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Tag: breeds

Tibetan mastiffs going out of style in China

nibble

Tibetan mastiffs, which once fetched hundreds of thousands of dollars each in the Chinese marketplace, are going out of style.

The New York Times reports that the lion-like dogs — all the rage among the wealthy in China just two years ago — are quickly becoming yesterday’s trend.

The reasons? A slowing economy for one, coupled with “an official austerity campaign that has made ostentatious consumption a red flag for anti-corruption investigators.” On top of that, the fad is doing what fads do — fade away, often, when it comes to dogs, with disturbing consequences.

About half of the country’s mastiff breeders have left the business, and those that are left are dealing with a surplus so severe that members of the breed can now be spotted on trucks laden with dogs headed to slaughterhouses.

About 20 mastiffs were on one such truck, with 150 other dogs, when it was stopped by Beijing animal rights activists who purchased the entire load from the driver and sent the surviving dogs to rescue organizations.

The Times says that, amid decreasing demand, the average asking price for mastiffs, which have reportedly sold for as much as $1.6 million, has dropped to around $2,000.

“If I had other opportunities, I’d quit this business,” said Gombo, a veteran breeder in China’s northwestern province of Qinghai. “The pressure we’re under is huge.”

Since 2013, about half the 95 breeders in Tibet have gone under, according to the Tibetan Mastiff Association.

“In some ways, the cooling passion for Tibetan mastiffs reflects the fickleness of a consuming class that adopts and discards new products with abandon,” the Times reported.

“Fads are a huge driving force in China’s luxury market,” Liz Flora, editor in chief of Jing Daily, a marketing research company in Beijing, told the Times.  ”Han Chinese consumers have been willing to pay a premium for anything associated with the romanticism of Tibet.”

Other factors in the trend’s demise include unscrupulous breeders who mated purebred Tibetan mastiffs with other breeds, and the breed’s reputation of being aggressive.

Tibetan mastiffs are fiercely loyal, increasing the likelihood of attacks on strangers, experts say, and in the past couple of years some Chinese cities have banned the breed.

(Photo: Nibble, a Tibetan mastiff, was checked by veterinarians after being saved from the slaughterhouse by a group of animal rights activists; by Gilles Sabrie for The New York Times)

Does pinpointing breeds speed up adoption?

lily

In hopes that potential adopters will find a “Chiratoodle” or a “golden Chinscher” more appealing than a plain old mutt or “Chihuahua mix,” an animal shelter in California has begun DNA testing some of its dogs to determine their breeds and market them under more exotic names.

The Peninsula Humane Society and SPCA in Burlingame, south of San Francisco, says initial results show the DNA tested dogs are getting adopted twice as fast.

Not too surprising in a world that prefers labels over mysteries — at least when it comes to what we bring into our homes.

DNA testing is not widely practiced by America’s animal shelters, mainly because of its expense. As a result, most people who adopt a dog from a shelter leave with a mystery mutt, or one whose heritage has been guessed at by shelter staff.

My dog Ace, for instance, when he was adopted nearly 10 years ago, was listed as a “hound mix” on his shelter paperwork, referred to as a “shepherd mix” by shelter staff and listed on Petfinder.com as a “Labrador mix.”

When DNA tests came on the market in 2007, I purchased one, swabbed his cheek and learned he was Rottweiler and Chow. In the next few years, as the tests became capable of identifying more than the original 38 breeds, I tested him two more times. The second test determined he was Rottweiler, Chow and Akita. The third test showed him to be all of those, and a little bit pit bull.

The tests allowed me to answer the question I was asked at least once a day: “What kind of dog is that?” It wasn’t so much that I had to know. All three tests were done mostly as research, for the purpose of writing about them. And once I learned the breeds he was made up of, I kind of missed the mystery.

I don’t think the information is all that vital, but I can understand how a purchaser, or adopter, of a dog might like to know what’s in his or her mix.

In California, the Peninsula Humane Society and SPCA conducted the tests in an attempt to increase the adoptions of Chihuahua mixes, which make up nearly a quarter the dogs in its shelter.

