Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Closing In On It...

When I think about our relationship with dogs, I truly feel our two species are meant to be together. 

Feel free to credit God for this coupling, or Nature, or my Great Aunt Harriet. Why we're together doesn't matter much to me, I'm just grateful for my dogs.

Dogs were designed to comply with human needs. They change shape, attitude and athletic ability within generations to fit into our lives and our laps. Petting a dog releases serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin, and decreases our levels of cortisol. Dogs experience the same chemical release we do, so they’re all over the petting deal too. They are the Narcissist's dream, a real genie in a bottle.

Bloodhounds - 1910
Bloodhound - 2013
The ability to morph into the dog of our dreams is because dogs possess uniquely malleable DNA that allows specific genetic traits such as size, temperament, snout shape, tail length, etc. to be easily altered by selective breeding. Dogs lend themselves to genetic manipulation for lots of reasons, including their large number of chromosomes — 78 (humans have 48) — and their inability to stop us from setting them up on blind dates.

Pug - 1850

Pug - 2013
Combine this with dogs unending devotion to the human race and we were given a species we can change to fit our needs within a few generations. I don't have a problem with this, like I said, I think this is how things were supposed to work.
We began to get breeds within the species early on. Sight hounds, guard dogs and a few fiesty lap dogs were the first. Then the spaniels, bloodhounds and herding dogs appeared. All of these breeds, even the lap dogs  developed with a purpose (foot warmers).

German Shepherd Dog - 1895

German Shepherd Dog - 2013

Things didn’t get crazy until the introduction of the Victorians. The Victorian era was an intellectual mess. Theories abounded without the science to support them. The weight of religious beliefs, Darwinism and class distinction led to an age of justification (this is where my opinion comes in).
Bull Terrier -- 1900

Bull Terrier - 2013

“Survival of the fittest,” a phrase often credited to Darwin, was actually coined by English philosopher Herbert Spencer, who first used it in his 1864 book, “Principles of Biology."

Darwin’s theory of natural selection is that "only the most well-adapted individuals in a population will survive and reproduce."

 Spencer's phrase took into account social factors like wealth and power. Spencer believed that individuals who possessed these traits were more fit, and hence, more likely to survive.

Golden Retriever - 1912

I'm completely confused. When did hydrocephalus become
a desirable trait?
Golden Retriever - 2013

This became the mantra for the Victorian era, justifying the suffering of the poor because they were unfit for a better life. Form became more important than function.
I know, I know, what does this have to do with dogs, or better yet, horses? Bear with me, I’m moseying down a trail here that should take me full circle.

Labrador Retriever - 1908

Show Labrador Retriever - 2013

Here's an interesting twist. In order to still be able to use Labs for hunting, they are breeding these.
Champion Field Labrador - 2013
During this same time, those wily Victorians created dog shows. Imagine how exciting it was to find out how easy it was to create breeds with in the breeds. New breeds sprang up like crazy, along with rewards dependent on how each breed met a criteria based on looks.

Basset Hound - 1900
Basset Hound 2013

This was a perfect forum to prove the rightness of class distinction. If it was pretty and cost a lot of money, it was better.

Boxer - 1900

Boxer - 2013

We haven’t quick messing with our breeds since. It is almost impossible to find a breed that looks anything like it's forefathers. We tweak, and mess around and in the process have created dogs that can't hunt, dogs that don't guard, dogs that won't herd and dogs can't breath, walk, or live for more than eight years without cancer.

Rough Collie - 1878

Rough Collie - 1910

This deaf and blind blue merle collie sired, not one,but two of the collies
in this years Westminster Dog Show, including the winner.
He is what is throwing the current, desired collie.

Personally, I’m thinking we are all nuts.

There is another theory on the evolution of dogs gaining momentum.
The thought is that dogs did not evolve from wolves, but from dogs, a species in themselves. 
Even though dogs share 98.8 of their DNA with wolves, there are differences the science guys can't quite sort out.
One is that dogs and wolves don't cross breed by choice. Yes, it happens, but at a very low percentage.
Another point, the one that peaked my interest, is that when dogs are allowed to breed without human intervention, they turn into these:

Not these:

I'm not even going there. My poor head is banging. I'm sticking to my original thought though, we had better hope we still have some of those pariah dogs around when all our careful, responsible breeding collapses like a St. Bernard with advanced hip displasia. If we keep it up, we're going to have to start over.

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 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.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Diving Into the Gene Pool

Wait! I can't stop!

You guys are now getting a peek into Mugs tightly, yet so loosely wound brain.

This subject, which began as a leisurely wagon train of thought has evolved into a steam engine with a cowcatcher in the front.

Some call me obsessive, I consider it curiosity.

                          This subject is really grabbing me by the throat and giving me a shake.

