Discussing dog breeds, dog-adoption, and the human-canine connection.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

In Honor of the Little Orange Cream Cat

Little Miss Holly

As a general rule, cats tend to live longer than dogs.
At least that has been my personal experience. While my dogs seldom live past thirteen, I have had the pleasure of sharing my life with four cats who graced me with upwards of nineteen years of life. None of them started with me younger, smaller, and more helpless than Holly.

Named for the Canadian Jazz singer Holly Cole, Little Miss Holly came into my life as a starving handful of naked feral kitten whose mother had been killed and who herself was on the verge of death. Feedings every two hours transformed that tiny handful of cat into a tiny armful of cat - at her biggest Little Miss never topped seven or eight pounds. She tended to be around six.

Holly was born in Northern Washington at a time when I was living in Vancouver, Canada. I had made a long weekend trip into the States with some friends whose parents owned a lake house...and ended up smuggling Holly back into Canada (shhhh) because there was no way she would survive a vet inoculation at that point. We honestly didn't think she'd live through the weekend, and every day when she made it through another day we were a little surprised and encouraged.

When she was about eight months old, and between four and five pounds I took her in to be spayed - the idea of this delicate little cat accidentally getting out and getting pregnant freaked me out. The anesthesia nearly took  her life. I was allowed to take her home in a semi-coma, cold to the touch but still breathing because the vet couldn't do anything else for her and I wanted her to die with me if it was her time. Fortunately, it wasn't. Once again this little trooper fought back from the brink and hung onto life.

Since then Holly has helped me rehabilitate and train a steady parade of dogs. She would do her part to teach them manners by scolding them if I had to talk to the dog in a sharp voice - she was also my enforcer. When I was working with Jenny and Jenny wasn't listening Holly would give her a sharp meow, run over and smack Jenny on the nose with a soft little paw as a reminder that I was the boss. Holly also used to scold my Rottweiler and my Boxer for similar poor behavior. The bigger the dog, the more likely Holly was to scold them if she didn't think they were listening closely enough. Her attitude was, size is no excuse for bad behavior.

Her hard start in life did not leave my kitten without her scars. For years she would race around the house, staring at the walls like she heard voices coming from them. She also had a habit of sitting next to me but staring behind my head like there was something always just about to get me...it could be a little unnerving late at night and I had two roommates in a row who insisted the houses we were in must be haunted. I think it was Little Miss' brain that was haunted but I didn't mind.

I had one roommate in Vancouver who was an opera singer. In the morning when she did her warm up vocals Holly would come running from wherever she was and get right in my roommate's face, close to her mouth and meow as my roommate sang. Holly became very practiced at warm up vocals. A person singing always brought her running to contribute her meows and the little kitty chatter she had, almost like she was seeing a bird.Something about vocalization always excited her.

Holly settled down in her middle age, gained a whole two pounds and didn't seem to be bothered by voices any more. She almost passed for a 'regular' cat and would allow strangers to see her. Somewhere around the age of sixteen though, she began to regress, hiding from more people. This past year, at seventeen, she started hiding from my family when they visited, even my sister who was once my roommate and Holly's friend.

In the past six months, some of Holly's feral behavior started to return. We've made a lot of little adjustments since then...I didn't realize how many until this past month when the reality of another stay in the hospital arose for me. As I was thinking about all the directions necessary for someone else to look after Holly -- and then realized she wouldn't even show herself to a stranger -- I realized that our lives together were nearing an end.

It is usually difficult to say goodbye to an old friend.
It is even harder when you've raised them from a little helpless handful into a strong willed personality.

I've always believed though that the last act of kindness we owe our animal companions is saving them from painful, frightened, end of life experiences.

When a animal becomes senile to the point that we can no longer offer them the comfort and stability they need to be comfortable, then it is time to let them go. Even when saying goodbye is so difficult for us.

Thank you Little Miss for all the splendid years together.
Your tiny paws left mighty tracks in my life.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Did the Wolf become a Yellow Dog?

Carolina Yellow Dog

Thinking about ancient breeds of dogs lately has me wondering -- is the yellow dog a basic step between the wolf and domestication? I'm not the first one to ask this question by the way - the March, 1999 Smithsonian Magazine has an article about Dr.I. Lehr Brisbin, a researcher in South Carolina who has been studying the Carolina Yellow Dog for years under the theory that the broad geographical distribution of the basic type of dog known variously as yellow dogs, pariah dogs, and dingos indicates that they are an early version of the dog that was domesticated and thus the forerunner of many breeds we know and live with today.

