Archive for March, 2010

Is Cesar Millan God?

Not even spelled backward.

The crux of it:

Habituation and extinction are an incomplete, to be charitable, explanation of what happened with Jonbee. Rather than simply habituating Jonbee to touch and teaching him that fighting for control is a waste of energy, Cesar did do what he set out to do. He got Jonbee to submit to being handled inside by continuously administering aversive stimulus with two chokers. Jonbee became exhausted and gave up.

Uh. Mission accomplished, I guess.

–Eric Goebelbecker

It is either exhaustion or learned helplessness.

Neither of which is actually dog training or “dog rehabilitation.”

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This photo comes from W.E. Mason’s Dogs of All Nations, which was published throughout the 1910’s.

This breed of toy spaniel has a very strong influence from the pug. As I have noted before, the original toy spaniels were more like the papillon, although without the spitz characteristics. Crosses with the pug  are believed to have flattened the face, but the Belgian griffons, the Japanese chin, and the pekingese could have also played a role.

There was also a short-haired companion dog that was very similar to a toy spaniel that was never given a name. Someone tried to reconstruct this breed in the 1990’s by crossing whippets and Cavalier King Charles spaniels. The breed was called  Tudor hound, but I have heard nothing from that particular breeding program since the late 90’s.

Nothing is cuter than a toy spaniel with a flattened face.

They remind me of muppets.


These little spaniels originally had a function.

They were often used as hunting dogs.

Pisanello depicted two small spaniels at the foot of the horse in The Vision of St. Eustace

The spaniels were probably not contemporaries of the real St. Eustace, who was a soldier in Trajan’s army.

But they were contemporaries of Pisanello, who lived during the fifteenth century.

A closer look at these spaniels reveals that they are not that much like modern English toy spaniels:

These spaniels resemble solid red phalenes (which we North Americans consider a variety of Papillon). They are phalenes without the spitz influence.

And the fact that Pisanello portrayed them them as hunting dogs very strongly suggests that they were of some use on the hunt. Small spaniels have always been the tool of the beater, who wants to drive a bird or lagomorph from dense cover.

But their cuteness also made them very popular among the nobility as pets, and that’s  why toy spaniels are not often thought of as flushing dogs. However, both English toys and Cavaliers have flushing instincts, and the papillon/phalene breed is known for being very easy to train.

Because the English toy is so brachycephalic and because the Cavalier is so unhealthy, they aren’t the first choice for anyone wanting to train a working spaniel.

But I have heard of Cavaliers being trained to hunt rabbits.

So it is possible that one could be working as a flushing spaniel.


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Arctic fox vixen and kits


This footage was taken on Svalbard.

Arctic foxes are notoriously unafraid of people, and early Arctic explorers even kept them as pets.

They are very closely related to the swift fox of the North American prairie.  Traditionally, kit and swift foxes were considered to be the same species, but it was found that in terms of their genetic make-up, kit and swift foxes vary as much from each other as swift foxes vary from Arctic foxes.

Arctic foxes usually have quite large litters. However, very few kits in an individual litter will survive to weaning. Even fewer will survive to adulthood.

These little foxes often follow polar bears out onto the ice, where they scavenge the bears’ kills. They are the jackals of the ice. I suppose that any animal that has developed enough courage to scavenge off a polar bear is going to have enough courage to scavenge off of people.

And that may be why it was so easy for trappers and explorers to take these animals. In the polar regions, a fox must take food where it find it. Excessive caution can be death sentence, just as too little caution spelled doom for countless species native to islands. Curiosity really did  kill the fox.

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The brown hyenas of Namibia’s Skeleton Coast are known to hunt Cape fur seals in this manner.

In two of Namibia’s official languages (German and Afrikaans), the name for this animal is Strandwolf.  It literally means “beach wolf.”

Sir David Attenborough also makes a mistake in this piece.

Did you catch it?

It’s the first time I ever caught in saying something wrong about an animal.

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This is my favorite dog book.

It is probably the most important dog book to come out since Lorenz’s (very flawed) Man Meets Dog.

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Monogamy in Poison frogs

Very interesting stuff

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Reconstructing the Quagga


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I’m going to be off and on all day today.

So I’m setting up the chat room a bit early.

I would like to know what you think of the new design.

I think our threading issues are over.

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Discussions about dogs can get quite heated. Anyone who frequents this blog certainly would be aware of this fact.

On another blog, a post appeared about possible end of greyhound racing as a commercial gambling enterprise. In the comment section, a great debate erupted about whether racing greyhounds’ high incidence of osteosarcoma was the result of breeding practices or injuries the animals receive while being pushed to the limit as racing animals.

Inherent in this debate is whether performance registries are necessarily better than show registries. I believe that in some of the comments there was an implication that because these animals are bred for an actual use, their registry was still better than the American Kennel Club.

Of course, the problem is that there is no consensus about what causes osteosarcoma in dogs. We do know that bigger dogs with relatively long legs are susceptible to this form of bone cancer, but exactly why it develops is still being debated.

Within greyhounds, there are two basic hypotheses, neither of which make the racing greyhound industry or its registry look particularly good:

1. Greyhounds get osteosarcoma because of the injuries they regularly received when they are being run at such high levels of competition.

2. Breeding practices have ensured that the genes that predispose greyhounds to osteosarcoma are deeply ingrained in the racing greyhound gene pool.

If the first hypothesis is true, then it is the racing industry that is to blame for the high incidence of osteosarcoma in greyhounds. The animals are simply being run too hard and injured too often.

