Friday, January 20, 2017

Why Ankle-Biters Bite

This is from Discover Magazine 2016 Year in Science Issue:

"An unprecedented search for the roots of canine aggression and fear has identified genetic variants that predispose a dog toward such behaviors. And the researchers hope that knowledge could eventually help treat humans with anxiety. The research, published in August in BMC Genomics, compared owner reports of a pet's behavior and genetic data from 30 purebred lines to discover the 16 genome regions. The team also found that two clusters of these genes control different kinds of aggression: one directed at strangers and strange dogs, and the other directed at the owner and other dogs in the household. Dachshunds are particularly prone to a genetic variant that study co-author Carlos Alvarez of Nationwide Children's Hospital calls "freak biology."  That low-riding wiener dog body comes with an increased likelihood of snarling and snapping. Annually, dogs bite more that 4.5 million Americans; understanding the roots of canine aggression is a public health priority. Alvarez cautions, however, that it's unfair to label dogs with the genetic variant as aggressive. Instead he hopes testing leads to better diagnosis and treatment of dogs - and ultimately, their best friends. By knowing which genetic variants pose an increased risk, Alvarez thinks he can determine which  exact cells are responsible - the signaling mechanism - and target them."
Written by  Gemma Tarlach for Discover Magazine

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Dog Gait

How does a dog walk? That seems like an easy question, but most of us don't really know.  At least not until recently.

In a study published in Cell Press in 2009, researchers found that dogs, like all four legged animals, step with their left hind leg followed by their left foreleg. Then they step with their right hind leg followed by the right foreleg. This means that they always have three feet on the ground for stability.
Dogs always have three feet on the ground.

Big dogs and little dogs all have the same gait.
Photo: Pinterest
According to the researchers, this is how all four legged animals walk. They differ from one another only in the timing of taking the step.

Read more:  Science Daily

Monday, December 26, 2016

Australian Cattle Dog and Poodle Mix Designer Hybrid Dogs


Australian Cattle Dogs and Poodles are crossed accidentally and on-purpose. Called Cattle Doodles or Cadoodles, some are offspring of Miniature Poodles and others Standard Poodles. 

Thanks to all my readers who send pictures of their Cadoodles.  They're posted below. If you know an Australian Cattle Dog (a.k.a. Heeler) and Poodle hybrid pooch, send photos to and I'll post them here.

This is Dr. Barkman's Cadoodle. According to Gus' DNA test, he is Australian Cattle Dog and Miniature Poodle. Unlike either parent, he is long and low like a Corgi.  Neither parental breed exhibits this particular type of dwarfism in the phenotype, but both may be carriers.  He weighs about 30 pounds, stands 14 inches tall, and is about 30 inches long.

I took a photo almost every week for 12 months. 
(See Gus grow)
George's person said, "George came in with his mother and siblings as strays to the local humane society." When the pups were 6 weeks old she and her husband began fostering all three at home. 
George, Loretta and Townes
One pup was adopted and George and Townes stayed in the family. "We thought George was some type of schnauzer/terrier mix.  However we  recently received Embark DNA results back for George and it appears his father was an Australian cattle dog with some mixed lineage and his mother was a small poodle/shi-tzu mix." 
George at 11 months.
Watch George and his siblings grow up:
Dixie's mom was a standard poodle who was unintentionally crossed with a blue heeler.
Dixie when she was a wee-pup,
Sully was adopted from Underdog Rescue in Minnesota. 
Sully at 16 weeks with his person.
Charlie's mom is a blue heeler and dad is a cream colored labradoodle. She is likely the result of an accidental pairing with great results. She was found on Craigslist. Her person said, "She has the most beautiful coat that seems to change colors. Best part, she is the smartest dog we ever had.  She's about 40 lbs. in the photo, and we expect she may get to the 50 lb. mark. We absolutely love her." She added that Charlie herds the kids by bumping their legs with her head when they run. 
Charlie when she was about 6 months old
Here are some pics of Murphy.  The result of an intentional hybrid breeding, his father is a black Standard Poodle and his mother a Blue Heeler. Murphy's person said, "He is just too cute.  Something you can't see in the pictures is that he is all black with some white patches on his chest and belly, but has recently been getting sporadic white hairs coming in on the back and sides of his torso."