Young Carolina dogs - black muzzle is common

While there is a small amount of geographical difference in size overall, whether found in Africa, the Americas, or India, these are a medium sized, squarish built dog with perk ears, wedge faces, and curl tails.  Initial genetic tests done by Dr. Brisbin on the Carolina Dog (now a rare breed being bred by a handful of fanciers) show they are near the "base" of the genetic dog tree, i.e. they've been around a long time and aren't just a run of the mill mutt. They have unique genetic characteristics as opposed to a mixed breed dog that just happened to be running around wild.

Dingos in Captivity

The Carolina Dog has also been called the American Dingo, both due to the physical similarity between the two breeds, and to the fact that they were known to be living wild in the Carolinas as long as people could remember. Similarly, in other areas, these dogs seemed to live either independent of people or around people without actually being domesticated pets.

INdog also called Indian Pariah dog

In India for example, these dogs often live on farms or compounds with people but have a looser association with the people -- they may forage off of dead animals, garbage, and hunt pests like rodents.

INdog that belongs to family

Other times, the INdog does live with a family - again though not necessarily in the house with them so much as in their yard and maintaining the same territory as the family does. Even when 'domesticated' these variations on early dog are not like the domesticated family pets we tend to think of. Another commonality amongst these widely geographically distributed types of yellow dogs are characteristics that include independence, self reliance, an ability to climb and jump -- including jumping into and climbing trees with lower thick branches. Finally, these dogs are noted to howl or sing more than bark. Anyone familiar with Malamutes will recognize the difference of howling/singing compared to standard barking.

New Guinea Singing Dog

While these dogs all tend to be rare now, some people are interested in breeding and raising them in captivity. The New Guinea Singing Dog does live with a few tribes people who share the same dense old growth forest areas where they hunt and gather alongside each other. Other New Guinea Singing Dogs live wild and are heard but never seen even by the tribes people who live in the area. Now that is a wiley dog.

Australian Dingo

While all variations of these genetically early or "primitive" dogs are healthy, very smart, able to hunt and self-sustain, overall they are not ideal pets. They are independent, have a high prey drive which is hard on the smaller animals in a family, climb onto all manner of things, and howl to communicate. One wonders then how the further transition was made from this kind of doggy prototype to the dogs we ended up living with -- the breeds like the Chinese Shar Pei, Basenji, Afghan and Saluki that were developed as the earliest breeds of truly domesticated dog -- dogs that were modified for characteristics that suited human needs as opposed to being co-minglers around the camp.

Captive New Guinea Singing Dog

As noted in a previous blog about ancient dog breeds, it certainly isn't hard to see the similarity between these earlier dogs and the breeds that people developed from them. A New Guinea singing dog for example could in looks be mistaken for a mix of many breeds -- Shiba Inu, Akita, even Shepherd -- if one did not realize that one was looking at a pure version of something much older than any of these breeds.

The other interesting point of speculation is where along the way did the wolf that hung out at the edges of man's camp fires transition to these early doggy prototypes of yellow dogs? Obviously, not all wolves probably did make this transition -- the northern breeds suggest that some dogs became dogs while maintaining more in common with the looks of their wolf ancestors. So how did the yellow dog develop and why did the yellow dog develop when other dogs went the route of Malamute and Husky?

Dingo with Dingo pups - note pup coloration

Or are these latter breeds - Malamute and Husky- actually throw backs to early ancestors that still came about after selective breeding of some lost ancestor that looked a little more like a yellow dog? Yellow dog young of all  varieties have more in common with wolf coloring than with the adult coloring of their own parents, and many maintain the darker muzzle... Certainly some interesting questions to ask ourselves as we sit with our own domesticated little wolvies around our own living rooms this winter.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Most Ancient Breeds of Dogs: Chinese Shar Pei Oldest?

Chinese Shar Pei - Most Ancient Breed of Dog?

I was recently reading the article "Genetic Structure of Purebred Domestic Dog" from a 2004 edition of the journal Science (I have never disputed my interests have a geek bent.) As a former Chinese Shar Pei owner and breeder I was, I admit, a little delighted to see that genetic studies have established that the Shar Pei is in fact the oldest breed currently known (or to be precise -- of all known breeds tested has shown to be the earliest split off from the Wolf...but let's not pick nits.)

