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orange cat

The county closed this road a few years ago. I used to travel it often, for it shaved some minutes off my drive. It was potholed and roughshod and hardly the thing that someone driving a little sedan should venture on, but I drove it often. I knew where the big holes were anyway, and I got only one flat tire on all my years of driving it.

It took me through a bit of wasteground where the trees grew up thick and tall, and on night time trips, I’d often run into raccoons and deer. Their eyes would flash in my headlights and run quickly into the brush. They were my taste of country existence in this graduate school city:  rough rough, thick woods, and the wild.

This evening, I’ve decided to walk along the edge of this road, for there is a trail that cuts off the right and takes me into a nice little park.  The darkness falls hard upon trees, casting shadows along the pockmarked road up the the bright red gate that says “Road Closed.”

I approach the gate in deep nostalgia. I remember driving this road so many times, but now it’s closed to me.  A universe is walled off to me, and it makes me ache a little.  I wish I could traverse the road again, and I feel violated at the redness of the gate.

As I make my approach, I catch movement to my left.  It is a feral cat, a big tom.  He orange and puffed up like some kind of pumpkin beast set loose upon the countryside.

He bolts from me but stops short of the red gate. He stares up at me with his demonic cat eyes, as if he is accusing me for daring to disturb his peace and tread upon his domain.

We look hard at each other. I am not a cat man, and he’s not impressed with me either. We have nothing but contempt for each other.

We look into each other’s eyes for thirty seconds then a minute.

It is the orange tom who breaks the stare and slips under the red gate as if he never noticed me. He slips through as mandarin on his way back to his palace, which might be hidden somewhere in the deep timber.

But I will never set my eyes upon it. My human feet and my car tires are banned from the road beyond the gate.

But the cat is allowed. Indeed, no one knows he even crossed under the gate.  And no one cares.

I feel heartbroken at this development. My little wild road is closed off, and it has been left to the big tom to rule as his own.

Mankind is all about the rules. We regulate ourselves pretty well.

But when it comes to old cats that no one wants or cares about, we don’t have much in the way of rules at all.

We wall of the places to ourselves, but they become the domains of the cats. They rule according to the customs and instincts of cats.

Every walled off place becomes a fortress for a tomcat mandarin, and we mere mortals can only quake in their presence.

Or stare at them with contempt, as I do.

Or maybe it’s not contempt at all, but simple jealousy.

Yes, jealous of a darned old cat.

 

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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.

 

 

New pups

Two new pups are in my life:

My new dog, Willow, who will be staying at her breeder for a little while:

willow

willow iii

willow ii

And my dad’s new dog, Ivy.  Both are sisters bred by Jenna Coleman of Windridge golden retrievers:

ivy

ivy lion

 

ivy sleeps

Willow is lighter-boned and darker than Ivy, but they are litter sisters from an outcross litter, so you will get these variances in type.

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.

model

In the English language, the term “basset hound” refers to a specific breed. We recognize it as sort of a dwarf bloodhound that comes in the more “beagly” colors of tricolor and lemon and white.  It is immortalized in the cartoon character Droopy and is the mascot for the Hush Puppy shoe brand. One of my favorite stuffed animals as a boy was a Pound Puppy named “Droopy,” and the majority of these toys were based upon how basset hounds look.

This animal is well-established in Western pop culture, but its origins as a distinct breed are very rarely discussed. It is usually said to be a French breed, but anyone who has looked at French dog breeds closely very quickly discovers that there are many basset breeds. “Basset” just means a dwarf hound.  Dwarf dogs have shorter legs for their body size, and it very common in a variety of breeds, which can easily be “grafted” onto different strains through crossbreeding. For example, within the bleu de Gascogne breeds there is a basset. It is very similar to the long-legged petit and grand bleus de Gascogne. It has short-legs, and short legs define it as a basset. It probably derives from the longer-legged bleus being crossed with some form of basset.

Short-legged hounds are quite useful in hunting rabbits and hares while the hunter is on foot and especially if the hunter has a gun. Short-legged hounds will put pressure on the quarry and drive out in the open where it can be shot, or the slow running hounds will  put pressure on the prey to continue the chase.