The campaign, conducted under the slogan “Who’s Your Daddy?” is aimed at “finding great homes for dogs at risk of being overlooked,” said Scott Delucchi, the shelter’s senior vice president.

“People love mutts. Still, we’re betting shelter dogs with DNA results included, for free, will be quite fetching,” he says in a commercial for the campaign.

The shelter picks up the cost of the $50 tests, which they say can help owners identify what breed-specific traits the dogs might exhibit. The tests also allow the shelter to have some fun coming up with clever breed names — like “Chorgi” (Chiuahua-corgi), “golden Chinscher”  (golden retriever-miniature pinscher-Chihuahua) and “Chiratoodle” (Chihuahua-rat terrier-poodle).

In February, the shelter conducted tests that determined the breed make up of 11 small dogs. All found homes within two weeks — twice as fast as any 11 untested small, brown dogs in the previous months, according to an Associated Press story.

Twelve more dogs have been tested since then and once they are all placed in homes the shelter plans to test 24 more.

Chihuahuas have replaced pit bulls as the most prevalent breed in the shelter, largely due to the “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” movies, and the breed’s popularity among celebrities.

While some visitors to the shelter are seeking Chihuahuas, others are looking for mutts — small dogs who, thanks to another breed being in the mix, might have a less nervous dispositions.

While shelter officials have proclaimed the new program a success, they note that it’s going to take more than a gimmick to reduce the “alarming” number of Chihuahua mixes coming in.

“Another part is making spay-neuter low-cost or free to the community,” Delucchi said. The shelter also exports some of its smaller dogs to shelters in Florida, New York and other states where they are in shorter supply.

(Photo: Lynn and Tony Mazzola, with Lily, their newly adopted  ”Chorkie;” by Eric Risberg / AP)

Another Ace doppelganger surfaces

SONY DSC

From time to time, about once every couple of years, I hear from a reader who thinks their dog looks just like mine.

That’s my dog Ace above — one of a kind, I like to think, but a mix of four breeds according to repeated DNA testing conducted after I adopted him from a Baltimore animal shelter nearly 10 years ago.

And, no, one of them isn’t German shepherd, though that is the most common guess.

The guessing is one of the joys of mutt ownership, along with the fact that — unlike with, say, Golden retrievers — running into an exact replica of your dog is something you tend to get excited about.

bobby1So, naturally, when May Tayar in Florida stumbled across Ace on the Internet, and saw how much he resembled his mystery mutt, he got pretty excited.

Tayar, who lives in Florida, had assumed his dog Bobby (left), adopted from an animal shelter in Miami, was a German shepherd mix. After reading about Ace’s heritage, now he’s not so sure.

“Bobby looks exactly like Ace,” Max wrote me earlier this month in an email, with three Bobby photos attached.

“We always wondered what mix of breeds he is,” Tayar said of Bobby. “He sometimes looks like a German shepherd, but when he’s standing next to a real one he looks nothing like him. Also Bobby’s tail is clipped so we don’t know what his tail would have looked like.”

Whether Bobby’s tail would have curled up into a question mark, like Ace’s does when he’s in a good mood (we thank the Akita for that), will never be known.

While Bobby doesn’t have Ace’s tail, he has something Ace doesn’t have — pointy ears, or at least sometimes pointy ears. Not until I got to the third photo were they shown in the full upright position, suggesting to me that Bobby, unlike Ace, may have some shepherd in him.

bobby2

After reading about Ace’s origins on ohmidog!, Max is now convinced Bobby, like Ace, is a Rottweiler, Akita, chow and pit bull mix. (Despite the bad reputation those breeds have, I generally share that information with everyone — except maybe landlords and insurers — because he shows how undeserved those reputations are.)

“We’ve been thinking about Ace a lot,” wrote Max, who owns Assara, a laser hair removal business in Manhattan. “… Every time Bobby’s ears go down and he gets a certain look on his face we call him Ace to see if he reacts.”

laikaNo sooner did I write the above then I came across, online, another Ace lookalike — really more of a Bobby lookalike, but with even bigger ears.

I was checking out the blog Puppy Leaks (I think you’d like it) when I saw a photo of Laika. That’s her to the left.

