Friday, October 11, 2013

My Mother is My Father's Grandma

My, but I've been chatty. Please remember, for every successful post there is another failed attempt on finishing this week's food column.

I have been reading a very educational, fun, thought provoking blog lately, Terrierman's Daily Dose One of you turned me on to this blog, and while I'm thanking you mightily, I also hate you, just a little.

He has already worked through, studied, researched and written about many of the things I've been just starting to puzzle out. He is thoughtful, opinionated, published, uses bigger words and has better sentence structure than I do.

Being the housebound, OCD lunatic I've become, I can't be happy thinking, Oh, well, if Terrierman said it and it's a line of thought I've been considering, it must be right. Not me, I have to check his resources, read his references, read counter arguments and then try to think my own thoughts. So no, I won't become a Terrierman parrot, I promise, but he is fast becoming a reference I trust, so you'll be seeing his name here and there.

Where he hooked me was when I read his hard look at the AKC and the destruction of dog breeds. My idle thoughts that led me to his posts on the subject was pretty simple. I read an article about several AKC breeds of dogs which were going extinct. The Old English Sheepdog, English Setter, Dandie Dinmont Terrier, Otter Hound and Lancashire Heeler were all on the list.

Can you call the disappearance of a man-made creation, that has only been around for the last 140 years or so extinct? Wikipedia defines extinction as:  In biology and ecologyextinction is the end of an organism or of a group of organisms (taxon), normally a species. The moment of extinction is generally considered to be the death of the last individual of the species, although the capacity to breed and recover may have been lost before this point.

The definition of species: a group of living organisms consisting of similar individuals capable of exchanging genes or interbreeding. The species is the principal natural taxonomic unit, ranking below a genus and denoted by a Latin binomial, e.g., Homo sapiens

The definition of breed: a stock of animals or plants within a species having a distinctive appearance and typically having been developed by deliberate selection.

When I thought a little more and did some VERY casual research, I wondered, if a breed can actually become extinct, when does it become official? 
Here's an Old English Sheepdog in 1860

So, was the Old English Sheepdog extinct here? This is a show dog in 1937.
 It's certainly not the same dog as the one pictured above.

It definitely has to be extinct here, because at this point,
I'm not sure it's still a dog.

Then I thought I might be making things too complicated. Dogs were bred to suit human fancy. So, if we needed a gun dog, a herding dog, whatever, we bred them, right? At least it went that way until we started breeding dogs AKC style, based solely on looks and tossed out any concerns about health, ability or temperament.

I found some drawbacks to the breeds that were on the AKC endangered list.

On Old English Sheepdogs :  They are really big dogs...80 pound average. Inbreeding has made it difficult to find dogs that aren't high strung, nervous and sometimes aggresive. These great big dogs are rowdy, think jumping on Grandma, herding the kids, dragging you down the street...they are notoriously strong willed, messy, hairy, slobbery aaannnnd very, very farty.

Then there's the health issues:  deafness, cataract, gastric torsion, otitis externa, progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), cerebellar ataxia, retinal detachment and hypothyroidism, or major health issues like canine hip dysplasia

English Setters:

Think, high, nervous energy. Although these dogs are gentle and sweet, all that can go straight to hell if you aren't going to get them out where they can run. They are known for separation anxiety too, so keeping the in a crate for 10 hours aday is a very, very bad plan.Stubbornness, hard to housebreak, heavy shedding and silky, easily matted hair round ou the list.

Health Issues: congenital deafness, autoimmune thyroiditis, canine hypothyroidism, hip and elbow dysplasia, allergies, and cancer.

Dandie Dinmont Terriers:

These cute little dogs look like they were made for Aunt Edna's lap don't they? If your auntie is loaded...they carry an average price tag of $800 to $2500 dollars, yes, that's per puppy, and really gnarly, then maybe. The cost isn't because they are better, it's because there aren't very many of them. Think teeny, tiny gene pool. Dandies are known to be self-willed and independent, aggressive towards other animals, and not prone to use an indoor voice. But they have really cute haircuts, I'll give them that.

Health issues: Glaucoma, cataracts and corneal ulcers. Intervertebral disk disease, hip dysplasia, and luxating patella (loose knees). Luxating shoulder can also occur. Allergies, hypothyroidism, Cushing's disease and lymphosarcoma.

So. My next thought was, maybe these dogs don't need to be saved, resurrected, considered endangered, or anything else. Maybe, they are fading away because there is no longer a consumer demand. Since the breeds themselves were created for our personal pleasure, why shouldn't they fade away as they become obsolete? It's not like we'd be eliminating dogs, just no longer breeding the ones nobody wants. 