Murphy at 7 months and 40 pounds

Murphy snoozing
In this photo, Lilly is almost 13 years old.  Her mom's a blue heeler and the unplanned  Dad was the neighbor's poodle. Lilly's person said, "She is the best dog! The best guardian of our family and home, super loyal, & extremely smart. She can be very active or a couch potato. She's about 55 pounds. We got her in Central IL.  (Everyone thinks she's a labradoodle)."

Below is Kimber at 12 weeks and 16 pounds. Her father is a purebred Standard Poodle and her mom is a purebred Blue Heeler.  Her person said, "A breeder from Lynchburg Virginia listed a litter on Craigslist. The breeder told me she should be around 40 pounds, but I'm thinking a lot more. She is a handful but I love her so much. She is lucky she has the cutest face ever."

Kimber at 12 weeks

Kimber relaxing in her yard.
An update on Kimber:  At one year she weighed 46.8 pounds
Cattle Doodles, like other hybrid dogs, don't breed true where the offspring always look the same.  In other words, some may look more like dad, while others look more like mom, just like you and your human siblings.

Check out more cuties after the break.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Genome of Sardinian Sheepdog Provides Insight into Human Migration Patterns

The discovery of one of the last pure landrace dog breeds, the Sardinian Sheepdog (Cane Fonnese, Fonne's Dog) was celebrated by scientists in the October 11, 2016 issue of the journal Genetics.

Photo Credit: Stefano Marelli
The study revealed that the large flock guardian dog travelled the same ancient migration routes as the Sardinian people. And like their people the dog's genetic signature remains distinctly isolated.

A landrace is a regional type of domestic animal that over a long period of time has adapted to its purpose and environment through unregulated selection for behavior. Landrace dogs were common up through the early 1800s, but most disappeared as a consequence of cross breeding with dogs introduced by travelers.

The Sardinian Sheepdog is a breed because it's been created within an isolated population of animals. Sardinian shepherds allowed only their best working dogs to reproduce.

The Cane Fonnese is a herding and livestock guardian dog
with a rough coat that can be grey, black, brindle, brown or white.
Photo Credit: Gian Piero Canalis
What's appealing to scientists is that the dog remains uncontaminated by modern artificial breeding practices, resulting in a robust genome. Sardinian dogs don't all look the same, but all have in common a high drive to guard sheep.

Sardinia is the second largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, just south of Corsica. The island was populated in multiple waves of people as far back as the upper paleolithic.

The study also revealed that the Sardinain Sheepdog originated from sight hounds developed in the near and middle east as well as large mastiff-like sheep guarding dogs from an area around Hungary.

Their genomic map mirrors human migration. Just like their dogs, the people of Sardinia derive from Hungary and the middle east.

Science Daily offers a reader-friendly description of the significance of the study: "Just as Sardinian people have long provided a wealth of genetic insights to scientists, the canine natives are an example of an isolated population that could prove a powerful resource for finding genes that influence health and behavior."

Read more about Cane Fonnese, landrace animals, and Sardinia.

D. L. Dreger, B. W. Davis, R. Cocco, S. Sechi, A. Di Cerbo, H. G. Parker, M. Polli, S. P. Marelli, P. Crepaldi, E. A. Ostrander. Commonalities in Development of Pure Breeds and Population Isolates Revealed in the Genome of the Sardinian Fonni's DogGenetics, 2016; 204 (2): 737 DOI: 10.1534/genetics.116.192427

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Can Puppy Aptitude Tests Predict Adult Personalities in Dogs?

