Archive for February, 2009


From http://www.bumperfound.org/ .

This golden retriever mix shows the black and tan coloration that was once so prevalent in his ancestors: the St. John’s water dog and the wavy-coated retriever. Landseer had painted a dog very similar to this one.

If such a dog were placed in the nineteenth century, he would instantly be recognized as a retriever.

Today, we might also mistake black and tan English shepherds for this dog. This makes some sense, though, because both of these dogs descend, at least in part, from the old-type collie farm dog.

I wrote some more about this coloration last week.

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What is the idenity of this New World quail?

BTW, New World quail aren’t closely related to pheasants, turkeys, or Old World Quail. And button quail are more closely related to shorebirds.

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From livingxoutxloud.

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Working dogs are working dogs because they have behaviors that make them useful. Some of these useful behaviors have been further honed through advent of trials and working tests, although it is often debated about whether trials reflect the “real world” of a working breed. Either way, working dogs are bred behaviors, drives, motor patterns, and emotional reactivity that makes sense for the dog to complete the task at hand.

But are are these traits compatible with the needs of the pet home?  Generally, pet owners want a dog that is of moderate or low activity level and very low prey drive. Herding, retrieving, pointing, flushing, and the hunting behavior of scenthounds, sighthounds, and earthdogs  are all either modified predatory behavior or full predatory behavior. The dogs that perform best at these tasks have relativley high levels fo prey drive.  In some of these working breeds, an extremely high energy level and endurance is also necessary.

These traits simply do not fit well in most pet homes.  Most Americans work long hours, and while that does not mean that one cannot care for high-energy obsessive working dog, it does mean that most people are unable to make the time to do so.  Further, leash laws and fenced yards mean that most of these dogs wind up living like tigers in the old zoo cages. It also means that an intelligent,  highly active dog will come up with ways to amuse itself. Hole digging, landscaping, and home renovation could become wonderful diversions from an otherwise boring day.

So the traits that make working dogs excellent at what they do can make them lousy pets. It is possible to channel those traits into other work, which explains why border collies do so well at agility and flyball. However, the average person is better off with a low energy, low drive animal.

And what are these low-drive dogs?

Well, although they may have health problems, most of the  small brachycephalic breeds are low drive dogs. Great Pyrenees are quite low drive, and unlike other livestock guardians, some lines have really low protective instincts (of course, you don’t want that if you want a real livestock guardian.)

However, it is a bit of a mistake to choose working breeds that have been intentionally bred to be calm. You simply do not know how the addition of that one trait will effect the general temperament of the animal.

So when choosing a dog that has been bred for a purpose, one must consider how one intends to focus that dog’s abilities. Otherwise, the dog might prove to be a disaster.

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A good book to read


Tom Quinn’s The Working Retrievers.

It is not merely a retriever training manual. It is really a wonderful piece of nature and dog writing, coupled with lots of helpful advice on how to perfect a retriever’s instincts.

I don’t know whether I will follow all of his recommendations. I’m not a very good physical trainer. Plus, my breed is one that can be totally ruined if you go too far. My first and best dog could never have survived a force-breaking session. But she never refused a retrieve in her life and always returned to hand.

But whether I follow all of his advice or not, it is wonderful writing, and the paintings and photographs are superb.

I particularly like the anecdotes that add so much to the work. I particularly liked story about how the author and his brother once retrieved their own ducks from the water, before they finally realize that a dog might be a lot better at it. They come in contact with the concept of a retriever, when their hunting grounds are squatted upon. These hunters come camouflaged with fancy waterproof boots, and when they are done shooting, they have a red gun dog to pick up for them.  I wonder if the “Irish setter”  the author and his brother see retrieving ducks for these camouflaged hunters was actually a very dark golden retriever.

This book explains to me why the Lab is the “retriever’s retriever,” as the author puts it. Labs are extremely tough. They don’t have setter or spaniel-type bird dog instincts, but they do take direction well, even if harsher methods are used.

Goldens, even if they have a lot of drive and instinct, are often harder to develop using these methods. Goldens are smart dogs, but they were designed to retrieve shot grouse that fell in the dense tangles of heather. They have superb air scenting abilities and are good markers. However, they are very hard to regiment. They might do better at a more English-style trial than an American one, for they are really good at finding game. They just aren’t good at finding game as a regimented retriever. So not only do you have to find a golden with instinct, you have to have one that has instinct and can handle the actual “breaking” process.

The Working Retrievers is really good piece of writing that explains the author’s relationship to these wonderful dogs and to their use as working dogs.  It is about the dogs as dogs and nature as nature. It is also about developing the natural talents of these dogs and turning them into retrieving maestros.

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The Broholmer dates to the 1400's in Denmark.

The Broholmer dates to the 1400's in Denmark.

Everyone gets confused about a dog named the Great Dane. The Great Dane’s name in anglophone countries dates to the work of Buffon, who called the big, lightly built boarhound a Grande Danois.

The truth is the dog we call the Great Dane is actually a German breed. Its name in German is Deutsche Dogge (German mastiff).

However, there were Scandinavian mastiffs. The Swedes and Norwegians had a farm mastiff called the Dalbo Dog. It is possible that another breed existed in other parts of Norway that was known as the Norse dog.

There is also possible that the Norse during the Viking period had mastiffs, and it possible that when they raided England, they procured some of the big mastiff dogs that were common there.

The Danes developed their own mastiff for use on their farms. This breed is the last survivor of those Scandinavian mastiffs, although it is pretty obvious that English mastiff had a stronger role in this breed’s development.

I think the confusion between the German boarhound and this Danish breed led in part to the name confusion in English.

