Archive for August, 2011

This dog’s image comes from a site that says it is 40 percent “Timberwolf” and 60 percent “Norwegian elkhound.”

I don’t know if those percentages are accurate or if this dog has any recent wolf ancestry at all.

But it is said to howl. Norwegian elkhounds really don’t howl. They are know for their barks. I remember my grandpa’s elkhound would rake his back on the lower rung of a split-rail fence in the front yard, and he would bark each time he raked his back against the rail.

I don’t know why anyone would puff an elkhound as being part wolf.

All Norwegian and Swedish elkhounds can have relatively recent wolf ancestry. 

I am skeptical that this particular dog is of recent wolf ancestry.  It might be. It looks more like a wolf than the F1 poodle/wolf crosses that Erik Zimen bred.

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This is said to be a “Victorian painting” of two “golden retrievers” and a “boxer.”

I can definitely say that the dog on the right is not a boxer. It is a bulldog.

The other two dogs might be golden retrievers, but they are very light in the eyes.

And one is unusually light in color for the time period. Such dogs existed but were generally frowned upon within the strain that became the golden retriever.

I think these are retrievers, though, but they might not be “golden retrievers,” as in they are part of the same strain that became the modern golden retriever. There were strains of “white wavy-coated retriever” that existed independently of that strain, as did several strains that produced yellows and reds.

These two dogs really could be golden retrievers as we know them today, or they could be from another strain of wavy-coated retriever.

If anyone knows anything about this painting– year, artist, and the identity of these three dogs– it would be greatly appreciated if you could pass on this information.


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The image above come from Newfoundland and Its Untrodden Ways (1907) by John Guille Millais, an English artist, naturalist, and travel writer. He was an ardent conservationist and was instrumental in founding the Society for the Preservation of the Wild Fauna of the Empire, which now is Fauna & Flora International.

Millais examined many different aspects of Newfoundland’s culture and natural history in this book, but he possessed a very strong British aversion to free-roaming dogs, seeing them as a major hindrance to developed a wool and mutton industry.

One of the first things that would have to be done would be the shooting of ownerless dogs, and stringent laws would have to be enacted that the owners of dogs must keep their dogs in check and under proper supervision. A man who allows his dog to stray should be heavily fined. At present these half-wild “Labrador” dogs roam the country in spring and autumn, searching for anything they can kill. Once a dog has killed a sheep, it is very cunning, and will not murder in its own neighbourhood, but travels far afield to commit regular depredations (pg. 146-147 )

The custom in Newfoundland was to allow the dogs to roam freely when they weren’t needed for work on the fishing boats. At the time Millais was exploring Newfoundland.  At the time Millais was visiting Newfoundland (the autumn of 1900), the dogs really weren’t needed to haul and set nets and lines. The fishery was more or less mechanized. However, the dogs still were needed to haul loads, especially lumber, and they were of great utility in retrieving ducks and sea birds.  They were also used to hunt rock and willow ptarmigan and spruce grouse in the island’s interior.  They were also good for retrieving shot seals, and they also could be used to hunt snowshoe hares, which were introduced to the island in the 1870’s.

In Labrador, they were used for all the above tasks, but they were also used as sled dogs– often cross-bred with the indigenous hauling  breed, which we now call the Labrador husky.

The dogs were the product of a people fully dependent upon the natural world for survival. They needed the dogs for a wide variety of tasks. The notion that one should try to control one’s dogs at all time made little sense to people who were accustomed to letting them roam and learn about nature on their own.

Because Millais was writing about the dogs during his visit in 1900, we can also see exactly how effective the Sheep Protection Act of 1885 actually was. This is the act that is often said to be the main force behind making the St. John’s water dog extinct, for it allowed different  municipalities in Newfoundland to levy high dog taxes and even ban dog ownership outright. However, the municipality had to have some interest in promoting sheep production in the first place, and in the outports, the dogs continued to be kept as they always had been. And it was that way until the 1970’s, when the last “pure” St. John’s water dogs died.  Contingents of free-roaming black water dogs still exist in some parts of Newfoundland, but these are almost entirely modern Labrador retriever in ancestry.

As much as Millais complained about them as sheep predators, he did have some good things to say about their excellence in the water and as hauling dogs:

The dogs, which seem to be well nigh amphibious, rush barking through the pools, and at low water search the shores for discarded cod-heads.

The best dogs are of the “Labrador” type. In winter they are used for hauling logs—one dog will haul 2 or 3 cwt. Seldom more than two are used together. The pure Newfoundland dogs are curly, and are a little higher on the leg than are the Labradors (pg. 145).

