As that annual parade of the pedigreed known as the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show unfolded at Madison Square Garden, there has been a debate over purebred dogs going on in the pages of the New York Times, at least its digital ones.
It’s worth checking out, especially, in my view, two of the opinion pieces from two of my favorite dog experts.
Alexandra Horowitz, professor of psychology at Barnard College and author of “Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know,” hits on several important points in a piece focused mainly on the link between breed standards and inherited disorders.
She cites research showing that, among the most popular breeds, almost every one has developed some type of inherited disorder stemming from breed standards that prescribe how a dog should look.
Bulldogs and pugs have broad and shortened heads that lead to obstructions in breathing. Many large breeds have debilitating hip and elbow dysplasias. Shar-Peis, because of their wrinkly skin, are prone to eye ulcerations. The Cavalier King Charles spaniel may have a brain that grows too large for its skull, an extremely painful condition called syringomyelia.
By changing the breed standards — making them more health-contingent than looks-contingent, the health of dozens of breeds could be improved, she notes.
Horowitz also addresses the matter of personality. Although AKC breed standards make it sound like a dog’s personality is genetically determined, that’s not the case, she says.
” … A dog is not merchandise whose behavior (outside of a few hard-wired ones, like pointing) can be predicted ahead of time.
“While many owners may see breed-typical personalities in their dogs (we humans do tend to spot just the evidence which supports our theories), there is simply no guarantee that a dog will behave just so. Witness the cases of cloned — genetically identical — pets who have, to their owners’ great surprise, quite different personalities.”
Making it sound like the personality of all dogs can be predicted by what breed they are is problematic, she notes.
“When a dog does not behave in accordance with her ‘billing,’ owners call this a ‘behavior problem’ — the single greatest reason for relinquishment of a dog to a shelter. Thus, inadvertently, breed standards lead potential adopters to treat them more like products with reliable features.
“Dogs are individuals, and should be treated thusly.”
In another piece presented in the Times “Room for Debate” feature, James Serpell, the Marie Moore professor of animal welfare at the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and the director of the Center for the Interaction of Animals and Society, looks at what kennel clubs, dog shows and the breed standards they espouse, has led to.
For one, inbreeding, as a way to produce dogs that most closely fit the written standards, or in some cases the interpretation thereof.
“Not only were the original gene pools of many breeds very small to begin with, but breeders have also accentuated the problem by selectively breeding from relatively small numbers of “champion sires” and/or by mating together closely related individuals.
“Nowadays, many breeds are highly inbred and express an extraordinary variety of genetic defects as a consequence: defects ranging from anatomical problems, like hip dysplasia, that cause chronic suffering, to impaired immune function and loss of resistance to fatal diseases like cancer. The only sensible way out of this genetic dead-end is through selective out-crossing with dogs from other breeds, but this is considered anathema by most breeders since it would inevitably affect the genetic “purity” of their breeds…”
“When standards do more harm than good, they should either be revised or abandoned altogether. We owe it to the dogs.”
A compelling argument is also made by Mark Derr, an author who was among the first to bring attention to the problems that have been created in the quest for purity and predictability: “It is long past time to make changes to standards that improve dogs’ lives or discontinue their breeding,” he concludes.
Less in line with my thinking — but I”ll point you to it, anyway – was a piece submitted by Lilian Barber, who breeds, judges and writes about Italian greyhounds.
Barber, president of the Kennel Club of Palm Springs, Calif., argues that breed standards are about more than appearance.
“Breeding dogs that fit a written standard isn’t just about appearance. Different breeds have different traits. It’s like choosing a vehicle. In many cases a two-door sedan will suffice, but sometimes a truck is needed.”
She continues, fortunately shifting out of the motor vehicle analogy:
”Most breeders of purebreds support research regarding the genetic health of their breeds and plan their matings carefully to insure that the offspring will be healthy. It would make little sense to put time, effort, money and passion into breeding unhealthy dogs … Those dogs are a huge and vital part of our lives.”
You can find links to all the opinion pieces here.
Posted by jwoestendiek February 14th, 2013 under Muttsblog.
Tags: alexandra horowitz, animals, breed standards, breeds, cloning, debate, dog, dog shows, dogs, experts, genetic, genetics, health, inbreeding, inherited, james serpell, kennel club, mark derr, new york times, opinions, personality, pets, problems, purebreds, room for debate, standards, traits, westminster
In another study buttressing the belief that people tend to get dogs that match their personalities, British researchers say they concluded that disagreeable people prefer to own aggressive dogs.
The study, by a research team from the University of Leicester’s School of Psychology, was based on personality tests, filled out by participants.