Chow Chow

For those of you who aren't as geeky or as into breed history the obvious response is, so what...? For those of us who amongst other things admire the ancient roots of some breeds, there has been some controversy over the years -- bear with me here I've already admitted we're dog geeks! -- about which breed is really really old, and which is oldest. Now it hasn't been disputed that the Chinese Shar Pei is really really old, but a lot of the hound people were claiming that it was in fact hounds like the Ibizan and Afghan that were oldest. To which scientific studies currently allow me to politely respond - in your face!

Ibizan Hound

Yes, alright, the Afghan is an ancient breed...even if not the most ancient...but it turns out that some breeds who thought they were ancient are actually - uhoh - slightly more modern recreations of ancient breeds. In other words, yes, there are Ibizan like hounds in ancient art but the Ibizan in your living room isn't related to them. The breed was recreated based in part on fanciers who were inspired by that ancient art.


Interestingly, and perhaps not too surprising if you think about it, the most ancient breeds are from China followed by Africa - the Basenji is the most ancient non-Chinese dog. There are other very old breeds. From China the Chow Chow, from Japan the Shiba Inu and Akita, from Arctic north the Siberian Husky and the Alaskan Malamute, and from the Middle East, the Afghan and the Saluki.


Shiba Inu
What about the smaller dogs? The most ancient breeds are the closely related Shi Tzu, Pekingese, and Lhasa Apso and the closely related terriers the West Highland White and the Cairn. The closeness of these two sets of related breeds is speculated to come from a shared ancestor that is no longer necessarily known having died out due to famines, disease, or even, I would speculate, a lack of popularity compared to some of their smaller, more specialized and perhaps more desirable offspring.

Shi Tzu

Cairn Terrier

West Highland White Terrier
Of course, these genetic tests are not the final say on the matter and further testing -- when someone finally gets around to it -- may turn up some new interesting information. For example, I strongly suspect the rare and thus untested New Guinea Singing dog is certainly an ancient breed. Do they even predate all other breeds of dogs?  There is a wide geographic distribution of similar kinds of  "yellow dog" around the world and perhaps this is a prototype of dog that predates all of the "purebred" dogs we now live with.


Afghan Hound pup

 These very old breeds of "yellow dogs" share some common physical traits -- medium sized, wedge shaped heads, perk ears, curl tails, square build -- and in many locations these may be regional variations on one of the domesticating steps that happen somewhere along the way between creating a dog from a wolf. A lot more genetic testing will be necessary before that can be stated with certainty.

Siberian Husky

Alaskan Malamute

Note - it isn't an accident that when selecting pictures today most of those selected were of cream/tan variations of the breed -- this is considered one of the most dominating/common colors in many breeds--sled dogs like the Husky and Malamute maintaining the 'wolf grey' as a most common color -- and if you look at the pictures, can you begin to see some commonailties that might be shared with these more familar breeds and the more genereic but geographically common "yellow dog"...? Perk ears, or curl tails, or base color....

Chinese Shar Pei

In the meantime, Shar Pei lovers get to take a little pride in co-habituating with possibly the earliest breed developed specifically to live with people. Just in case that means anything to you :-)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

American Pitbull Terriers and Defamation over Time

Once upon a time the American Pitbull Terrier was known as a breed that was good with children, a brave, all American dog that represented  a strong, brave nation that wasn't looking for a fight but would stand up for itself if a fight was brought to it.

In this poster, circa 1915, nations are represented by dog breeds that originated in the nation. Note that it is the APBT that represents the U.S. with the slogan,
"I'm Neutral.
 BUT - Not Afraid of any of them."

WW I had started at this point but the U.S. had not yet entered the war - and managed to remain "neutral" until April 1917 when Congress declared war on Germany.          

 The U.S. Navy also used the breed as a representative about this same time.
The APBT represented a watch dog:
"We're not looking for trouble.
But we're ready for it."


This was not the first positive representation of APBT. The turn of the century comic strip Buster Brown -- a character who would go on to become associated with selling shoes, as well as television and movies -- revolved around a boy and his brown APBT Tige.

Due to the ongoing popularity of Buster Brown and Tige for decades - into at least the WWII era - they were also heavily used for advertising.

In some of the early drawings it may seem hard to identify Tige's breed (although he was known to be APBT.) It is much easier for us now to identify the breed from photos from the later movies.

