Posts Tagged ‘Konrad Lorenz’


anka wild place

“I need a dog which accompanies me faithfully but which has retained a wild exterior and thus does not spoil the landscape by its civilized appearance.”

–Konrad Lorenz, Man Meets Dog. Specifically the chapter called “Dog Days” in which he goes running around the Danube with his German shepherd-Chow cross named Susi.

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Father of geese

konrad lorenz goslings

The trilling chirps of greylag goslings fill the morning air. The dew is heavy and cool against the late spring grass. The sun casts down upon the verdant land, and it shines against the greenery that magical shade of green that it turns when it is just starting to approach its summer fullness.

Konrad Lorenz comes to the goslings in the morning dew, and they race to meet his shoes. They know him as their doting parent, for when they first hatched, he was the first thing they saw. Goose instinct says follow that first thing you see when you hatch. That is your parent.

Konrad knows they will come wherever he goes. He was one of the first people to describe the phenomenon by which precocial birds attach themselves to the first moving object they encounter upon leaving the egg. They know him as their father, nothing more and nothing less.

When he lies before them in the cool grass, they gently peck at his goatee.  A beaming smile crosses his face. He is smitten with his charges.

Such a gentle man, so tender with these wee ones.

Yet behind the man lies a hidden darkness.

Raised in parochial Austria and educated at Columbia, he studied medicine at the University of Vienna, then got a doctorate in zoology. But in the 30s, the nation of Austria had turned inward and darker. The Catholic Church held sway. It was stifling a curious mind of science.

In the 30s, he studied the greylags closely. He kept wild ones and the tame varieties and crossed them, and he believed that the tame ones were degenerates. Their blood tainted the wild ones when they were crossed, and his ideas got swept up in the Zeitgeist of racial hygiene.

When the Anschluss came, he joined Hitler’s party and became Nazi scientist. In 1940, he found a job as a professor the University of Koenigsberg, but the war was not far off. He was drafted into the Werhmacht, where he worked on a project that studied the so-called Mischlinge– people who were half-German and half-Polish.

It is the same sort of science he performed on greylags that he now performed on his fellow man.

The Soviet Union beat the Nazis at Stalingrad, and the war was all but lost. The Germans sent as many men as they could to that far eastern front, and Lorenz was sent to defend the Fatherland from the great red Slavic horde. He found himself a prisoner of war, where he worked as a medic for the hated Bolsheviks. He kept a pet starling and wrote on a little manuscript. And he survived.

One day, he would say that he saw much of himself in those Soviet doctors. They were committed to an ideology, an ideology imposed by the state, and in that he saw his own folly through those years of the 30s and the war.

He returned to Vienna, where he loved his wife and dogs and his children. He kept a menagerie of all sorts of animals. He worked at the Max Planck Institutes in Westphalia and Bavaria, and he wrote books on animals and their behavior.

And he tried to forget that he had once allowed himself to become caught up in the madness the wrecked his nation. He won the Nobel Prize for Medicine, sharing it with Karl von Frisch, a fellow Austrian who was deemed a mischling (why different spelling?) and forced into retirement for the crime of “practicing Jewish science,” and Niko Tinbergen, who fought to defend his native Netherlands against the Nazis and was held as prisoner of war.

Lorenz would spend the rest of his life with this stigma of having joined in that great madness. He first denied his membership to that party, but the records were soon revealed to the public.

And all knew that he had partaken in the blood and fury, not as a fanatic but as a man of science.

So he would spend the rest of his days trying to find absolution for that great sin, trying to make amends to his friend Niko.

And on nice late spring days, he would run with his goslings and lead them along the green paths and let them eat the forbs and grass, and then would lead them on to his beloved Danube, where he would enter the water like a great crocodile and the goslings would take to their aquatic existence as true waterfowl.

A true romantic lover of the wildness of Central Europe, Lorenz would work to create the Green Party and fight to preserve nature.

But none of that can atone for the madness that reason excused and acquiesced and rationalized.

So on this day, he leads the goslings onward through the greenery. Onward along the lovely green paths of Altenberg, the merry band goes.

A gosling has never heard the word “National Socialist,” nor even processes the understanding of its horrors. It knows only to follow that which it thinks is its parent.

A gentle soul trying to escape his past horror. Once a young monster, now leading on his chirping charges into the sunshine.



