A blog by Jane Brackman, Ph.D.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Aging in Dogs - It's a Mystery

In mammals, the general longevity rule is that the larger the mammal, the longer it lives. For example, elephants live about 65 years, and rodents only about four.

But in dogs, it's the opposite. The smallest breeds live more than twice as long as the largest breeds.

The aging contradiction in dogs is a mystery waiting to be solved. That's why Cornell University, in collaboration with schools across the country, is creating the first research network to study canine aging with hopes of applying findings to questions about human aging.

Cornell's Adam Boyko, assistant professor of biomedical sciences, and his colleagues will lay the groundwork for a nationwide Canine Longitudinal Aging Study (CLAS) to find out how a dog's aging process is shaped by genes and environment. Read more about the study here.

The Bark, Issue 74, Summer 2013

I interviewed Adam Boyko about a different study, The Village Dog Genetic Diversity Project, published in the 2013 summer issue of The BarkScientists Searching for Clues to the First Dog: Village dogs' genetic code may hold clues to canine evolution and health.  It seems like Dr. Boyko is always asking the most interesting questions.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Australian Cattle Dog and Poodle Mix Designer Hybrid Dogs

Australian Cattle Dog and Poodle hybrid or designer dogs are apparently made on purpose, called  Cattle Doodles. I have one from the shelter, born April 30, 2013, and he looks likes this.

Some are Standard Poodle mixes ...
Australian Cattle Dog x Standard Poodle

…while others are crossed with Miniature Poodles.

18 pounds at 4 months of age

Cattle Doodle hybrids, like others designer 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.
Same mix as my Gus, but they look much different.
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 25 pounds, stands 14 inches tall, and is about 30 inches long.
I took a photo almost every week for 12 months. See my Gus grow up
at Watch Dr. Barkman's Gus McBarkley Grow
If you know an Australian Cattle Dog and Poodle hybrid pooch, send photos to me at this email: and I'll post them here.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Coon Dog Memorial Graveyard

Troop, the best coon dog in northwest Alabama, was laid to rest in the 1930s, at what is now the Coon Dog Memorial Graveyard. In 1937 Key Underwood gave his dog the best burial place he could think of -  a popular hunting camp for coon hunters and coon dogs. It was a private place where dogs and men talked strategies and told tall tales.   Since then, 185 coon hounds have been buried at the cemetery.

Some headstones are traditional granite,
others molded from metal or cut from wood, all personalized.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Why Do Dogs Play?

 Playing isn't all fun and games; it's an evolutionary strategy.
Branch manager and her assistant

One thing (among many) we have in common with dogs is that we both play. What makes both species unusual is that we play throughout our lives.  Although many animals play in adolescence, few continue to play into adulthood. 
Two adults just goofing around
Lifelong play is unique. Most animals stop playing
after adolescence.

Play behavior extends learning throughout life, a characteristic that’s crucial to evolutionary adaptation. And in a fast changing environment it might be the difference between extinction and survival.
Playing is a problem-solving exercise,
a necessary part of learning new things.
Playing is not only fun, it’s an indication that a species has the ability to learn ways of adapting. 
Canids and Humans
Two of the most adaptable species on the planet
Play is one of the reasons.

This is list of five games that dogs play with each other:

Mouth Sparring
Clashing teeth while making threatening sounds,
a form of wrestling

Needs no explanation

Chase Game
You chase me then I'll chase you

Keep Away
Withholding an object from the other player

Friday, March 21, 2014

Five Unheralded Dog Cemeteries

When I travel, I look for dog cemeteries.  Here are a few off the beaten path.
Pet cemetery at Manzanar,  an interment camp where Japanese Americans
 were incarcerated during World War II.  Today it is State of California Historical Landmark #850 and
 is maintained by the National Park Service.   It appears that pets continue to be
memorialized here, but why is a a mystery to me. 

Fort MacArthur K-9 Command Cemetery in San Pedro, California. The military dogs buried here were killed in the
line of duty during World War II. Records are intentionally spotty as to what the dogs were actually used for,
but it's clear that they were trained at Fort MacArthur.

Havana's famous Colon Cemetery features a poignant memorial to the woman who founded the first animal welfare
organization along with her loyal dog Rinti, who guarded her grave site until he too died.  On the right, one of the many not so famous  dogs who live inside the gated cemetery and can be seen lounging on sun-warmed sarcophagi. They  seem well  taken care of by the staff who work there.  

Also in Havana, a small memorial to beloved cats and dogs at  Finca Vigia.
the home of Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gelhorn,

Theodore Roosevelt's home, Sagamore Hill, features a pet cemetery where
the family's many horses and dogs are buried.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Why Do Dogs Scratch the Ground After They Pee?

Who hasn't wondered why dogs sometimes scratch the ground after they urinate?  What's more interesting to me is why they do, and sometimes don't. The truth is, scientists don't know much about scent marking because people can't see it, and we surely can't smell it.  But researchers suspect that ground scratching disperses odor, like a primitive perfume atomizer.

One reason is to indicate territory.  It's been noted that dogs scratch the ground more often when they're introduced to new locations, and as they become familiar with the area (or perhaps claim it), they lesson the amount of ground scratching.