Who really needs a giant, hairy sheep dog? Bird dogs are becoming harder to find, because there aren't as many people using them. It's interesting to think about what kind of breeds will develop in the future. You know, after Armageddon, when we need our dogs to start working for a living again.  

If dogs were bred like horses, developed because of what they do instead of what they look like...well, except for color, we do like to breed for color.

That's not working out either. 

Take quarter horses for example. The hottest bloodlines come from the winners in the show pen, right? The electric flash of a top cutting horse, the slides and spins of a top reining horse, the elegance of a top pleasure horse. OK. Stop laughing, I mean it.

Equine breeders may be breeding for ability, but what about soundness, longevity, temperament, general health?  

Let's think about HERDA, HYPP, thin soles, bad guts, Overo Lethal White Syndrome...

Where did my train of thought take me? Other than to Terrierman, they took me down a pretty broad path. I'm starting to think over the last couple hundred years, breeding animals is more about playing God than continuing on with the animals that work best with us. We're just not that good at it.

My other problem is, mugwump that I am, I just love my inbred cow horse. I love who she is and what she can do. I'll never forget telling the Big K - " Training this filly has made me realize that up until now, I've been training chihuahua's to be sled dogs and I finally got me a husky."

Plus, while researching the rare breed list, I came across this little guy, the Lancashire heeler How cool is he? Everything I read says this is my kind of dog and if I ever get a chance, I'll be getting one.


  1. First off: good goddess! How the hell did they get an OES to look like that last pic? I realize it's mostly grooming, but almost wonder if there's some photoshop going on. I've never seen anything like that in the show ring!

    Second: don't just blame the AKC. Each breed organization is responsible for their standards and for encouraging breeders to test for issues and breed for more than appearance. The club hosting a show chooses the judges, not the AKC. Judges pin the extremes (more in some breeds than in others), breeders who are focused on winning over health see that and breed for it. Next thing you know, a judge who doesn't pin the extreme doesn't get work, etc... I presume it works the same in the horse world.

    If a breed has gotten that bad, then the national club is the first in line for blame in my opinion, and they are in the best position to fix it. I know the national Weim club did that in the 1970's to reduce hip dysplasia and other issues, and I've heard that the national Bernese Mountain Dog club works actively to reduce health and behavior traits in the breed.

  2. Longtime lurker, but I had to comment on this one, because I'm currently on my soapbox about the same issue in the form of an ongoing conformation series on my blog, linked at the bottom. Single-trait focused breeding is terrible for both horses and dogs, animals that used to be valued for soundness because they had a JOB. The moment they become luxury items, or pets, is the moment that nobody takes soundness or conformation into account anymore. Thanks for having the guts to put this in writing.

    Sunday Conformation Series 1: Your Conformation Hit List
    Sunday Conformation Series 2: How We Got Here and Why it Matters

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. What on earth is on that sheepdog's back end? Is the dog built like some sort of anti-showring German Shepherd? Is it some sort of bum bouffant? Because, if I remember correctly from the dog-shaped eraser I owned in grade school, they dock the tails.

  5. I think you're right about certain breeds falling out of favor. It makes sense, especially in the case of working breeds, that people would eventually gravitate toward the most useful and user-friendly breeds. People do still need giant, hairy dogs. Though they are a guardian rather than a herding dog, a the Great Pyrenees is a fine example of a huge, useful dog that is excellent with livestock. My in-laws had one, and he kept their flock safe for eight years. He was calm and placid with people, but he was like a roaring lion when anything threatened his sheep.

    A few thoughts on the working bird dog. In the course of my job, I have encountered hundreds of hunters, including game bird and waterfowl hunters, and the vast majority of them prefer to hunt with a dog. I have supervised quail and chukar hunts, dove hunts, and pheasant hunts. The hunts are always popular, and we never have a problem filling the participant lists. I didn't keep track of exact numbers, but I would guess that 75% to 80% of bird dogs were labs. The second most common bird dog was the German shorthaired pointer. I do recall one hunter that had an English setter, but I saw more spaniels than setters. I don't know why the hunters chose certain breeds over others. It would be interesting to ask.

    I think the animal breeding issue only becomes a problem when individuals can be considered excellent without conforming to basic standards of health and function. I think your mare is a good example of how you can breed an animal for a purpose and have a positive, functional result, even if she is somewhat inbred. Your mare was bred for a specific purpose, she is healthy, and she is good at what she does. That is not the same as willfully continuing to produce HYPP animals or anything that has such a severe, but traceable genetic defect.

