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Posts Tagged ‘dogs’

One thing I have noticed

poet at lake milton

Photo by Jenna Coleman.

One thing I’ve noticed as I have worked with a large variety of dogs over the past year is that I’ve lost my desire or need to fight with people on the internet about them.

I’ve worked with everything from Yorkshire terriers to Pit bulls, and I can tell you that I’ve learned a lot.  And I feel more confident than ever working with dogs of various types.

Am I the Dog Master? LOL. Of course not.

But I have come to the conclusion that most people who want to fight about dogs on the internet are suffering from profound insecurities. The internet is a great place to spray around your demons like hot deer urine in a Windex bottle.

I know, because I did that very thing. You probably came to read me because I was artful at my virtue signaling neuroses that I really knew it all.

I didn’t. I knew a lot. But I don’t know as much as I do now, and I still don’t know enough.

So when you see someone trying to make a career out of writing toxic pieces about dogs or people who do something with dogs, keep in mined that you’re often looking at a very insecure person, one who feels a great need to tear others down to make themselves look good.

I’m really not interested in that game anymore. I just want to do my thing, learn more, and enjoy the animals. And help others, too.

I feel an inner peace now that I would have given my right hand to have experienced a decade ago, and I wish those who still feel that need could somehow find it.

But because that sort of blogging and internet writing is what gets the attention, my guess is that many of these people will never find it. It simply pays too well to be an asshole.

Sad but true.

 

 

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hooded vs carrion crow

In Europe, there are crows. The most famous of which is the carrion crow, which looks and behaves quite like the American crow.  It is usually black, fairly omnivorous, and it often regarded as an agricultural pest.

At one point, it was believed that carrion crows existed in two distinct phases, the common all black form, which is common in Western Europe, and the phase that is marked with gray on the neck and body.  This form exists in the northern parts of the British Isles, where it has been called the grey grow, the hoodie crow, or the hooded crow. This form is found in Northern Europe, Central Europe, and the Middle East.

However, ornithologists began to notice that where their ranges overlapped, it was quite unusual to see hooded crows paired off with black carrion crows, but the traditional taxonomy still thought of the hooded and black forms as being distinct phases of the same species.

Because the two forms were rarely seen mating or paired off, it was decided to call the carrion crow and hooded crow distinct species, and this is the current understanding. The hooded crow is Corvus cornix and the carrion crow is Corvus corone. But the two birds are otherwise quite similar in terms of ecology, vocalizations, and general phenotype. All that really separates them is the coloration.

Scientists that surely there was a rather deep genetic divergence between the two species, which is why there is a species barrier between the two forms of similar crow.

However, when the genomes of carrion and hooded crows were sequenced, it was revealed that they were almost identical.

Less than .28 percent of the genome varied.  That variance was related to the fact that carrion crows have gray plumage on their neck and torso.

But that little variance is enough to create a species barrier between the carrion and hooded crows. Birds are highly visual, and when young crows imprint upon their parents, they imprint heavily upon what they see. If a young crow is raised by parents that are gray hooded, they will look for mates that are gray hooded. IF their parents are all black, they will look for mates that are all black.

However, it has also been suggested that these crows look for mates that appear not to have aberrant mutations, and this keeps the crows looking for mates that generally look like those belonging to their general family group and social circle.

Whatever the case, we have two very closely related species that do not hybridize. They probably became distinct during the heavily glaciation cycles of the late Pleistocene. One form evolved a gray hood and one evolved an all-black form. Maybe founder effect is the only real reason for this difference in plumage, for this difference in plumage is awfully random.

But that difference in plumage color is enough to create a species barrier, which, if it holds, will lead to greater and greater speciation between hooded and carrion crows.

This discovery about crows is quite interesting for what it tells us about dog taxonomy. Domestic dogs and wolves live together over a broad swathe of Eurasia, and for many centuries, dogs and wolves were regarded as distinct species. However, we have recently found that there is an extensive gene flow between Eurasian gray wolves and domestic dogs across Eurasia, and this gene flow is so significant that the majority of Eurasian gray wolves are estimated to have some relatively close dog ancestry.

Carrion and hooded crows have a clear species barrier that is likely only going to intensify as the two lineages continue to diverge with very limited gene flow. Dogs and gray wolves are not experiencing such a species barrier. Indeed, it looks like the gene flow between dogs and wolves is only going to increase as wolves move into human-dominated lands in Western Europe, and the Eurasian dog population continues to increase along with the human population.