France is the world’s leader in producing scenthound breeds. I say this as an American, a nation that has produced many find scenthounds, but the French have been at it for centuries.  It is usually suggested, though with a bit of exaggeration, that the major scenthounds of Britain, which are also the root source for most North American hound breeds, are all derived from French strains.  After all, hunting with hounds in England was always the realm of the wealthy and high positioned, and for many centuries, the noble class of Britain largely consisted of French or French-speaking gentry.  It would have made sense that they would have brought hounds from France into England and established them there as distinct scenthound types.

But until the 1870s,  there was never a native British basset breed.  For hares and rabbits, the British sporting men ran various forms of harrier and beagle. These are all longer-legged dogs with great endurance, and a beagle pack was usually attached to the leading boarding school in the country. Eton has a famous beagle pack even now, and these beagle packs were used to introduce the elite’s sons into the culture of sporting hounds.

In Picardy and Artois, a long-legged harrier type of hound was developed for much the same purpose. The Artois hound (or “Chien d’Artois) developed quite a bit of fame in French history as a superior hare hound. Some of these dogs are believed to behind the modern beagle, for this part of northern France is but a short distance across the channel from England.

But the British were uninterested in obtaining any of the basset breeds for hunting purposes.

However, in the nearby province of Normandy, a strain of basset was developed for hunting hares on foot. It was a grafting of the basset trait on the now extinct Normand hound, and someone began adding the same feature onto the Artois hound, producing the “Basset d’Artois.” These two breeds have since been combined into the modern Basset Artesien-Normand, but originally there were two breeds.   The Normand breed had crooked front legs, and the Artois had longer legs.

The Count le Couteulx de Canteleu kept a pack of the Artois basset, consisting of two distinct types. One was heavily built and usually tricolor or red and white. The other, which was said to be crossed with beagle, was usually lemon and white or tricolor. Another strain bred by Louis Lane of Normandy were gray and white or lemon and white and had very heavy bone. It is from these dogs that modern basset hound descends.

Eventually a few of these dogs wound up with George Edmund Milnes Monckton-Arundell, 7th Viscount Galway (“Lord Galway”) in the 1860s.  In the 1870s, these dogs became property of the William Hillier Onslow, 4th Earl of Onslow, (“Lord Onslow”), and they were the only pack of these hounds in the entire country, where they used to run hares

In 1874 Everett Millais, the son of the famous painter Sir John Everett Millais, took in a dog show at Paris’s Jardin d’Acclimatation.  At the time Millais was interested in dachshunds and decided to check out the breed in Paris and compare them to those in England. He had traveled to the continent to import some in 1870, and he was looking for more examples of what was then a novelty breed in England.

At this French dog show, however, there were two dogs of the basset Artesien-Normand-type being exhibited. He was instantly drawn to these bassets, eventually purchasing one, which he was named “Model.” The other hound also wound up in the hands of an English dog fancier, George Krehl, and this dog, which as named “Fino de Paris.”

Millais hadn’t been much into dog shows until he brought Model over, and it wasn’t long before he exhibited this new dog at English dog shows. The dog was much celebrated in the press, and the dog received the attention of Lord Onslow.  It wasn’t long before Model was being bred to his bitches, including some that he recently imported from The Count le Couteulx de Canteleu. George Krehl also joined in the breeding venture, and it wasn’t long before they had good-sized but very inbred population.

It was then that there were attempts to find an outcross. Beagles didn’t work, because the crosses just didn’t look or bay correctly.

So it was Millais who came up with the novel idea of crossing the basset with the bloodhound to save the breed.  The bloodhound bitch was bred to a basset using artificial insemination. The reason he wanted to use the bloodhound as an outcross is to perform what we know as genetic rescue but also add bone and stronger-scenthound features to the breed.

That cross was initially thought of as a way of helping this breed of basset in England, but what Millais essentially did was create an English basset breed. The French breeders of basset Artesien-Normand wanted their dogs to have more moderate bone and not be particularly large dogs, but when bloodhound was added to this breed, those traits took off in the English breed.