I have never heard of this distinction anywhere else in the literature, but because these outport communities were quite isolated– as were virtually all settlements in Newfoundland and Labrador– it seems to me likely that each community would produce a slightly different type of their working dogs.

There is no mention of long-haired dogs, which I think were largely exported to Britain and the United States, to found the retriever and large Newfoundland breeds.  And there is no mention of giant Newfoundlands on the island. The only distinctions between the dogs are of leg length and coat type– not size.

There may have been giant dogs on Newfoundland at one time, and it is well-known that the modern large Newfoundland is a powerful animal.  However, one gets a bit of diminishing returns when a dog hits that size. Yes, the big Newfoundland can haul more massive loads, but a dog of that size overheats more easily. Even in Newfoundland, it can get warm enough to make a dog overheat. Further, a giant dog eats a lot of food. If one reads any history of dogs in Newfoundland, the dogs ate mostly cast off meat and fish. A giant dog would have a hard time finding enough nutrition to fully thrive in those conditions. It also wouldn’t be so nice to have such a large dog on a fishing boat, where conditions are quite cramped.

I think the bulk of the evidence suggests that the giant Newfoundland dog was really a creation of Europe and the United States. There may have been some larger dog on the island with long-hair, but these likely weren’t significantly larger than St. John’s water dog type. From these dogs the giant Newfoundland was developed.

Of course, all of this is debatable, and it has been quite hotly contested since the early nineteenth century.  “What is the ‘true’ Newfoundland dog?’ is a question that has resulted in many, many arguments. And none of it is settled. Keep in mind that much of what we know about these dogs comes from Europeans who never saw these dogs in Newfoundland, and their perspectives might be quite inaccurate.

But the St. John’s water dog or “Labrador” was a truly rugged creature.

By the accidents of history, it lived as dogs had for millennia. The humans who owned these dogs were primarily hunters, trappers, and fishermen. Some did a little small farming. Some kept some sheep and cattle. Many more kept chickens.  But wild nature was the primary source for their sustenance, and they needed a dog that could be as well-versed in nature’s savagery as they were in taking commands.  Hunting man domesticated the dog, and these dogs lived with hunting man.  Unlike many other dogs in the same cultural situation, these people were Westerners whose native tongue was English.  They were mostly refugees from an industrial and late mercantile society, who had come to this wild country in the northwestern Atlantic to live as free men.

Large-scale agriculture was something they largely shunned.

They didn’t need collies or farm dogs.

They needed dogs that could hunt and swim.

And that’s what the St. John’s water dog became.

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Identify this bird

The Answer.

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(Source for images)

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“Red fox on stilts”

The perfect name for the maned wolf!

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Source for image.

This particular golden looks like a red flat-coated retriever.

Brown skinned dogs are genetically livers or chocolates that have the e/e genotype that prevents the brown pigment from appearing on the coat.

See earlier post:



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From Science Daily:

As wolf populations grow in parts of the West, most of the focus has been on their value in aiding broader ecosystem recovery — but a new study from Oregon State University also points out that they could play an important role in helping to save other threatened species.

In research published in Wildlife Society Bulletin, scientists suggest that a key factor in the Canada lynx being listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act is the major decline of snowshoe hares. The loss of hares, the primary food of the lynx, in turn may be caused by coyote populations that have surged in the absence of wolves. Scientists call this a “trophic cascade” of impacts.

The increase in these secondary “mesopredators” has caused significant ecosystem disruption and, in this case, possibly contributed to the decline of a threatened species, the scientists say.

“The increase in mesopredators such as coyotes is a serious issue; their populations are now much higher than they used to be when wolves were common in most areas of the United States,” said William Ripple, a professor in the Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society at OSU.

“Before they were largely extirpated, wolves used to kill coyotes and also disrupt their behavior through what we call the ‘ecology of fear,'” Ripple said. “Coyotes have a flexible, wide-ranging diet, but they really prefer rabbits and hares, and they may also be killing lynx directly.”

Between the decline of their central food supply and a possible increase in attacks from coyotes, the Canada lynx has been in serious decline for decades and in 2000 was listed as a threatened species. It also faces pressure from habitat alteration, the scientists said, and perhaps climate change as lower snow packs further reduce the areas in which this mountain species can find refuge.

In numerous studies in recent years, researchers have documented how the presence of wolves and other large predators helps control populations of grazing ungulates including deer and elk, and also changes their behavior. Where wolves have become established, this is allowing the recovery of forest and stream ecosystems, to the benefit of multiple plant and animal species.