I went to the Puppy Leaks Facebook page, and sent a message to the blog’s author, Jen Gabbard, asking her if she knew what breeds were in Laika, and if it would be OK if I included Laika in this post as well, promising to poke only the gentlest fun at her highly impressive ears.

Laika, according to DNA tests Gabbard had conducted, is a mix of German shepherd, Rottweiler and pit bull.

Of course, what breeds are in a dog doesn’t define a dog — nor does the size of its ears.

It’s all relative. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and maybe even more so in the eye of the owner. Though some have pointed out they think Ace’s floppy ears are disproportionately small for his body, I’ve always seen them as just perfect.

I’m sure Max sees Bobby, and Jen sees Laika, the same way.

And the funny thing is, we’re all right.

(Photos: At top, Ace, by John Woestendiek / ohmidog!; second and third photos, Bobby, courtesy of Max Tayar; at bottom, Laika, courtesy of Jen Gabbard / Puppy Leaks)

When is it OK to pick a dog up by the tail?

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Amid the bashing she’s taking on the Internet for picking her dog up by the tail, there are those coming to the defense of Rebecca Cross, owner of Knopa, the Scottish terrier who won Best in Show at Crufts.

But the explanations those defenders offer, and their justifications for the practice — which has existed for years — are disingenuous, misleading and often a little arrogant.

The only time, in our opinion, that a dog should be picked up by his or her tail is … NEVER!

There may be those in the dog show community, and in the worlds of hunters and breeders, who say that view is naive — that certain breeds can handle it. Then again, they have never been picked up by their tails.

Let’s look at their arguments.

1. The tails of some dog breeds are meant to serve that function. They are born with sturdier tails to provide us humans with handles so we can pull them out when they go into holes. Baloney. Clearly, neither God nor evolution put tails on animals to serve as handles for humans. And if breeders have worked to give certain breeds stronger tails, with that in mind, then they had the wrong thing in mind, which is often the case. Their tinkering with dog breeds to make them cuter, lower maintenance or more useful to humans — all in the name of sales, of course — leads to no good, and to bogus arguments like this one.

2. You shouldn’t do it, but, being highly skilled professionals, it’s OK for us to lift certain small breeds by their tails. Balderdash! Running around in a circle with a dog, and brushing its hair, doesn’t make you a highly skilled professional. Showing a dog doesn’t require a PhD. You’re not a doctor, and if you were you’d know that, the tail being an extension of the spine, it should not be used to hold up even part of a dog’s weight.

3. When a dog is picked up that way, most of the pressure is on the front end of the dog, and the tail is simply used as a guide. Bullshit — pardon our language — but anyone with the slightest understanding of physics can see that, when a dog is picked up this way, the tail is carrying at least some of the dog’s weight. And when the front end is being supported by a hand on his or her throat, rather than his or her chest, that too is problematic.

4. If it hurt them, dogs would yelp and whine. Wrong again! That’s not true of real world dogs, or show dogs — maybe especially show dogs who have accepted the fact that the human showing them is going to do this, just as they have accepted the judges who insist on grasping their packages to check for “conformity.”

5. We’ve always done it that way.  We all know that is no defense at all; rather, it’s an excuse used by those who — even when someone is showing them a better way — stubbornly insist on living in the past. And if ever there was a vestige of the past, it’s purebred dog shows.

Those defending the practice offer plenty of what they, at least, see as justification, but little explanation of the reason for picking up a dog this way in the first place.

cross2That’s probably because it is such a silly and superficial reason: By using those two points of contact, they can avoid messing up the dog’s hair.

In that way, the tail lift symbolizes what, at the root, is wrong with dog shows.

And that’s the “appearance above all” mentality behind them.

Judging dogs on their looks — as called for by breed organizations and breed standards — causes suffering and is not in the best interest of the species.

Shows like Crufts and Westminster value “looks over the welfare and health of dogs which can lead to their early death, and that’s not acceptable if we’re really a nation of dog lovers,” RSPCA spokesperson Violet Owens told the BBC.

Although the dog owner’s comments didn’t sound too apologetic — she said she lifted her dog by the tail due to force of habit — Cross did apologize, according to UK Kennel Club Secretary Caroline Kisko.

