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.......


  1. I have 2 dogs, an Aussie and a Swedish Vallhund. They're both herding breeds. They get fed at 9:00am and 6:00pm everyday. Daylight savings is tough. If it is 9:05 or 6:05, the Vallhund tells me. Sometimes he just barks, but if I wait he either brings me his empty bowl or puts one of his feet in the empty bowl and scrapes it on the floor. The Aussie simply sits in front of me and looks at me with sad eyes.

    Please don't tell the Vallhund that I'm in charge of this arrangement and he has given up some of his wolfie perogatives to participate. Oops, gotta go, he is reminding me that it's time for his walkies.

  2. Mugs, I could read your writing happily all day, so I am thrilled with this train you're on. Besides always being thought provoking, the gravy is that I usually agree with you, and folks I agree with just don't grow on trees. I would say don't ever change, but change is eternal and necessary. Just don't change your Mugnity.

  3. So here's another interesting fact, that leads me to believe you may be on to something.

    Back in the 50s a Russian started breeding foxes. He was breeding them for tameness and for their ability to cope with humans.

    What he got was more tame foxes, but as they got tamer, they started getting spots and different ears and all sorts of traits that seem to have nothing to do with domestication, but are correlated with tamer foxes.

  4. If you hadn't added this to your reading up on domestication, you should.

    An experiment on how long it takes to make the wild animal into a companion animal...

    Fascinating stuff.

    There is a less scientific but equally interesting hypothesis with wild cats - they were worshipped, and as holy animals, they were kept cooped up. The inevitable inbreeding occurred and one day - domestic cat. I don't know if anyone has done an actual study on that one.

  5. I don't comment very often, but I kind of a genetics geek and I find selective breeding pretty fascinating.

    I think that the notion of making sure mutts are around to add genetic variation is a bit of a red herring. Mutts are crosses of breeds, and often from individuals that were not good representatives of their breed or genetically sound. Mutts can have all the defects that purebreds can have. The recessive ones are less likely to show up, since a mutt should have more genetic heterozygosity (that hybrid vigor someone mentioned earlier, I'll come back to that), but they still carry it, and it and can pass it on.

    On the matter of hybrid vigor, it is an observed advantage where crosses are generally more vigorous/healthier than purebreds. The most cited example is the mule, but if you breed a mule from a navicular mare, you can get a mule that develops navicular. It doesn't fix everything. What creates the hybrid vigor is heterozygosity at the genetic level. Traits are controlled by pairs of genes, one of which was inherited from each parent. When the genes have a higher degree of differing from their pair-mate, the animal is generally a healthier, more vigorous animal. The most obvious way to create this is by crossing breeds, but, it can also be done by crossing in bred lines within a breed. My dad was a hound man. He didn't breed much, but one of his mentors was a Treeing Walker breeder. In the style of Weiscamp and a lot of other well regarded breeders, he concentrated lines, culled heavily, and bred with goals in mind. What he was doing, when developing some inbred lines, was not creating his ideal dogs out of narrower and narrower gene pools, but setting himself up to create his ideal dogs by crossing the narrow gene pools. As the gene pools narrow up, the animals are highly homozygous on the genetic level. The traits are fixed, but they are generally not physically vigorous-- they'll lose size, health, even some of their conformation. However, take two of these sorry, inbred individuals and cross them and *boom* highly heterozygous, vigorous individuals with all those positive traits you were breeding for all along.

    Here's where the rub is for me: That method works, and it gives you one or two generations of outstanding individuals. Then where do you go? Do you breed those outstanding individuals and start narrowing their genetic diversity again? Do you maintain your sorry looking inbred lines, for the purpose of making outstanding individuals that you consider end products and don't breed? How many people have the will power to not breed an outstanding individual just because they've been told it will not outproduce itself?

  6. Karen -- You are actually proving my point, not going against it.
    Everything you just wrote leads to my original premise. Limiting the gene pool destroys the breed.
    You said yourself,"That method works, and it gives you one or two generations of outstanding individuals."
    This tells me very clearly it doesn't work at all.
    BTW. Not a Weiscamp fan.

  7. Karen -- You are actually proving my point, not going against it.
    Everything you just wrote leads to my original premise. Limiting the gene pool destroys the breed.
    You said yourself,"That method works, and it gives you one or two generations of outstanding individuals."
    This tells me very clearly it doesn't work at all.
    BTW. Not a Weiscamp fan.

  8. I think you just wrote the script for an animated feature. (Maybe not a kid movie....)

  9. I came here to cite the study with the tame foxes but I've already been beaten to it :). It is a classic study which suggests that domesticated animals are frozen in the puppy stage (or kitten). The floppy ears and patches seemed to be linked to this somehow (remember how we were talking about unexpected genetic consequences). The friendliness and endless playfulness that you see in most dogs is indicative of this. Young wolf pups are trusting, playful and easily trainable. Adults wolves generally aren't. So those which were more puppy like and friendly were more successful.