Lacking the presence of wolves or other main predators in both terrestrial and marine environments, populations of smaller predators have greatly increased. Other studies have documented mesopredator impacts on everything from birds to lizards, rodents, marsupials, rabbits, scallops and insects. This includes much higher levels of attacks by coyotes on some ranch animals such as sheep, and efforts attempting to control that problem have cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

Scientists have concluded that exploding mesopredator populations can be found in oceans, rivers, forests and grasslands around the world.

“In the absence of wolves, coyote densities and distributions generally expanded in the U.S., into the Midwest, to the northeast as far as Newfoundland, and as far northwest as Alaska,” the researchers wrote in their report.

Where wolves recovered, as in Yellowstone National Park, coyote populations were initially reduced by 50 percent, Ripple said. Although more sampling will be required, early evidence indicates that a snowshoe hare recovery may be taking place.

As these issues are factored into decisions about how to manage wolves, the researchers said, it’s also important to maintain what they call “ecologically effective” wolf populations, the researchers wrote in their study. The full value of these top predators, and the numbers of them it takes to achieve a wide range of ecological goals, should be more thoroughly researched and better understood, they said.

The issue of “mesopredator release” has been studied rather extensively in recent years.

My favorite study on mesopredator release happened in suburban Southern California.  Michael Soule found that in areas where suburban coyotes frequented, there were more songbirds. Why?   The coyotes in this environment where not the mesopredators. They were the apex predators, and they served the songbirds well. Domestic cats, both owned and feral, are known to be major predators of native birds, but in North America, their kryptonite is the coyote. Coyotes eat lots of cats in suburban environments. And the cats, not being fools, know to avoid areas where they might meet a coyote. It is in those areas of suburban Southern California where songbirds nest.  Coyotes really don’t care about bird nests, especially if they are up in trees, but they do care about cats.

In addition to the possible assistance that wolves could provide Canada lynx, it also been established that wolves have helped pronghorns fully establish themselves in Yellowstone.  When wolves were extirpated from the Yellowstone region, the coyote population shot up, and the coyotes began to take advantage of many different predation opportunities. When the female pronghorns dropped their fawns, the coyotes would swarm in and catch them. This predation prevented pronghorns from ever establishing the large numbers that had been expected for the species at Yellowstone.

When wolves were reintroduced, the coyote population was halved, and the coyotes tended to stay out of the open areas around the Lamar Valley, where the pronghorns gave birth to their offspring every year.

If wolves succeed in reducing the Canada lynx’s problems from coyotes, it will be a good thing for this species. It is not very common in the United States anymore, but it once ranged rather extensively through the northern tier and down the Rockies.

These lynx do exist in Canada at fairly large numbers, where there are also plenty of wolves. Wolves and Canada lynx really are not competitors. Canada lynx are almost entirely snowshoe hare specialists, and they tend to inhabit much more densely wooded places than wolves do.

However, coyotes do frequent these very densely wooded areas, and they are not above killing a lynx’s kittens.  An adult Canada lynx could kill a coyote on its own, but if confronted with a family group of coyotes, my guess is the lynx wouldn’t stand and fight.

The real problem with Canada lynx and coyotes is the same that existed between dingoes and thylacines. Canada lynx are too specialized to one species of prey, while coyotes are generalists, taking not only the lynx’s specialist prey but also other species, which allows their numbers to exploded. In Australia, the thylacines were specialized in hunting small macropods and other smaller prey, but when the dingo or proto-dingo arrived in Australia, they were able to hunt both large and small prey. They were able to take most of the thylacine’s prey from it and augment their diet with large macropods.

Specialization has proven to be the death of so many species, and it would be a shame if the generalist coyote would push the Canada lynx over in this fashion.

So maybe if the wolves do keep the coyotes down, the great northern cat can once again be on the increase.

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The goldens are working type dogs of the conventional sort, but the cockers are of the old-fashioned, long-backed strain.

Hey, they got a crow!

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Painting by George Horlor (1851).

The dog at his feet is a bloodhound, a dog that any Highland ghillie would need to track wounded deer.

The identities of the other two are less clear.

I think they are setters. Solid white and gold-colored setters were not unknown in the nineteenth century.

But then again, cream-colored and gold-colored retrievers were not unknown in the nineteenth century either.

Gordon setters were very similar to wavy-coated retrievers in conformation, and they were also known to come in the reddish gold color.

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