And just for the record Kisko also said that — no matter what the breed — picking up a dog by its tail is a no-no, at least at Crufts:

“Those showing at Crufts receive clear written guidance on handling their dog, in order to ensure the dog’s welfare, and this guidance makes it clear that dogs should not be handled in this way,” she said.

Animated Short: Dog movie wins an Oscar

If there’s any dog breed that could be described as an “animated short,” it has to be the Boston terrier.

So it’s fitting that a Boston Terrier — an animated animated Boston terrier — is the star of “Feast,” which won the Academy Award for animated short film Sunday night.

The Disney film depicts a relationship, over the years, between a voracious puppy named Winston and the young man who feeds him.

Through the miracles of animation, this paean to doghood didn’t take 12 years to make.

“Feast” was first-time nominee Patrick Osborne’s directorial debut.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the choice of breed for the film wasn’t taken lightly:

“Because Disney has a long tradition of animated canine superstars — Pluto, Goofy, pampered cocker spaniel Lady, Tramp and the 101 Dalmatians, among them — Osborne watched the studio’s films to make sure he wasn’t repeating a character. He also wanted a dog that wasn’t too big and that had a light-dark pattern that would make its movements more visible.

“The compact, intelligent Boston terrier — a.k.a. the American Gentleman, known for its amusing, bright and friendly personality — fit the bill.”

One of the story artists working on the film had Boston terriers, Osborne said, and brought them in so that their motions and behavior could be observed.

The movie chronicles Winston’s growth, and the coming of age of the boy who owns him.

“I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we saw a puppy go through from being a young dog to grown up below the table as part of the family and enjoying these meals together?’” Osborne told The Times.

For $1.99 ($2.99 for HD) you can watch it in its six-minute entirety on YouTube.

Osborne said he grew up with dachshunds. “They are all gone now, but there is a little bit of them alive with the short, because of my memory of how they moved and acted.”

While he doesn’t have a dog now, he said he felt like he had one a dog during the year he worked on the film about Winston and his eating habits.

“I spent a lot of time with him,” Osborne said.

Pardon me while I perpetuate your legacy

It’s a well-known but little publicized fact that some dogs competing at Westminster and in many other dog shows aren’t brought into the world in a 100 percent natural way.

Since the 1960s, breeders have been harvesting semen from male purebreds — one technique for which is demonstrated in the video above — and inserting it into females in hopes of creating champions.

The American Kennel Club, though it doesn’t allow cloned dogs to participate in the dog shows it sanctions, has no problem with permitting those who are products of artificial insemination.

Over the decades, as with artificial insemination in humans, the technology has progressed and become widely accepted. (My view is, if we are going to widely accept something, we shouldn’t balk at watching it.)

While some human, uh, effort is involved in the semen-gathering method depicted above, more state of the art techniques involve artificial vaginas and electro-stimulation. Even today though, to get the canine juices flowing, breeders commonly use a female dog in heat, parading her in front of the male. She’s referred to as a “teaser bitch.”

Breeders say practicing artificial insemination can help improve the quality of breeds. For sure, it gives them more control, allowing them to overcome logistical obstacles, such as when a male and female are living on opposite ends of the country. They can still have a long distance relationship, so to speak.

It allows a champion male to breed with many more females than would be physically possible through traditional one-on-one mating. It allows older male dogs to continue reproducing after they can no longer mount a female. And it allows a male dog to keep producing offspring long after his death, which is the case with a champion Old English sheep dog named Yoshi.

yoshiYoshi, under his registered name, Lambluv Desert Dancer, won more best in shows than any other sheep dog. He won Best of Breed at Westminster three times, most recently in 1999. He died in 2006, but he could still be daddy to more than 100 future litters.

“I have about 100 straws,” his owner Jere Marder told Bloomberg.com, in reference to the frozen semen samples from Yoshi she has in storage.

No product of artificial insemination has won at Westminster, but last year’s runner up in Best in Breed was a dog created with 17-year-old sperm from one of Lambluv’s sheep dogs.

