Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The composite dog...

Some time ago, I was reading ohmidog, the blog of John Woestendiek. Woestendiek, a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter for the Baltimore Sun, did a 7 part series based on the question Hey mister, what kind of dog is that? The searh for the answer to that question was prompted by the unique appearance of Woestendiek's dog, Ace. During the series, Woestendiek and Ace visited the shelter from which Ace was adopted, the neighborhood where he was purportedly found straying, consulted an animal communicator, and had a DNA test run. It's a very interesting series- you should read it. There's video, too.

We know about Juniper's genetic heritage, at least we think we do- she was brought into the shelter with her litter mates. The person bringing them in said they were Akita, Lab and Rottweiler. She looks like a mix of those breeds, so we feel pretty comfortable saying that's what she is.

Boodles, on the other hand, was a stray. She could be any of a number of things, because her physical characteristics are all over the place. Here, let's take a look.

Her face is reminiscent of a St. Bernard, in fact, when we took her to the vet for the first time that's what they put down as her breed. However, her muzzle is far more pointy than a St. Bernard, and she doesn't have the droopy lips nor the body mass. Taller and longer in the body than Juniper, she weighs about 10 pounds less- around 60 pounds.

She has very large feet, with soft pads, and these nice feathers. Perhaps part Clydesdale? Actually, the chest, feathery legs and feet are very Collie-like. The ears, though- not collie.

While her coloring is harmonious, and could be that of either the St. Bernard or the Collie, her hair style is really odd. Her back looks like it belongs to two different dogs: She has a patch of hair on her shoulders that looks like someone tossed a bad toupee at her and it stuck.
However, the hair on her hips is oddly spiky- almost like some of the Australian Shepherds we have seen. And the dog in this picture has a lot of the same characteristics. Maybe there's no Collie, and instead Australian Shepherd genes floating around in there. The ears are sort of Australian Shepherd-like. However, the Rough Coated Collie in this picture has a little of the bad toupee look.

Her tail is another mystery- White tipped like the Collie, she carries it in a curve, something neither the St. Bernards nor the Collies or Australian Shepherds do. Chows, Huskies, Akitas, Basenjis and pugs all have curly tails.

Actually, she has many things in common with this dog, who lived with us from 1977 until 1990. We never knew what he was, either, but his mother looked like a short-haired hound. Not a feather on her.

Boodles behavior is somewhat that of a herding dog, although she has no interest in herding things together. She is very fast, though, and can turn on a dime. She is high energy, and mouthy.

So, does it matter what she is? Yes, and no. Purebred dogs have distinct physical and behavioral characteristics, and known health problems. When Ace's DNA results came back that he was 50% Rottweiler, 25% Akita and 25% Unknown, Woestendiek was told to watch for problems with hip displasia and cataracts. Good information to know.

For me, it's interesting to think about the genetics. Obviously, dogs didn't start out as purebreds and then fool around with each other to produce mixed breeds. Instead, people bred the archetypal dog for desired characteristics. There are dogs out there without a single purebred relative in the entire family tree. But does that mean that if a dog has St. Bernard coloring, there is a St. Bernard lurking in the bushes? I dunno- it could just mean that the gene mutation that produced the observed characteristic just showed up. Probably not, though.

This information from the Wisdom Panel MX Website tells what can be expected from dogs with a long mixed breed background:

"Identifying the heritage of a mixed breed dog in the absence of information about its parents or grandparents is difficult, even for knowledgeable dog observers such as veterinarians, because mixed breeds display much more genetic variation than purebreds.

Fading Hereditary Characteristics

With each generation of indiscriminate breeding, the offspring of mixed breed dogs lose the distinguishing traits that are observed in pedigree breeds, and will take on characteristics that are common to many breeds.