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dachshund crocodile

Today, there much talk about a flesh-eating drug called “Krokodil,” which is derived from the Russian* word for crocodile. There is quite a bit of paranoia about the drug spreading to the US, but it doesn’t seem likely at this time.

However, every time I see a report about this drug, I instantly think of a dog– more specifically, a dachshund.

The dog is written about at length in Konrad Lorenz’s Man Meets Dog (1949). Lorenz was one of the founders of the science of ethology, and wrote extensively about dogs and other domestic animals. He is perhaps best known for the modern interpretation of the theory of imprinting, which posits that certain animals, particularly birds, come to identify their parent species by attaching themselves to the first moving object or living thing they see.

He is also famous for the discredited hypothesis that most dogs are derived from golden jackals and only a few dogs have wolf in them. The jackal dogs were juvenile and friendly toward everyone, while the wolf-derived dogs were one-mannish and reserved.

The dog named Krokodil was a jackal dog. He was purchased to replace a real crocodile that was given to Lorenz when he was a young boy:

I shall begin with the example of a dog whose apparently touching juvenile affection was so exaggerated as to result in the positive caricature of a dog.  It was a dachshund named Kroki which I was given by a kind relation with no understanding of animals.  At time I was a small boy but already an active naturalist.  The dog was called Kroki  because the kind donor had first of all presented me with a crocodile, which in the absence of heating my terrarium, refused to eat, and which we therefore exchanged in the pet shop for the animal which bore the nearest outward resemblance to it! The dachshund was an aristocratic creature, long-bodied and short-legged– truly resembling a crocodile–and its pendulous ears literally trailed the floor. He was of an affecting friendliness, and greeted me on our first acquaintance as only a dog can greet a long lost master. Of course I was flattered, until it became clear that he greeted everyone else in the same manner.  He was obsessed with an overwhelming love of humanity which extended to all mankind.  He never barked at anybody and, even though he probably preferred my family and myself, he would readily follow a stranger if we did not happen to be available.

Now, this dachshund’s behavior is utterly unlike the dachshunds I’ve known, and my grandmother’s dachshund could have also been named after the archosaur. Unlike Lorenz’s dog, she not only had the crocodile’s body, she had the crocodile’s disposition as well. She barked at everyone, and I don’t know how many different people she  bit.  She bit me and all the other grandchildren, and as a result, I have a bit of fear of smooth dachshunds. I don’t have the same reaction with the other coats– the long-haired ones look like really strange golden retrievers– but if I see small smooth one, I get a bit nervous.

In the US, the dachshund is the “wiener dog.”  I have always thought this was a stupid name.

Maybe a better name for them would be crocodile dog.

It fits them so much better!


*Krokodil is also German for crocodile. Konrad Lorenz was Austrian and a German-speaker.





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neoteny and anti-semtism lorenz

Lorenz was a member of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party in 1939 when he drew this sketch to show the “degenerative” effects of domestication.

His “wild type” of human has exaggerated “Semitic” features.  He was a firm believer in Nazi “racial hygiene” policies, and although I’ve not found anything he ever wrote about Jews, this sketch speaks volumes about his views on that subject.

I don’t think I’m ever going to look at one of these diagrams showing pedomorphosis in domestic animals the same way again.

I find Lorenz’s later writings on dogs very insightful.

But he was a person of his time and culture.


I should note here that pugs are not “degenerated” because they are domesticated.

They are degenerated because they have been selectively bred by human caprice and vanity.

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I love this quote!

A bad debate tactic I’ve noticed that science denialists like to employ is to point out all the bad things a particular scientist believed as a way of discrediting the scientist and the science to which he or she contributed.

It’s really nothing more than an ad hominem attack.

For example, how many times does one come across the statement that Charles Darwin was a racist?

It’s very common.

Let’s keep in mind that Darwin’s views on race are not instrumental to his theory of evolution through natural selection.

He could have been the most racially tolerant man in the history of the world, but it wouldn’t mean anything about his ideas.

For the record, Charles Darwin was actually quite opposed to slavery, which had been a major source for his nation’s prosperity.

However, he was a white, upper class Anglo-Saxon living at the height of the British Empire.

He could not have existed without some of the racialist zeitgeist rubbing off on him.

But that still doesn’t tell us whether his ideas about evolution through natural selection were valid.

Calling him a racist is a distraction from the issues at hand.

Similarly, pointing out that one of the founders of ethology, Konrad Lorenz, had been a devoted Nazi is also a distraction.

Lorenz was wrong about many things.