Millais, who had loved dogs but wasn’t particularly interested in showing them, eventually became the leading expert on bassets and dachshunds in England. Indeed our association with bassets and dachshund as being similar breeds is really an English concept. Millais believed dachshunds were a sort of German basset, and he argued extensively that dachshunds be bred with a stronger emphasis on their scenthound traits.

But he had created inadvertently crossed the bloodhound and the basset. Now we think of the basset hound and the basset Artesien-Normand as distinct breeds. Europeans continue breed for heavier and heavier boned English bassets, while the pack hounds still run through the North of France. North American basset breeders have tried their best to keep their dogs lighter built and less exaggerated. The dogs have proven themselves on our native lagomorphs, especially snowshoe hare. And now there is a large divide between North American and European-style bassets.

A few years ago, I suggested that the basset Artesian-Normand or even the Artois hound be reintroduced to the basset breed, but modern fanciers wouldn’t want that blood any more than Millais did.  European-style bassets are much larger than the old basset Artesian-Normand.  Some of these dog approach 90 pounds in weight, and the obese ones certainly exceed it.

In England, some bassets have been crossed some strain of native harrier to produce a lighter built hound.

And that certainly is an option.

But in Europe, the basset hound of England is very much a show dog.  It can be bred for exaggerated features because that’s what the fancy and the public ultimately want.

Indeed, I’ve come across people over here selling massive European-style bassets to the pet market for very high prices. Usually, these dogs are never shown in the AKC ring, because the AKC standard still calls for a much more moderate dog.

The Millais family hailed from Jersey in the Channel Islands, right between England and France, so it was very fitting that a family– with such an obvious French origin name– would be part of creating this English breed out of French stock.

The creation of the basset hound in England shows that just the odd desires of one person can led to sudden breed creation.  All it takes is just some odd trait or two to select for, and we suddenly have a breed.

Even if it was unintentional.

***

In a subsequent post, I am going to discuss another member of the Millais family and his love of dogs. Unlike Everett, this member was far less interested in dog shows and didn’t hold them in much esteem. He had a very different kind of dog, though.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

huddesfield ben

Huddersfield Ben, the main foundation stud behind the modern Yorkshire terrier

For a variety of reasons, I’ve been looking at golden retriever pedigrees.  One rather unusual thing about golden retrievers is that they are a common breed, but they have relatively complete pedigrees. They were created by elites in the United Kingdom, many of whom were students of English agricultural improvement.   For example, the Marjoribanks family, which founded the yellow strain of wavy-coats on which the breed is based, were active in breeding Aberdeen-Angus cattle, the famous “black Angus” that now dominate the beef market.

Golden retriever pedigrees are easily accessed online. This website has vast listing of goldens living and dead, and it isn’t hard to follow the links back from any backyard-bred dog to animals that might have sat next to Winston Churchill’s aunt or may have been shot over by George V.

But it is also easy to trace virtually any dog back to the foundation stock. The pedigrees merge after just a few generations. The popular sire effect is really strong in the breed, with certain males siring many puppies that went on to sire many puppies. The foundation stock for the breed appears to pretty diverse. Any line-breeding that exists is relatively loose. I find it hard to find early pedigrees in which someone bred tightly for more than a generation or two.

Retrievers were the dogs of the elite. They were bred from stock that had to serve a purpose, and what’s more, they came from diverse stock.  Every one of these breeds is a distillation of crosses of St. John’s water dogs.  They were bred much like lurchers are now.  Sir Bufton Tufton would breed his own sort of retriever, maybe crossing the St. John’s with a foxhound or perhaps he’d breed to a setter or a collie.   Lord Fauntleroy might say nuts to that, and he would breed Irish water spaniel dogs to his St. John’s bitches.

But they were still molded in the breeds we have today. Different features, such as the smooth coat of the Labrador retrievers or the tight curls of the curlies, would be selected for within the strains.  These strains eventually were molded into breeds that we know today, but it was a process that took place over 80 years or so.