So here we have two crows that are diverging, and the wild and domestic forms of Canis lupus that are continuing their gene flow.  Closing down gene flow is a major part of speciation, and the crows are clearly on their way.

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coyotes

Humans and the various canids belonging to gray wolf species complex possess the most complex relationship of any two beings currently living on this earth.  At one point, they are our cherished companions, often closer to us than we ever could be with other people, and on another point, they are the reviled predators that might take a child in the night.

We have clearly defined relationships with other predators. Leopards and cougars, well, we might hunt them for sport or photograph them in the wild. But we never become closely aligned with them, except for those eccentrics who dare to keep such dangerous predators as pets.

People living in the Eurasian Pleistocene brought some wolves into their societies.  Wolves and humans should have been competitors. We should have had the same relationship with each other as spotted hyenas and lions do in Africa now.  But at some point, humans allowed wolves in.

Raymond Pierotti and Brandy Fogg demonstrate that many humans throughout the world have had some kind of relationship with wolves. In some cases, it is or was a hunting symbiosis. In others, they were totemic animals.

In their work, Pierotti and Fogg contend that the relationship between humans and wolves broke down with the rise of Christianity in the West. I don’t think that’s when it broke down. It started to become complex when humans began to herd sheep and goats.

In Kazakhstan, wolves are hunted and revered at the same time. The Kazakh people herd  livestock, so they must always worry about wolf predation. Stephen Bodio documents this complex understanding of wolves in his The Hounds of Heaven.

“They hunt them, kill them, chase them with hounds and even eagles, take puppies and rear them live, identify with them, make war on them, and claim descent from them,” writes Bodio. This description sort of fits modern humanity’s entire relationship with this gray wolf complex. We pretty much have done and continue do almost all of these things.

Wolves, coyotes, and dingoes have killed people. So have domestic dogs. In the French countryside, wolf hunts were considered a necessity to protect human life, largely because has the longest and best documented history of wolves hunting people. The dispossession of rural peasants and the depletion of game in the forests created conditions where wolves would consider humans easy prey.  Lots of European countries have similar stories. And when Europeans came to North America, they knew about the dangerous nature of wolves, even if they had never even seen one themselves.

Humans have declared war on wolves in Eurasia and in North America. The wolf is extirpated from much of its former range in Europe. They live only over a limited range in the lower 48 of the United States.

Man fought the coyote with the same venom and lead he threw at the wolf. The coyote’s flexible biology and social behavior meant that all that effort would come for naught.  The coyotes got slaughtered, but they rebounded. And then some. And the excess coyote pups found new habitat opened up with big ol’ wolves gone, and they have conquered a continent, while we continue our flinging of lead and setting of traps.

In Victorian times, Western man elevated the domestic dog to levels not seen for a domestic animals. They became sentient servants, beloved friends, animals that deserve humanity’s best treatment.

And in the modern era, where fewer and fewer Westerners are having children, the dog has come to replace the child in the household. Billions of dollars are spent on dog accessories and food in the West.  Large sectors of our agriculture are ultimately being used to feed our sacred creatures.

A vast cultural divide has come to the fore as humans realize that wolves and coyotes are the dog’s wild kin. Wolves have become avatars for wilderness and conservation, and coyotes have become the wolves you might see out your front window.

Millions of Americans want to see the wolf and the coyote protected in some way. Dogs of nature, that’s the way they see them.

The rancher and the big game hunter see both as robbers taking away a bit of their livelihood. Humans are lions. The canids are the spotted hyenas. And their only natural state is at enmity.

Mankind’s relationship to these beings is so strangely complex. It greatly mirrors our relationship towards each other. We can be loving and generous with members of our own species. We can also be racist and bigoted and hateful. We can make death camps as easily as we can make functioning welfare states.

And these animals relationships with each other are just as complex. Wolves usually kill dogs and coyotes they find roaming their territories. But sometimes, they don’t. Sometimes, they become friends, even mates.  Hounds can be trained to run down a coyote, but sometimes, the coyote and the dog become lovers in the forest.

Social, opportunistic predators that exist at this level of success are going to be a series of contradictions. Dogs, wolves, and coyotes certainly are. And so are we.