Participating humans, we mean.
For the dogs, researchers seemed to mostly fall back on old stereotypes.
Researchers say they found that younger people and people with low levels of agreeableness were more likely to prefer dog breeds that were rated more aggressive. As examples of those breeds, they cited bull terriers or boxers.
Here’s where I’m going to have to be disagreeable. While I’m certain a trained psychologist with a clipboard and a questionnaire can confirm disagreeability in humans, I have my doubts about their labeling dogs aggressive, epecially if, as it seems, that is based entirely on perceptions, which are often misperceptions, about breeds.
Did the scientists actually meet any disagreeable people and their aggressive dogs? (Perhaps it was wisest not to.) Or did they just work from a checklist of allegedly aggressive dogs — Rottweilers? Akitas? Pit bulls? Dobermans. German shepherds?
I don’t dispute the conclusion the study reached; it seems somewhat obvious. I just question what they base the label of “aggressive” dog on. If it’s solely breed, and perceptions of breeds, that’s not science; it’s stereotyping.
And you’ve got to wonder too — assuming there is a connection between disagreeable people and aggressive dogs, whether dogs belonging to disagreeable people started out that way, or became aggressive while living disagreeable people?
Humans generally make dogs aggressive — sometimes intentionally, sometimes accidentally. An aggressive dog usually has a disagreeable human behind it. (Check out some of the comments we’ve received from supporters of dogfighting for proof of that.)
According to the scientists, disagreeable people are typically less concerned about others’ well-being and may be suspicious, unfriendly and competitive.
The study, published in the June edition of the journal Anthrozoos, found no link between liking an aggressive breed of dog and delinquent behavior, or that having an aggressive type of dog is a “status display,” lead researcher Vincent Egan said in a university news release:
“This type of study is important, as it shows assumptions are not the whole picture. It is assumed owners of aggressive dogs … or dogs perceived as aggressive … are antisocial show-offs.”
If one is relying on “dogs perceived as aggressive” to build their database, isn’t one making some assumptions oneself?
(Photos: We don’t think Rush Limbaugh has a dog, so we went on Google and picked him out a Chihuahua. No slur to Chihuahuas is intended)
Posted by jwoestendiek May 31st, 2012 under Muttsblog.
Tags: aggressive, animals, behavior, breeds, disagreeable, dog owners, dogs, humans, match, misperceptions, perceptions, personality, pets, pyschologists, reflect, research, study, university of leicester
An eccentric Czech scientist says a single-celled parasite that can be passed on through contact with cat feces can lead people to behave in strange and destructive ways.
And Jaroslav Flegr has more than studies to back up his theory. He has the parasite — Toxoplasma gondii (or Toxo for short).
Flegr and his work are profiled in a fascinating (and scary) article this month in The Atlantic, which describes the 63-year-old evolutionary biologist as a “sloppy dresser … with the contemplative air of someone habitually lost in thought” and “frizzy red hair that encircles his head like a ring of fire.”
Flegr, the article says, has pursued his theory for decades in relative obscurity — partly because he’s not much of a conversationalist and rarely goes to scientific conferences, partly, he says, because people just don’t want to hear it.
“There is strong psychological resistance to the possibility that human behavior can be influenced by some stupid parasite,” he says. “Nobody likes to feel like a puppet.”
His theory is gaining credence, though, The Atlantic reports.
That parasites can be passed on through cat feces is nothing new, as the article notes:
Since the 1920s, doctors have recognized that a woman who becomes infected during pregnancy can transmit the disease to the fetus, in some cases resulting in severe brain damage or death … (It’s) the reason pregnant women are told to avoid cats’ litter boxes. T. gondii is also a major threat to people with weakened immunity: in the early days of the AIDS epidemic, before good antiretroviral drugs were developed, it was to blame for the dementia that afflicted many patients at the disease’s end stage. Healthy children and adults, however, usually experience nothing worse than brief flu-like symptoms before quickly fighting off the protozoan, which thereafter lies dormant inside brain cells—or at least that’s the standard medical wisdom.
Flegr thinks that, even in its latent stage, the parasite may be messing with the connections between our neurons, affecting our response to frightening situations, our outgoingness, our trust of others and our preference for certain scents.
He thinks the organism is a factor in car crashes, suicides, and mental disorders such as schizophrenia. All tolled, he says, it might be, in an indirect kind of way, killing a million people a year.
Flegr had long wondered about his own behavior. Sometimes, he didn’t move out of the way of oncoming traffic, and exhibited other behaviors that might be described as self-destructive. He began to suspect that a single-celled parasite in the protozoan family was manipulating his personality.
