Tuesday, March 26, 2013

What Happens When We Butt Out

I love the thought going into the comments.

At this point, I don't have prepared answers, my opinions jump back and forth, but I'm sure coming up with some interesting observations and the input from the comments are adding fuel to the fire.

Once the dog/wolf  decided to commit to a partnership with humans and being just a dog, the changes just kept on coming.

Humans spread across the world, in spite of being weak, slow and, compared to most other mammals, pretty much naked. Our big brains and adaptability saved us. We relied on reason and thought over instinct and strength and it proved to be a success. We also used our dogs. There are theories out there supporting the idea that dogs are what secured the success of the human race.

When people adapted to colder climes with sealskin boots, blubber and polar bear zoot suits, their dogs grew hair and curly tails. The fluffy, curly tails made it easy for mushers to keep track of their team. At night, when the pack curled up to sleep, the tail provided a face warmer for the dogs noses against the cold.

Dogs helped on the hunt. Some became fine trackers, calling out as they went, so their slower people could find them. Some showed the where the game was by freezing and pointing, "Here, you big Dummy, right here!"

As sheep and cattle were domesticated, dogs learned to gather and guard them.  They did everything they could to help their humans. In gratitude, many cultures ate them. Obviously, culling the troublemakers continued.

The years passed. Dogs continued as our faithful companions. They evolved in sync with our needs.
Dogs weren't spayed or neutered, they just did their own thing. They evolved in two ways, through survival of the fittest and survival by figuring out what we needed.

There are a few parts of the world with truly primitive breeds of dogs. Dogs which have not been changed by the deliberate hand of man, but became who they were on their own.

Indian Pariah Dog
8000 BC

Australian Dingo
 5000 BC

New Guinea Singing Dog
3500 BC

Afrikanis Dog - 4700 BC

Potcake Dog

All of these dogs evolved trough natural selection. No matter where they come from they seem to always be well proportioned, black and tan dogs with primarily crop ears and short coats. Reading up on each breed told me they are healthy, pretty much free of genetic weaknesses or illness and long lived.

These dogs look like variations of the same breed.

If we had simply stayed out of controlled breeding is this what all dogs would look like?

In the colder regions, dogs looked like this.


Siberian dogs might have had longer hair, but they pretty much look like fluffy versions of the other ones.

Don't get me wrong, this wasn't the only type primitive dog, but natural selection does seem to produce a specific type of dog when left to its own devices.

While I was searching for primitive breeds, I looked at the dogs raised as meat in other cultures and had a bit of a shock.

Yes, these dogs are somebody's dinner.

This one is being bid on...to eat.

These dogs breed at random. I guess it is close to natural selection, since they are prey and not vaccinated or assisted. There are actual meat dog facilities, set up much like our puppy mills. There is a new trend to cross St. Bernards and Great Danes into the meat dogs, they grow fast and provide more meat in a shorter amount of time.

Excuse me for wandering off track, my actual point is, look how much the meat dogs look like the primitives.
I can't help but wonder if this type of dog emerges every time dogs are allowed to breed at random.

Here in the USA the closest we have to natural selection are the reservation dogs. You want to read about what happens when dog breeding isn't controlled in any way, just read a little about these populations.

While I was looking at the feral population on the reservations, I could clearly recognize breed crosses.Pit bulls, border collies and labs seem predominant. BUT...when I scoped out the mutts. The your-guess-is-as-good-as-mine dogs, they turned into some very recognizable dogs.

Give him another generation or two...

It seems to me, without our interference, dogs would all pretty much look the same. Sure, they would evolve and change with their climate and our needs, but if you give them twenty generations or so, they head right back to prehistoric times. Those primitive breeds have the same appeal as the newer models, they have pretty faces, eyes that talk right to me, nice hair coats and size.

I wonder if we were more appealing back then too.


Cindy D. said...

When I first saw your first picture I expected the next one to be Smooch from 7MSN.

That is some pretty interesting research, for sure.

Punks Kid Rock said...

The dogs up for meat auctions hurt my heart- companion animals should not be for human consumption, in my opinion. Of course, those dogs probably aren't companion animals where they are living.

Speaking of breeding in certain types to make better meat producers, someone was talking about how HYPP type Quarter horses would make a great meat producer. I see the terrible logic in that argument, and perhaps that is part of why there are not firmer rules against HYPP breeding?

Punks Kid Rock said...

Still thinking. It interests me that dogs seem to revert back to a basic "prototype" when given the opportunity. I wonder how long it would take something like a Bulldog or a Chihuahua to get back to their roots?

Anonymous said...


Then we have these guys too.