Sometimes dogs will smell a spot where another dog has peed, then scratch up a storm without ever urinating themselves. Dogs have scent glands on the bottoms of their paw pads, so scratching the dirt and disturbing the air sends information that may be different than from that of their urine.

Read my post that presents detailed facts about olfaction.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Ancient Dogs in Siberia

A team of scientists from Russia, Europe and the U. S. examined 17 human and dog burial sites on the southern and western shores of Siberia's Lake Baikal. One dog was buried more than 31,000 years ago, but most were interred around six to eight thousands years ago. (Read about the 2013 study in the Siberian Times.)
The Paleolithic Siberian dog skull that Professor Losey's team found indicates
the animal looked a lot like this modern day Siberian Husky,
 only larger  with significantly bigger teeth.
The remains indicate that, like their people, dogs suffered injury and were nursed back to health. Both ate the same diets primarily consisting of fish, seafood and game.   People and dogs were buried near each other in the same cemetery, and in some cases, were buried together. One dog was buried with a decorative pendant (red deer teeth) hanging around her neck.

Not so much like this..
Maybe like this, except these are horse teeth.

Another was buried with a Mammoth bone in his mouth, 
perhaps a snack for the journey to the afterlife.
Current Life                                                                  After Life

One pooch was buried with a round stone in his mouth.
Contemporary ball = Kong                                                 Paleolithic ball = round rock

Some dogs were wrapped in calf hides along with calf bones and utensils. Note the calf skull between the dogs legs.

What do the findings tell us about the history of the human dog relationship?  First of all, that it's older than previously thought, by about 15,000 years.  Second, that dogs were important enough to hunter/gatherer societies that they were worthy of ritualized burial very similar to the way humans were buried. Professor Losey said, "Dogs were accorded a near human spiritual status as evinced by the burial of dogs with artifacts the dog would have used regularly during its life and burial of dogs with people." In one case a man was buried with two dogs, one in each arm. Read more about the project here.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Dogs in Medieval Coats of Arms

Now that I've posted dogs in medieval manuscripts and tapestries, I'm finishing  up with dogs in coats of arms.  Greyhounds are the most common breed featured in family crests, especially in England and France.

This family crest appears on the back of a diptych of a portrait of Phillipe de Croy, about 1460.
Koninklijk Museum

The animals on either side of the shield hold and guard it.
The Tudor Family coats of arms - protected by a Greyhound and dragon.
About 1428

A dog represents the loyalty of the master, so I'm not sure what's going on here.

For historians, a family crest can indicate what extinct breeds looked like. 
Below is a short-legged Talbot Hound.

Carter of Castle Martin Crest

The short-legged Talbot may be the ancestor of
the Basset Hound.

It's possible that the word Talbot was a sort of generic term for
any white scent hound.The  dogs in the crest below are also
called Talbot Hounds, but they have long legs.

The St. Hubert's Hound, also extinct, may have been a type of Talbot. Historians claim that the St. Hubert is the direct ancestor of Bloodhounds and other scenting types. The breed disappeared at the end of the 18th century.

The breed has symbolic meaning, as does the collar.  
Collars shaped like crowns indicate a family's nobility.

Collar that is not crown-shaped.

This looks like a collar shaped like a crown.
(Arms of Henry VII)

Monday, February 17, 2014

Are Pedigreed Dogs Unhealthy?

The answer is some are. And this is one reason:

I came up with this analogy to explain how the canine genome has been compromised as a result of modern breeding practices. I think about this stuff a lot because I write about canine genetics and I'm always looking for ways to simplify complex topics.
The fragile purebred canine genome

Like pulled-thread needlework, where the pattern is created by removing threads from the warp and weft of a piece of even weave fabric, traits that define purebred dogs are created by removing genetic variations that breeders find undesirable.
Think of this as the generic dog genome
 All traits are here, some hiding and some expressed.
Traits removed by breeders might be anything from kill-instinct to black spots on a white coat. Some genes are completely wiped away and cannot be reclaimed within the breed.

Rigorous selection is the pulled thread that defines purebred dogs.  
Beautiful? Yes.

But the integrity of the fabric can be undermined and weakened as a result. In purebred dogs, a few genes may control multiple traits. Pull one thread and out comes another, perhaps unintentionally.   For instance, in the Dalmatian, when breeders selected for coats with fewer spots, they were eliminating the genetic variants that not only control pigment, but are also responsible for building parts of the ear.  As a result, they inadvertently created a population of deaf Dals.
In Dalmatians, removing spots may also remove genetic variants responsible for ear development.

Although it doesn't fit with my pulled-thread analogy, adding or emphasizing traits can magnify unwanted genetic variants that might be related to diseases.

Too much of a "good" thing?  Scientists have identified a relationship
between skin wrinkling and Shar Pei Fever

And finally, the genome is not static. Fragile purebred genomes can be further undermined by random mutations. Genetically diverse breeds don't suffer as much, because they are better able to compensate.

The good news is that dogs with genetic issues can be out bred to similar breeds.  The genetic variants that cause the flaws are not eliminated, but they are diluted, meaning the chance of showing up as traits is significantly reduced. For instance, Dalmatians bred to Pointers for several generations and then bred back to Dals are much healthier than their purebred counterparts. But like everything else with purebred dogs, it's controversial.
Dalmatian-Pointer back crossing reintroduces healthy genes, eliminating many painful diseases that Dals suffer from.