It is what we both do. And always will.

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bassano pointers

I had an interesting conversation a few days ago:

Why is that people who keep fish and exotic pets are so open to new scientific knowledge about their animals?

Why is that the innovative ways of keeping these animals quickly gain acceptance among their owners, while in the world of dogs, the bulk of the culture has stagnated around a bunch of tired ideas (particularly dominance behavior models and the closed registry system)?

I think the answer has two parts two.

People have been keeping dogs for longer than we’ve cultivated fields, while fish and exotic pets are often only just a few generations removed from the wild.

The best ways to keep these animals are often in a somewhat experimental state, and it’s not always guaranteed that the ways that those who came before had the best way of caring for them.

Caring for dogs is pretty much cut and dry, or at least, that is how it seems.

But the world of dogs, unlike the world of exotic pets or aquarium fish, is very much caught up in some sort of tradition.

When you buy a breed, you buy into a  breed history, which may or may not be true, and you also buy into a culture that pays a lot of homage to those “greats” who came before.

Now, maybe those greats had some insight about the animals at hand, but there often gets to be a sort of cult based upon that great’s ideas– even if what that great happens to believe absolute garbage.

Take German Shepherd dogs and the worship of Lloyd Brackett and his cute incest formula. Brackett was an anti-Semite eugenicist who happened to win a bunch of dog shows, so in the world of show GSD, his ideas are treated as if they were wonderful. Of course,  I doubt that very many people in GSD’s share his views that the Jews were a “superior race” because they were inbred, but many people who show GSD’s hold onto that same logic.

Of course, it’s garbage.

But if you follow Brackett, you might win a few dog shows. Never mind that the bulk of the show GSD population is slowly deteriorating into a bunch of ataxic-gaited hyenas.

This never gets questioned, of course, because Brackett leads to success within  the culture.

And when you buy a dog breed, you’re buying into a culture. You’re also buying into a brand, and within a brand, there are all sorts romantic ideals about what that brand should be.

It is not just within show dogs  that people get caught up in the branding. One of the things I’ve always found amusing about the border collie is a belief that this is a traditional farm dog and that its abilities as a farm dog have been made better through trialling. Except that the original collie-type farm dog was not nearly as strongly-eyed or obsessive as a border collie, and in my part of the world, this sort of “collie” still exists in the form of English shepherds and farm collies, neither of which would ever be able to win a border collie trial in the first place.

A border collie is actually a dog created to manage very large flocks. It was never a dog for small farmers, and what’s more, it exists in its current form largely to win sheepdog trials.

But if you buy into the culture, then you accept that sheepdog trials are “traditional dog work,” when they really are something pretty new in the grand scheme of pastoral dogs.

If a dog person wants to think as an aquarist or exotic pet owner does, then one must be willing to go against the grain.

To accept new ideas is blasphemy in much of the world of dogs.

At some point, you almost have to deny the breed brand and also deny much of the wisdom that came before.

Because science tells us that dogs are organisms. All dog breeds are part of the same species, and special beliefs about dogs– like those that deny heterosis exists within crossbreeds– simply aren’t true. No matter what misrepresentations or jun science studies people come up with, the rules of population genetics still work in the world of dogs.

Further, we don’t now everything there is to know about dog behavior, but it is pretty clear that we were wrong in assuming that dog societies and behavior can be modeled on decades-old and somewhat discredited studies on captive wolf packs.

But if you’ve bought a breed where the people most successful in training it in the past have all adopted some form of  what might be called dog abuse axioms, then to question the way the dog is trained is also to blaspheme the breed.

But if we are to do what is truly right by dogs, then we have to be willing to blaspheme.

And if you blaspheme, there are countless numbers of people who will come after you. If your breed exists only as a specialists’ dog, then you might very well be run out of it– just for questioning shibboleths.

The sad thing about the world of dogs is that rationalists and skeptics exist in a very small minority within the various dog subcultures.

To question is to deny.

And to deny is heresy.

We have allowed our relationship with the domestic dog to stagnate.

Modern science has been relegated only toward a celebration of health testing, as if breeding out genetic diseases within increasingly inbred populations is the best way to manage them. As soon as someone who knows better points out that this is not a good long-term solution, it is automatically denounced as animal rights issue or “socialism.”