    I agree that the AKC is largely responsible for creatures like that last OES because the breeds have strayed so far from the original purpose. In order to produce the best dog for trotting around the ring, breeders are willing to produce genetic monstrosities that suffer from serious health problems. I don't think selective breeding is bad, per se, unless you start to ignore health and function in the pursuit of aesthetics.

  6. Great post with some thought-provoking questions! I've got a German Shepherd who honestly should never have been bred in the first place. She suffers from fear issues that we have been able to work on to the point where she is able to function and often appear to be normal. But she isn't normal and she never will be. She will always require special handling. I love her dearly and have learned so much from her, but there seem to be few German Shepherd breeders who can produce decent dogs anymore. And by decent, I mean a dog with good conformation (so many GSDs appear deformed now), a dog prone to being healthy instead of prone to auto-immune and digestive issues (probably connected), a dog with a good, stable temperament that is suitable for being in public and/or a job, and a dog with some kind of natural ability like tracking or herding.

    I think the same is becoming true of horse breeders. Over the years, I've seen some truly awful animals that were apparently bred on purpose and are valued highly by competitors solely for the purpose of showing. Disgusted by this nonsense, I decided to buy a Friesian in large part because the stallions supposedly go through a rigorous approval process and foals and 3-4 year olds are inspected before permanent entry into the studbook. So theoretically you should be able to know you are buying a quality animal based on inspection results. However, I have since discovered that politics play a role in the judging and that certain attributes that you would think would be important (like the ability to canter) aren't even evaluated at all for geldings and mares. Friesians are beautiful animals, but they need to be bred for temperament and function too. I was lucky to get a really nice horse, but I no longer have any confidence in the inspection process. It's still buyer beware...

  7. Here's the horse list:
    (New name/website of the American Livestock Breed Conservancy (ALBC))

    Some of these never were super common and/or have lost their jobs over the decades. (I can vouch for the awesomeness of the Colonial Spanish strains and the Suffolk.)

  8. Anon, I know what you mean about the Suffolk. My last horse was half Suffolk, but she looked like a purebred. Gorgeous, with an engaging personality and a great work ethic.

  9. I believe that good breeding practices begin, and end, with the Human involved no matter what is being created.

    Horses, dogs, parakeets, wererabbits, whatever. If you are creating new life you are accountable for giving that new life the best possible chance to have a full and healthy life NOT to see how much money you can make off of them.

  10. I <3 Terrierman also. I always learn something, and I love learning. I also always learn something here, and that’s what I love most about your blog. It is a THINKING blog!

    I don't think the cost of the Dandie Dinmont puppy is that high. Before my enlightenment (or should I say, disenchantment), I bred Pomeranian show dogs (OMG, the stories I could tell of "show people"!). I routinely sold puppies for $1500. With 3-4 puppies in a pom litter it works out the same as selling a litter of 12 Lab puppies for $375-$500 each, which is what I see them going for. I've recently been pricing GSD's (Czech/DDT dogs - not necessarily AKC registered) and they are all in the $2k range, at least. I'm actually surprised that the Dandie is that cheap considering they seem to be fairly rare!

  11. Too long, I've had to chop this comment up:
    I haven't quite sorted through all of this in my own head, so I'm not arguing any of your points, Mugs, just stating what your post has made me think about. I may, in fact, have gone slightly off topic, discussing health issues instead of the “extinction” of breeds. Also, I think I may be playing devil’s advocate here. My comments below may make you think that I am all gung-ho for the AKC and breeders in general, but I’m not. The AKC is broken, and I’m not sure it’s fixable (or if it even SHOULD be fixed). Oh, and I don't hold "show breeders" in high regard either. And I love and am currently owned by a mutt.

    At any rate:

    All breeds AND mixed-breeds have always had diseases and hereditary conditions. It has just been in recent history that veterinary medicine has caught up and provided diagnoses and treatments for a lot of issues that they didn’t even have a name for at the turn of the century (ever read the James Herriot, DVM books? A good history lesson of the veterinary medicine available then). MAYBE health issues weren’t as prevalent then, when dogs were specifically bred for work. However, possibly health issues were JUST as prevalent then as they are perceived now! Maybe even more so. It's just that nobody back then could open a book with a picture of a Jack Russell Terrier (or whatever) and listed along side was a list of every possible disease/hereditary condition known to currently exist in the breed. Now that the information is available, the breed, every breed, is PERCEIVED to have a ton of health issues. There is no picture and no list for “Mixed breed mutt” therefore it is perceived that mutts are healthier.