I’ve pointed them out on this blog. In my critique of the dominance model for dog behavior, I have demonstrated that a lot of dog and wolf science was unfortunately distorted through Lorenz’s work. The notion that domestication dulled the intelligence of dogs is one that can be traced to Lorenz.

And it’s not necessarily because Lorenz was once a Nazi scientist. Romanticism had deeply influenced the intelligentsia of the German-speaking world, going all the way back to the early nineteenth century.

The Germans saw themselves as wild forest people whose exact natural proclivities and genius were being destroyed by civilization.

If one applies those same framework to dogs and wolves, it sees the dog as being a degenerate wolf, a creature that can never return to its wildness and genius.

Lorenz is notable because he added another framework to the mix.  Wolves are native to Germany, just as the “German race” is, but he contended that most dogs were derived from golden jackals, which are native South Asia, North and East Africa, and the Middle East.

It has been argued that Lorenz created this dichotomy through his association with National Socialism. Lorenz preferred dogs that were of this wolfish heritage. It has been suggested that the aureus dogs are a mirror of the Semitic people with whom we know that the Nazis hated with such a venomous and pathological passion.

Now one can denounce Lorenz all you want.

I don’t see how this helps the discussion.

Yes. He was Nazi, but he later did all he could atone for his associations.

He was very active in Austria’s Green Party, and he worked very hard to make amends with Niko Tinbergen. who was actually held as a prisoner of war when the Nazis took over the Netherlands. Tinbergen was one of the men who would share the Nobel with Lorenz, but as a Dutch citizen who was vehemently opposed to the Nazi occupation of his homeland, it would take many years before the two became reconciled.

Tinbergen’s methodology has wound up being a lot more significant than that of Lorenz. His “Four questions” have played a major role in ethology and the emerging field of sociobiology.

But Tinbergen was no more a prophet than either Lorenz or Darwin.

All of these men were trapped in the time and society in which they lived.

Scientists are not religious prophets. They can only contribute knowledge within the paradigms in which they exist.

Religious prophets are supposed to infallible, but no scientist regards any other scientist, whether from the past or present, as being without error.

Science is really about correcting error.

Lorenz was quite wrong about aureus and lupus dogs, but if one reads Man Meets Dog, he was definitely picking up on something else.

Lorenz’s understanding of dogs included large numbers of Western improved breeds, which had definitely been selected for biddability and docility. He didn’t have much exposure to Non-Western breeds, and in the early twentieth century, chow chows are quite exotic animals. Chow chows were not bred to be biddable or docile animals in their homeland. They were meant to be hunters of a variety of game, and they were also meant to be used as a food source. They were also expected to be fierce guard dogs to protect their owners’ properties.

Lorenz saw in this relatively unimproved breed a lot of wolfish characteristics. They were quite one-mannish. They were not demonstrative.  They were very different from all the Western dogs that he would have known in Central Europe at that time.

And we do know there are pretty extreme differences in behavior between Western and Non-Western dog breeds. Shiba inus and basenjis are quite different from golden retrievers and papillons.

Today, we would say that selective breeding within their respective cultures has produced such different temperaments in different breeds.

But in Lorenz’s day, it was worth postulating that some dogs were derived from a different species.

Of course, Lorenz later rejected these theories when he began to look at the literature that compared wolf and jackal vocalizations with those of domestic dogs.

Dogs produce sounds that are very similar to those of a wolf.

Further, the genetic evidence shows that the wolf i the primary– if not sole–ancestor of the domestic dog. There might be some genes from other species in there, but the dog is genetically so similar to Eurasian wolves that it is no longer valid to consider them a separate species from the wolf.

Lorenz accepted all of these findings, just as he accepted that Nazism was an unmitigated evil.

Scientists change their minds with the evidence.

Prophets cannot.

Science is built upon what we already know, even if what we already know comes through the distorted prisms of culture and prejudice.

Eventually, science can correct the error.

That’s what’s so beautiful about it.

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Konrad Lorenz was an Austrian zoologist who won the 1973 Nobel Prize for Medicine, which he shared with Nikolaas Tinbergen and Karl von Firsch for their discoveries in animal behavior. These three men are considered the founders of the science of ethology, scientific study of animal behavior.

In addition to being a scientist, Lorenz also wrote popular books on animal behavior and natural history.

