was actually bred up from the St. John’s water dog. Every genetic study on breed evolution, clearly puts this breed with the retrievers. This dog was mostly created for the British and American pet market, but it is a very large type of retriever.

And contrary to what I have written on this blog, it is now clear that retrievers and Newfoundlands are not an offshoot of the livestock guardian breeds.  A limited genetic study that also found Middle Eastern origins for all dogs had this finding, but a more complete genetic study found that retrievers and the Newfoundlad are actually a divergent form of gundog.

dog breed wheel newfoundland

I have not written much about this study, but it does change some of my retriever history posts. It turns out that Irish water spaniels are also retrievers and are very closely related to the curly-coated retrievers. It has been suggested that curly-coated retrievers are actually older than the St. John’s water dog imports, but conventional breed history holds that they are crosses between St. John’s water dogs and some form of water spaniel. It may actually be that something like a curly-coated retriever is the ancestor of the St. John’s water dog, and this dog would have been called a “water spaniel.”  I have not worked this one out yet. The dogs we call Newfoundland dogs, though, are much more closely related to the Labrador, flat-coated, and golden retrievers than to the curly-coated retriever and the Irish water spaniel. Thus, the Labrador and the Newfoundland dog are cousins, but the Labrador is not “bred down from the Newfoundland.”

The other clue that Newfoundland dogs and their kin aren’t good LGDs is that in Newfoundland, the sheep industry was actually severely retarded by the dogs. Fishermen let their dogs roam the countryside, and any time someone set out a flock of sheep, the water dogs, which I would call St. John’s water dogs, would descend upon the flocks and savage them.

So the natural history of the Labrador totally conflicts with its likely ability to be a good livestock guardian. The British bred these dogs to be extremely social, and their prey drive has been selected for.  They also have this entire history in which their ancestors went out hunting for their own food, which means they do have the capacity to become sheep hunting dogs.

The poster didn’t appreciate when these facts were pointed out. The response was that the other people were racist for saying that Labrador isn’t likely to be a good LGD, especially a Labrador that has been used for hunting.

This is problematic because dog breeds are not equivalent to human races. Human races are just naturally occurring variations that have evolved in our species as we have spread across the globe. Most of these differences are superficial, and none are such that it would justify any racial discrimination in law or policy.

Dog breeds, however, have been selectively bred for characteristics. The eugenics movement, the Nazis, and the slaveholders who selectively bred slaves are the only people who have engaged in the selective breeding of people. And all these periods in history have lasted only a very short time before they were deemed to be gross violations of human rights.

For some reason, people have a hard time accepting these facts about dogs, but the very same people often have no problem with an analogy with livestock.

If I want high milk yields, I will not buy Angus cattle. If I want marbled beef, I won’t buy Holsteins. If I want ducks to lay lots of eggs, I wouldn’t get Pekins, which will lay about 75 eggs a year. I would get Welsh harlequins, which might lay 280 a year. But they don’t get very big, and their meat yields are very low.

Angus cattle and Holsteins are the same species. Welsh harlequins and Pekins are too. But they have been selected for different traits.

Dogs have undergone similar selection. A Labrador retriever has its own history. So does a Central Asian shepherd.

Accepting that these dogs have different traits does not make one a racist. It merely means that one respects the truth of selective breeding.

And that’s why a Labrador isn’t really a good LGD.

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