Friday, March 7, 2014

OK! Hate Me,

This is where I piss off a lot of people.  However, I'm being truthful and trying to alleviate the misery of 90% of the dogs born in the USA that never find a home.

Let me establish one thing.  I love dogs. Not just one or two breeds or just mutts or just a single dog. I love all dogs.  In my 79 years, I've had a lot of mutts, a German Shepherd, two Chow Chows (at different times and in different places), fox terriers, an Old English Sheepdog, a standard Poodle, a Dalmatian, a Great Dane, and now two Maltese.  Most of these I picked out of litters of unwanted puppies.  Others I bought from pet shops when they looked into my eyes.  Others I was just given.  Four I bought from breeders. My first dog, probably a Border Collie mix, literally saved my life.  In my forthcoming book, Dogs and Civilization, I tell that amazing story.

Every dogs I had possessed a unique personality, even two dogs of the same breed.  My main charity is to a no-kill shelter.  I've studied the scientific literature on dogs assiduously.  Their evolution, their cognition, their digestive tracts...all the works in animal science, archaeology, anthropology, social behaviors,  communication, everything that impinges on dogs and humans.  In my book, I show that, without dogs, humans wouldn't have developed civilization.  I'm not alone as a scholar in believing that. I did figure  that out on my own, then, much later, on a PBS show on dogs, one of the scholars made that comment. (For the record, I am also a scholar and have intensively studied all the research on dogs in the past decade or so)

So far, so good?  Well, no.  There are more puppies born than human babies every year in the United States alone.  Of those, only one in ten will ever find a family.  Notice that ever.  Some dogs spend part of their lives without owners, but do get adopted. Those get counted in with the 10% that get a home.  Nobody seems to have researched what percentage of dogs are abandoned by their owners.  

Considering that dogs evolved in tandem with humans, the big thing each one wants is a human of its own.  That makes their ownerless state even more wretched for them.  

Although shelters require that every animal that's adopted must be spayed or neutered,  we still have an overabundance of ownerless dogs.  Many  are in the horrors of filthy puppy mills. Others remain caged in a shelter of their whole lives.  Millions are put down.

It's easy to deplore shelters that euthanize healthy animals, but, it has to be.  There are not enough humans for every dog to get a home.  We're dealing with millions of ownerless dogs, with each year adding more.

Shelters have to keep track of every dog that comes through them.  Then, population researchers have to ascertain how many dogs can be homed each year.  All other puppies should be euthanized at birth.  

 Private breeders can get permits for their pups, but, they should have to prove how many pups they've sold in a year, how many they're keeping for themselves, and how many are shipped to pet shops in horrible circumstances.  Euthanizing newborn puppies saves them a lifetime of grief.   Remember, this year's unwanted dogs rises logarithmically as each new litter comes along.  Soon it will be more than ninety  out of a hundred dog that will be unwanted.  As the millions of them are born, shelters or good-hearted humans will become overwhelmed trying to home them, and the problem and the suffering will only increase.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Westminster Dog Show

How many of you watched The Westminster Dog Show?  Did it make you want to go out an buy a fancy pedigreed Standard Poodle or one of the other Best in Breeds?  It made me gag. 

 Choosing a dog has nothing to do with Arbitrary "breed standards" in measurable inches and feet.  It has everything to do with buying a dog that will fit your lifestyle and be a loyal and intelligent animal for your family. If you choose to buy a particular breed, you should match what it's been bred to do with your home situation.  You'd be crazy to buy  a dog because it was "best in show" at Westminster, which is all about the animals inches and absurd haircuts, combined with "handlers" and judges with teased hair and expensive costumes.

On the basis of the absurd example of the overcoifed Maltese shown in the Toy group, I never would have bought my Maltese.  Skeezix, a clear Canine Einstein,who was fated to be destroyed because he was too big for the AKC breed standards, which dictate that he should be no larger than 7 pounds.  As an adult, he reached about 14-15 pounds.  As shown in my blogposts, Skeezix plots and schemes more than many humans do, and is also a loving and caring animal.  He, along with Scamp, my other Maltese, also pulls small children in their sleds.  But he's 15 pounds.  A reject.  In fact  Scamp, my adorable younger Maltese is the "proper" weight according to AKC standards.   He's Skeezix's willing slave.  Skeezix tells hims what to do, commanding him with "giving eye," and Scamp does it.  Scamp is a communicative, affectionate, acrobatic dog, but doesn't come close to Skeezix's genius.  I've written about this in earlier posts.