One of his best known texts is known as Man Meets Dog in English. It was first published in 1949, and it includes many anecdotes and theories about dogs and other animals. His most notable ideas in the book is the now discredited aureus and lupus dog theory in which he contended that most dog breeds derive from golden jackals and only a few derive from wolves.

But if one can get past those sort problematic postulates in the work, one discovers that Lorenz was a very astute observer of animals and a fine writer.

Of interest to this blog, Lorenz devoted a chapter of the book to dog breeders. In the English translation, this chapter is called “An Appeal to Dog Breeders.”   Lorenz was deeply dismayed at the exaggerations and distortions that were starting to appear in purebred dogs through breeding for competitive dog shows, and he wanted to get dog breeders to start breeding “real” dogs again.  Regular readers of this blog will find that  his complaints have a very modern sound to them:

Circus dogs which can perform complicated tricks demanding great intelligence are very rarely equipped with a pedigree; this is not because a mongrel costs less, just the opposite, for fabulous fees are paid for talented circus dogs but rather because of those physical characteristics that make good performing animals. It is not only their higher intelligence and better aptitude for this work, it is above all the fact that they are much less “nervy” and have a better temperament for bearing stress, that are characteristics of mongrels, that make qualitatively superior performances possible. It is therefore no accident that the best description of the canine mentality in A Man and His Dog by Thomas Mann is about a mongrel: a hen house dog.

Of all the dogs that have been my constant companions only one was fit for the show bench. This was an Alsatian [German shepherd dog], Bindo, who was certainly a noble creature, an aristocrat of impeachable character but in fineness of feeling and sensitivity of soul not to be compared with my herding bitch, Tito, who daughter of the woods and fields, had no pedigree at all. My French bulldog did have a pedigree but he was a throw out: he was far too big, his skull was far too long and so were his legs, his back was too straight and despite that I am convinced that there was never a champion of this breed that could approach my Bully for mental qualities.

It is a sad but undeniable fact that breeding to a strict standard of physical points is incompatible with breeding for mental qualities. Individuals which conform to both sets of requirements are so rare that they would not even supply a foundation for the further propagation of their breed. Just as I am unable to think of any great intellectual who physically approaches anywhere near to an Adonis or of a really beautiful woman who is even tolerably intelligent, in the same way I know of no champion of any dog breed which I should ever wish to own myself. It is not that these two differently directed ideals are basically opposed to one another; it is hard to understand why a dog of perfect physique should not be endowed with equally desirable mental attributes – but each of the two ideals is in itself so rare that their combination in one and the same individual becomes a thing of the grossest improbability. Even a dog breeder who genuinely aspires to both ideals will find it well-nigh impossible to achieve his aim without a compromise. In dog – as in pigeon breeding – this compromise between two breeding ideals has been circumvented by separating show and working strains from each other. In pigeons it has already gone so far that show and working pigeons have become two distinct breeds of bird, and I think that as far as dogs are concerned, the Alsatian is already well on the way to the same cleavage.

In former times when the dog was more a utility animal than it is today, mental qualities were unlikely to have been neglected when animals were chosen for stud. On the other hand, however, character defects do appear in some types of dog which are used solely for working purposes. A much-respected authority on dogs is of the opinion that the lack of one-man fidelity in certain types of gun dog can be attributed to their vocation. Dogs of these breeds have been selected primarily for their fine sense of smell and it is quite possible that animals lacking in single-minded fidelity to one master were preferred: today, it is a recognised fact that there are hunters without a sporting sense sometimes even gamekeepers who often leave the search for wounded game to paid underlings and it is essential in a good gun dog that he should work as well with one of these as with his own master.

But the matter becomes serious when the omnipotent tyranny of fashion, the silliest of all silly females, begins to dictate to the poor dog what he has to look like and there is no single breed of dog the originally excellent mental qualities of which have not been completely destroyed as a result of having become fashionable. Only where, in some quiet corner of the world, the dogs in question have gone on being bred for use and without any deference to fashion has such destruction been avoided. In their home, there are still some strains of Scotch Collie in which the original excellent traits of the breed are extant but the pedigree specimens which first became popular all over central Europe as fashion dogs at the turn of the century have been subjected to an almost incredible process of mental deterioration in terms of both character and intelligence. If for a breed that becomes a fashion there is no breeding establishment that knows how to give the necessary support to the physical qualities of the animals, its fate is sealed. Even undoubtedly honest breeders who would rather die than use a dog that fell short of the desired standard by one iota do not consider it unethical to breed from physically beautiful but mentally defective dogs.

