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This is the most amazing dog I’ve ever worked with.

sagan down stayHe’s seven months old and already takes direction like an adult.

I’d like him to live to be 25. Is that possible?

 

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good boy

The May sun really brings out that German red coloration. He’s not as dark red as some of them are.

He has the perfect German shepherd temperament. Trainable, smart, very affectionate, and very stable.

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Made of Star Stuff

sagan made of star stuff

My birthday present this year is something wonderful.  A friend of mine from graduate school alerted me to a well-bred West German showline German shepherd that was available in Southern West Virginia.

We were looking for another male to add to our breeding program, and although I am fully aware of how closely related all German shepherds are to each other, we needed another line that was health-tested to mix into ours.

We have named him Sagan, WRF Made of Star Stuff for Darqueside, and his sire is Ajaks od Slankamena, a top winner in Serbia.

His mother was bred in Serbia and then imported while pregnant to West Virginia.  He was well-socialized and trained in West Virginia, because his owners, who run a boarding and training business, were going to keep him as one of their personal dogs.

Sagan stacked

He was initially named “Edward,” but I always wanted to give a German shepherd a science nerd name.  And since it was my turn to name the dog, this one became Sagan.

I have had him a few weeks, and I have to say this is the best dog I’ve ever had. He is biddable and smart. He is gentle and kind.  He loves kids.  He loves me. I know that he will eventually mature into something more serious and loyal, but right now he is the happy, goofy puppy who fears nothing.

The way he looks at me is the way a smart dog looks at person. He has become my office dog, and he lies by the door while I’m teaching my remote students. He knows that if I rise, the next thing will be a walk or a chance to play with the jolly ball.

He knows no evil. He knows only the joy of his lion paws tearing through the green grass.

I have never had one of this type before.  He is a sound moving dog, though not as flashy as our American dogs, but he possesses a profoundly good temperament. He is very similar to Quest, our 100 percent American male.

He is the best birthday present I have received in a long time, and he’s a very special dog.

I am absolutely certain that this is the breed of dog I was always supposed to have. I know there are lots of crappy German shepherds out there, but a good one is an awesome dog to have.

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Einjährig

 

dare by the tulips

Dare is one year old today.

COVID-19 means no dog shows for a while, but she’s maturing very nicely.

dare 1 year old

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plague dog

One of my favorite movies is Jaws. The movie centers around a Northeastern island town that relies heavily upon the tourism industry.  A larger than normal great white shark starts attacking people off its beaches, and the initial response of the mayor and town government is to ignore it or blame the attacks on a boating accident.

Of course, such sharks that become habitual human hunters really don’t exist in nature. Usually the shark that eats someone moves on and may never encounter a person again. They are simply predators making a go of it in a sea in which prey avails itself at irregular intervals.

However, the story of Jaws was cribbed from a Henrik Ibsen play called An Enemy of the People.  That play tells the story of a resort town that relies upon natural mineral spas for its tourism town. A doctor discovers the mineral water is contaminated by bacteria, but the leaders of the town and the local newspaper do all they can to prevent the story from being known. The town does not want this story being known, because it will cost them their tourism industry.

I have thought a lot about leaders who sacrifice people for economics. I’ve seen it with my own eyes as this COVID-19 disaster unfolds in the United States.  You may accuse me of letting my political biases from coming to the fore, and I suppose you are right.

I have tried to avoid political discussions in this era of depressing developments– at least on this space. But this time, I have decided to let some of my reticence slip.

The era in which I have come of age is the age of the precariat. The precariat is that sector of society which does not have much and is always on the edge of potential disaster.

Healthcare prices continue to soar, and suddenly, we are thrown into a situation where a contagious virus spreads through the population and the only way to combat is to force the bulk of the population to stay home.  Staying home means no paychecks and massive layoffs. Health insurance that is tied to employment is lost.

And the virus continues to spread. People die and will continue to die.  We are left precarious. The future is uncertain.

No one has any idea how to fix anything. The ruling ideas of the past 40 years don’t make any sense. Indeed, they have no solution at all.

Americans have this idea of invincibility.  We have insulated ourselves from the greatest risks of our many wars. Only the relatively few combat soldiers know any real risk from battle death or injury.

We have lots of great technology, and we believe that our economy is the best in the world. We think of ourselves as durable against it all.

But we are being felled by a mere micro-organism. It is even more mindless than a shark. It merely replicates within our cells and passes on to the next victim.

All of that advancement, all of that intellect and culture, all laid bare by the most random of things.