Mustardly, I think we may be kindred spirits, we certainly have a similar take on things. 

Part of my train of thought -- combined with the thoughtful blogger input-- has really got me looking at this breeding deal we humans are so caught up in.

So hang in there, I may be obsessing dwelling on this subject for a while. It’s fascinating me.

I’m studying dogs over horses right now, because the development of the dog has been so fast and so varied it’s easier to look at. My eyes have also  been opened even further on the subject of how big the human ego is and what flaming idiots we actually are.

I’m looking at horses too, I’m just not ready to write on them quite yet.

Paleontologists have pretty much agreed that when dogs first decided to hook up with humans, they were man-friendly wolves. Or, at least, they liked the trash we spewed all over the country-side enough to tolerate our presence.

Whether we talked wolves into not eating us by feeding them some juicy bits of Bar-B-Q, or they quit eating us because they couldn’t crack the recipe for our yak rib rub, we’ll probably never know for sure. The thing is, as soon as we partnered up, the wolves began to change.

From the first tail wag at the sight of a new steaming pile of human refuse, wolf/dogs started to work for us, play with us, guard our homes and turn into pleasing shapes, sizes and colors.

When did we, the human race, begin to breed dogs for a specific purpose?

My guess would be when Urg, the matriarch of the Ug Clan, realized the wolf/dogs with the white spot on their chest were the least likely to stalk her children after they dumped the trash. Being a straightforward and protective kind of gal, Urg began to club all the wolf/dogs without a white spot. A few wolf/dog generations later, her kids could walk to the dump site without an armed entourage.

A short time later, her mate, Og, came home with a litter of pups he had found. He thought the white feet and muzzles were pretty and the big brown puppy eyes were cuter than the little yellow eyes most of the other wolf/dogs had.

Urg and Ogs children played with the pups, and as they grew, some of the pups became cranky and grabby and bit the kids. Urg immediately solved the problem with her club. The remaining pups were either smart enough to not bite the kids and stay cute, or so dumb they stayed juveniles - cute and cuddly on into adulthood.

So began the human practice of culling and the evolution of the dog/wolf continued.

"Oh. Look at dey Kyuut Bebbis...." Og said.

As humanity expanded and developed, so did their dog/wolf buddies. I don't know about you guys, but y dogs spend most of their spare time trying to figure out how to get in my bed. If they manage that, they start working on getting under the covers. If that works out, they want to curl up as close as possible, better yet if it's between me and my husband.

My personal theory is that this is one of the very first unique dog traits. To never be satisfied until we wear them like skin.

Poor dog/wolf! If he had thought things through, he would have known that for every new deal struck with humanity, a high price is eventually paid. Now that we were hanging 24/7 it opened the door for even more selection on the part of Urg and Og and less say so on the Dog/Wolf's side.

When Og noticed some of the dog/wolves chose to accompany him on hunting trips, he held back two who seemed to find the most game. They produced pups who found game too. Some of them were just as talented as their parents and some were better. Some were no good at all.

While Og was out hunting, Urg noticed some of the dog/wolves who had stayed behind, came with her when she went carb gathering. These dog/wolves protected her from the other animals who still had no problem eating humans. When she came home, she found a few more  guarding and playing with the children.

Once the mighty hunter returned, Og and Urg had a conversation. Within moments, Urg's club was swinging and the only dog/wolves left were the protectors, the players and the hunters. The pups were tested and if they weren't an improvement on their parents, well, you know. Urg and Og were now in the breeding business. The resulting Ug's High and Lo Carb Kennels became the It Spot of the steppes.

The Ug's weren't completely successful with their culling. Some of the dog/wolves were too smart or too fast to be felled by Urg's mighty club. These dogs not only continued to hang around the dump site, they periodically bred with the Hi and Lo Carb dogs.

When the quick thinking Urg realized the resulting pups made the Hi and Lo Carbs even better, she began to lure the smartest and fastest in with lots of Bar-B-Q. Once they made friends, she promptly evaluated and culled them too. So began OC training.

Tune in for more of Mugs look at  the development of human interference breeding practices next week.......

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Purebreds and Crosses to Bear

Pintabian Stallion, $10,000
OK. He's pretty bad, this proven, homozygous, pointy-butted  mess.
The only thing he's proven is he throws 100% color. He might be a cute gelding, I guess.

Yesterday I wrote about coming out of the Krazy Kolor Klozet.

Some of you fell into the "Old Krazy Kolors Bad! Only Plain Jane's Good!" trap.

Silly people. Don't you know me by now? I was laying the ground for the subject I'm REALLY thinking about. I'm a tad disappointed you mustangs didn't smell the bait trap before you galloped on in. 