Derailing here
the "meat" dogs are very controversial. S Korea (I believe) they serve "Tortured Dog Soup"...yup, its as bad as it sounds. if you google it dont do it on an empty stomach

Anonymous said...

otherwise, very interesting research.

PS...Mugwump, I've been reading your blog since fhotd was popular and you were a poster :) Always enjoy your writting.

redhorse said...

Cindy D, me too, I just went to the blog and looked at a picture of her.

And yes, I believe dogs do end up looking the same if we leave them alone:


I believe there was a PBS program about these dogs a few years ago, and they discussed how much they look like dingos and Indian pariah dogs.


There's an interesting study of the evolution of the feral dogs in Moscow.

and a scary article from my neck of the woods:


look at the dog in the foreground.

oldredhorse said...

Bulldogs, at least the english type would probably not live to produce for all that long as most of them require birthing assistance and/or c-sections for live birth.
I do find the similarities in the primitive breeds to be very interesting.

Terrorized TrailGuide said...

It was interesting, in my visit to India the reserve we were on had a pack of semi-feral dogs. No one fed them or pet them, they were just there and they lived off table scraps.

Most looked similar you your pictures, a few were black and white, but there was one little female who was getting picked on constantly. We think she was probably in heat. She was very skinny and had cuts from the other dogs, we felt sorry for her so we have her some of our scraps and pet her and chased the other dogs away.

We even gave her a name. (When we told the people in charge this they laughed at us and thought we were crazy. Some of the locals asked us if we named our cows. They all have their names and personalities, but not the dogs. They were interested to find out that we were the opposite.)

Anyway, after just a a day or two of this treatment our little dog took to sleeping on our porch. She even chased the rotten little monkeys away. This was helpful since previously they'd thrown coconuts through our roof so they could steal our snacks. I just thought it was interesting how quickly she took to protecting our particular building.

The Dancing Donkey said...

I wish I could remember the name of the guy who did this study, but....there was a guy back in the 30's (??) who did a genetic study of dogs. He raised literally thousands of puppies from different crosses. For example, he would breed a Great Dane with a Pomeranian or a collie with a hound, etc. he would then breed those puppies with the other cross bred puppies. The results were that, regardless of the original parentage, within three generations all of the puppies were medium sized dogs with brown coats and black points. Exactly like the meat dogs above.

I used to work in an animal shelter and saw the same thing. An incredible over abundance of brown and tan mutts. They were always the hardest animals to adopt out because they didn't have anything "special" about them. The only way they ever found a home was if they had some kind of visible scar or missing appendage with a sob story to go with it. Any animal missing a leg was absolutely garuantedd to get a home. We used to have a running joke that the best thing we could do to get more animals adopted would be to lop off an appendage. I used to call it the three-legged dog or three-legged cat syndrome. Just try finding homes for 50 jet black kittens every month.

I appreciate your writings on this subject. You have really put into words so many of the thoughts and ideas that have been swirling in my mind for many years. It is good to see that someone else's brain works this way as well:)

Val said...

I am a science teacher, and I would like to share some information. I have found the discussion to be very interesting so far. I highly recommend the book *Merle's Door* for some wonderful insights regarding the history between dogs and man.

When speaking of natural selection, one must be careful not to fall into the trap of describing animals as acquiring adaptations that they need (such as long hair in a cold environment). This is the classic Lamarckian mistake and not natural selection as described by Darwin. Adaptation is only possible when a population maintains genetic diversity (some dogs are born with longer coats which may be more suitable for survival in a cold environment). The adaptations which "fit" the environment*, allow those individuals in a population to survive and reproduce. This is what "survival of the fittest" actually means, contrary to popular definition. So natural selection is definitely not random and neither is the breeding of wild/feral dogs.

*It would be more accurate to refer to the organism's niche, which includes selective factors beyond habitat.

My husband read something recently which suggested that wolves chose to co-habitate with humans as a survival strategy. While this may not have been beneficial to all wolves, certain individuals may certainly have had a better chance at survival by teaming up with humans (the genetic diversity expressed there would be of personality more than physical traits). Survival leads to reproduction and the propagation of more friendly wolves (the dog). Of course, humans exterminating ill-suited wolves expedited the process.

When genetic diversity is lost within a population, it cannot be replaced (within the same population), so assuming that Chihuahua's possess a slew of recessive traits (homozygous gene pairs), they would never be able to "revert" to a primitive-type dog. As for the primitive dogs, I would look at their environments (including food source and competing organisms, i.e. niche) for the similarity of traits expressed (short hair, color, size, intelligence, etc.).