For example, wild dogs that have descended from many generations of mixed breed dogs often match the following profile:

  • Light brown or black in color
  • Weigh approximately 40 lbs
  • Stand between 1 and 2 feet tall at the withers"
This would seem to indicate that dogs with observable breed characteristics are probably fairly close to a purebred relative. By the way- the Wisdom site is an interesting site to explore- give it a look.

Why do I want to know? Curiosity. I am fascinated by the story of Adrian Targett, whose DNA marks him as a direct descendant of a 9,000 year old skeleton found in a cave 43 miles from Targett's house. How cool is that? I would love to participate in the National Geographic Genographic Project.

Ultimately, though, Boodles is Boodles, whether she is a St Bercolaussie or a "composite" dog.
I love her look- Every time I look at her, I think she looks like she was put together by a kid just sticking things together from a box of dog parts...

Read what Woestendiek has to say about Ace's family history here. I knew he was part Akita- there was something about him that reminded me of Juniper.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Conversations with the dogs.

I used to love to watch the Pet Psychic, on Animal Planet. In fact, I used to tell people that I wanted to BE Sonya Fitzpatrick when I grew up. I said this once to a woman I worked with, who told me she actually consulted an animal communicator, (as they are called when sensationalism isn't the object) frequently about her menagerie of cats and dogs. She was adamant that the information her friend gave her about her animals was accurate and valid.

So, a few weeks ago, I took the plunge. I contacted an animal communicator who lives here in Pennsylvania. She gathered some basic information- the names of the dogs, how old they were, how long they had been living with us, and what they looked like- and we set an appointment for her to call me to conduct the session. It's all done over the phone, surprisingly.

She opened the conversation by telling me she had made contact with Juniper and Boodles, and had some information for me. She then told me a number of things, including that they enjoyed living here with me and Chuck, they were happy with the food and with the walking schedule. Over the next 15 minutes she told me several other things, and then had me ask questions from a list I had made up in advance.

I was very pleased with the session overall. While the things she told me about Juniper were within the realm of what I have observed about her, nothing made me say "Wow!" The information that was purportedly from Boodles, on the other hand, did make me sit up and take notice.

I won't bore you with details, but I did want to mention one specific thing. Early in the conversation the communicator said that the dogs were telling her about a tabby cat that looked in the windows down at them. I knew we had at least one cat that hangs around the house- I have found the sad remains of birds left out there. I'd never paid attention, really, to the appearance of the cat. What really struck me, though, was the statement about the cat "looking in the window down at them." In most houses a cat would have to climb up on something to look in the windows. Obviously, cats do climb, and they might choose to climb up to look in windows. My house, though, is a split entry, and all of my first floor windows are at ground level. The room where we spend the most time has evergreen plantings in front if it, where I knew this cat hung out. Since my phone conversation with her, I've seen the cat- a yellow tabby- under the bush by the window as well as looking down at me from the window above the computer. Most odd, though, was the evening a week or so ago when I opened the back door to let the dogs out into the back yard. A yellow tabby cat jumped down from the cabinet outside the back window, startling me.

I know, you are rolling your eyes. And the New England Journal of Skepticism would agree with you. According to this article, psychics and animal communicators use a set of specific "cold reading" tricks to fool gullible people.

So, am I gullible? Maybe, maybe not. Had the communicator told me that Juniper wanted me to put $1000 in a brown paper bag and leave it under a bush in a park, I would certainly be skeptical. Hearing that they like the food here, enjoy the walks and a tabby cat looks in on them seems innocuous to me. I even have a theory as to why the information from Juniper was slightly less accurate than the information from Boodles. As any one who has met them knows, Boodles is the outgoing one- Juniper just couldn't get a word in edgewise!

If you would like more information, here is a link to an Animal Planet Video in which Maggie Gallant meets with an Animal Communicator. And here is a picture from our walk this week...

How's that for a tabby cat looking down?