In 1990, he joined the biology faculty of Charles University, which was a leader in documenting the health effects of T. gondii and in developing methods for detecting the parasite.
Colleagues searching for infected individuals on whom to test their improved diagnostic kits asked him to volunteer, and that’s when he confirmed he had the parasite.
Posted by jwoestendiek February 23rd, 2012 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, behavior, biologist, cat, cat litter, cats, charles university, feces, health, jaroslav flegr, Kathleen McAuliffe, litter, meat, parasite, parasites, personality, pets, poop, pregnancy, schizophrenia, science, scientist, self destructive, studies, the atlantic, toxo, toxoplasma gondii, undercooked, unwashed vegetables, waste
So, for Valentine’s Day — even though we’re not personally celebrating it this year — we pass along some advice from Wendy Diamond, author of the 2006 book, ”How To Understand Men Through Their Dogs.”
Diamond believes the type of dog a man shares his life with provides some clues to his personality characteristics.
(And we interrupt here to point out that if a man doesn’t have a dog, just avoid him entirely. If he has cats, run even faster.)
But back to Ms. Diamond, who says much can be read into the breed a man chooses. The Akita owner, for instance, may lean toward being over protective of those he loves; the poodle man might be too sophisticated for his own good; and the Pomeranian owner isn’t likely to be highly affectionate.
On the other hand, she says, the German shepherd owner is likely to be mysterious and intriguing, if you’re into that sort of thing.
And it’s a safe bet, in her view, that the guardian of a bichon frise is “great with children.”
If you are looking for a husband, though, Diamond recommends you consider the man who has a Doberman pinscher, rottweiler, collie, beagle or Chinese crested.
The mutt owner makes a good mate, too, she notes — he’s typically a happy-go-lucky sort who’s good with children and “not concerned about pedigree.”
We’re not about to argue with any of her recommendations (we’re too happy-go-lucky); but we would add only this, for men or women who want to factor dogs into the courtship equation:
Far more important than the breed they’ve chosen — whether it is hairless and scrawny or big and mysterious – is how they treat their dog.
A book may help, but when it comes to understanding men, that speaks volumes.
Posted by jwoestendiek February 14th, 2012 under Muttsblog.
Tags: akita, beagle, book, books on dogs, breeds, characteristics, chinese crested, courtship, dating, dogs, gender, german shepherd, how to understand men, men, mixed breeds, mutt, personality, pets, pomeranian, relationships, rottweiler, sexes, understanding, valentine, valentines day, wendy diamond, women
I finally got my Thanksgiving dinner, and while I didn’t bite the hand that fed me, Ace did bite the head of the dog belonging to the man who fed us.
My brother and his partner, James, knowing my travels had precluded me from enjoying a turkey dinner, invited us to come over Sunday for one, with all the fixings.
James, a master chef, put out quite a spread — numerous appetizers, turkey, stuffing, green bean casserole, yams, all followed by pumpkin cake.
During the preparation, Ace — having learned from previous experiences — was at his side every moment, followed every dish to the table, and as we ate, sat down and waited hopefully that a bite or two might be passed his way. Roscoe, too, approached the table from time to time, but didn’t seem obsessive about it, like Ace.
Though about the same age, they are two very different dogs, I’ve noticed in the time we’ve shared over the past months. Roscoe is the more goofy and dog-like of the two, more prone to barking, more likely to slather your face with kisses. Where Ace seems to have a desire to be a human, Roscoe seems perfectly content with his dog-ness. Where Ace seems to think “if I behave well, I will be rewarded,” Roscoe’s attitude is more “to heck with that stuff.”
I’d always considered Ace the smarter of the two. But now I’m not so sure. At dinner, Ace would sit and stare at whoever was chewing. He does that, almost as if watching a tennis match. He will sit and stare as long as a person is chewing, and even after that, probably until whatever is being masticated has cleared the esophagus. Then he’ll stare until every last plate is cleared, and loaded in the dishwasher, and the kitchen light goes off. Hope springs eternal.
Roscoe uses a different strategy.
He’s prone — not just during meals, but anytime — to grabbing household items with his mouth and not letting go. During my last visit, it was my underwear (not while I was wearing them). Sometimes it’s a pillow from the bed, or a pillow from the couch, or a camera bag, or a pair of socks.
He doesn’t destroy the item. Rather he just walks around with it dangling from his mouth, wagging his tail and absolutely refusing to let go until he gets a better offer — i.e. a treat.
