Archive for July, 2009


The closest relative of the Arctic fox is the swift fox.

That’s the answer to “Arctic Fox Trivia.”

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bare-faced bulbul

Another new species has been discovered in Southeast Asia– this time in Laos.

The bare-faced bulbul is the only bald songbird in mainland Asia. It is about the size of a thrush, and we don’t yet know exactly why it is bald. It may have to do with communication between the sexes. It is found in the Laotian lowlands, where the trees are sparse and large areas of limestone karst are exposed.

A mining company funded the expedition which included experts from the Wildlife Conservation Society.

This is the first Asian bulbul species to be discovered in 100 years.

So it’s quite a lovely little find.

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Pet Travel Safety Tip

Don’t tie the dog to the bumper, forget about it, and drive off!


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show golden

Now, occasionally, I get comments (and sometimes very heated and very long discussions) that usually end up with someone showing me a show dog doing the work of a performance-bred dog. It doesn’t matter what the breed is. If there is a split between show and working forms, there will be someone who has a show dog that is used in working trials and tests, usually just to prove that they can do it.

It’s not so much that they can’t do it. I’m sure you can find dogs with working instincts in show lines.

It’s just that many of them lack the ability to do it efficiently.

Performance-bred dogs are developed for performance. Performance denotes conformation– not written standards.  Written standards might even be based in reality and have all sorts of science behind them, but in the world competitive dog shows, it’s what wows the judges and “what’s in style” that actually rules. And those “fancy points” or “flourishings” can be the exact opposite of what a dog needs to do its work efficiently.

I’ll just go to what I know best for an illustration.

I an working golden retriever, the absolute last thing you want is 8 or 9 inch feathering streaming of the dog. That much feathering can easily drag in the burrs if doing land work, and that much feathering will get bogged in the water, which will make the dog extremely slow and cumbersome in the water.

You also don’t want a dog with excessive bone. You want more bone than a setter, because the dog migh be working in very cold water and needs volume to retain heat. However, you don’t want the Newfoundland-type body in a working retriever.  You also want a more agile body that can really run out with style and has stylish water entry.You can’t get that by loading a dog up with bone.  Breeding for too short in the leg and too heavy in the body is a selection against stylish water entry and agility in the field

Now, a big Newfoundland can retain heat far better than any retriever, and it’s a much stronger dog. It’s also a much slower dog in the water, and if it’s running hard on land, its heat-retaining body is at a major disadvantage. And that’s why we need to keep in mind, that golden retrievers are not Newfoundlands. (This has to be repeated every once in a while.)

Now, golden retrievers have had very scientific and analytical revisions to their AKC. If you ever read a good golden retriever book, you’ll often get more detail in gait than you’ll ever read in any other breed book. However, all of the science that went into making sure the gaits were efficient didn’t stop the development of the golden Newfoundland dog.

Now, I’ve read defenses of breeding so much bone in goldens. It goes like this:

Tweed water spaniels were said (in one breed descriptions) to be heavily boned. Thus, it’s a good idea to breed for a lot of bone in a golden retriever, because it’s in keeping with the breed’s history.

1. Tweed water spaniels varied greatly in appearance. Some may have had more bone than others. When I look at the first litter of the Tweedmouth strain, I see dogs that are rather gracile in appearance and also are light gold in color (not cream). Their sire, Nous, is a heavier built dog, which was the style for wavy-coats in those days. However, when goldens and flat-coats were actively trialed, the main goal of most breeders was to breed out the heavier bone. That’s why flat-coats have their current conformation, and why most goldens, until recent decades, had very similar conformation.

2. Can someone show me a working Tweed water spaniel or Tweed water dog today? Oh that’s right, you can’t. The breed is extinct. It most likely got absorbed into golden, Labrador, and flat-coated retrievers. It may also have disappeared into the curly, which the other breed that is well-known to have had a bit of TWS in it. I usually prefer to call the TWS the “Tweed water dog,” because its characteristics were more similar to the St. John’s water dog and retrievers than other breeds of water spaniel. The other reason why the breed became extinct is that it probably didn’t have the conformation to really compete with the modern retrievers. The later accounts all suggest a dog with very heavy bone, and that’s a problem for a working retriever.

I’m sure that someone can find a show-bred golden doing retriever work. I’m sure they exist. However, that’s not my point.  A performance bred dog has actually been selected for generations to have the temperament it needs to do the work. And what’s more– its conformation has been selected by what works in the field, not what wins ribbons at dog shows.

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Yes, Michael Vick can now play for the NFL.

You can do whatever you want, so long as you can play football well.

Who would’ve thought that the real world was like high school?

Anyway, I do have a serious question. Would we be as outraged if Michael Vick had been caught cockfighting?

Probably not.

Because we eat chickens, and chickens are kept on farms in which “industry practices” are such that fighting them might seem more humane.

I should tell you that this has nothing– absolutely nothing– to do with race.

Dog-fighting is a sport for the demented. Of course, that’s very generous to even call it a sport.

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My political views

I don’t do politics (very much) on retrieverman. That blog is for dog sand dog related issues. I’m not interested in alienating anyone because we have different political views.

However,  I just need to make some things clear. My views are very similar to those of Michael Moore, except that I far more tolerant of America’s gun culture than he is. I’m not anti-gun in the least.

I’m a progressive populist who was raised in a very pro-labor household.

My grandfather was big in the Teamsters union. My parents, both educators, are big in the NEA. I was also raised in one of the poorest counties in America, and thus, I’m very conscious of those without economic or political power.

