With Westminster over and Crufts winding up, halfway between Miss America and Miss USA, it seems a good a time as any to look at our standards of physical perfection — for dogs and humans — and where they came from.
Recent evidence suggests that — at least when it comes to competitions — they all may have started with pigeons, or, more accurately, with humans in pursuit of pigeon perfection.
This, be warned, is not a scholarly presentation — just an impish one – but we will cite the work of some scholars, namely historians at the University of Manchester who say they’ve traced the first use of a physical standard to describe what’s desirable, appearance wise, for a certain a breed of dog.
That dog was a pointer, named Major, but what’s even more interesting to us is where the whole presumptuous idea came from that we humans get to declare what’s perfect when it comes to the sizes, shapes, coats, muscle tone, wingspan or snout length of nature’s creations.
It’s one thing to set standards for our own species — be they male bodybuilders wearing too-skimpy Speedos, or women in swimsuits competing in “scholarship competitions.” It’s quite another to think we have the right to decide the right look for the entire animal kingdom — and then fashion those creatures to better please our eyes.
Apparently we have the pigeon — or pigeon afficianados — to thank. Fancy that.
Modern day dog show standards were modeled after the scoring system used in the 1800s to rate pigeons, according to University of Manchester historians.
They say they have discovered the first attempt to define a physical standard for a dog breed – in an 1865 edition of a Victorian journal called The Field. It was written, in reference to a show-winning pointer named Major, by John Henry Walsh, who used the pseudonym of “Stonehenge.”
The historians say that makes Major the “first modern dog.” Walsh took the system of giving scores for different parts of the body from pigeon fanciers, paving the way for the pedigree dog breeds we know and love today.
That led the way to all the other breed standards, and inbreeding and all the resulting genetic problems, too.
Historians at the University of Manchester believe standards caught on because, prior to them, judging was a pretty arbitrary pursuit, and contestants — the humans hoping to win ribbons, trophies and money through their animals — were often unhappy with the results, leading to disputes.
In other words, with standards in place, the decisions of judges seemed less arbitrary — even though the standards themselves are mostly arbitrary.
In September 1865, Stonehenge published a classification for the pointer which outlined what it should look like, and gave point values to the various section of its body – head and neck 30 points, frame and general symmetry 25 points, legs and feet 20 points, color and coat 10 points.
Articles soon followed on the standards for gordon setters, clumber spaniels, Norfolk spaniels, truffle dogs and fox terriers. Walsh’s edited collection was published in 1867.
“The standard set by ‘Mr Smith’s Major’ must surely be one of the most important milestones in the six-thousand-year-old relationship between canines and man,” said Professor Michael Worboys, head of the University’s Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine.
“As dogs came to be defined as ‘breeds,’ they were bred for greater conformity to breed standards, which meant more inbreeding, and more health problems as dogs were bred from a smaller gene pool … Stonehenge’s classifications set in chain a process where dogs were re-imagined, redesigned and remade.”
The standards weren’t pulled out of thin air. Most often they were based on traits a type of dog had already shown. The bulldog, for example was bred to have a form ideal for grappling with a bull, even though bull-baiting had been banned in 1830.
While both dog shows and breed standards got their start in England, Americans picked up on them, including P.T. Barnum, who after holding dog, bird and baby contests, is credited by some with staging the first modern American beauty pageant.
P.T. Barnum is also often credited with the phrase, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” Numerous websites will tell you he said that; many more say he did not — that it was instead the owner of a competing circus.
(The Internet is one of those places that has no standards.)
We’re not totally against written standards, just a little bothered when they are arbitrarily imposed by one species on another, or by one majority on a minority.
There are plenty of places we can use some standards – among them hospitals, Congress and corporate empires, like the one belonging to Donald Trump, the modern-day P.T. Barnum who owns the Miss USA pageant.
When it comes to beauty though — human, dog or pigeon beauty — we think that decision is best made not by a checklist, but by the eye of the beholder.
(Photos: Top left, Sheena Monnin, a Miss USA contestant who, after claiming the pageant was fixed, was ordered to pay Donald Trump $5 million; top right, a pigeon, courtesy of U.S. Department of Fish and Wildife ; sketch of Major courtesy of Dr. Michael Worboys, University of Manchester)
Posted by jwoestendiek March 11th, 2013 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, beauty, beauty pageants, breeding, conformation, crufts, desirable, disorders, dog breed, dog shows, dogs, donald trump, females, first, form, genetic, humans, ideals, inbreeding, males, miss america, miss usa, perfection, pets, pigeons, pt barnum, shape, size, standards, westminster, written
Leashed dogs are likely to act more aggressively. Dogs, researchers ascertained, like to sniff other dogs, especially those of the opposite sex.
But here’s one fascinating finding that I think is worth much more research: Dogs being walked by men are four times more likely to threaten and bite other dogs.
That’s pretty stunning, and merits further investigation — into dog, into man, but even moreso into dogs’ abilities to read our emotions, better even, perhaps, than we can read our own.
The study, to be published in the journal Applied Animal Behavior Science, found that the sex of the owner had the biggest effect on whether or not a dog will threaten or bite another dog.