The point is, Westminster doesn't tell you what you need to know before getting a dog suitable for your family's needs.  It's all about cupidity: who can afford thousands of dollars for dogs that look like the Westminster breed standard.  A dog from the pound might serve you better

Friday, February 7, 2014

Who Would've Thought It?

Who Would've Thought it?

My assistant, Michaela Bowden got a brilliant idea as she and her daughters were reveling in the snow with Skeezix and Scamp.  
The dogs enjoyed sliding down the hill with the girls so much that it occurred to Michaela that the dogs  might pull the girls as they sat on their sleds.  So, she tied the dogs with a rope to a sled, then commanded, "Go!"  To her amazement, the dogs took off, pulling Ciana, her baby.  Now, one of these dogs weighs 6 pounds; and the other, a Mega-Maltese weighs 14 pounds.  They are considered a toy breed.  

How they knew that they  should pull the sled, I don't know.  They are 9 and 7 years old, respectively, and have never pulled anything  before.  Yet, as soon as Michaela told them to go,  they fanned out as Huskies do, and pulled.  At one point, they were pulling both kids, the larger girl being 50 pounds.  Amazing!  Clearly there's some genetic basis for pulling loads.  

Prehistoric humans used dogs to pull heavy loads, as did Native Americans.  Somehow my little pampered darlings had whatever genetic program in them that made them know how to pull.  Not only that, but on another day, as soon as they were being tied to the sled, they became overjoyed and excited at the prospect of pulling the it!  Scamp went into his dance on his hind legs, which he does when he's greeting people or begging for food.  Skeezix did his circling act as when he's happy.  As soon as they were tied, they fanned out, and began to pull in tandem.  Skeezix is double the weight of Scamp, but Scamp was able to keep up with the bigger dog.  There were no missteps.   Nor did either dog get ahead or behind the other. You never know what a dog can do until it does it.  Come to think of it, that sounds a lot like raising children.

Here are my amateur videos:

video video video

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A New Theory

We've known for a long time that dogs aren't descended from the American Timber Wolf or from any wolves living today.  Certainly the rigid society of pack wolves like the American one doesn't fit in any way the dogs of today.

The pack wolves mate just once a year--and that is only if they're the Alpha Pair.  All the other wolves in the pack are celibate.  In contrast, the dog comes in heat twice a year, and dogs are promiscuous.  They'll mate indiscriminately with any other dogs.  I've seen dogs stand in line to have a go at a bitch in heat.  My own dog, Ishie, used to walk up to twenty miles through the woods to get to a female.  He certainly left his progeny all over Western Rhode Island.

The latest DNA testing has shown that wolves appeared on the world scene six million years ago.  These were the wolves who lived in highly disciplined packs.  However, five million years ago, the wolf line split in two.  The new line of wolf may have lived in packs, but not rigidly defined ones. I propose that the wolves that split off from pack wolves eventually became dogs.  They were smaller gray wolves. We know dogs descended from smaller gray wolves that are now extinct.

These smaller wolves didn't go after large ungulates as the original pack wolves did.  I suspect they hunted small animals like mice, shrews, voles, woodchucks, raccoons and other such small animals.  In order to uncover these animals, wolves had to scent them out.  Pack wolves smell  1000 times better than we do.  However, dogs  smell 10,000 to 100,000 times better than we do.  That means the dogs' sense of smell wasn't inherited from those wolves.  I've lived in woodlands for 25 years, and never saw all the small animals I knew that abounded there.  So, if the second wolf line were hunting for smaller woodland animals, they'd have to have developed a better sense of smell.  When they became dogs, however, they already had superior scenting talents.  That makes more sense than presuming that the dog's dazzling nose abilities didn't start to develop until 33,000 years ago, when we see the first fossil dog skull

Another major difference between dogs and pack wolves is their vision.  Pack wolves have superior peripheral vision, but what is right in front of them is blurry.  Dogs have rounder eyes with excellent sharp vision for what's in front of them.  Again, if the small wolves they've descended from was looking for all sorts of small game, most of whom were in hiding, they were better off with sharp central vision.  Pack wolves, which run after large ungulates, need excellent peripheral vision to see if any danger is coming from the side.  They can run up to 30 miles in a day going after bison or the like.  All that's in front of the wolf is the bison's anus.  He doesn't need sharp vision for that.

Again, I think the dog's sharper center vision developed in the small, grey wolves they're descended from.  I also suspect that the reason that all of the wolf forebears are extinct is that they became dogs. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Dogs and Wolves Have Different Family Trees

The latest discovery decoding the DNA of dogs and wolves has uncovered the fact that 5,000,000 years ago, there was a genetic split between the gray wolves like the American Timber wolf and another line of wolves, which must have been the precursor to modern dogs.  This discovery explains a lot about how dogs became dogs. 