As an aside, some genes physically exist on the same chromosomes, which is why certain physical characteristics are often observed together and may be difficult or nearly impossible (depending on how physically close the genes are on the chromosome) to separate even with selective breeding (by man). This could also partly explain why the feral dogs look similar and why it may be difficult to separate undesirable recessive traits (physical defects) from desirable ones (dog coat color, size, shape, etc.).

mugwump said...

Val- When I talk about an animal acquiring what it needs-long hair is a good example-I don't mean it grows the hair.

I mean the hairier dogs survive, because the non-hairy dogs died.

Could you please tell me what the popular definition is of natural selection?

I have always thought it meant the animal/plant more suited to its environment survived and the one that didn't died.

When I say random breeding, I mean Dog A can Breed with Dog B, Dog C and Dog D if everybody is willing because there is nothing to stop them. Or maybe he mates with G, H, and K instead because it's Thursday. that to me is random, again, what am I missing?

Am I not getting it somehow?

If a chihuahua is left to it's own devices and breeds with a terrier, and the resulting litter of pups grows up and crosses with a border collie and so on, why wouldn't the recessive genes in the chihuahua be weeded out?

I'm sure you don't think I was talking about letting just a group of chihuahuas breed at will and they would magically turn into pariah dogs, did you?

What I'm seeing is a return to a well-constructed, mid-sized dog, usually some version of black and tan, with short or upright ears, after a large population of different kinds of dogs are allowed to cross bloodlines without human interference.

MHH said...

"why wouldn't the recessive genes in the chihuahua be weeded out"

Recessives may be masked, but they don't disappear. They're still lurking in the DNA. And why assume the undesirable (or unsurvivable) Chi DNA is recessive to "middle-sized mutt"? Just a reminder, "recessive" is not the same as "bad", or "weak", or even "different than wild type".

One reason F1 crosses are usually preferred is that they're uniformly heterozygous. That is, the offspring of a cross of individuals from two highly homozygous lines tend to be more like each other than like either parental line (think Hereford-Angus cross, aka "black baldy"). Cross those offspring with each other or similar crosses and the results are more variable.

Gene frequencies in populations change through mutation, migration, selection, and chance. Disease-enabling recessives cannot be eliminated from a population by pairing them with a "healthy" dominant, only hidden.

In the Australian Cattle Dog (my breed), a simple recessive causes or contributes to the devlopment of an eye disease, progressive retinal atrophy. The dog goes blind, usually when the dog is past its prime as either a working or breeding animal. LOTS of ACDs carry the prcd gene. When a genetic test was developed to identify the prcd gene, and distinguish between clear, affected, and carier animals, a real concern was that otherwise outstanding animals would be discarded because they were prcd affected. That hasn't happened, for the most part, but the potential mates of outstanding affected animals are chosen from the clear and, occasionally, the carrier classes by careful breeders.

Short hair is dominant to long hair in dogs. Sable is dominant to black and tan. Erect ears are dominant to drop ears. So, yes, a randombred population of dogs is likely to include a preponderence of short-haired, sable dogs with sticky-uppy ears.

Anonymous said...

Incidentally, I'm convinced that the equine equivalent of the tan short-haired dog is the Mongolian pony. Sorry, folks, but this is what Nature wants horses to look like:



mugwump said...

If the ACD was let into our imaginary mix, wouldn't the ones who go blind eventually be weeded out, even if they were older when they lost their sight?

If anything, just because they would breed for a shorter span of years, be less effective hunters and slow down the group?

If a recessive gene is hidden, doesn't that mean it is no longer messing with the chihuahua?

When you weed, do you ever, actually get rid of the weed? Or is it merely hidden?

Seems to me there might be some hair splitting going on here.

The reason I assume the chihuahua will increase in size is because that's what happen when they are crossed with larger breeds. The next generation is bigger.There may be a few little ones, but they are outnumbered by the larger.

That doesn't come from a deep knowledge of genetics, it comes from volunteering at an animal shelter and paying attention.

Same thing happens with the great big dogs. When they're out-crossed, they get smaller.

I think it's fairy obvious to even the thickest of us that short, tan coats,uppy ears, medium size, solid builds and black points come from dominant genes.

This wasn't even close to my point tho.'

FYI - I go blind when people start throwing technical jargon around.

Becky said...

Man, they're gorgeous. Looks-wise, that's my favorite kind of a dog.

I wonder how they would compare to a bloodhound when tracking down a lost four year old child before she dies of exposure?

Just saying.

Here's what I think, and I'm going to sound like an a@@ for saying it, but there you go nonetheless:

The problem may not be that we're selectively breeding.

The problem may be that medicine advanced faster than nature could adapt itself to prevent the sickly monstrosities.