Dog-loving readers, for whom I am writing this book, believe me in this: your pride that your dog conforms almost exactly to the ideal physical standards of his breed will dwindle with type but your annoyance at psychological defects, such as nervousness, viciousness or excessive cowardice will not as time goes on.

Time does not immunise against such defects rather it heightens them. An intelligent mongrel who is faithful, intelligent and plucky will in the long run give you more satisfaction than your champion which probably cost you a fortune.

As I have already intimated, it would be quite possible to make compromises in the choice of physical and mental properties and this contention has been roved by the fact that various pure breeds of dog did retain their original good character traits until they fell a prey to fashion. Nevertheless dog shows in themselves involve certain dangers since competition between pedigree dogs at shows must automatically lead to an exaggeration of those points that characterise a breed. If we look at old pictures that for English breeds of dog go back to medieval times, and we compare them with the pictures of the current representatives of the same breeds, said representatives appear as grotesque caricatures of these noble examples. In the Chow-chow, that has become a fashion object only over the last decade, this is particularly evident. Around 1920 the Chow was still a truly natural dog, very close to its original wild form: pointed nose, Mongol-type slanting eyes and straight, sharp ears gave the face an extraordinarily fascinating appearance that is typical of Greenland sled dogs, Samoyeds and Huskies (Eskimo dogs), in short all the strongly lupine breeds. Nowadays in breeding Chows the emphasis is on giving it characteristics that make it look like a soft toy: the nose is wide and short, almost like that of a Great Dane, in the flatter face, the eyes have lost that lovely slant, the ears disappear into the excessive abundance of fur. Even in the character, the wild predator full of temperament, that still seems to breath the air of the great outdoors has become no more than a pomaded teddy-bear… except of course for those that I breed. But according to the rules of all the breeders’ associations, my Chows should be regarded with disdain because even today they are one hundred and twenty eighth Alsatian.

Another race I am really fond of and whose physical deterioration I observe with great sadness is the Scotch Terrier. Thirty five years ago, when my second dog, a Scotch Terrier bitch, Ali followed me, dogs of that breed were an exception featuring courage and faithfulness. None of the dogs I have had since then have defended me more furiously than Ali and none have had to be saved from desperate battles with no quarter shown with much stronger opponents so often. But I have never had to save a cat so often from any other dog and none, except for Ali, has ever followed one up a tree! These were the facts of the case: Ali was chasing a cat that, to escape, got up onto the lowest branch of a plum tree; a moment later it had to take refuge on a second branch, a metre and a half higher, on the crown of the tree where it settled down. In just a few seconds the cat had to beat a retreat, looking for a still higher branch because Ali had climbed up to the second one as well. The dog was struggling now not to lose his balance as the branches were very thin. He did not fall to the ground only because he was able to straddle one of them that he held tightly between his legs. For a moment he stayed there head down but he managed to straighten up and he barked furiously at the cat sitting a metre higher on such a thin branch that it almost did not support the weight. At this point, something incredible happened. Ali tensed all the muscles in his strong body and threw himself at the cat, grabbed it between its teeth and for a moment hung from the animal that tried desperately to hold on, until the pair of them fell a good three metres onto the ground, where I had to intervene to save the cat. Ali, despite the hard bump, did not let go of the prey. The cat escaped unharmed but Ali limped for weeks, the result of tearing a muscle. Unlike cats, dogs do not always manage to fall well on their paws.

That is what those little Scotties were like thirty-five years ago! And today? I get angry and very sad when I meet the dogs in my native Vienna, where there are so many of them and they are so loved, and I see how the current representatives of this breed behave. Certainly my shaggy Ali with a slightly bent ear as the result of a scar was not likely to have had much success in a dog show, up against these beauties with bows in their coats. But to offset that, they cringe before dogs that would have run away howling from my Ali.

But there is still time. There are still Scotch Terriers even here in Central Europe that do not fear a St. Bernard and would fly at the legs of the strongest man who dared so much as a threatening word against their owners. But there are only a few of this kind left and one will look for them in vain amongst the champions at a dog show.

So I put a question to those breeders who are genuinely interested in the future of dogs: would it not be worthwhile to breed just for once from such a faithful and courageous dog even though in the distribution of physical points he fared much worse than those triumphs of modern hairdressing?

People have been complaining about the effects of competitive dog showing for a long time.

But the madness still goes on.

Maybe things are starting to change.