What follows is my interpretation of what this finding suggests.  Also, finding that dogs evolved separately from large gray wolves helps explain why dogs and wolves live such separate lives today.

The fierce wolves of folk tales like Little Red Riding Hood evolved 6,000,000 years ago, well before humans became humans.  These wolves lived in rigidly hierarchical packs, ruled by the Alpha Male and the Alpha female.  Only the Alpha mates could have sex and produce a litter of cubs--and that only once a year.  The other wolves in the pack, often the grown offspring of the Alpha pair, were celibate.  The females didn't go into heat, but they could have false pregnancies that allowed them to lactate so they could help the Alpha female feed her cubs.  The wolf pack was--and is--primarily a family group.  When the adolescent offspring got old enough in 2-3 years, they often left the pack and became lone wolves.  They didn't want to stay that way. Instead they actively sought out a female and even recruited more wolves to establish a new pack.  Until then, they were celibate.

Dogs, on the other hand, are sexually promiscuous.  They are celibate only if they've been neutered or spayed, both very modern occurrences.  They will mount any bitch in heat that they scent. When we lived in the country, our Old English Sheep Dog, Sinhkiw traveled miles through the woods to answer the scent of a female in heat.  When Ishie was through, he'd lie on the bitch's porch, relying on her humans to read his tags to call us.  Sure enough, we'd get the call.  "Do you have a big shaggy dogs named Ishmael?"  We surely did, and were grateful to be told where he was. It seemed he took his turn with the other males, and, when he was through. went to the back of the line to have another go at it.  

Once, we measured the distance on the road.  He had gone 20 miles, but, since he went through the dense woods of southern New England, he probably followed her scent as the crow flies, so the distance was less.

Since bitches go into heat twice yearly, producing large numbers of puppies, they easily produce more young than the wolf mother, who goes into heat only once a year, producing fewer cubs.  My son's Golden Retriever had 13 puppies in her first litter when she was 6 months old.  No wolf has such large litters.  Six to eight seems to be more usual  There are about only 200,00 wolves left compared to about a half a billion dogs.

What interests me about the split between wolf lineages 5,000,000 years ago is that it explains how today's dogs are so different from large gray wolves.  If wolves diverged in ancient days, they probably lived in the same areas, but each went after different prey.  The small gray wolves,  now extinct, probably hunted  small animals like possums, woodchucks, rabbits, rodents, and birds.  The large gray wolf, still in rigidly controlled packs hunted herds of ungulates.  To catch them and bring them down the pack members each had to do its part.  Wolves can run up to 30 miles a day after a herd.  Then, if successful, they ripped out their throats or underbellies to kill them and bring the bloody meat back to the den.  Often they scarfed down chunks, which they vomited up for the cubs to eat.  If the victim was too large or too far away from the den, the wolves would  herd it back to the den, and then kill it there.  It was all the decision of the Alpha wolves.

Obviously, dogs don't hunt this way.  The split in wolf lineages  and produced smaller wolves that didn't live in rigid packs.  Each one found its  own prey consisting of virtually all small creatures: rodents, rabbits, lizards, woodchucks, possums, birds and fish. They also must have eaten berries, tubers, grasses, grains, apples fallen from trees, and the like.  I presume this because all the dogs I've lived with for the past 76 years have loved such food.  
Moreover, researchers have found that dogs produce the digestive juices that allow them to digest such food.

Some people suggest that dog digestive tracts changed after they began to live with humans. But, it's likely that they evolved  millions of years ago, so that, when they met up with humans, they were in a position to scavenge all human leftovers. 

This divergence of wolves created canines who were very flexible, unlike large gray wolves.  They didn't have to  leave dens and the strictures of the Alpha mates.  They would more easily  move to where campsites were, and to spy on the humans.  When the people were getting ready for a hunt, these wolves would quietly accompany them, probably hidden by the woods. When the humans speared a large animal, if it wasn't killed outright, it would run  to cover.  The small wolves could scent its location and bark for humans to come and get it.  The small wolves didn't have the strong jaws and huge teeth that pack wolves had, so they couldn't kill an ungulate on their own.  The humans did throw them meat and probably left the carcass and large bones for the incipient dogs.

There is a dog burial in Siberia which shows a dead puppy with a mammoth bone in its mouth.  Food for its travel to the afterlife.