“We propose that the occurrence of threat and biting in dogs on a walk may have some connection with aggressive tendencies and/or impulsivity in people,” Petr Rezac and his team at Mendel University wrote.
They add: “Dogs are able to perceive subtle messages of threat emitted by another dog. Simultaneously, dogs are unusually skilled at reading human social and communicative behavior.”
Rezac is an associate professor in the Department of Animal Morphology, Physiology and Genetics. He and his colleagues studied close to 2,000 dog-dog interactions on owner-led walks held in the city of Brno, according to Discovery News.
What they observed the most, as you might expect, was sniffing and peeing. And most of the researchers’ conclusions are already known by anyone with a dog:
Males sniff females more often, males and females prefer play with each other than with members of their own sex, adult males mark the most, puppies play together more than twice as often as adults, dogs prefer to play with similarly sized individuals and dogs tend to be more aggressive when restrained by a leash.
(Scientists, meanwhile, according to my own observations, are prone to sniffing, scratching their heads and marking their turf. They don’t have time to play, and tend to be aggressive when their funding is threatened. They should almost always be leashed.)
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, in the process of trying to figure dogs out, man learned a thing or two about his own self?
I think much helpful-to-humans information is there, inside dogs, but it mostly goes untapped — because we speak different languages, because we don’t often look for it, and for reasons of focus. Scientists, like detectives building a case against a suspect, sometimes develop tunnel vision, to the extent that bigger, broader potential revelations, and sometimes ethics and boundaries, go ignored.
The Czech study, for example, leads me to wonder whether, in addition to studying the dogs, scientists might want to pay closer attention to those dog walkers, and all the baggage and pent-up hostilities they may be carrying around — whether they have those emotions on a leash, or too tight a leash, or no leash at all.
I don’t think it’s a Czech thing. And, in my experience, it’s not a gender thing. Generally, I’ve found that the most tightly wound pet owners — male or female — have the most unpredictable dogs.
Dogs, in large part, mirror their owners.
But their powers go far beyond mere reflection. Let’s go back to those pent-up hostilities. Sometimes they are undectable to psychiatrists. Sometimes they are undectable to the person they are pent-up in. Yet dogs have the power to sense them, and sometimes to calm them.
I’m not saying dogs know more than scientists — or am I? — only that dogs sense and know things we don’t. If only we could figure out a non-intrusive and polite way to ask the dogs to share with us all the things they have the power to sense — things that, even with all our scientific instruments, we humans can’t.
Maybe then — leashed or unleashed, male or female, dog or human — we could all just get along.
(Photo: By John Woestendiek)
(PS: The dogs pictured above were playing, not fighting)
Posted by jwoestendiek November 7th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: aggressive, animal behavior, animals, behavior, communication, conclusions, czech republic, dog, dog walking, dogs, females, findings, gender, hostile, humans, inside dogs, insights, leashed, leashes, males, mendel university, mirror, observation, peeing, perception, petr rezac, pets, playing, reading, reflect, reflection, research, science, scientists, sense, sensing, sex, sniffing, study, walker, walking
Observing my dog Ace over the past year – at the beach, in the mountains, in deserts, forests, city streets, suburban lawns and campgrounds all across the USA – I’ve noticed that he is much more interested in some forms of wildlife than he is in others.
Between our travels and the five years we shared before that, I’ve been able to chart the degree of fascination he seems to hold for different species of animals — from those that seem to enthrall him to those whose appearances produce a reaction more like ho-hum, been there, done that.
When I say “chart,” I am not using the term loosely:
Using a scale of 1 to 10 — 1 being barely piquing his curiousity, 10 being the utmost peak of piqued — I have ranked Ace’s seeming degree of interest in cats, crabs, cows and other creatures. Keep in mind, every dog — based on his genes and environment — probably has a different scale of interest in other species. So your actual dog may vary.
I have no idea how much of Ace’s reaction is sight-based, as opposed to scent-based, but it seems he’s most excited about species he has never seen (or smelled) before, or only rarely sees (or smells), whereas those that are a part of every day, squirrels for instance — abbreviated as SQ in the chart above – are worth little more than a yawn.
If, however, there are two squirrels, and they are chasing each other around a tree, or along a telephone line, making squirrel noises, then Ace’s interest rises to an 8.
He was slightly more interested in the white squirrels of Brevard, but that may be because I didn’t let him out of the car, or because he detected I was more interested in them.
Where we are staying now, in a residential neighborhood in Winston-Salem, N.C., there are tons of chipmunks — OK, not tons, but a whole lot — and I’m pretty sure Ace had never seen a chipmunk before. On Ace’s scale, chipmunks rate a 7. He doesn’t that get excited when he sees one, but when they suddenly disappear from view, going down a hole in the ground, his ears prick up, his head rises, he scouts around with a look of concern in his eyes. Then a minute later he seems to have forgotten about them.
Ducks rate a 2, probably because he sees them often — basically everytime he goes to visit my mother (mom rated a 2 with him, but since she’s gotten into the routine of giving him treats, she’s now a full 10).