    Before recent history, there was no big body of research to say that a specific breed tended to suffer from one condition or another. There were no tests to find out what a specific disease or hereditary condition was, there was no name for it, there was no treatment, etc. As a matter of fact, how many working dogs ever saw a vet to even determine a health issue? I mean, if it couldn’t work, there’s no reason to know why. It’s just time to move on to the next dog that CAN work.

    With breeders being competitive (advertising that your dog has passed XYZ health tests is a marketing advantage), as well as being concerned about their breed of choice (ideally), and with research funds provided by large organizations (either the AKC, or breed clubs, etc.), and with vets/medical researchers having a large pool of similarly bred animals with documented lineage and medical records to pull from, then diseases/hereditary conditions were diagnosed, given names, diagnostic tests were developed, etc. Only then would the general public become aware of said disease/hereditary condition and their knowledge would demand breeders test their stock (ideally), thereby reducing or even eliminating the disease/condition (again, ideally).

  12. So, in my mind, this is a very circular argument. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Is it the breeders/AKC that are doing a huge disservice to the health of dogs by breeding disease-ridden animals? Or, are the health of dogs overall benefiting from the medical research, provided by funds of breeders/AKC, of these diseases and conditions that have existed all along? Would the medical research have been done at all if there were no specific breed or group demonstrating a high number of afflicted animals? In other words, how will mutt-owners know if a large number of mutts are suffering from a yet-unknown condition? Who is going to pay for the medical research to determine hereditary conditions, diagnostic testing, and treatments for a new condition in our beloved mutts?

    The same could be said for horses, i.e. HYPP, OLWS, HERDA, etc. If many individuals of a specific breed of horse had not suffered an unusual condition, would the funds required to research the condition, and provide a diagnostic test for it, ever have been provided? If there was no medical name (or snappy acronym) given for the condition, would it ever have received the attention of the general public? If the general public was not aware of a widespread hereditary condition in a specific breed, would they demand stock be tested for that condition before buying from a breeder? If the general public doesn’t demand breeders health test their stock, would breeders/breed organizations be incentivized to provide funds for medical research of hereditary conditions? If there are no breeders/breed organizations to provide funds AND subjects with documented lineage and medical records to medical researchers for the research of specific conditions, what becomes of the standard of vet care for all of our animals?

    The chicken or the egg?

  13. So, totally an aside here, but I absolutely love Min Schnauzers. Over the moon for them! Got my first from a gal breeding them in CO. She was certainly a home breeder- fantastic dogs, but they certainly won't win any shows. Anyways, we get him home, he is the king of dogs. Later we move onto a ranch.
    He becomes the best mouser I have ever seen!!! It was all him, no training for it, in fact, we just stayed out of his way! He started in the irrigation ditches- when we moved our dams he would be digging energetically at holes- often killing and eating 1-2 mice, voles, moles, whatever. Then, he started in on the mice in the house, and completely took care of the problem. I was so interested (and super grateful) in how his hunting instinct was there, all the time, and really very strong. He just needed an opportunity.
    Of course, that is what the breed was and is for, a strong trait bred into these dogs. A job to help man.
    Of course, we just got a spaniel mix from the pound and he is good for absolutely nothing other than making me and my boys happy. And that is fine too! WyoFaith

  14. There's 2 really good docs on snagfilms or maybe youtube about the purebred dog problem.(problem is probably a bad word but the only thing I can think of right now) I can find them and link them if anyone is interested in them.

    But they're about how very inbred a lot of breeds are and the high number of genetic diseases that are being passed down in certain breeds. They come across as concerned about purebreed dogs and their future and not just about adopting a dog out of a shelter. They talk to several breeders, owners, and judges of dog shows about how breed standards have changed over the course of years and how a lot of the dogs bodies made more sense in past years. They're really interesting and informitive.

  15. Oh my gosh! My daughter and another friend both looked up your link to the Lancashire Heeler and sent a picture to me. I have a sweet little old rescue dog that looks just like it. Longish, low, powerful haunches, black and tan, upright larger ears. Our vet has always thought he was a Corgi crossed with a Manchester Terrier. Somebody docked his tail before I got him as an abandoned puppy with an ingrown collar. He's 13 now and enjoying his senior years on the couch with us. I think I'll start telling folks he's a Lancashire. :-)

  16. Here's a picture showing my dog Jesse who resembles the Lancashire.