There was another, equally famous and popular APBT.

Co-star of movie features and then television was Petey from Our Gang/ Little Rascals. The gang changed over the years and two different APBTs played the part.

Petey was as much a part of the gang as Alfalfa and Spanky.

     There was no question that this was a breed that not only was trustworthy around children -- this was a child's guardian who would put himself in danger to protect the kids.

So what happened?

How between the 1940s and now did the breed become so defamed?

First a little more breed history.
Originally there was one breed, the above picture from 1940 is an example of that breed. When I was a little kid the APBT and Staffordshire Terrier were considered the same breed. Then they weren't

In the U.S. some breeders were breeding American Kennel Club Staffordshire Terriers (recognized by the AKC in 1936) that were heavier and stouter than breeders in places like Staffordshire England. In 1972 the AKC recognized that they were in fact becoming two separate breeds -- and the "American" Staffordshire Terrier joined the ranks of the AKC -- at that time the name changed, the dogs who up until then had been U.S. bred Staffordishre Terriers were now American Staffordshire Terriers.

This is the point it is easiest to identify were gradual changes in breeding purposes and goals were starting to be named.
People who are on the outside of the dog breeding world don't realize what a really political and fractured group breeders of any breed can be. Having been on the inside of some changes with another breed I can tell you...you wouldn't believe how passionate and even mean people get about this stuff.

Modern APBT

Not everyone agreed with changing the breed name or standard. So we have a number of groups appearing and fracturing around this time. There are the traditionalist APBT people who didn't want to change the breed they loved.

Modern APBT

Then there are the people who loved the breed and didn't like the reputation it was just starting to gain because of some of the less pleasant associations that were starting to appear, i.e. "toughs" and "criminals" were starting to be attracted to this breed, just as they were attracted to Rottweilers, German Shepherds, and Dobermans.

Modern APBT
Over the years the AKC registered American Staffordshire Terrier has become a smaller, squatter dog than the traditional APBT. And of course some breeders are breeding for exaggerated squaty appearance.

American Staffordshire Terrier

AKC Staffy Puppy


AKC Staffy

Despite the difference in physical type one thing remains consistent between the two types. Both want nothing more than to be with people and to please people. Unfortunately, some people have used this eagerness to please humans to the breed's detriment.

Originally used for bull baiting and in some cases dog fighting, a Staffy can be turned into a dog fighter particularly given inhumane training. And some people do work hard to train these dogs to attack other dogs. Cruelty and starvation and isolation all play a role in this training.

Other handlers are just plain irresponsible and neither train nor handle their dogs. Any breed that is allowed to run wild without handling and training has the possibility to be a fear biter. Bad blood lines can lead to aggressive behavior. And popular media associations between gangsters and pit bulls have really hurt the breed.

Yet these remain dogs that as breeds, want to be with people and please people. They are smart, trainable, love children and if properly trained can be very lovely family dogs. I would recommend either obtaining one through rescue where they have been temperament tested or through a reliable breeder who keeps temperament paramount in their breeding program.

I have known a number of APBT and some AKC Staffies. All have been nice dogs. All have been family dogs that did well with children and other pets. All lived with other animals. I knew one who would get so excited - like many terriers - when playing tug of war that she would eventually reach a point where her handler would give her a five minute cool down period. Some trainers in fact suggest that tug of war is not a good game to play with any bull terrier type breed.

In my lifetime a handful of breeds have been over bred and for spurts of time were known as either the most aggressive breed or responsible for the most unprovoked attacks. I can remember this happening not only to all breeds now known as "aggressive" but also to the Chow Chow which many people don't realise was number one for about five years for unprovoked attacks on people. The breed was being over bred as well as ending up in the hands of some very irresponsible people. That breed however, wasn't stigmatized permanently the way the Staffy has been. There is more than one factor responsible for this but I can't help but note the difference when a breed ends up being owned by people like Martha Stewart versus, for example, member of the Bad Boys record label rapper Pitbull aka Armando Christian Pérez. Rap doesn't provide the same cache as Martha's Vineyard. Just saying, sometimes the company a dog ends up keeping affects a dog's reputation.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

BIG DOGS versus big acting dogs

Irish Wolfhound, Irish Kennel Club

What does it mean to be "big" in the dog world?