Going through these golden retriever pedigrees, I’ve come to appreciate this process of formation, but my curiosity has been piqued.  We have very good records on the foundation of golden retrievers. Virtually no other breed has these records.

So I started perusing about the internet, looking into breeds I don’t really know that well.  Golden retriever pedigrees include listings of dogs that were alive in the 1860s. I began to wonder about what other breeds have parallel histories in this fashion.

Well, I found another common breed, the Yorkshire terrier, had a very different sort of breed foundation. They aren’t like retrievers at all.  In fact, their history is sort of the inverse of golden retrievers.

Golden retrievers have their foundation in Scotland. Their founders were among the elite who had made big money in England over the generations and were now living large across the Tweed. The Yorkshire terrier breed is derived from dogs belonging to Scottish migrant laborers who had come into the Industrial North of England to escape poverty and the Highland Clearances.  These Clearances were the Scottish Enclosure, and they made possible the vast estates that fell into the hands of the wealthy, who shot grouse and needed gun dogs to retrieve them

Laborers from Scotland brought the terriers south.  Terriers are useful dogs for the rural poor. They keep the rats down. Grain stores will always attract them.  You need a dog that will murder them.

And the Scottish working class had many sort of terriers, including several strains with silky coats.  Two of these breeds were developed into show dogs. The Skye terrier is still around, but there was another breed that was developed from that same stock. It was called the Paisley terrier, and it is from this breed that the Yorkshire terrier was created.

What essentially happened was that clothing factories in Lancashire and Yorkshire became breeding grounds for rats, and rough-bred strains of Paisley terriers were used to control them.

A woman living in Yorkshire named Mary Ann Foster (or “Mary Anne Foster” as some sources spell it) happened to obtain some of these factory rat catchers, and she exhibited them in shows.

And unusual dog of this strain was born in Huddersfield, and Ms. Foster wound up owning him.  He did very well at shows. He was called Huddersfield Ben, and over his short life of only six years, he was bred extensively to other dogs of this sort of Paisley-type terrier. Although it is almost impossible to find the pedigrees of these early Yorkshire terriers, it is likely that all Yorkshire terriers descend from him.

This dog’s pedigree was very tight.

pedigree ben

A sample golden retriever pedigree from roughly that time period is not nearly that tight.

The reason the golden retriever pedigree is not as tight is because there was a belief that retrievers should have some amount of crossbreeding, and these dogs were being bred by nobles with access to lots of different gundogs of different breeds. They had money and resources to develop strains much more slowly.

Yorkshire terriers arose in a different milieu. They came about when working and middle class people in the North of England wanted to produce a distinct show dog strain. These people did not have access to all the elite strains of terrier, and they did not have unlimited resources to devote to breeding programs.  In order to establish the strain, they bred very tightly.

The British Empire had long promoted “breed improvement” in livestock. Since roughly the year 1800, livestock showing became a major part of the common culture.  Livestock shows were widely attended, and the landowner or noble who produced the best strains of cattle, swine, sheep, and goats became much celebrated in the nation.  By the middle of the nineteenth century, these shows were a major part of British society,

But these big breed improvement shows were inaccessible to the working and middle classes. You have to have vast acreages to maintain herds of cattle and other hoofed stock, and anyone outside of the elite would have been unable to participate in these programs.

However, dog shows provided that outlet.  They were a way that the average man could participate in the elite’s game of producing new strains, and small terriers don’t require that much in terms of resources to maintain.

Yorkshire terriers come out of a society in which everyone wanted to produce animals for exhibition.  Breeding small terriers provided this opportunity.

To understand breed formation, it is important to understand the society in which these breeds were founded.  Britain in the nineteenth century was a class conscious society, but one in which people could move from the lower class to the upper middle class (at least in theory).  There was a tendency to imitate the nobility, even if this desire was inchoate or in defiance.

It is no wonder, then, that the foundation of Yorkshire terriers is almost the exact inverse of the founding of golden retrievers.  Different social classes do dogs differently.

So much about dogs is really about people, and the inverse foundations of these two popular breeds really does show it.

 

Bucks are starting to spar. Luckily, right in front of the game camera!

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