It’s very sad that so much of the world of dogs resembles a religion, and in the past, I’ve actually called much of the world of dogs a series of ersatz religions.

One of the things that religion often does is it puts mental blocks when understanding is not complete or when accepted truths are contradicted with obvious facts. In the former case, dogma will fill in the gaps, and in the latter case, facts will be denied or dismissed (often in a vast conspiracy theory).

I have had very stupid people post things to my blog and to my Facebook page like “If every time you breed it’s a crap shoot, then shoot the crap you breed.”  The “if” in this case is what you have to accept if you allow for a certain amount of genetic diversity in a breed– some dogs aren’t going to be winners or have the preferred conformation or temperament one wants in a breed. But if you inbreed, you will get lots of dogs that look and behave alike. Of course, such animals might be fine or even quite healthy, but if an entire population of a breed gets subject to such consanguinity, then the chances for higher levels of genetic load will be heightened and the chance of a real inbreeding depression is almost certain.

But no one cares about that when you’re winning the prizes.

You will be rewarded for pissing away the genes, and it will be successive generations who will have to deal with the consequences.

And it will continue up and until one of two things happen:

The real animal rights agenda comes to power and pushes upon dog breeders a ton of regulations.

Or there is rationalist revolution in the world of dogs.

My hope is for the latter, but I am not holding my breath.

There just isn’t enough blasphemy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The too free dog

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The very notion that a dog ought to have some autonomy over itself is an anathema to many self-styled “dog experts.”  Many have been raised with the mantra that the dog must be subordinate at all times to the whims and often mercurial desires of man in order for it to live a nature existence. They have taken the ethological term known as “dominance” and stretched it into a kind of “drapetomania for dogs.” If a dog tries to assert itself against the absolute wishes of man, then it must be dominated at all costs in the same way that the runaway “suffering ” from Dr. Cartwright’s “affliction” deserved a good flogging.

The sad thing is that humans are prone to being egomaniacs, and far too many egomaniacs have dogs. In some ways, the fact that dogs can be submitted to human desires makes them the perfect objects for such egomaniacs to act out their pathology. Of course, they don’t just do it to the dogs themselves. They also do it other dog people. I have seen the dark underbelly of “dog people,” and although one wishes not to dwell on negativity, I have seen a lot of things that are utterly lamentable and are very difficult to expunge from my consciousness.

There are people who want to take away the things that actually give others joy. There are people who cannot appreciate an unleashed dog running about an autumn forest, who have never seen how happy a golden retriever is when she’s covered in mud, and who cannot accept the fact that not all dogs like doing what their ancestors were bred to do.

Some dogs are like Ferdinand the bull, Though descended from long lines of Spanish fighting bulls, all that Ferdinand the calf ever wanted to do was to sit under the cork oak and smell the sweet flowers. One day– which just happened to be the day that the men who selected the fighting bulls came by to evaluate the young bulls for fighting prowess— poor Ferdinand moseyed over to hit favorite cork oak for a good flower smelling session. As he lowered his haunches to the shaded ground, he just happened to sit on a bee, which of course stung him. Ferdinand raced around in terror and pain, and the bull fight men thought he was a great fighting bull and hastened to take him to the bullfight.  The day that he was brought to be fought, everyone thought Ferdinand was going to be a holy terror, but all he did was sit down n the middle of the arena and smell the flowers in the women’s hats.

A dog may be of a certain breed. It may have nothing but trial champions in its ancestry, but all it wants to do is something else.

People hate this. If you buy a certain breed, it’s like buying a brand. And if one buys a particular strain, it’s like buying a particular model.

If you bought a car that didn’t do what you expected, you’d return it quickly or have it worked on until it finally started running the right way.

Many dogs have exactly this same problem.

People want them to be a certain way, and they aren’t. They send them to trainers, who do all kinds of “training” to rejigger the dog until it realizes why it was created in the first place. Or at the very worst, they get sent back to the breeder as a “defective model.”

Dogs are not machines, and there is a definite ethical consideration about dogs that simply does not exist for cars.

Dog culture celebrates the brand, not the individual, and it takes someone with a lot of intestinal fortitude to go against all the judgmental bromides and allow a dog to be.