Who hasn't picked out a puppy based on behavior of the six-week old pooch, using evaluation "tools" to measure dominance?  
One reason that doesn't work (among many) is alpha positions in a litter, especially among females, are established only after eight weeks.  And hierarchical positions become stable only after eleven weeks. Before then, status changes repeatedly, even top to bottom positions.  
Pups are likely rehearsing for roles they'll play as adults. Nobody stays at the top forever.  Pack positions change based on who's in the pack. 
This is one reason puppy tests aren't very good at predicting aggression or dominance later in life.  But by then, we love the dog, and have forgotten what happened in our so-called puppy test, so it doesn't matter.

(P.S. - If you want academic sources for this post, let me know.)

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Science Proving Stuff We Already Knew - Talking to Our Dogs

Remember when only 20 years ago science didn't acknowledge that dogs and other non-human animals had conscious thought?

We dog-lovers knew they did of course, but science is always looking for evidence to challenge the Null Hypothesis.  (Learn more about the Null Hypothesis if you really want to.)

Using a cleverly modified fMRI scanner and specially trained canine fMRI participants (I've blogged about this project elsewhere), scientists found solid evidence that dogs have the ability to distinguish words and the intonation of human speech through brain regions similar to those that humans use.

This is not to say that dogs use language, our species' complex and symbolic system of communication, but that they understand how humans use words to represent things.

Until scientists can coax a wild-type wolf or coyote into the fMRI scanner, and what's more enjoy it without fear, we won't know if this is an evolutionary strategy only dogs evolved with.

Science Daily included a nice summary of the science.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

August 26, 2013 is National Dog Day

National Dog Day 
A special day to celebrate dogs that reminds the public to adopt from shelters and breed rescue clubs.

Adopt a dog. You won't be sorry.
A testimonial from a happy former shelter pooch.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The tale of a little red dog and how my Altadena and north Pasadena neighbors used our local networking service to rescue him.

This is an amazing story about how social media in my Altadena neighborhood* rescued a frightened little red dog running for his life: One person to report the sighting and more than 95 comments over a period of 48 hours from neighbors living within a one mile of each other to eventually locate, capture, get and pay for medical care, and foster home the dog.

Captured, cared-for and soon to be adopted!
It does indeed take a village.

The string of comments aren't life-changing, but for this little red dog, they changed his life.

*I live in Altadena, a small town in one of the biggest cities in the world - Los Angeles, California.  Altadena - population 40,000 - is just north of Pasadena. On the northern border are the rugged San Gabriel Mountains. We're connected through Nextdoor, a neighborhood social networking service that  allows users to connect with people who live in their neighborhood and nearby neighborhoods. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Modern English Bulldog Breed Faces Extinction

Not surprisingly, a study published July 29, 2016 found that the English Bulldog no longer retains enough genetic diversity to correct life-threatening physical and genomic abnormalities. This means breeders cannot use the established population of purebred dogs to reverse the trend in extreme and painful exaggerations such as crippling dwarfism and respiratory deformities - traits that uninformed pet-owners find appealing.

In the early 1800s Bulldogs were trained for bull-baiting, a particularly cruel and vicious sport. In 1835 the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals convinced Parliament to enact the first animal cruelty law for the protection of domestic animals, including outlawing bull baiting.
Mid 19th-century Bulldog

As such, the Bulldog had outlived its usefulness. Like the pre-19th century Wolfhound that disappeared with the eradication of wolves in the British Isles, and the Tumbler whose demise was the invention of hunting firearms, the Bulldog was destined for extinction.

But it was not to be. Beginning about 1840, the Victorian dog fancy's unabashed sentimentality was a catalyst for saving even the most formidable working breeds from their inevitable demise. Like many others, such as the Dachshund and Mastiff, Bulldogs went from working hard to hardly working.
About 1890 - cute and cuddly

Utility dogs were "refined" and transformed to fill jobs they weren't originally bred for - as show dogs and companions. Altered physical and behavior characteristics along with decreased levels of aggression were more compatible for their augmented duties as house pets.