At our belated Thanksgiving dinner, Roscoe grabbed a cloth napkin off the table, then paraded around, as if he wanted everybody to see. Not until some turkey was offered did he relinquish it.
This, while maybe not a perfect example of how humans should train their dogs, is a perfect example of how dogs train their humans. I think if we ever caught on, and tallied up how much our dogs manage to manipulate us, we’d be shocked. Fortunately, most of us are too busy to do that, and go on thinking we’re smarter than our dogs.
After dinner, we watched some TV — perhaps the only thing that manipulates us more than our dogs. If you need more proof that our dogs are smarter than us, ask yourself this question. When was the last time your dog tuned in to “Glee?”
After that, I was full, sleepy and gleeful enough to accept an offer to stay the night. Ace slept at my side until James woke up, at which point, I can only assume, he resumed his I-must-follow-this-man-everywhere-he-goes routine.
I was awakened by the sound of fighting dogs, then the sound of screaming humans, after a second or two of which all was quiet. Ace came back and took his place by my couch, and I went back to sleep.
It wasn’t until I really woke up, a couple of hours later, that I noticed Roscoe had a red mark on his head, and the side of his face. Ace, meanwhile, showed no signs of injuries.
Apparently, while James was in the bathroom, both dogs decided to join him there, and in those close quarters decided the room wasn’t big enough for the both of them. Their rare spat, seemingly, wasn’t over turkey, but attention.
Once it was over they were back to their normally peacefully coexisting selves. Roscoe, despite a slightly punctured head, seemed sad to see Ace leave.
Evidence of yet one more thing at which dogs just might be better than us — forgiveness.
Posted by jwoestendiek December 7th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, animals, arizona, begging, behavior, brother, dinner, dog's country, dogs, dogscountry, eating, family, fighting, food, forgive, forgiveness, glee, holidays, intelligence, labrador, manipulate, manipulation, meals, personality, pets, roscoe, smarft, table, television, thanksgiving, training, travels with ace, treats, turkey, yellow lab
We all know that small dogs generally live longer than big dogs, but a new study in Canada suggests that docile, obedient, shy dogs dogs are prone to longer lives than unruly, disobedient, bold ones.
Vincent Careau at the University of Sherbrooke in Quebec compared data from previous studies of personality in a number of dog breeds, and mortality data on the same varieties, and used additional data from insurance companies to come up with the conclusion.
Careau’s team found the most obedient breeds, such as German shepherds, poodles and bichon frises, tended to be the longest lived, while hard-to-train, high energy dogs such as pomeranians and beagles were more likely to die younger.
Another trait, aggressiveness, was linked to metabolic rate, with docile dogs such as collies burning calories more slowly than more territorial breeds, for instance .
According to a study abstract, “we tested whether proactive personalities (high levels of activity, boldness, and aggression) are related to a fast “pace of life” (high rates of growth, mortality, and energy expenditure)…
Being a shy, slow burner of calories myself, I can only hope the phenomenon applies to humans as well — for it means if I watch enough TV, take enough naps and avoid chasing squirrels, I will live longer than all of you doing your daily aerobics.
(Photo by John Woestendiek / ohmidog!)
Posted by jwoestendiek April 28th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: aggressiveness, animals, big, bold, breeds, burning, calorie, disobedient, docile, dogs, high energy, life, life span, lives, longer, longevity, metabolic rate, mortality, news, obedient, ohmidog!, personality, pets, quebec, shy, small, study, traits, university of sherbrooke, vincent careau
After three weeks of searching for his lost pit bull CinnaBun, TV personality and motorcycle-maker Jesse James has been reunited with the dog.
James, who is CEO of West Coast Choppers and the husband of actress Sandra Bullock, posted the news on his Twitter page yesterday and his website, along with photos of CinnaBun putting her paws up to his chest.
Here’s his tweet: “So Happy! Thnx Everyone for all the help! She looks like she hz had quite the Adventure!”
James had hired a pet detective and offered a reward of $5,000 for the dog’s return after she went missing Jan. 25. According to TMZ, James got a call from someone who had seen CinnaBun’s picture on a flier.
The woman brought CinnaBun, who’d lost 15 pounds during her time away, to James’s Long Beach bike shop.
(Photo: West Coast Choppers)
Posted by jwoestendiek February 17th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, cinnabun, dog, dogs, found, happy, jesse james, lost, motorcycles, news, personality, pets, pitbull, returned, reunion, reunited, sandra bullock, search, television, tv, tweet, twitter, west coast choppers
Dog trainer and author Joel Silverman, author of “What Color is Your Dog?”, will conduct a one-hour seminar next week at Camp Bow Wow in Columbia, Md.