I'm thinking that without proper veterinary care most of those creepy, sickly purebred dogs would die out within a couple of generations. Sure, there'd be some outliers, but nature and its desire to survive would eventually squash them.

The answer then, without a doubt, is just to never take pets to the vet. Voila! Problem solved!

Wait. No. Crap.

Oh well. I thought I had it all figured out.

And if we looked like those dogs, we were definitely more attractive - long legs, tiny waists, piercing eyes, gorgeous red hair.... dude. We would have all looked like we belonged on the cover of a romance novel.

Heidi the Hick said...

Wow, I like Becky's version of prehistoric humans!

Hope I'm not taking it way off topic but I like the looks of those ancient dog breeds.

Karen said...

Here's the thing, for me: If you like that kind of dog, great. If you want a dog as a companion and that sort suits you, have at it. That dog is not going to out hunt, out swim and out retrieve my German Shorthair that is a result of a strict testing and selective breeding program in Germany. The dog is also very physically and mentally sound, probably the most mentally secure dog I have ever encountered. Selective breeding can be done well or it can be done horribly. Selecting for one trait, ignoring the overall fitness of the animal and actively selecting for traits that are counter to the fitness of the animal are all horrible ways to breed.

If you're interested in animals that quickly go back to a wild state, though, take a look at pigs. It only takes one generation of living feral for piglets to be born wild stripey and hairy. Crazy stuff.

But, I digress. If you want your troublesome recessive genes masked by dominant genes and the health of your animals secured by statistical probability: go for it. Turn them all out together and let nature take it's course. I'd rather see diseases eliminated and have animals that are physically and mentally suited to help me and be enjoyable to me in my life. I also prefer my horses with a little more size, smoother gait and a less developed flight or flight response than Nature likes to develop. I'm feeding the sucker.

If you LIKE mustangs or feral type dogs, there are plenty out there to adopt. Just because you've seen lots of poor specimens from people mucking up selective breeding doesn't mean the whole thing is bad.

mugwump said...

Karen - German Shorthairs - genetic defects - hip dysplasia, genetic eye diseases, epilepsy, skin disorders, cancerous lesions in the mouth, on the skin and other areas of the body. Breast cancer in unspayed females, gastric torsion, AKA bloat.

Karen said...

All those diseases are possible in the breed. My dog is a product of programs that actively select against those traits. Her biggest fault is a lack of self preservation, which goes along with a strong prey drive. I wasn't saying I found a perfect breed, I was saying that I found a dog produced by a good selective breeding program that produces healthy, fit, sound individuals with the characteristics of the breed-- hunt fur and feather, retrieve, track and swim. There are poor GSP breeders just as sure as there are good ones. If we want animals selected for certain traits, our duty is to breed them with an eye to their overall fitness, or to find programs that do. Your feral dogs can have all of those problems, too, as they are made up of breeds that have those problems.

Karen said...

That's what I've been trying to get at. Letting "nature take it's course" does NOT eliminate all of the genetic diseases. You will observe a lower incidence of the ones that are recessive, but they will still crop up when carriers mate with each other. Dominant diseases are still there. As extremes in conformation are mitigated, you will see some reduction in mechanical diseases (dysplasia, and the like), but they are still not eliminated. The only thing that throwing all the genes together does for me is make it a total crap shoot on what to look out for. If I'm breeding purebred dogs, I know what to look for and test for, based on the known problems in a breed. If I'm looking at Quarter Horses, I know to look into the probabilities of HYPP, GBED, PSSM, HERDA, and perhaps OLWS, if I'm breeding. Arabs have their known genetic diseases. Throw it all together, and what have you got? Those diseases are still out there, but now instead of running a 5 panel, a responsible breeder had no idea just how many diseases might be lurking in the DNA.

Karen said...

Also, I think throwing all the genes together and hoping for the best is lazy. We have genetic problems that we know about. We throw it all together, and that epileptic puppy or colt that has its skin slough off becomes "God's Will" or "bad luck." BS. You can breed well, poorly, or in between. If you don't have the gumption for a good breeding program, don't breed. There ARE good breeders out there. It is our responsibility to find them and support their efforts if we want something with particular traits. Otherwise, feel free to rescue, adopt, whatever.

Most of your modern dog examples look like American show dogs. Do a little more searching and look at the kinds of dogs being produced on the European continent, and you won't see the extremes that populate the U.S. show scene. Just because there is a large population doing it wrong, doesn't mean the whole jig is up.

mugwump said...

I understand your point and I did not find specific genetic info on pariah and feral dogs.