Dog culture is not about letting a dog be. It’s about the dog being as a reflection of the human in his or her particular society. It’s in this respect that we have served the dog most poorly.

The dog that is too free is dog that is to be scorned. It exists beyond our human egos casting shadows into the ethology of dominance. It is unconquered. Still part wild, part savage.

It is the dog in its basic animality, still the ranging predator, still a beast.

And not a child or a slave.

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Reverie

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I am alone with the dog in this old pasture. The September sun is casting light at steep angles among the green,

And my mind starts to wander as it often does when I am outside alone with a dog.

In many ways, I’m a pariah.  I had this status cast upon when I was in school, and over time, I came to accept it– almost relish it.

Sometimes it takes me a while to open myself up to people. By nature, I am reserved and contemplative, but once I’ve allowed myself to relax my guard, I am open.

But not as open as I am  here.

Here, I feel connected with all the biotic and abiotic forces. I am not a pariah. I belong.

Man is a strange species. He spends all his entire life alienating himself from the natural world. We call it civilization. It’s really the most complex examples of denial ever expressed in the human condition.

People think there is an “artificial”and a “natural,” but the truth is that it all comes from nature. It is merely our processes of refinement that make things “artificial.”

But though I am not a man of nature, like the rustic “mountain men” of yore,  I am able to cast off the artifice for a bit. For a few short minutes, I can be Daniel Boone or Davy Crockett– and then someone deeper in the ancient past.

You see, I am engaging in one of the last ancient rituals of hunter-gatherer man that still remains with us:  I am out with a dog.

More than 30,000 years ago, there were people just like me. They were out with their dogs, which were then just very tame wolves.

My imagination makes me dream of these people and their first dogs:  What did they name them? What were they hunting? Did the dogs come when called?

These are my happiest times.

I remember long walks in the autumn woods with Goldie and Kizzy. It is the long fall break weekend at my alma mater, and I have returned to see the dogs.

I’ve come to bury my sorrow as the Senate passes the Iraq War Resolution and descends our nation into the madness of Mesopotamia .

Goldie flushed a grouse that weekend. Kizzy pissed where a coyote marked.

They were natural beings. As far removed from the madness of war based upon falsehoods as they were from the planet Mars.

I still dream of these two dogs:  a cat-killing melanistic bullenbeisser and one of Lord Tweedmouth’s finest retrievers.  They were two dogs that never would have been able to survive in the suburbs, but their memory casts a long shadow onto my prose.

They haunt my dreams even now.

I also dream of another dog, my uncle’s little bench-legged Jack Russell.  He was a soft-natured little dog, who never came when called, but reveled in long walks on the beach on his much-chewed flexi lead.

It was from him that I developed my hatred for flexi leads, for dear Timmy would grab the lead in his mouth when you weren’t going fast enough. Over time, his teeth did a number on the lead, and every once in a while the lead would break.  And he didn’t come when called, so you’d better know how to run if he should break free.

He was a dog that reveled in the scents that other dogs left on the sandcastles. He would smell them them, almost savoring their stench. Then, he’d cock his leg and leave his own stain.

We would walk along the beach together in those sultry North Carolina summer days all the to the old fort that once meant to stand as a one of the Lost Cause’s impenetrable redoubts but was soon captured and put to use in the blockade.

Little terrier dogs know anything about war. Nor do golden retrievers or demi-boxers.

They know nothing of the horrors their naked ape best friends inflict upon each other.

They know what lies before them. The smells matter. Some more so than others.

When I walked Timmy on the beach, I imagined that he was able to smell the traces of Bermuda or maybe the Azores or the coast of West Africa.

I imagined that he smelled these exotic scents and tried to parse in his brain what they might be.

That was my imagination running wild.

A dog’s nose might be good, but it’s not that good.

But that’s the thing about me and dogs:  They awaken within me that which is childlike and that which is, at its very heart, savage.

When I am with them alone in the sunshine, I am no longer the pariah. I am no longer me. I am just being. And just being is the beautiful feeling in the world.

It must be the closest thing to a religious experience that I will ever be able to know.

This banal but ancient ritual, man and dog in nature– Just being.

Lost in a simple reverie.