I’ve never voted Republican for president– ever. And if they stay the way they are right now, I never will.

My professional background is in politics.

I interned at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, and I was a delegate for my county at the 2008 West Virginia Democratic Convention.

I voted for the current president, yet I’m disappointed in a lot of his domestic agenda, especially his abandonment of the single payer health insurance system. Of course, I’m also disappointed at lots of other Democrats, who are stonewalling even the tepid Obama reforms, simply so they can raise money off the insurance and pharaceutical industry.

As for my social views, most people think that someone like me, who doesn’t drink or smoke and who also wears very conservative clothing, is a die hard Republican.

I do think hunting, trapping, and fishing are vital parts of conservation.

I’m not anti-hunter. I’m also not anti-farmer.

I understand rural issues, because I grew up in rural America.

But also understand progressive issues, and I know fully well that the New Deal was a blessing to my family all those years ago.

Those are my political views in a nutshell. I don’t know why I wrote this, but I just need to vent a bit.

Oh, this happens to be my favorite song, written by Eddie Pickford:


And this was my 11th commandment:


I’m very well versed in left-wing social movements and politics, including their histories. If you’d like to discuss them, you can do so. However, I’d rather not do it on the blog.

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Now, please don’t give me grief about the old wolves and mice thing. There are wolves that live on rodents. However, they aren’t in North America. They are African. Ethiopian wolves live in large packs (for some reason), and live on nothing but rodents and other small prey.

If you read the book on which this is based, the wolves do hunt caribou.

For those who quibble with the veracity of the work– it’s not entirely nonfiction. It’s partially ethnography and folklore. Most of the wolf “observations” are actually how the viewed Ihalmiut them. And they knew the wolves before we began to select them for reactive and nervous behavior through our persecution. So who knows what the truth was?

It’s basically a good read. And the film is good, too.

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The dog above is an American cocker spaniel. Very few of these dogs are ever used to do their original work– for obvious reasons. The very few that are used for this work are clipped very close. Many, however, don’t have working spaniel instincts. Indeed, you are more likely to find a Cavalier King Charles spaniel with working instincts than you are to find an American cocker with them.

Some of these dogs have very bad temperaments– the result of decades of unscrupulous breeding. This breed was once the most popular breed in the United States, and numb skulls started breeding.

I don’t know who thought it was a good idea to go crazy with the feathering on this dog. But whoever it was, they really had no interest in having a small flushing spaniel.

If you want a small flushing spaniel, there is an alternative.

Remember, there are two breeds of cocker spaniel in this country. The English cocker still has a working form.

Now, its mass-bred pet form in Europe is as screwy as the show American cocker– and then some. This is the breed of cocker that is well-known for a condition called avalanche of rage syndrome, which seems to be associated with the dark red color that is so popular in pet English cockers. This condition, as far as I know, doesn’t exist any cocker population in this country (it’s just regular aggression). But a dog with this condition will be nice one second, and then fly off the handle the next. Dogs with this condition are often euthanized. I’ve heard of this condition in English springer spaniels in this country, but not in the cocker breeds.

The working form of English cocker is very much like a small working English springer that comes in more colors than the springer. And they do look like gun dogs.

working english cocker

Yes, that's a cocker. That's not a giant pheasant!

And another one:

field cocker

I could see myself with one of these working English cockers.

Small dogs are much more useful in heavy cover than large ones. And actually, the are more useful than short-legged dogs. Anyone who runs beagles knows this. Those 13 inch dogs are very good in dense cover.

A little spaniel can get into dense cover that a bigger one might not be willing to traverse or even reach.

But if you load one up with coat like the modern American cocker, you are just shooting yourself in the foot.

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Have a look at this!

And here’s one fetching a gray fox!

The Germans love to use their Drahthaars for other purposes.

We Anglophones prefer to have division of labor among hunting dogs.

On the European continent, this is not the case.

In Germany and other German-speaking countries, there are a few national HPR’s that are meant to do it all. Even dachshunds and jadgterriers are often expected to do things that we wouldn’t expect, like retrieve shot game. Believe it or not, but fox terriers and Jack Russells are used on boar in those countries.

The French have the same system, but they are very much into regional varieties, many of which occur in a basset (short-legged), griffon (wire-haired), grand (big), and petit (small) varieties.

It was only foppish British gentlemen who believed that there should be retrievers that only retrieve game, flushing spaniels that only flush game, and index dog that point game. And scent hounds are entirely out of the picture. A forester or game-keeper would never keep a few hounds or scenting dogs just for the purpose of finding wounded game, but in German-speaking countries, that’s still very much the custom.

But in most Europe, a working hunting dog is supposed to play the role of a jack of all trades.


Now, I’m going to have to do a post in a few days on what the difference is between a Drahthaar and what we call a German wire-haired pointer.  It gets confusing, and of course, it gets controversial. Let’s just say that if those are two separate breeds, I hereby suggest that the working form of golden retriever secede from the show version.

The Germans have generally been smarter dog breeders than we have. If it has a function, it must be able to prove itself at that function. Now, that system has detiorated over the years, but it’s better than what we have over in the English-speaking countries and light years ahead of what we have in the US.

It’s got them to this point: a show quality Weimaraner can still do its work.

Imagine that!

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Vintage Steve Irwin

Just when you think he’s got the shark close to the boat to look it over, he jumps in!


And you wonder why this used to be my favorite show!

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