Wildlife  always live with the specter of epidemics. Canine distemper will flow through gray fox population. In 2016, canine distemper wreaked havoc among the Yellowstone wolves, and I can remember years when epizootic hemorrhagic disease knocked out the white-tail population.

But humans live with the fiction that we are not part of nature. We have vaccines and antibiotics. We have sanitation.  We don’t suffer the plagues like we used to.

But this time, a plague has come upon us. It should knock us off our pedestal a bit. As much as we like to think that we are not part of nature, sometimes nature comes for us. It comes to us with no malice, no concept of revenge. It comes for us the way that it comes for that adorable gray fox kit when distemper hits it.

Our intellect should call us to question the ruling ideas. Already, that questioning is going on. But that questioning must not just be centered in the concept of how our economic and healthcare systems have left us so exposed.

The truth is we are always exposed.  We are always at risk. We are ultimately mortal. We are not terrestrial gods.

We are the smartest animal. But we are still animals. The processes of nature still come for us. Though we can deflect and insulate against these forces, sometimes, we just can’t stop it.

So it has come. It is the Time of the Plague. And we must think and consider as we fall into such humility.

We should accept this humility for now.  We must reconsider and retool– for that is what the future ultimately holds.

 

 

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Sit, Stay.

dare sit stay

We have our sit, stays down.

Dare is now 11 months old. When the plague ends, we will go to some shows.

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We lost one of the greats this week. And one of our best friends.

Welcome to the Darqueside

I don’t know how to go on. I don’t know how to care about anything. First, in December, I lose Courtney. Nothing could ever be the same. I haven’t even been able to post about losing her. My heart did not have a moment to begin to recover, and then this. This.

38190290_2233775736651864_4004006123806916608_o

Anya went off the road on her way back from some shows and time with one of her dearest friends in Florida. She was headed to my house to drop off a dog. She had only made it to South Carolina. We didn’t understand why she wasn’t messaging us back, as it wasn’t like her.

Then the news came. 2PM on a random Wednesday. I was doing all the dogs’ toenails. I sat down for a break.

“Jenna, Anya’s gone.”

Screaming. Screaming. NO! Scottie running in, confused, “What’s wrong? What happened?” ANYA. NO.

No.

I rode in that…

View original post 582 more words

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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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Yesterday, I picked up a young golden retriever puppy from European show bloodlines.  Her name is Aspen.

aspen

She is a natural retriever. She will already put that toy in my hand!

aspen cocky fetch

Yes. I said I’d never own one of these. I said the same thing about German shepherds.

And cats.

And here we are.

 

 

 

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coyote pupps.jpg

I have a lot of quibbles with Dan Flores’s book, Coyote America. Among them is a contention that coyotes howl because it allows them to “take a census.”  If no other coyotes howl back, the females wind up releasing more ova and having larger litters. This description, which Flores calls an “autogenic trait,” cannot be found anywhere in the coyote literature. His account is not described in the book, but it is mentioned in his interview with National Geographic and on The Joe Rogan Experience.

I have no idea where Flores got this idea, but it’s not really what happens. The literature on why coyotes have larger litters in areas where they have been heavily hunted says that the larger litter sizes are associated with better access to food resources. The best-known paper on this issue comes from Eric Gese, a researcher with the USDA, who studied coyote population dynamics in an area of Colorado.

Gese contends that what happens with coyotes in pressured areas is that the surviving females are healthier, simply because they have access to more food resources. This greater health causes them to release more ova during the estrus cycle, and this increase in ova results in greater litter sizes.

It is not because the coyotes are taking census and can somehow magically figure out that they should produce more young.  It is simply that the coyote females’ own bodies respond to greater food resources by becoming more fertile.

What has possibly evolved in coyotes is that they have a tendency to become significantly more fertile when the females are at their most healthy. This is a great trait for a mesopredator to have.

After all, coyotes evolved in North America with dire wolves and a host of large cats breathing down their necks. Natural selection favored those that could reproduce quickly if populations were dropped dramatically.

But it’s not because of some “autogenic trait.” It is simply how coyote populations expand as mesopredators with increased or decreased access to prey.

So yeah, my take on Coyote America is that it is mostly a science fiction book. Not only does he mess up the exact genetic difference between a wolf and a coyote, which is not equivalent to the genetic difference between a human and an orangutan (as he claims),  he also messes up that coyotes really do hunt down and kill cats and eat them. They are not just killing a competitor. They are using cats as a food resource.

This was a book I was so looking forward to reading. It got good press, but the actual science in it was so lacking.

 

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