If the second hypothesis is true, then the registry system for the racing greyhound (the NGA) isn’t much better than the AKC system. Indeed, it would actually be a worse registry. The AKC greyhound is generally a healthier dog than the racing strain–it’s just not as fast!

The leading authority on osteosarcoma in the greyhound is Dr. Guillermo Couto. Dr. Couto’s research on ex-racing greyhounds found that the injury hypothesis probably isn’t correct. Because of how the dogs are run, most injuries are on the right side of the dog. You’d expect osteosarcoma to appear on the right side more if the injury hypothesis is correct. Osteosarcoma appears on both left and right sides of racing greyhounds. (Correspondence with Jen Krebs who had discussed this issue with Dr. Couto.)

That means that there are genetic issues at play here.

It has become somewhat mindless in some working dog circles to suggest that working registries are the magic cure to all the problems affecting dogs. Working dog registries often get a pass in some circles, simply because they are an alternative to the AKC. However, these registries must be scrutinized as much as we scrutinize the multi-breed Moloch.

In this case, I don’t think one could make the argument that breeding greyhounds for racing has made them healthier.

Although I’m not going to paint every racing greyhound enterprise with the same brush, the market forces that affect the breeding of greyhounds are really not ones that encourage a breeder to select for health.

The animals are almost always retired before they are two or three years of age. Mandatory retirement age is five years old. These breeders do not know what diseases they are selecting for or against in their lines. They are selecting for animals that can perform for that narrow window of years. They aren’t into breeding dogs that can live 15 years.

It’s the same way with the meat animal industry. The goal of a hog farmer is to produce an animal that matures quickly and has the right kind of flesh. The goal isn’t to produce a long-lived animal.

It has only been with in the past decade or so that adopting retired racing greyhounds has been promoted. When this happened, we got a firm understanding of what sorts of disorders exist within those strains.

They aren’t the most healthy animals.

And they really didn’t have to be.

They just had to perform for those years in which they could be profitable racers.

After that, they got retired.

Now that sounds like the dogs go to a nice home and sleep on the sofa. Luckily for many dogs, this sort retirement is a possibility.

But for many greyhounds that have outlived their racing usefulness, retirement has meant an early death– euthanasia for the lucky ones, a bullet in the head for the less fortunate.

These animals are the equivalent of pro-athletes in the canine world. Human pro-athletes get paid a lot, because they give a lot in terms of their health, their family, and their emotional health. They rightly receive the money they earn from their occupations. They generate  high profits for their owners .

Greyhounds do all of these things. It’s just that they don’t get to retire to million dollar mansions.

Some of them dog get to live the good life once their racing days are over. In a just world, they all would.


I would like to thank greyhound advocate Jen Krebs and Jess Ruffner-Booth for providing me information on racing greyhounds.

Jess is a regular on the blog, and she told me that it was the injuries that cause the incidence of bone cancer in greyhounds. I hope she can forgive me for disagreeing with her.

Jess is a great source for information on sight hounds. I check out her blog regularly for information on something called a “Halfghan.”

I know this debate will probably rage on for a while, but the genetic basis of osteosarcoma is currently being explored as part of the Canine Hereditary Cancer Consortium.

I have lost a dog to this particular cancer. She was a golden retriever/boxer x. There was no incidence of this cancer on her golden line, but on the boxer line, it did exist.

So I am very interested to see what the results are.


I am leaning toward it being a genetic issue, but I am willing to entertain the injury hypothesis.

But I think this information should tell us to scrutinize all working registries.

Maybe greyhounds will disappear if racing disappears.  When was the last time you saw an otterhound?

But they are such good pet animals that they could be retooled for dog sports.

Otterhounds never were retooled.  I do worry that they will disappear, although they could be used as griffon-type pack hounds for other game species (except for the UK, of course.)

But it seems to me that enough people love greyhounds to be able to do this.

And there are enough of them right now to actually get something started.


The most famous greyhound in the world is Santa’s Little Helper.

It’s the one case of Homer Simpson doing something socially responsible (kinda).

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The pigs

These piglets are red river hogs or, as Camera Trap Codger called them in German,  “Pinselohrschwein.” The scientific name is Potamochoerus porcus. The genus name is derived from the Greek words for river (“Potamos”) and pig (“Khoirus”). The species name is the Latin name for the word pig (“porcus.)

I figured that a lot of my readers would think them some form of Eurasian wild boar.  Pure European wild boars are born with these stripes, and some of the hybrid feral stock in the US are born this color.

However, the ears give the identity of these piglets away.

As adults, they will lose these stripes. Long tassels will grow on their ears. They will get quite shaggy, and a white dorsal stripe will appear. The hair on this dorsal stripe can be raised.  Their faces already have the distinct masking that will become even more obvious once their muzzles become shaggy.

Red river hogs as adults.

The stripes on the piglets are camouflage. The sows have them in dense thickets, and if a predator comes by, the piglets remain motionless. The stripes break up their outlines in the leaf litter, and many predators walk past them.

As adults, they can raise the hair on their white dorsal stripes to make themselves appear larger. They can also swim and run from predators.

These animals are native to Central and West Africa, where they frequent forests, riparian areas, and savannas.  Another species in the genus Potamochoerus is the bush pig, which lives in Eastern and Southern Africa.

Historically, the red river hog was considered a form of the bush pig. However, they are now considered separate species.

The two animals do interbreed, and there is a definite progression from bush type animals to red river hog type animals. It is still possible that these animal represent a still possible that these animals represent a single species.

And you thought wolf taxonomy was bad!

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