“Most serious breeders that I know of have something in store,” says Marder, who owns Lambluv Old English Sheepdogs. “If anything, it’s just a precaution; otherwise, if anything happens to your champion dog before you can breed him, you’re out a good chunk of money.”

“It’s definitely a market — and one that’s growing,” said Randall Popkin, owner of the California-based Breeder’s Veterinary Services, which has been storing frozen semen and inseminating dogs with it since 1984.

“When I first started, few breeders were doing this,” he said. “Nowadays, you travel to dog shows and there’ll be three companies there offering to freeze your dog’s semen.”

According to the American Kennel Club, the number of registered purebred litters conceived with frozen semen has risen by 26 percent over the past decade. In 2013, the year for which the most recent data is available, the AKC registered about 2,200 litters that were produced via artificial insemination. That’s about 1 percent of all AKC-approved litters.

The Bloomberg article notes there are downsides.

In 2009, a Pembroke Welsh corgi breeder sued an animal hospital after her dog was allegedly accidentally inseminated with sperm from a Great Pyrenees — a breed roughly five times her dog’s size. The corgi nearly died giving birth.

In addition, there have been lawsuits over samples that were damaged during shipping or produced puppies that didn’t look purebred. In 2012, a jury awarded $200,000 to a Pennsylvania breeder who had sued a veterinary hospital for accidentally defrosting more than 100 samples from her champion poodles.

Marder, who sat out Westminster this year, says she’d love to see one of dead Yoshi’s offspring win there someday. Doing so, the article said “feels to her as if she’s keeping her old dogs alive.”

(Photo: Yoshi, from the website Lambluv.com)

Who’s the fairest of them all?

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Here’s an “infographic” (more graphic than informative, we’d say) that’s popping up a lot on the Internet these days.

It’s from “Knowledge is Beautiful,” a new book by British data-journalist David McCandless.

In it, he crunches data to explain the world, or at least random bits of the world, through graphics that — though they might intimidate those of us who prefer a good old fashioned story — are intended to be entertaining, artful and easy to absorb.

“Every day, every hour, every minute we are bombarded with information, from television, from newspapers, from the Internet, we’re steeped in it. We need a way to relate to it,” his publisher, Harper Collins, writes. The author’s visual presentations ”blend the facts with their connections, contexts, and relationships, making information meaningful, entertaining, and beautiful.”

kibWe’ll withhold comment on the book, because we haven’t read it (if reading is even part of experiencing it.)

But we’ve got problems and questions with this particular chart — a ranking of the 87 “best” dog breeds.

(To see a full size version, click here.)

For starters, why — when there are about 180 recognized breeds now — did he limit himself to only the 87 most popular breeds?

Is that a more algorithm-friendly number? Is that the most that could fit on a page before it became so cluttered as to be reader unfriendly, or leave us feeling dog bombarded?

The infographic contrasts the popularity of the breeds with what (according to the formula used by McCandless) are the “best” breeds. The best breed, according to the chart, is the border collie. It concludes the bulldog the most “inexplicably overrated” dog breed.

McCandless ranks the 87 dog breeds based on these factors — intelligence, lifespan or longevity, ailments, grooming, appetite and costs.

In a way, at least four of those factors are cost-related, aren’t they?

How much a dog eats and how much grooming he requires both can make him a more expensive proposition, which we can only assume McCandless attaches negative points to.

The Newfoundland, for example, falls into the “inexplicably overrated” quadrant of the the chart — well, most of him does, a little bit of his big head seems to stick outside that border.

We’d hope McCandless considers a longer life span for a dog to be a good thing, worth positive points, but wouldn’t a dog gaining points in that category be losing them in the appetite, grooming and costs categories?

Of course, our biggest is complaint — on top of the sheer stupidity of picking a best dog breed — is that the chart ignores the “best” (and most popular) dog of all, the mutt.

That would complicate matters though, and infographics are all about over-simplifying. And stereotyping, and quanitfying the unquantifiable, and smugly considering yourself an expert based on what your computer has churned out, which infographic perusers should bear in mind, is only as reliable as the data it was fed in the first place.

(Photos: “Knowledge is Beautiful”)


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