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
Despite all we’ve done over the centuries to manipulate their shapes, sizes and appearance — even though Chihuahua, shar-pei and Afghan hound don’t much look like members of the same species — a dog knows a fellow dog when he sees one.
And, though we commonly give the dog’s nose all the credit, they can do so using visual cues alone, according to new research published in the journal Animal Cognition.
As summarized by Science Daily, the study by Dr. Dominique Autier-Dérian from the LEEC and National Veterinary School in Lyon in France, is the first to test dogs’ ability to discriminate between species and form a “dog” category — an impressive feat given the huge variability within the canine species.
Autier-Derian and his team explored whether — with 400 breeds and the greatest morphological diversity of any species — dogs have trouble recognizing other dogs as dogs.
On a computer screen, the researchers showed nine pet dogs pictures of faces from various dog breeds and cross-breeds, along with faces of other species, including humans.
The results showed all nine dogs recognized members of their species, strictly by looks.
“The fact that dogs are able to recognize their own species visually, and that they have great olfactory discriminative capacities, insures that social behavior and mating between different breeds is still potentially possible,” the study’s authors concluded. “Although humans have stretched the Canis familiaris species to its morphological limits, its biological entity has been preserved.”
(Image: Springer Science+Business Media)
Posted by jwoestendiek February 18th, 2013 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, appearance, breeds, categories, cognition, diversity, dogs, morphological, pets, recongition, research, science, shape, size, study, variability, visualization
What happens when you cross a Labrador retriever and a poodle?
You get a Labradoodle.
What happens when you bring together a science writer and a cartoonist?
You get a highly informative and entertaining blog, like the Philadelphia Inquirer’s, Planet of the Apes, which looks at evolution. (And God bless evolution, for, without it, we’d all be reading this through slimy fish eyes.)
Earlier this week, the blog – written by Faye Flam and illustrated by Tony Auth – examined what makes dogs so diverse a species.
Is the diversity a result of evolution, or man’s infernal tinkering?
The answer to why there’s such a range in head shapes, snouts, coats and size — why some dogs are up to 40 times the size of others — may be in DNA.
(DNA, of course, being the answer to just about everything nowadays, with the possible exception of where did I put my car keys.)
Flam turned to Elaine Ostrander, a geneticist who studies dogs at the National Institutes of Health, for some help solving the mystery.
“Ostrander said two possible genetic explanations exist for dog variability. One is that something latent in the DNA of wolves allowed them to be transformed into both Great Danes and dachshunds. Under that view, she said, pushed-in noses and floppy ears and spots were all embedded in the wolf genome.
“The evidence against this, she said, is that we never see wolves born with pug noses or polka dots.
“The other view is that the genes underlying these traits don’t exist in the wolf, but that wolf DNA is very good at spinning out new variants – that it’s particularly ‘plastic.’”
Flam goes on to explain that that “plasticity” may stem from the parts of the DNA that don’t make up the genes, but control how those genes work. Seven percent of the dog’s DNA, for example, is made of strings of code called SINEs that appear to have copied themselves throughout the dog chromosomes.
Between dog generations, SINEs can copy themselves in new spots on the chromosomes. And sometimes, the location of these SINEs can influence traits. Australian shepherds, for example, have blue-gray coats due to the invasion of a SINE into the middle of a gene for coat color.
While SINEs crop up in other animals, including us humans, dogs may be particularly rich in these and related bits of variable and movable DNA, according to Ostander.
In other words, or so it seems to me, when it comes to diversity, it’s just another thing dogs are better at than us.
(Graphic: By Tony Auth / Philadelphia Inquirer)
Posted by jwoestendiek November 3rd, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, breeding, breeds, chromosomes, coats, dna, dog, dogs, elaine ostrander, evolution, faye flam, genes, national institutes of health, pets, philadelphia inquirer, planet of the apes, science, shape, sines, size, species, tony auth, wolf
This utility pole — in Kinston, North Carolina, about 90 minutes east of Raleigh — has been attracting attention in the last week from people who see in it a strong resemblance to Jesus on the cross.
And who are we to argue — especially with our addiction to kudzu dogs?
Kent Hardison, who goes by the pole every day on his way to work at Ma’s Hotdog House, told the Free Press of Kinston that he considered spraying weed killer on it when he first saw it, but then thought better of it.
“I glanced at it, and it looks like Jesus,” Hardison said. “I thought, ‘You can’t spray Jesus with Roundup.’”
Hardison said some of his customers think the vine might be an indication that God is watching over the region — and he thinks that’s possible. As he noted, there are some similarities between kudzu and Jesus.
“It doesn’t matter what you do, it is going to be around,” he said. “Ain’t that a lot like Jesus?”
And, as one news report pointed out, The Gospel of John quotes Jesus as saying “I am the true vine.”
Based on our vast experience, and being — while a disciple of dog — an afficianado of kudzu, I can tell you that Kudzu Jesus isn’t kudzu, despite what’s being reported by news media around the world.
At the time, spending hours seeking out and photographing kudzu growing in the shape of dogs, I questioned what had become of my life — how a prize-winning journalist had been reduced to pursuing such a trivial diversion. But now it all pays off, as I can warn the world of a false prophet.
Kudzu Jesus is actually Trumpet Vine Jesus.
To its credit, The Free Press, which broke the story of Kudzu Jesus, corrected itself today, reporting that “multiple sources” have confirmed “that the Christ-like vine on a pole about one mile south of Kinston on U.S. 258 South, is actually Trumpet Vine — a wild vine native to Southeastern U.S.”
Both a local historian and an agriculture extension agent told the newspaper that trumpet vine — named for its trumpet-shaped flowers — is what’s growing up the pole.
Don’t be fooled by Trumpet Vine Jesus; wait until the real kudzu saviour comes along — and I’m sure, in time, he will.
(Top photo: Charles Buchanan / Daily Free Press)
(Bottom photo: John Woestendiek / ohmidog!)
Posted by jwoestendiek June 30th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: christ, cross, crucifixion, dog's country, dogs, dogscountry, growing, image, imagination, jesus, jesus christ, kinston, kudzu, kudzu dogs, kudzu jesus, mistake, news media, north carolina, religion, saviour, shape, south, travels with ace, trumpet vine, utility pole, vine, vines, weed, weeds
Does the hot dog need a makeover?
The nation’s largest pediatricians group thinks so. The American Academy of Pediatrics — un-American as it may sound — is calling for sweeping changes in the way the hot dog is designed to minimize children’s chances for choking.
In a policy statement issued earlier this week, the group identified the hot dog as the greatest food-related choking hazard to children, particularly those ages 3 and younger, and said the shape plays a large role in making it unsafe.
The academy proposes warning labels be placed on hot dogs, and that consideration be given to manufacturing them — gasp! — in the shape of a patty.
The academy cited statistics showing 17 percent of food-related choking deaths among children come from from hot dogs. Other common food choking hazards include grapes, apples, popcorn and nuts, the group said. Of the 141 choking deaths in kids 14 and under in 2006, 61 were food-related, according to an Associated Press story.
The doctors say high-risk foods — including hot dogs, raw carrots, grapes and apples – should be served to small children in pea-sized pieces to reduce chances of choking.
We’d agree with that much, but we think it’s up to parents, as opposed to the government, to see that their childrens’ food is cut into manageable pieces.
(Click here for all of the Wiener Awards.)
Posted by jwoestendiek February 25th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: american academy of pediatrics, children, choke, choking, death, dogs, food, frankfurter, hazard, health, hot dogs, news, pediatricians, redesign, reshape, safety, shape, weiner, wiener, wieners