No breed changed more than the English Bulldog

Beginning in the late 1890s, Bulldog breeders (and other breeders as well) selected small groups of genes from a diverse genome and created new breed-types. They were in effect increasing the odds that genetic anomalies would more likely be expressed to bring out exaggerated traits, like the Bulldog's baby-like face, corkscrew tail and affable personality.

As "desirable" aesthetic traits were selected for, other genetic variants including beneficial genes that contribute to overall health were eliminated from the gene pool, never to be reclaimed.

In the last few decades the most exaggerated traits in the Bulldog - the extreme brachycephalic skull and deformed skeleton- have become increasingly pronounced because naive consumers want that type of dog and consequently that's what many breeders select for.

Driven by economics, fashion, and uninformed decisions, breeders and buyers either ignore or are unaware of the genetic problems that have spread throughout the population.

The demise of the breed may not be a good thing for Bulldog-lovers, but it will thankfully put an end to the malformed and painfully crippled modern Bulldog we recognize today.

The good news is that some breeders are intent on bringing back the "Olde-Fashioned-Bulldogge". Check out their websites.

Read the journal article: A Genetic Assessment of the English Bulldog by Neils C. Pederson, Ashley S. Pooch (yes Pooch, not kidding) and Hongwei Liu.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

New Drug Helps Dogs Frightened by Fireworks

One third of our dogs suffer from serious "noise aversion", a condition caused by loud noises like fireworks and thunder.

Many dogs run away in terror and end up in shelters on the July 4th holiday, or worse, sustain life-threatening injuries.

Now the FDA has approved a prescription drug called Sileo to help dogs who experience this kind of anxiety.  Unlike tranquilizers that sedate dogs, Sileo works to inhibit the release of adrenaline which creates a calming effect.

The drug works rapidly and wears off within a few hours.

Read more about Sileo or talk to your veterinarian.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Watch Gus McBarkley Grow

Updated May 20, 2016 -Gus is three years old.
Gus at three years of age.

We adopted Gus McBarkley on July 12, 2013, from the Helen Woodward Animal Center near San Diego, California.  The staff estimates he was born the last week in April, 2013.  When we brought him home he weighed 5.6 pounds and his height from ground to shoulder blade was 8 inches. Measuring from nose tip to tail base, he was 17" long.  The shelter said he was a terrier/cattle dog blend.  I sent a cheek swab of DNA to the lab. They said he is indeed Australian Cattle Dog on one side and the other side is primarily miniature poodle. (See results below) I posted a photograph every week until he was 9 months old, then every two weeks, and finally each month, totally 27 photos. You can watch him grow below.

Gus' Weekly Growth Photos

10 weeks old, July 12, 2013
5.6 pounds, 8 inches tall, 17 inches long

11 weeks old, July 20, 2013
6.7 pound, 9 inches tall, 19 inches long
He gained a little over a pound, 1 inch in height
and 2 inches in length. And his muzzle is longer,.

12 weeks old, July 27, 2013
8 pounds, 9 inches tall, 20 inches long
His head is getting bigger, but not much else.

13 weeks old, August 3, 2013
9.2 pounds, 9.5 inches tall, 21 inches long
He's gained a little over a pound a week.

14 weeks old, August 10, 2013
10.1 pounds, 10 inches tall, 22 inches long
He's almost doubled in weight in one month.

15 weeks old, August 17, 2013
11.2 pounds, 10 inches tall, 22  inches long
Another pound, no additional height or length

16 weeks old, August 24, 2013
12 pounds, 10 inches tall, 23 inches long

17 weeks old, September 1, 2013
13.3 pounds, 11 inches tall, 25 inches long
His big dog teeth are coming in.  His puppy coat is disappearing.
His front legs are beginning to bow.
20 weeks old, September 21, 2013
15.8 pounds, 12 inches tall, 26 inches long
He's almost housebroken, and his front legs are not as bowed
as they were three weeks ago.
21 weeks old, September 28, 2013
16.3 pounds, 12 inches tall, 26 inches long
I had the carpets steam cleaned this week.  Hope it's not wishful
thinking.  You can tell he's getting used to his Saturday
photograph.  No squirming about.  He knows his
basic sit, stay and come commands.