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I’ve written several posts about dog domestication and how the foundation of modern Western “breed” dogs has distorted our ability to figure out where dogs originated.  For several  years, it was strongly contended that dogs were derived from East Asian wolves and that there was only a single domestication event. Most of this studies that point to East Asia as the place of origin have used either mitochondrial DNA and–most recently– y-chromosome analyses. However, a study that examined the largest part of the genome of dogs and wolves found that most domestic dogs share genetic markers with Middle Eastern wolves.  And of course, the oldest of all dog remains are found in a region that runs from Central Asia to Belgium– the earliest, in the Altai Mountains of Siberia, dates to 33,000 years before present.

How can these different findings be reconciled?  I think the best way is simply that dogs were domesticated over a long process that involved several different populations of wolves.  Mark Derr in How the Dog Became the Dog lays out a very complex scenario in which humans and wolves associated with each other over tens of thousands of years.  For most of this time wolves living near humans had little morphological differences from wolves not associated with humans, but then, during the Last Glacial Maximum, the wolves associating with humans began to develop the morphological traits associated with domestication. These same forces created a general gracilization in humans, and they likely had the same effects on the wolves that were living with and relying upon humans for sustenance.  The shortened muzzle trait, which has been found in several specimens that are over 30,000 years old, is perhaps the earliest trait to have developed in the wolves that became dogs. Derr posits that the region running from the Carpathians to Central Asia would have been where the first anatomically distinct dogs would have been found– and that is precisely where the oldest dog remains to date were found. (The manuscript for How the Dog Became the Dog was submitted months before this discovery was published.)

For whatever reason, the dogs that descend from Middle Eastern wolves wound up contributing the most to modern dog lineages, though there is some influence of East Asian wolves in East Asian dog breeds, just as many Scandinavian dog breeds also descend from the a mitochondrial DNA matriline that originated in a European wolf bitch. When wolves were more common, they exchanged genes with dogs and the wolves that became dogs– and vice versa.

All of these issues are very complex and are often contradictory. And they are further exacerbated with a real methodological problem that exist in most genetic assays of domestic dogs:  they tend to include too many Western breed dogs. Western breed dogs are genetically depauperate compared to the village dogs of Asia and Africa, which have both proven to be quite genetically diverse. Because the African dogs are more genetically diverse than those of Asia and also possess Middle Eastern wolf genetic markers,  it is very unlikely that dogs were domesticated in East Asia in a single domestication event.

Now, what if we had a parallel domestication from which we could compare to the domestication process in dogs?

Well, it turns out we do.

Dogs are the oldest domestic animal. There is no debate about it.

However, the question of what the second domestic animal was has always been debated.  The debate is between two species:  the goat and the sheep. Evidence of domestication for these two species occurred from 9,000 to 11,000 years ago. I think the bulk of the evidence suggests that sheep were the earlier of the two species. The first evidence of domestic sheep appears  around 11,000 years ago in the Middle East, which means that sheep domestication predates the large-scale horticultural societies that would develop in the Fertile Crescent by about a 1,000 years.

We’ve known for a while that sheep are pretty genetically diverse even as domesticates, but the extent of that diversity was only recently revealed in a study that was recently released in PLoS Biology. This study examined over49,000 SNP’s in over 2,800 sheep from  74 breeds.

The study found that these sheep breeds had more diversity than most dog breeds. Many sheep breeds have effective populations in excess of 300 individuals.  The various breeds of sheep we have are the result of breeding for just a few traits, and the two most widespread traits, wool and hornlessness in both sexes, are the result of dominant alleles that are easily transmitted across populations. Sheep breeds were largely not created through inbreeding. They were mostly created through selectively breeding from a genetically diverse population. Sheep were likely domesticated over a large range over a relatively long period of time. There was no greater diversity in the Middle Eastern sheep breeds than those from other places, and what’s more, there was a lot of crossbreeding between breeds over the years.

The study is entirely about sheep, but I think it shows a real weakness in the genetic studies I’ve seen in domestic dogs. Most studies on domestic dogs do not fully account for the amount of loss in genetic diversity that exists in breed dogs. However, almost all dogs in the West are either breed dogs or derived from crosses between breeds. It has been calculated that modern breed formation may have taken away over a third of all the genetic diversity in domestic dogs, which are still a pretty genetically diverse population.

They become even more so when non-breed village dogs from Africa and Asia are included in the analysis.  Dogs from these populations actually suggest that dogs were domesticated in the way sheep were. However, because most dogs in the West derive from dogs that were intensely inbred and/or kept in closed registry populations, a lot of dog genetic diversity was squandered.