If you truly read what I wrote, I just said I like pretty colors and lots of hair. I never, ever mentioned breeding, in the backyard or for color. Not once.

I have been thinking about breeding though. 

I've been reading the coolest book, "Dogs, Describes in a Practical Manner the Training, Handling, Treatment, Breeds, Etc., Best Adapted for Night Hunting as Well as Gun Dogs for Daylight Sport," by Oliver Hartley - first printed in 1909.

Despite it's wordy title, this book is short and to the point. It's the approach a respected hunting dog owner took to breeding his dogs.

I learned an approach to breeding that made SO MUCH SENSE, I was blown away. 

Hartley bred his dogs for his own use. He knew what he liked in a hunting dog and that's what he bred for. 
He set his basic need. He wanted a dog to stay on track, bay when it treed or cornered the prey, and stay there until he got there. 
Rabbit dogs were bred to hunt rabbits.
Squirrel and coon dogs were bred to hunt those.
Deer dogs were bred to hunt deer and so on.

So. He would take a purebred foxhound and cross it with, say a collie, to hunt deer.

Maybe beagle and foxhound for rabbit.

The neighbors good mongrel coon dog and foxhound for raccoon an squirrel.

His years as a hunter told him what he needed and he bred that. He did like foxhounds, but not in their pure form, unless he was hunting fox.

This wasn't an unusual concept back then. It was pretty standard. Dogs were bred which were suited to do the job at hand. Conformation was developed along with, because if the dog didn't have big, strong claws and well developed legs he couldn't get up in the trees. If he didn't have the deep lungs needed for distance, it was crossed with another breed that did and so forth.

Purebred dogs weren't considered the holy grail, they were just a solid, reliable ingredient.

He didn't call them designer dogs, he didn't fight about bloodlines, he just bred the dog he needed.

His approach wasn't unusual, because he talked about other hunters preferences and why they bred differently than he did.

This really got me thinking. Before the first Westminster Dog Show in 1877, there really weren't that many dog breeds. In the last 150 years the dog has become the most varied mammal in the world.

Those crazy Victorians took all that suppressed sexual energy and started creating dog breeds. Then they started showing them at dog shows.Around 1870, kennel clubs were established in the United States and Britain and stud books were created and closed.

 Pre-dog shows, breeds were divided in groups.Pointers were a breed, setters were a breed, spaniels were a breed and so forth.These dogs were defined by form an function. Post dog shows, these groups were divided by type and defined by parentage.So instead of pointers, you had Vizslas, German Short hairs and Weimaraners. 

Dog shows were primarily about looks. How the ear curved, how far the jowls hung, what color they were, and so forth. What didn't matter was how brave a guard dog they had, how sharp their sheep dogs were, or how sensitive the nose on their hunting dogs. What mattered was if the dog fit the visual standard created by the dog clubs.

Writings about animal breeding from the late 1800's to the early 1900's are full of demands to "eliminate the weaklings and invigorate the race by maintaining the purity of its blood. How creepy is that?

Leon Fradley, a renowned and respected dog expert of the times wrote The Complete Book of Dog Care, This is the Ccker Spaniel, Bloodhounds and How to train Them and How to Breed Dogs. He also wrote The Case for Sterilization, expressing his belief in the benefits of eugenics (essentially "line-breeding" people to create desired traits). Are we creeped out yet? The guy even got a fan letter from, yeppers, you guessed it, Hitler.

Once we started breeding for form instead of function, all kinds of crazy things began to happen.

Being people, we couldn't be happy by screwing up dogs. We had to expand to horses. we weren't breeding for looks, not just yet, but we were certainly changing the way horses looked while we changed the way they rode.

Thoroughbreds were fast, but we needed them faster, because horse racing is the Sport of Kings. Originally,  the majority of the preeminent stallions and mares were controlled by some of the oldest established families in the US – the Whitneys and Woodwards, the Bradleys and Wideners and the Klebergs and the Mellons.  A fundamental rule that these families abided by was to improve the breed from a practical standpoint, speed, stamina and soundness.

Ultimately, theses solid breeders lost control and breeders began to focus on speed alone. The trouble started with the immortal Native Dancer. The beautiful gray horse retired with 21 wins out of 22 starts. He retired early, by the time he was four, because of a chronic inflammation in his ankles. Native Dancer had developed osselets (bony growths).

After retirement, Native Dancer became one of the most influential studs in Thoroughbred history. Today, almost 75% of Thoroughbreds trace back to him. He passed on his speed, and also his weak ankles. Every year, the Thoroughbred has become more fragile, with the incidence of breaking down becoming higher.

The Quarter Horse Industry  has taken some blows too. Personally, I think we deserve it. Tell me these horses are examples of the same breed.

AQHA Cutting Horse - all grown up and ready to show
14hh and 750 lbs.