22 weeks old, October 6, 2013
17.2 pounds, 12.5 inches tall, 26 inches long
He continues to gain a pound a week.
His sleep pattern changed. Deep coma-like
puppy sleep has ended, he awakens easily
to sound.
23 weeks old, October 13, 2013
17.9 pounds, 12.5 inches, 26 inches long

24 weeks old, October 20, 2013
17.9 pounds, 12.5  inches, 26 inches and a smidge long
He is outgrowing his bowed front legs.
25 weeks old, October 27, 2013
18.7 pounds, 13 inches tall, 27 inches long

26 weeks old, November 3, 2013
19 pounds, 13 inches tall, 27 inches long

27 weeks old, November 7, 2013
19.9 pounds, 13 inches tall, 28 inches long
Just got a bath

28 weeks old, November 17, 2013
19.9 pounds, 13 inches tall, 28 inches long
First week that he hasn't gained any weight
30 weeks old, December 1, 2013
20.1 pounds, 13 inches tall, 28 inches long
Just a three ounce gain. This week was the first time
he barked to be let outside to potty.

32 weeks old, December 15, 2013
21.4 pounds, 13 inches tall, 28 inches long

He's gaining weight again.

34 weeks old, December 27, 2013
21.8 pounds, 28 and smidge long, and 13 plus inches tall
My guess is at 18 months he will top out at 24 pounds,
30 inches long and 14 inches tall.
36 weeks old, January 11, 2014
 When a dog is fixed at 8 weeks, like Gus was,
 if he doesn't lift his leg by 9 months, it won't happen.
The week he finally lifted his leg to mark.Yea!

22.8 pounds, 30+ inches long, 13 + inches tall
38 weeks old, January 21, 2014
23 pounds, 30 inches long, 14 inches tall
Add caption
40 weeks old, February 1, 2014
23.3 pounds, 30 inches long, 14 inches tall and still growing

42 weeks old, February 15, 2014
24.4 pounds, 30 inches long, 14 inches tall
He went to the groomer this week for the first time. That's why his hair
is so flat.  No more conditioner.
45 weeks old, March 6, 2014
25.7 pounds, 30 inches long, 14 inches tall
Still gaining about half a pound a week.
48 weeks old, March 29, 2014
25.5 pounds, 30 inches long, 14 inches tall
25.5 pounds 
One year old, April 24, 2014
26.5 pounds, 30 inches long, 15 inches tall
Gus is one year old, celebrating a birthday with me - April 24.
In the future I'll photograph him on his birthday and add to his blog.
18 months, October 24, 2014
27.3 pounds, 30 inches long, 15 inches tall

I think he's done growing. He's a very confident, personable
and willful little dog. Lucky us!
I was wrong. He's continued growing.
Gus at age two, May 1, 2015
30 pounds, 30 inches long, 15 inches high
Gus at age three, May 1, 2016
Same size and weight as age two
Thanks for watching.

***More about Gus Below***

Gus at 11 weeks old

15 weeks
10 weeks

14 weeks

17 weeks
24 weeks

Gus at 36 weeks

On vacation in Palm Springs,  29 weeks old.

Gus at 18 months.  Quite a grown up. He looks very much like
his Mama in photo below.
Gus' DNA test indicates one parent is:

Mama: Australian Cattle Dog

The other parent is primarily Miniature Poodle

I guess I can see that.

Does this mean he is a Cattledoodle?
See lots more Cattledoodle dogs here.

Gus at ten weeks (left) and 38 weeks (right)

Birthday boy
Two years old.

Thanks for watching.