Boarhounds were also owned by Danish nobility. King Frederick III of Denmark had a boarhound named “Raro.” Raro was given to princess Magdalena Sibylle.


It is probably because of the association with the Danish royal family that the term “Great Dane” was developed for the dog.

However, the German boarhound has a really close relationship to the “Irish wolfdog” or Irish wolfhound. Some depictions of smooth-haired Irish woflhounds really strongly resemble the modern Great Dane.

So the real Great Dane is the Broholmer, but  the German mastiff or German boarhound was once favored by the Danish court. Our language help us much, does it?

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All Northern elephant seals have the same male ancestor.

All Northern elephant seals have the same male ancestor.

Northern elephant seals can be found in the Pacific from Alaska to Mexico. However, their main breeding beaches are on the coasts and islands of Baja California and the US state of California.

Whalers killed the seals for augment train oil loads. The seals have a thick layer of blubber, which can be boiled down to train just as easily as anything marine mammal.

The animals disappeared from US waters by the beginning of the twentieth century. The only known rookery for these seals that remained was the remote island of Guadelupe, which you might know  from Shark Week documentaries as home to many Great Whites.

The whole population may have dropped to as low as  50-100 individuals. This is a low number when you consider how these seals breed.

The cow seals come ashore first, where they give birth to their pups, which they have been carrying for for seven months. The full gestation of the elephant seal is roughly 11 months, but the embryos don’t implant until four months after mating.

The cows nurse their pups for about 24 days. By then the males have come to shore. It is at this time that the males claim sections of the beach through what are perhaps the most impressive fights in any species of marine animal. Just a few males get to claim the sections of the beach.

And those males breed the females. If you would like to see how large elephant seal harems are, check this video with Sir David Attenborough. (These are Southern elephant seals, which are bigger.)

This is really similar to the most-used sire phenomenon in purebred dogs.  However,  this was a natural breeding situation that was made worse through over-exploitation of the animals.

The seals have very low genetic diversity, which could mean that they are quite vulnerable. Genetic diversity gives wild animals a chance to survive epidemics and environmental changes. Within a diverse population, there will be animals that have some resistance to these factors, and these animals will be survive. They will pass these genes onto their offspring, and the species is saved.

If you have narrow gene pools, though, you have a population that may not have those resistant individuals, and if something bad happens, it could wipe them all out.

This same thing could happen to our livestock, especially poultry, which are all heavily inbred. We need to think about genetic diversity in our domestic stock.

So let’s hope the elephant seals don’t become suffer any severe challenges to their existence.

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Golden retriever enjoys the pool

This is wonderfully silly and eccentric.

From b0zer.

It’s an old-fashioned golden, and you know how much I love these dogs!

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The Obamas have picked a dog.

They are rescuing it. That’s the good thing.

Problem: it’s from a breed with really poor genetic diversity.

In 1975, there were 66 Portuguese water dogs and 85 worldwide.

All Portuguese water dogs descend from these animals.

It’s not that this is a bad breed. It’s not.

It’s that it is a relict. At one time, nearly every European country had a shaggy, low shed dog of the poodle type. The British version of this dog, and the precursor to the retrievers and water spaniel is the rough water dog, also known as the “water rug.” And relicts don’t have good genetic diversity. All of these dogs descend from a mere 30 dogs. That means they these dogs don’t have as many genetic cards to shuffle to breed for good health.

The Portuguese water dog is so inbred that it is model organism for genetics research.

I would say that in ten years that Portuguese water dog will have the following problems: 1/3 will have temperament issues and the average lifespan will be about 6 years.

This breed will not be able to withstand the popularity surge that is sure to happen. This surge will lead to puppy milling and uninformed backyard breeding. Both of which will lead to less genetic testing for disorders.

Ted Kennedy may have a pair of them, and he was probably instrumental in choosing the dog for President Obama.  He might like them, but if he really understood  their issues, he’d reconsider having the president choose one.

They need to do some more vetting, because the Portuguese water dogs will need a vet or two in the future.

I hope that this dog is chosen for the right reasons. Bill Clinton got Buddy the wild Labrador because he wanted a dog that made him look like a family man. This dog arrived on the heels of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. He was chosen because Labs were (and still are) the number 1 dog breed in America. He couldn’t be a black one because that dog wouldn’t photograph well. He couldn’t be a yellow one because the dog’s color would photograph too well. So a chocolate was chosen. And to make matters worse, he was a working-type chocolate- the wildest kind of Lab you can get!

I don’t think Buddy was really President Clinton’s favorite animal. I’ve always felt that he was just a photo-op dog. If Clinton had really wanted a Lab, he would’ve done lots of research and found that the working-type dogs are very energetic. He would’ve provided a lot of room for the dog to exercise, or he would’ve gotten a Cavalier King Charles spaniel, which is exactly what Reagan did.

Reagan received a Bouvier des Flandres puppy as a gift. The Bouvier puppy, named lucky, had very strong herding instincts. He also used his teeth to herd. The problem was he was herding the staff.

So Lucky got sent to Reagan’s Ranch.

And Reagan got a Cavalier named Rex.

(It’s not that Cavaliers are wonderfully healthy, but Rex fit their lifestyle far better than hard driving Bouvier. And for that, I do give the Reagans some credit.)

Update:  False alarm. Obamas still haven’t decided on dog.

The Portuguese water dog community can sleep soundly for now.

Update 4/13/09:  The Portuguese water dog community has proven to be very careful in the unveiling of the Obama dog. I doubt that this breed will be ruined as my earlier “chicken little” thoughts suggested.

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I have yet to find a video that so perfectly juxtaposes the mannerisms and movement of field-line goldens versus American show-line goldens. Well, here it is:

From LindsayAndLumi.

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