Monday, February 16, 2009

After the Dog Park? The Dog Wash, of course.

pictures via cell phone- sorry they aren't more clear.
Valentine's Day was beautiful and sunny. The last time we went to the dog park, it was way too soggy- the freeze-thaw cycle we have been getting here was brutal. But there had been no precipitation for a few days, and things seemed fairly dry here at home. We set off to play. A lovely Briard- a show dog, no less, and another mixed breed joined Boodles and Juniper- a great time was had by all. However, there was indeed mud. The undercarriage of both dogs was pretty well splattered. So off we went.

We have a coin-operated dog wash in town- It's pretty popular-a line formed while we were in there, and we followed one of the other dog park patrons.

The dial on the wall gives you several choices- two kinds of shampoo, a doggie deodorizer, and of course the blow-dry option.

After her bath, Boodles is as clean and shiny as a new penny. It usually costs about $6.00 per dog for a full bath- we just hit the underneath parts this time.

When you have the legs and feet of a Clydesdale, it's important to keep them clean.

For a different type of cleaning, go here- my sister sent this link to me.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Tales from the dog park

Last August, my small town got a phenomenal dog park. Placed on a chunk of land unsuitable for any thing else, the 40,000 square foot area on the edge of a township park has two shady fenced areas on the side of a hill. Dogs over 35 pounds play on one side, while the other is for dogs weighing less. Each side has a fire hydrant for the comfort of the boy dogs, and a drinking fountain with three levels- one used by humans, one on the ground for dogs, and a mid-level that, in practice if not design, is multi-species. Park benches are located under shade trees, and brave squirrels whisk through the branches, allowing every dog to dream. It's a wonderful place, and provides some of the best free entertainment ever.

The dogs love it, especially Boodles. As soon as we turn the car into the parking lot, she is alert and ready to go. If there are other dogs already in the park, there is always a "meet and greet" at the gate. In fact, dogs inside the park often run to the fence as soon as a car pulls into the lot.
As soon as the dogs enter the park, the hierarchy-establishing ritual takes place. Boodles doesn't care too much about this- she is always low-dog on the dominance pole, and she is just looking for someone to play with. Juniper, however, is very interested in making sure that everyone knows she is in charge of the park. A quick butt sniffing usually does the trick for her, and then she moves off to enjoy the park on her own. It takes a lot to get her to play; she is a serious dog with serious concerns. Recently, though, she has loosened up a little, and will enjoy a short romp.

Boodles, on the other hand, sees life as a series of delightful interactions with people and dogs. In Boodle's view, all people are placed on this earth to love her, and all dogs are here to play. Nothing makes her happier than an energetic dog to run with her. (For some reason, Boodles and Juniper won't play with each other at the park.) When the pictures below were taken, the large dog area was closed for some grass repair, and all dogs were allowed in the small dog area. We checked with the owner of the small white dog to make sure he was OK with larger dogs.

Here is a short video of Juniper and Boodles playing with a white Husky.

What's important at the dog park? Bring only dogs who are well socialized enough to play- this is no place for behavior issues. Clean up after your dog. Don't bring food or children into the park. Read an article that describes good dog park behavior in greater detail here

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Death and Destruction

On Friday we bought the dogs a present. We thought they might like a soft squeaky toy. So we got them a three pack of those long dogs with the big smile that you see the Beneful dog carrying in the commercial. These were a small size, maybe 6 inches long. One was pink terrycloth, one was blue terry, and one was canvas with flowers. The canvas one had a funny smell, so we gave them the blue terry cloth. Juniper carried it away to the dog's room. Sunday, the pink one vanished into the room. By Monday evening, this is what we had:

And on Tuesday morning, this took place. It's looking bad for the last of the loofa clan.

But the dogs look happy! Notice the surgical precision with which Juniper has opened up the loofa dog's chest. (Look closely between her paws.) I believe she is planning open stuffing surgery. Perhaps a transplant. Her assistant appears to be a bit impaired.