Well, there are traditionally two aspects that count in what it means to be a big dog -- height and bulk. Traditionally considered the tallest breed, the Irish Wolfhound is--as a rule, not counting individual exceptions -- the tallest dog. Increasingly running a close second due particularly to large individual members is the Great Dane.

Grey Great Dane

Harlequin Great Dane

The other kind of big is, as I said, made of weight and bulk. Here the top breed is generally considered to be the English Mastiff, although individual members of other breeds, particularly a few Saint Bernards, are also very beefy dogs. As breeds, mastiffs were designed to be a little bulkier than were Saints.

Fawn English Mastiff

Saint Bernard

Other large mastiff breeds would include the Neapolitan Mastiff and the Douge de Bordeaux (which is sometimes called the French Mastiff.)

Neapolitan Mastiff pup

Douge de Bordeaux or French Mastiff

There are some other large breeds out there also. The Tibetan Mastiff is big, even if you discount the fur.

Tibetan Mastiff

The Great Pyrenees Mountain Dog is also a fairly large breed, and that lovely fur just adds to the appearance of size - but there is a lot of dog under that hair.

Great Pyrenees

Then there are some other tall breeds out there.

The Scottish Deerhound and the Borzoi both have a fair
bit of height and length -- they aren't the size of dogs
you can loose in the average room.

Scottish Deerhound


Black Afghan
Not as heavy as some breeds but still easily qualifying as big dogs to anyone who has met one in person, we also have the Afghan Hound. Not only do Afghan's have a fair bit of height, there is also a lot of bone and muscle under that lovely fur.
Cream Afghan

This is not, of course, an exhaustive list of big dogs. It is more of a off-the-top-of-my-head list of big dogs.
I am thinking today about the difference between what those of us familiar with a lot of breeds of dogs consider 'big' as opposed to what people more familiar with just a few small or medium sized breeds might consider big.

I have had people for example expect Gracie - an English Bull Terrier - to be a big dog. She's not. Some people think she's a somewhat big dog, particularly if they are smaller dog people. To my mind, Gracie is literally a somewhat over sized lap dog. She fits in my lap, she leans into my lap a lot but at 39 pounds, she is slightly larger than comfortable for that role.

Graice - big personality, compact size

Like many not so big dogs, Gracie does have a big, big personality - I think this often makes her seem bigger than she is. This can be said not just of most Bull Terriers, but most terriers in general. If you want a dog that takes up less physical space but has a huge emotional and physical impact, think terrier.

On the other hand, if you can live with a dog that takes up a certain amount of physical space but doesn't overwhelm you with activity like boomeranging off the furniture, some of these big dogs are worth considering. I've always found Borzoi for example, to seem to take up less room than the average terrier. The Borzoi I've met have all been quiet, calm and easy to share a room with. They find a spot, lay down, and are undemanding.

Borzoi - calmer than the average terrier

If you ever go to dog shows watch a class of Mastiffs and then watch a class of Bull Terriers or Schnauzers. There is no comparison in activity levels. The Mastiffs quietly wait their turns, often laying down and snoozing if it is a big class. The terriers are busy bouncing and challenging each other and having their attention divided in forty directions at once, only occasionally in the direction of their handler.

Schnauzer - not exactly ready for show ring

In that sense, what makes a dog big? And what kind of big dog is easier to live with? Personality can make a dog very big and very challenging to live with. Size is often easier to live with than is the big, big personality that makes many constant demands. Not that large dogs don't have personality; in fact, they often have some of the most pleasing, comfortable personalities. Unlike little dogs, they often don't have as much to prove. They know they tower over others. They know they can knock another dog or even a person down with a paw. Many of the big breeds are easier going ... at least compared to a terrier.


A Newfie for example, can walk down the sidewalk with you, never feeling the need to challenge another dog or person. They're confident. But they're relaxed.  A terrier on the other hand, can't walk across their own living room without possibly breaking into a charge because they suddenly see someone doing something they need to supervise, or an activity that they need to be in the middle of. When that happens twenty or thirty times a day - well you have to have a certain kind of personality yourself to find that tolerable.

Landseer Newfoundland

So what kind of big dog do you prefer, if you have a preference?
Do you like the BIG boys and girls who take up a fair share of floor space - or need their own personal couch - or do you like a dog that bundles a big bunch of attitude into a more compact design?

Personally - I prefer the BIG dogs.

Bloodhounds - more big than not

I just can't figure out why I keep ending up with all these terriers....

Schnazuer - saving the world from a demon ball