What I did find out though, the pariah dogs, which are not polluted with modern breeds, are long lived, healthy and virtually free of the diseases which plague our modern dogs.

There was no hip displasia, early cancer, bloat, eye issues, lethal white I could keep going.

In feral dogs, the modern problems are still there, but as the population progresses - on it's own- our genetically induced deformities quit showing up.

You can say the genes hide, recede, disappear, go away, whatever you want. All I know is dogs return to good health when left to their own devices.

Val said...

Hi Mugs,

I was referring to the popular definition of "survival of the fittest", not natural selection (I do not think there is a popular definition for that one). The popular definition is that the strongest survive, but the intended meaning is that those who best "fit" their environment will survive. The physical traits determine if the animals fits the environment.

When describing adaptation, try to avoid the words "acquire" and "need". Your description of longer-haired dogs out-competing shorter-haired dogs in a cold environment makes sense and correctly reflects natural selection. The presence of dogs with varied coat lengths is still only possible with genetic diversity. A population with a small gene pool will not show such variation of physical traits and adaptation will not be possible.

I said that dog breeding isn't random, because survival isn't random. The dogs that are left to breed have been selected by their environment (as you described). In addition, the social structure of a pack will also impact who gets to breed with whom.

The recessive genes of a feral chihuahua pack (there's an image) would not disappear, even if the pack interbred with Great Danes or something else. The recessive genes would be hidden by dominant genes and could be expressed in offspring that were homozygous for a particular recessive trait. This was just a theoretical example. I doubt that all chihuahua genes exist in recessive pairs, but what I do not doubt is that the genetic diversity of a manmade breed is low. (Recessive genes are not bad or weak. However, genetic diseases which are recessive may be hidden in a population and passed along. A population with lots of recessive traits has lost dominant genes, which is causing the drop in genetic diversity. Genetic diseases can also be caused by dominants traits, but if the disease is fatal, the individual may not survive long enough to reproduce.)

Anonymous said...

You wrote:
mugwump said...
I understand your point and I did not find specific genetic info on pariah and feral dogs.
What I did find out though, the pariah dogs, which are not polluted with modern breeds, are long lived, healthy and virtually free of the diseases which plague our modern dogs.
There was no hip displasia, early cancer, bloat, eye issues, lethal white I could keep going.

The key is the they havent been "tainted" by modern breeds, mixed breed dogs MAY develope the genetic "tics" of thier pure bred parents.
And what Karen was saying about her GSH is that people bred these dogs for a reason, a very specific reason, taking the best of the best and breeding to the best (initially) therefore breeds LIKE GSH would be better hunters than a wild dog, that is what they were bred for.

Compare a Thoroghbred to a Przewalski's Horse in a race...who will win?

mugwump said...

The TB will win -- until his ankles snap -- then the big P will slowly jog on by.

Anonymous said...

Thats my point Mugs, we've created animals that do something really really well, sometimes at the expense of health.

A mixed breed has a greater chance of picking those up than a truley wild critter. Also with "feral" I think you have the chance that the hereditary issues of his lineage will crop up.

If a HYPP pos stallion/mare got loose in the wilds of america and bred w/ mustangs (unlikely as they wouldnt survive out there but u get the idea)in a generation or twelve you'd probably STILL have horses out there that are HYPP carriers....probably feeding cougars and wolves when they convulse and die on the range land.

As always it depends on the

jay said...

Not trying to be rude, but I think it's ridiculous when people from Western cultures get uppity about people eating dog meat. Hello, we eat animals here that others are aghast by. While I do think the treatment of meat dogs is vile, so is our treatment of hogs and cattle.

mugwump said...

Jay - When people from other cultures are aghast by American eating habits I don't call them uppity.That would be pointless and combative.
I write a weekly food column for a small Colorado paper and have covered the treatment of animals in factory farms extensively.
So -- just because I am not into dog meat, it doesn't mean I condone the mistreatment of other animals
being raised as food either.
I am however, a Vegan who is a strong supporter of the farm and ranching industry.Not very uppity though.

PalominoPalofMine said...

I have to comment! even if I'm late. My parents' dog looks JUST LIKE all those primitive dogs. No wonder he's 12 years old and the vets wonder why he isn't acting "senior" yet. He's the best!

At this point the hubby and I just have cats & horses, but no dogs yet.

stephanie little wolf said...

Pariah Village dogs are a world wide phenomenon and truly Nature's dog. lots of modern mixes will throw back to these village dogs. even in the US there are village dogs, both in Alaska (interior village dogs - or coastal Eskimo dogs) and in the South in the Carolina dog which may or may not be a remnant pariah or a long term pariah morph (throw back)

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