    Humans have a weird reaction to 'cuteness' which isn't really something we see in other species (I imagine it has much to do with our social nature). So Urg and Og were more sympathetic to the 'cute' dogs. How did the dogs ever get close enough to humans in the first place? Wolves are dangerous carnivores after all. They would have been driven away if they appeared in any number. Then you get those submissive lone wolves which have been thrown out from the pack. Or some orphaned pups. Who knows. But the evolution must have been so gradual. So the cute and more friendly (more puppyish) dogs got to stay around. And then they slowly proved their usefulness.

    I feel that the case of the domesticated cat and dog is an example of true evolution. Those with an advantageous trait (friendliness and cuteness) surviving over those without. And this would have happened in lots of places.

    I'm glad you think we're on the same wavelength Mugs. I like your train of thought and your questioning nature. I may only be young and even from the other side of the pond but its nice to find someone who thinks the way I do! Stuff like this is always whirring away at the back of my brain!

  10. Have you seen the National Geo special, "And Man Created Dog"? Excellent, and you pretty much agree with what they say as well. It is available on YouTube, 1.5 hours:

  11. Have you seen the National Geo special, "And Man Created Dog"? Excellent, and you pretty much agree with what they say as well. It is available on YouTube, 1.5 hours:

  12. Look up the russian foxes. A professor in Russia wanted to breed fur foxes that were less nervous in general and less nervous around people and better at living in fur farm captivity. They bred only based on the foxes behavior around humans. Looking for low flight distance (how close a person cold get before the fox tried to run away) and looking for foxes that bit less. As they went through the generations they began to get spotted coat patterns and some of the characteristics of dogs that remain part puppy. Like folded ears and the domed head.

  13. Meh. I'll be honest, not too crazy about the cave man conjecturing.

  14. The above is from me, WyoFaith

  15. Who said anything about cavemen? My Aunt Urg would be highly offended.

  16. WyoFaith - Besides, even when I'm goofing, I still do my research. Trust me.

    "Humans colonized the Siberian Arctic more than 30,000 years ago, according to Russian discoveries reported today. Flint tools and spear shafts made from mammoth ivory and rhinoceros horn have been found near the Yana river inside the Arctic Circle."

    "a ... research team found a dog skull at Razboinichya Cave in Siberia that was dated to 33,000 years ago."

    "The least fearful but most curious wolves tended to have more juvenile characteristics with shorter, wider snouts and smaller, more crowded teeth, features that, over generations, came to define the domesticated dog."

    "These early dogs would have been of benefit to people in cleaning up scraps and perhaps fending off other predators such as bears."

    " Around 35,000-30,000 years ago, Homo sapiens big game hunters moved into Northeastern Siberia."

    "From the western base of the Urals the steppes spread right across the northern extremity of Asia, nearly to Kamtschatka."

  17. I still don't think the answer is mutt-ifying everything. When you do that, you are counting on statistical probability to insulate you from occurrences of recessive genetic diseases, and it really doesn't do anything for the occurrence of dominant diseases. The linebreeding has flushed those diseases out, and good breeding practices could eliminate them, if the breeders chose to do so.

    I think the very root of the discussion has to begin with what you believe ethical breeding to be. Is it a program that produces superstars? Is it a program that produces uniformity (no culls, but no superstars)? Is it a program that breeds to a type, or a purpose? What is your tolerance for culling? Is culling okay if the culls can still be useful, but taken out of the breeding pool? Is it ethical to select for traits that would cause the animal to perish if humans to take care of it suddenly all disappeared from the earth? If we're honest with ourselves, how many of our even very-fit-to-survive animals would survive if we were all instantly zapped away? Is it more or less ethical to breed an animal to be meaty, docile and thus delicious, or one that is aesthetically pleasing for no other reason than that we like the way it looks? Does the answer change if the food animal is so meaty, fast growing and dumb that it is unlikely to naturally survive past its harvest date (think broiler chickens) and the aesthetically pleasing aspect of the pet is long, sound legs to efficiently cover ground?

    The crossing inbred lines to produce outstanding individuals works as long as you maintain the inbred lines to cross with each other. The effectiveness diminishes when you start breeding the crossed progeny and begin increasing the genetic homozygosity of the animals again. But, again, back to the ethics of it, I think many would be uncomfortable with maintaining animals that lack vigor, health and conformation, for the sole purpose of producing superstars that do have those qualities.

    I think any discussion of breeding, selection and genetics has to include how we view and relate to the animals and what we believe is honorable, acceptable, not acceptable or heinous in their management and propagation. And, we need to be honest about when those standards differ for food, performance, companion and research animals.

  18. I looked up the Russian foxes, wow are they ever cute...

  19. Humans control breeding artificially. Animals do it by competition and happenstance with environmental adaption a huge factor. Can you imagine someone breeding humans like we do animals? Trying to determine our shape form and character by selective breeding? We are so *%#@! arrogant.

  20. Replying to Anon's comment -

    We humans may not have fully exploited controlling our own breeding for traits we want, but we certainly have tried to control human breeding to prevent traits.

    The NC state government was presently trying to decide who and how to compensate for the forced sterilization (eugenics) of 7600 people that occurred in the 20th century.

    And there's always Nazi Germany...

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