Lorenz may have had a hard time convincing dog breeders of the 1940’s that their breeding practices may have been harmful.

But by now, the problems have become so much worse that only extreme mental gymnastics and denialism can one offer these practices any sort of defense.

Maybe things are just so bad now that they will have to change.

Let’s hope so.

Because they must change.

It was true in 1949, and it’s more true in 2012.

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Recreating defunct breeds and strains is an old obsession in the dog world.  The earliest historical record I can find of people trying to save and restore a breed occurred in the late eighteenth century, when the great “wolf-dogs” began to disappear. There was a mass scramble to find Irish wolfhounds in various parts of Ireland in order have a workable bloodline.

Of course, the Irish wolfhound was still around when it was decided to restore and preserve it. The same cannot be said for the ancient Eurasian spitz dog.

Before I begin even discussing the particulars of its reconstruction, I must make some points about the existence of this dog. The first of these is that there was probably no single ancient Eurasian spitz breed or even landrace from which all of these spitz-type dogs descend.

But it is something that makes a good romantic story.

The well-known zoologist Konrad Lorenz extolled he virtues of puppies resulting from a cross between his German shepherd dog and his chow bitch. This cross occurred when Lorenz was firmly pushing his since disproved theory that dogs were derived from two different species of wild dog. German shepherds and all of the other tractable dogs from Europe were believed to be derived primarily from golden jackals. The chow and the other extremely aloof yet extreme loyal breeds were believed to be derivatives of the wolf.

After the Second World War,  German named Julius Wipfel took in a dog that had been accompanying Canadian troops. The dog was named the Canadian, and it often conjectured that he was an actual Canadian Inuit dog or something like one. This dog made a very strong impression on Wipfel. He was very different from the typical Western European dogs he had known. He was intensely loyal and protective, but he was also very intelligent. When the Canadian died, he purchased a Wolfspitz (Keeshond) bitch.  Of course, she was nothing like the Canadian. She was a typical Keeshond, very friendly and quirky. (Wolfspitz is usually spelled “Wolfsspitz” in German. For my purposes, I’m dropping the possessive “s,” which looks weird in the English language.)

It was around this time that Wipfel read of Lorenz’s chow/shepherds, and he began to think. Now, this is always a dangerous thing. Wipfel had experienced life with a dog he believed to be a Canadian Inuit dog, and as is often the case, an experience with one profound dog can totally shape one’s understanding of what a dog or type of dog should be. His mind was also full of Lorenz’s dog theories.

And out of that melange of ideas, came the decision to breed the Wolfspitz with the Chow Chow. He tried to register his dogs as “wolf-chows,” but the chow and wolfspitz clubs refused.

He also got involved with Charlotte Baldamus, a woman who had become an expert in producing purebred poultry. Wipfel needed someone with practical experience to help him found his strain.

Baldamus was a follower of Robert Bakewell’s breeding philosophy. Breed “in and in” to establish desired characteristics in your line. However, after several generations of breeding “in and in,”  Wipfel was warned to add new blood. He consulted with a geneticist at the Institute for Breeding and Genetics of Domestic Animals at the University of Göttingen, who told him to find some new blood soon.

It was decided that the Samoyed would be the outcross. Although I can find no evidence that the Keeshond is related to the Samoyed, they are related in original utility. Both are originally derived from herders. The Keeshond’s ancestors were the German and Dutch farm spitz, which herded stock and killed vermin. The Samoyed’s ancestors were the dogs that helped the nomadic Samoyedic people herd reindeer. The dogs do have similar temperaments, although the Samoyed is more independent. They are both generally docile animal that are often recommended as family pets.

Of course, at that time, no one was recommending the chow-chow as family pet. They were bred in China for a variety of purposes, but the most infamous reason is that they were meant to be edible. The dogs bond very strongly to just a few people and are quite protective of their families. This breed has a reputation for aggression that has since subsided in recent years.

By adding Samoyed to the line, the Eurasier’s breeders were essentially choosing to create a more docile breed than the typical chow chow of that time period.

And it worked.

It was not long before this breed became relatively popular in the German-speaking world. The breed was popularized as being based upon the work of Konrad Lorenz, who was something of a celebrity and public intellectual. This connection was made stronger when Lorenz offered his words of support to the breeding program.

Today’s Eurasier is often recommended as a family pet. It is a docile, tractable dog that bonds very strongly with its family. Although Wipfel wanted to created a dog that was something like the Canadian, he actually created something new. The growing West German middle class had a new breed to purchase for their families.