Silverman’s appearance, Sept. 23 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., will include a question and answer session and book signing.
Silverman is a career animal trainer, having worked for more than 25 years training animals for movies, TV shows and commercials. He was host, for nearly 10 years of ”Good Dog U” on Animal Planet.
In “What Color Is Your Dog?” Silverman presents his color-coding technique to recognize and and enhance dog behavior based on the dog’s personality.
Silverman coaches readers on how to develop a strong relationship with new pets in their first 30 days of ownership to observe their dog’s temperament and behavior. The author then teaches readers to label their dogs temperament by color, starting at one of three behavioral levels from shy (blue) to yellow (mellow) to highly strung (red). The goal is to move the dog through training practices individualized for each type of dog to inevitably reach the middle (yellow) level.
Camp Bow Wow, at 7165 Oakland Mills Rd. in Columbia, asks that, because a large crowd is expected, you keep your dogs home for this event.
Camp Bow Wow is also offering a class on pet first aid and CPR training on Sept. 20. Visit our Doggie Doings page for more information.
Posted by jwoestendiek September 14th, 2009 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animal planet, animal trainer, author, behavior, behavioral, book, camp bow wow, coded, color, dog, dogs, good dog u, joel silverman, personality, seminar, signing, talk, temperament, trainer, what color is your dog?
Are dogs and their humans so entwined that they tend to take after one another in appearance?
The question — one drawing increasing scrutiny from scientists — was asked, but not really answered, in a piece in the the Health section of yesterday’s New York Times.
In 2004, researchers in San Diego found that people were able to correctly match pictures of dog owners with their pets more often than not, but only when the dogs were purebreds. Similarities in facial expressions played a big role in the choices.
The same year, a psychologist at the University of South Carolina challenged the findings in a separate study, but the San Diego researchers countered with a reanalysis that confirmed their initial findings.
Earlier this year, a scientist in England conducted a study in which 70 subjects were asked to match pictures of 41 dog owners to one of several breeds. They were able to match successfully more than half the time.
As with the San Diego study, the subjects later said they matched mostly by looking for personality traits that they believed the dogs and their owners shared.
What’s not known is whether that’s because dog and owner tend to take on a similar appearance (my personal theory), or because people look for certain traits or predispositions that might match their own when choosing a dog.
(Photo: courtesy of afunnystuff.com)
Posted by jwoestendiek August 11th, 2009 under Muttsblog.
Tags: alike, appearance, dog, dogs, expressions, humans, look, lookalikes, owner, personality, relationships, resemblance, san diego, studies, traits, university of south carolina
Not being a close follower of his extra-curricular activities, I didn’t know Cowell has loaned his unexplainable celebrity to campaigns against wearing fur, for spaying and neutering, and cautioning against leaving dogs in hot cars.
Leave it to PETA to straighten me out.
Here are some excerpts of a recent interview PETA had with Cowell:
“…If I was buying a dog, I wouldn’t buy it from a pet shop, I’d go to a rescue shelter … It’s not where the dog came from, it’s the dog. … I get really annoyed when people start telling me about the make and the model of their dog like (it was a) car … A dog is a dog, no matter what background they’ve got … Often, the mutts, the strays have got more personality than a highly bred pedigree.
On dogs as accessories:
Well, I think the fashion accessory thing has become quite the thing here. You’ve got the rap and pop stars carrying around the highly bred dogs …. They think it’d be embarrassing to be seen carrying a mutt … when actually it would be endearing — people would think they cared more about the dog than their image.
I think we’ve got to be balanced on this…I think it’s nice that they have made an issue of buying a dog for the kids. What I think would be great would be if they also took in a shelter dog, just from anywhere, to balance it. I’ll even pay for the dog food!
On dog shows:
Well, again, I have two thoughts about them, because I think the vast majority of people who go and watch something like Crufts or who are involved are animal lovers, not animal haters. The problem (in the U.K. at least) is that we have elitism in the dog world, which does bother me, for who’s to say what makes the perfect dog?
Yeah, dawg. The nerve. What gives those dog show judges the right to put contestants through the hoops and then sit back in judgment?
For Cowell’s full remarks, visit The PETA Files blog.
Posted by jwoestendiek May 14th, 2009 under Muttsblog.
Tags: american idol, anti-fur, blog, bo obama, bobama, campaigns, cars, celebrity, crufts, dog food, dog shows, dogs, fur, interview, judges, judging, mutts, neutering, pedigree, personality, peta, purebreds, rescue, shelter, simon cowell, spaying, strays, the peta files, westminster