Sheep also show that breeds can be founded from genetically diverse populations. Inbreeding is not a requirement for breed formation or maintenance. In the oldest dog “breeds,” like the greater tazi landrace, there is still a lot of genetic diversity when the landrace as a whole is considered one breed. However, when one considers these dog to be separate entities, as they typically are in the West,  they don’t have much. These dogs existed for thousands of years with selective breeding from a genetically diverse population, just as domestic sheep breeds have been. But within the Western closed registry framework, they have lost a lot of that diversity.

Dogs were not created by inbreeding wolves. Sheep were not created by inbreeding wild mouflon.  Instead, through domestication, certain traits were selectively bred from animals presenting novel mutations. Inbreeding would fix these novel traits more quickly, but the genetic evidence shows that most of the oldest forms in dogs predate modern breed formation. That is, dogs like sighthounds, mastiffs, and mountain dogs that existed thousands of years ago didn’t appear by inbreeding but through selective breeding from diverse populations.

The intense inbreeding and linebreeding that exists within the closed registry system for most domestic dogs in the West has created a major distortion in our understanding of how dogs were created.  Dogs that exist within those populations are not very representative of dogs throughout their history.  But the dogs of Africa and Asia point to the possibility that was once there.

If sheep breeders can produce wool, milk, and meat animals that have produced so effectively over thousands of years without resorting to using genetically depauperate populations, why can’t dog breeders?

I think the answer lies in two places:  the Victorian blood purity cult that is the modern dog fancy and the traditions of how dogs are bred. Both of these things have almost metaphysical reasons for existing as they do, for both fly in the face of what modern science says about the importance of genetic diversity in maintaining sustainable, healthy populations.

The other problem that exists with dog genetic diversity is that the economics simply don’t work anymore.  When breeds were being founded, they weren’t as different from landraces. Wealthy individuals kept scores of dogs in their breeding programs, so they had large founding populations. Most people can’t do that today, which is one reason why virtually every breed that has been founded after the Second World War and then placed within a closed registry system has had severe health problems. Further, I don’t think most people want to do the intense culling that one must use to use very tight breeding effectively.  In those days, there was a lot of culling of the weak.

Today, we have situations where it is hard to maintain genetically diverse populations in dog breeds. Crossbreeding is not allowed in any of the established registries, and the blood purity cult won’t allow such heresy to go without fatwas. Dogs that are born through crossbreeding may only participate in competitions if they are spayed or neutered, and their genes never contribute to the next populations. There are some exceptions to the blood purity cult, like the Dalmatian backcross project and the use of Central Asian tazis in the UKC saluki. But in general, blood purity is seen as an ideal. Further, many dogs that are purchased from breeders are given spay-neuter contracts, and more and more municipalities are passing mandatory spay and neuter.

All of these factors are pushing dogs into more and more genetically depauperate populations that, over time, will become less healthy– regardless of what sort of culling and “selecting against disease” continues to happen within the system.

Sheep were lucky.  Because almost every sheep that exists today has some practical purpose, there was never a big push to turn them into fancy animals. By the time of the Industrial Revolution, the bulk of dogs in the West were no longer needed for anything, except as sporting animals and objects of conspicuous consumption. And those factors led to the big push to “improve” them through “scientific” breeding, which was often little more than inbreeding or very tight linebreeding.

Perhaps the best juxtaposition of two dogs that can explain what happens when dogs from genetically diverse populations become “improved breeds” can be found in AKC salukis and tazis from Central Asia. Tazis from Central Asia can live into their twenties, but the average lifespan of a Western breed saluki is something in the 11 to 12 year range.

The tazi was developed from a genetically diverse population, while the saluki is a Western cutting off of dogs of that general type into something called a breed.

If dog breeds had been able to continue on as selectively bred from diverse populations in the West, the results would have been different.

For the very simple reason that large predators tend to exist at lower densities than their prey, fewer wolves would have been involved in dog domestication than would wild sheep have been involved in their domestication– at least in the initial stages. However, over time, we could be talking about a large number of wolves working their way into the dog population, so it may have been a wash.

But sheep very clearly show us that we don’t have to inbreed to create and maintain breeds.

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