Of course, the dog was sold as a recreation of something ancient. Supposedly, a dog with Samoyed, Chow, and Keeshond blood would be something like the ancient ancestor of all three– a breed that once roamed Eurasia with bands of nomads for thousands of years.

Wipfel also had designs on producing a line of sled dogs from his breeding program. After all, he believed the Canadian was a sled dog. However, I have not heard of any major sled dog teams that use Eurasiers or Eurasier crosses. Perhaps these exist in Europe, but I have not heard of any in North America.

But whatever Wipfel wanted, the Eurasier is now a family pet. It supposedly is like those dogs of yore that once followed nomads across the continent. However, it is really a dog that was developed to live one of Europe’s most densely populated countries. It is more at home in the suburbs of Berlin and Munich than roaming those ancient steppes and forests. It is as domesticated as we are.

(More on Eurasiers here)


Wipfel was inspired to create his breed after experiencing life with one dog and after reading some of Konrad Lorenz’s writings. I would like to say that those influences have no effect on me, but of course, I would be in denial.

I think a lot of what influences my views on golden retrievers is my experience with one field-line golden that was very driven and very smart.  She lived to retrieve. If she was called a golden retriever, that would be an understatement. There was no such thing as refusing to retrieve. The joy of doing so was reward enough for her.

She was also leggier in framed and darker in color than many goldens are today,  and she  possessed thinner features than one typically sees in show dogs. She was a brilliant animal, very easily trained and very well-versed in the vagaries both human and dog communication. I never once saw her fight another dog, but she did have her ways of getting them to do what she wanted. She also responded very quicky to both human words and body language.

In Lorenz’s formulation, she would have been an aureus dog, but I liked to think of her as a “golden wolf.”

I also have been influenced by the book Merle’s Door.  The dog in that book is a retriever cross of some sort, and his behavior is very similar to hers, with one notable exception. He doesn’t like to retrieve at all.  However, he relates to people, dogs, and other animals in much the same way as my first golden.

I suppose we dog people are always a bit influenced by romance and nostalgia. I think those influences are healthy, but they are only acceptable if they are sublimated to a simple understanding that the dog is an organism with it own needs for a healthy gene pool and its own “being presence.” I am not so sure we can call that “being presence” a mind, but it is a close approximation.

Dogs also exist within the cultural and economic conditions of their time period, which is why I don’t think we can recreate the St. John’s water dog and the Irish wolfhound probably isn’t the animal you want to use when you go to Alaska on a wolf hunt. The selective pressures that produced these animals disappear or are distorted once the exact conditions no longer exist.

I don’t think my romance and nostalgia would ever lead me to do what Julius Wipfel and his colleagues did. After all, that project cost a lot of money and took decades to perfect.

But I can’t say I’m not influenced by these same forces.

Dog people wouldn’t be much without some romance and nostalgia.

It’s just got to be kept in perspective.

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konrad lorenz geese

Of all the somewhat reasonable theories about the origin of the domestic dog that have been posited, the one that lingers on is the theory that domestic dogs are derived from jackals. Charles Darwin thought this was a great idea, and he thought that all the different species of Jackal played some role in the development of the domestic dog.

Of course, only the golden jackal can interbreed with the domestic dog or other forms of Canis lupus. The coyote can do the same thing and has done so in the wild. The Ethiopian wolf, which was once thought to be a jackal, has also been known to interbreed with domestic dogs.

Side-striped and black-backed jackals cannot interbreed with dogs. They both represent the oldest extant forms of the genus Canis. It has been suggested that they be moved back to Thous, the old genus for jackals, for their real taxonomic status is like that of  the Dhole and the Lycaon species. They have the same number of chromosomes as the interfertile Canis species but are currently recognized to be in their own respective genera, because they are very different from those Canis species.

Now, Darwin’s theory on the supposed jackal origin of the domestic dog grew new legs with the work of Konrad Lorenz, one of the founders of ethology. His theory on dog origins was posited in Man Meets Dog, which is an exploration of the natural history and ethology of man and dog.

Before I explain the particulars of Mr. Lorenz’s theory on dogs, I must point out two things about this man. He is credited with discovering the phenomenon of imprinting. (However, Douglas Spaulding is person who actually discovered this aspect of animal behavior in the nineteenth century). He is often remembered for his work on graylag geese, which imprinted onto Lorenz as little goslings. He’s really better known for this part of his work, which is why that linked photo depicts him with a goose.