AQHA Halter Horse - 16hh and 1300 lbs.
I'm sorry, but ew.

AQHA pleasure horse - 16hh, 900 lbs
                                                                  I am so confused.

AQHA has allowed so much screwing around, our QH's don't even come close to looking like the horse originally recognized as a breed in the 1940's.

People started dipping their sticky little fingers into breeding animals with no understanding of genetics. The more we learn, the deeper in epileptic dogs and cow horses with HERDA we're going to be. The worse part is, nobody seems to care much. Impressive bred horses are still spitting out babies with HYPP. Thoroughbred horses are considered so disposable they only have to win a few races to be a success. Who cares if they're crippled as a three-year-old?

None of these horses were bred for color. They were bred for speed, muscle, pretty gaits and cat-like turns. Look where it got them.

This is where all this studying and thinking has brought me. Back in 1909, Hartley didn't think about shows, blood lines or back yard breeding. He hunted and knew what he wanted. He believed in breeding for ability and had no problem crossing breeds to get what he was looking for.

If we pass enough laws to eliminate indiscriminate breeding we could eventually weed out the mutts and scrub fuglies we see on Craigslist. Of course then we would have to buy from "responsible" breeders.
Look where responsible breeding has gotten us. Dogs who have brains to big for their skulls, horses whose skin falls off the first time they are saddled, blindness, deafness and early death. I can't wait for the day my only way to have a dog or horse is to buy one from a breeder. Not a neighbor with a small program who breeds animals he deems useful, those folks will be considered backyard breeders and shut down. Wont be able to pick up a pup from a local rancher's good cowdog either. She was required by law to be spayed, since she wasn't registered.

Eventually we might figure out we can't breed for any one, specific thing, because you never get just the one. If you breed for speed, you get shattered ankles, breed for cow sense and you get a pony with birdy bones.
Breed for a gorgeous red coat and get a barking dumb blonde joke. Every trait comes with some others we don't know about.

I can't help but think we'd better hope some of those BYB's hang around, and there are still some irresponsible people in the world who don't spay and neuter. We'd better pray there's a pintwalkogoosa or two still around. It seems to me we're going to need those mish-mashed bloodlines some day, and we'd better hope nobody with sense bred them.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Coming Out of the Krazy Kolor Klozet

I'm 'fessing up. I like those krazy kolors. I just can't help it.

I mean, c'mon, you knew I had a problem, right?

Who wouldn't want this horse?
Or this one?
And a lonely little girl knew exactly which dog would fix everything.
Well, maybe this one...

So I grow up, a big ol' struttin' horse trainer, with lots of theories and sage advice....practical and realistic about what  it takes to be a kind and educated horse owner. Preaching the philosophy, "We need to be color blind, a good horse is a good horse, no matter what color they are."

Yet these are the horses I decide to retire with.

...and here is my dog....

Mighty suspicious is all I can say.

So I'm going to come clean. Below, is a Walkaloosa. I think he's awesome. I like his spots and I like the idea of riding his lovely gaits on a trail. Maybe an endurance ride, or a sun dappled path on a trip through the Rockies.

How about a Paintaloosa? Tell me this horse is not the coolest thing you've ever seen, and I'll yell "Pants on Fire!"

This farm,, doesn't even try to apologize, I say, "Good for you!"
They have one of every sparkly, flowy haired breed there is and they like to play mix'n match. 

This is a Friesian crossed with an APHA, head hanging, weird Western- hunter type horse.
 I  like  what happened with that cross. I think it produced a flashy, yet useful a animal.
Appaloosa/Friesian cross anyone?
How about hair? We can go ahead and be honest about loving the hair. 

Here is lots of hair for  you, plus some Krazy Kolor too.
Want to know a secret?
About six years ago, I helped an area trainer break out several, newly imported, just out of
quarantine, Gypsy Vanners. They were lovely, every single one of them. Good minded,
people oriented, smooth, to die for gaits, and easy, easy, easy to start.
They also had broad, cushy backs....

Just in case your dream was to play Sheena of the jungle.
Becky Bean and I decided the realistic way to own them would be to be wealthy enough to hire
"feather washers."
Not only did this thought inspire us to keep writing, it also made us wonder how "Head feather washer," would look on a resume.

My favorite, fantasy, dream horse?
Here he is. 
He's mine, don't touch him.

Yep. He's red. Flaxen mane. Lusitano. Why?
Because he's a fairy princess horse who can work cows, that's why.

Ignore the fact that the first, and most influential horse movie in my life,
 My Friend Flicka,
(the REAL one)
featured a lovely sorrel filly with a flaxen mane and tail,
who's heart could only be tamed,
by an awkward, spacey, lonely little kid,
just like me.