And the eventual result, sad but inevitable:

As with their walking behavior, they differ in their toy-killing behavior. Juniper has a methodical, get-it-over-with, open-it-up-and-remove-all-the-guts approach, while Boodles is more vigorous. She prefers whipping it back and forth while holding it in her mouth. Breed characteristic or individual personality?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Walking the dogs

It's always interesting to me to watch Juniper and Boodles when we go on our daily walks. Boodles always has her nose to the ground- scent is everything to her. She follows her nose and her trail meanders like a drunken sailor. The undersides of bushes fascinate her, and she vanishes into hedges at the speed of light. Her world narrows to what she can smell.

Juniper, on the other hand, is all eyes. She walks sedately, all four feet in a straight line, head up, surveying the surroundings. She hardly ever puts her nose to the ground, although she will sometimes point it at the sky and take deep sniffs.

We don't know what Boodle's genetic heritage is. We suspect some St. Bernard, based on facial coloring, but truthfully, she could be a mix of anything. Somewhere, however, a scent hound lurks in her background. The Wikipedia article about olfaction, the sense of smell, found here has this to say:

"Dogs in general have a nose approximately a hundred thousand to a million times more sensitive than a human's. Scenthounds as a group can smell one- to ten-million times more acutely than a human, and Bloodhounds, which have the keenest sense of smell of any dogs, have noses ten- to one-hundred-million times more sensitive than a human's. They were bred for the specific purpose of tracking humans, and can detect a scent trail a few days old. The second-most-sensitive nose is possessed by the Basset Hound, which was bred to track and hunt rabbits and other small animals."

You can tell those dogs who rely heavily on scent for information- they are the drooly ones. All dog noses are damp, to attract and hold scent molecules. Scent hounds go a little further- providing extra moisture. They generally have loose, saggy lips, and droopy ears to better stir air currents and bring scent molecules up to the nose. All of those things that make a Bloodhound recognizable as a Bloodhound are bred in to make their ability to scent track better- long floppy ears, wet drooly mouth with droopy lips and loose neck skin. Even the floppy skin that makes them look so comical is there for a reason- when the dog's nose is to the ground, the skin falls forward, reducing the field of vision so there are fewer distractions from the scent trail.

Saint Bernard's don't have quite as many scent adaptations, but the do have the drooping, drooly mouths. To read an amusing article about training Saint Bernard's to scent track, click here

We do know about Juniper's genetic heritage- Akita, Lab and Rottweiler. All hunting dogs- working dogs with high prey drives who use their eyes. Desmond Morris, author of Dog Watching writes "Another difference between our eyes and theirs is that they are more sensitive to movement and less so to detail. If something stands still when at a good distance from them, it becomes almost invisible. This is why so many prey species "freeze" and stand motionless when they become alarmed, before trying to flee. Tests have proved that if a dog's owner remains motionless at a distance of three hundred yards the animal cannot detect him. If, on the other hand, a shepherd is one mile distant but making bold hand signals, these can be clearly seen by this sheepdog. This sensitivity to movement is, of course, of paramount importance during the long chases when wild dogs are on the hunt. Once the prey is fleeing, the dog's eyes are at their peak of performance.

An additional aid for the hunting dog is its much wider field of vision. A narrow-headed breed like a greyhound has a visual range of 270 degrees. A more typical dog has a visual range of 250 degrees. Flat-faced dogs have slightly less. But they all have more than human beings, whose visual field is only 180 degrees. Although this means that dogs can detect small movements over a much wider slice of the landscape, they have to pay for this with a narrower range of binocular vision, a range that is only half the width of ours. So we are better at judging distances than they are."

I'm really fairly new to dog walking, despite having had dogs for most of my life. When we had the pack of 4 dogs we had a huge fenced yard and small children- dog walking was not the priority then that I know now know it should be. Our last dog was our son's, and roller blading was his favorite form of exercise. When Bart went off to college, Jerehmiah took over the dog walking; it didn't become my job until Jerehmiah left home and Ender was elderly. Until I walked these two very different dogs together, I never noticed the effects of breeding and genetics at work.