Now, the other you have to know about him are his politics. We all talk about Germans and Austrians who lived at the time of Third Reich and the Second World War. Many had to make compromises with that odious regime just to survive. Konrad Lorenz, I must say wasn’t one of those guys. He actually willingly joined the National Socialists in 1938. Lorenz was an Austrian, and after the Anschluss, he qualified to join Hitler’s party as a citizen of the Reich. He was given a university chair, and to thank the regime for his position Lorenz wrote:  “I’m able to say that my whole scientific work is devoted to the ideas of the National Socialists.” He had also had a positon in the infamous Office for Race Policy.

Now, I’m sure all of you think that this is an ad hominem attack on the man. I don’t think so, because even though he did recant on some of his racist scientific beliefs. He was also active in the Austrian Green Party in his later years, and much of his later work was of a humanitarian nature. (Although I have to say his quasi-sociobiological theory on human aggression was less than convincing.)

As for his theory on the origin of the domestic dog, he believed that some dogs were derived from wolves  and some are derived from jackals. The wolf-derived dog was like a chow, very loyal to one person, undemonstrative, and somewhat aggressive toward stangers. The jackal-derived dog was like spaniel, very friendly to everyone and always fawning over people just to get attention. The wolf-derived dog is capable of loyalty and great love, while the jackal dog is just in it to get some food (because Lorenz incorrectly believed jackals were mostly solitary animals.)

Lorenze eventually recanted on this theory when the evidence became overwhelming that all  dogs–including the fawning variety– are derived from wolves, not jackals. But from the reading of the text, one gets the impression that Lorenz preferred a wolf-derived dog. He was  lover of chow crosses, which in their original temperament were very similar to Lorenz’s description of the wolf-derived dog.

It has been speculated that Lorenz developed this theory in part from his close association with Nazism.  In this scenario, Lorenz created a dichotomy between the wolf of northern Eurasia and the golden jackal of Mesopotamia, which is very similar to the Aryan versus Jew dichotomy created in official Nazi policy. The golden jackal-derived dogs are the inferior “Jewish dogs,” while wolf represents the Aryans. Perhaps it was subconscious that Lorenz created this bizarre theory, but it does strangely mimic Nazi racist science.


You should find this somewhat disconcerting, because I have noticed that a lot early wolf research seems to have a sort of Nazi influence.  Rudolf Schenkel was studying wolves in Basel, Switzerland when the Nazis came to power. Although not a German, he was a German-speaker, and much of the German literature at the time was focused on survival of the fittest. Within that line of thinking is the view that domestication causes animals, including people, to degenerate. The aggression and strict heirarchy of Schenkel saw in a wolf pact was natural for a social animal that had no degenerated through the niceties of domestication.

I am not saying that Schenkel was a Nazi, but his ideas were being developed in a German-speaking academic culture that was very much focused on racial hygiene and purging society of the degeneration that had occurred through civilization. It is a kind of bizarre nature-cult that sees the natural form as being good, and the domesticated form as being inferior. The Nazi regime did not grow out of a vacuum. It grew out of a political and academic culture that was openly discussing things from this nature cult perspective, both consciously and subconsciously.

Because these studies from the German-speaking world of that time were at the base of the literature on wolf and dog behavior, there was tendency to see the dog as  degenerate wolf. This legacy still exists within certain sectors of academia, but it is fading, largely because of those new studies on dog social cognition.

Not only have these sorts of paradigms set back our understanding of dog origins and their cognitive abilities, we are still holding onto some rather antiquated concepts about dogs and wolves and the supposed strict heirarchy in which they live.  It has only been recently that L. David Mech began to question that pardigm.

We are right now about to experience a paradigm shift on how we think about dogs and wolves. I don’t think many people are going to like it at first, because it is very different from what we’ve been taught.

*Note:  I’m not making a case that dogs cannot be punished. I’m just saying that all this leader of the pack business might be nonsense. The reason why dogs are tractable is not because they are wolf-pack members. They are tractable because they are capable of learning from us what certain rules and expectations are. That’s something that wolves and other wild dogs are really unable to do, which is why wolves are so hard to housebreak and train.


Now, there is a dog that has golden jackal in it. It is called the Sulimov dog.  The average domestic dog is  C. Lupus with very little or no C. aureus in it.

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