Don’t get me wrong. He likes the ducks at Arbor Acres, but they don’t seem to stimulate him as much as they did the first time he saw them.
Baby ducks are another story.
He was fascinated — a 9 on the scale — by those my mother was harboring in her room a couple of years back, perhaps because they were babies, perhaps because they were in her room, or, again, maybe because we were so interested in them.
He seems to be very interested in all forms of babies, with the possible exception of human ones, who rate a quick sniff and only a 2 on the Scale of Interest.
Cats rate the maximum 10. While he has seen a lot, and co-resided temporarily with a couple — Miley, for one – his fascination with cats has never diminished.
No other animal species makes Ace perk up as much as a cat. They tend to avoid him (except for staring contests from afar). In our travels, we stayed with at least three. He befriended those who let him. Those who avoided him only made him more intrigued. The only thing more interesting than a cat in full view, it seems, is an almost hidden one whose, say, tail, is poking out from under a chair.
But I’d probably be wrong.
Rabbits rate an 8 with Ace.
He saw several while we were staying in our trailer in the Arizona desert, and lots more — though they seem a shorter and stubbier, slightly more fluffy variety – here in North Carolina.
I don’t know how skunks rate with Ace, and hope I never find out. I don’t know how bears rate, and would just as soon avoid learning that as well.
As for bugs, it depends on what they’re doing and where they are. A cricket in the house can rise to an 8 on his scale. An ant on the sidewalk rates a 1 or less. A bee or fly hovering around his face gets his attention, but is more an annoyance to be snapped at than a species to be studied.
Cows rate about a 4, while horses come in at an average of 6. Horses in a distant pasture aren’t too exciting to him, but one that’s up close merits his scrutiny. He was all but smitten with, and only slightly wary of, a horse named Goblin that we met in Maine.
Turtles rate a 9, in large part — and again I’m using my human brain to guess — because of their novelty and the way they move, taking a few steps, disappearing into their shells, sticking their heads out and taking a few steps more.
Crabs are a curiosity as well, rating a 5 when they are alive and moving, only a 2 when they’ve gone to the great beyond, leaving their earthly shells behind. Then they are but flotsam, part of the potpourri of beach muck that, while definitely worth a good long sniff, is otherwise like a bad summertime novel. After a chapter or less you move on.
That leaves humans, who in some ways are difficult to rank on the scale.
A baby human, to Ace, is like a crab — about a 5, worth sniffing but not lingering with. A baby’s cry must be checked out, but once it is, Ace no longer appreciates it. A human with a bag — no matter what’s in it — is a full 10.
Humans aged 5 to 12 rate a 7. Adult males rate an 8. Adult females rate a 9. Humans with treats rate a 15.
Homeless people rate an 11. I don’t know if it’s because of more interesting scents, or because they usually have bags. Maybe, too, it’s because they often sit on the sidewalk and dogs seem to appreciate it when humans are at their level.
In every town in our travels that we encountered homeless folk — and that was pretty much every town in our travels — Ace seemed to feel the need to at least say hi, if not take a seat or lay down next to them.
I hesitate to add to all my previous anthropomorphizations — assuming that’s a word, and I spelled it right — but permit me one more unscientific human interpretation of my dog’s behavior.
Most dogs experts will tell you compassion is not in a dog’s emotional repertoire. But this is what I like, and tend, to believe:
I think he can sense when somebody needs a friend.
Posted by jwoestendiek June 13th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, adults, america, animals, anthropomorphism, behavior, cats, chart, children, chipmunks, cows, crabs, creatures, curiosity, dog, dogs, ducks, fascination, females, forms, geese, graph, homeless people, horses, interaction, interest, males, observations, pets, rabbits, rate, rating, road trip, seagulls, social, society, species, squirrels, study, travels with ace, turtles, wildlife
A new study has found that young male dogs playing with female pups will often let the females win, even if the males have a physical advantage.
Researchers suspect that, for dogs, the opportunity to play may be more important to them than winning.
The gentlemanly dog behavior is even accompanied with a bow, authors of the study told Discovery News.
“A play bow is a signal that dogs use when they want to communicate playful intentions to a potential play partner,” said Camille Ward, a lecturer in the Department of Psychology at the University of Michigan and author of the soon-to-be-released book, Relationship-Based Dog Training.
Ward and her colleagues studied puppy litters from four breeds – a shepherd mix, Labrador retriever, Doberman pincher and malamute, collecting data from the time the pups were between three and 40 weeks old.
The scientists examined how the puppies played with members of their own sex as well as with the opposite sex.
Females were more likely than males to initiate play with their own sex; males, meanwhile, seemed eager to play with females, and would go to all sorts of lengths to keep the play going.
The male puppies, for example, would sometimes lick the muzzles of their opponents, giving the female a chance to bite them in a vulnerable position. They would also even completely drop to the ground from a moving, standing or sitting position.
“We know that in feral dog populations, female mate choice plays a role in male mating success,” said Ward. “Perhaps males use self-handicapping with females in order to learn more about them and to form close relationships with them — relationships that might later help males to secure future mating opportunities.”
In other words, it seems, they are acting vulnerable in hopes of scoring. Those dogs!