Monday, November 24, 2014

Prehistoric Canine Burials

My article about prehistoric canine burials, Digging Up Bones, was recently published in the Winter 2014 edition of The Bark magazine.

"Dogs have been buried more often than any other animal: singly, with other dogs, near people and with people. This ancient practice was a global phenomenon, one that crossed nearly all cultural boundaries. Precisely why dogs were buried may never be clearly understood, but the universality of the practice suggests it may be embedded in the human psyche and according, is a fundamental part of the human/dog connection."

Modern research techniques applied to prehistoric bones suggest it wasn't all sacrificial killing. Rather like us, some ancient people just loved their dogs.
In 2006, dogs were found in a thousand year old
pet cemetery near Lima, Peru. Many had
separate plots near their people and were buried
with food and blankets. Read more.
These are other posts about ancient dog burials:

Monday, November 17, 2014

Dogs That Don't Bark

This is a list of truly bark-less recognized dog breeds. They make other noises to communicate, but they don't bark typical of domestic dogs.

Australian Dingo 



Indonesian Dingo



African Basenji




Carolina Dog
(Southeast United States)



Santal Hound of India



New Guinea Singing Dog




Telomina of Malaysia

Monday, November 3, 2014

Why Do Male Dogs Lift Their Legs to Urinate?

I documented our puppy's development by taking a photo each week and noting changes in his biology and behavior.
Was Gus a
late bloomer?
Most dogs begin lifting their legs somewhere between 6 and 12 months of age.  Yet even at a year, Gus was not yet a leg-lifter.

Boys squat to piddle
until at least six months.

It wasn't until 14 months that Gus lifted his leg to urinate. This caught my attention and I wondered about the biology of leg-lifting, so I did a little research. This is what I found out.

Leg-lifting behavior is hardwired, not learned. Within the first few months of leg-lifting, dogs reveal a side preference as to right rear or left rear leg-lifting. Leg-lifting side dominance is consistent with side-preference of front paw use. (See my post about canine side-preference.)

He's a southpaw.

He's a righty











In dogs, muscle strength develops front to back. Head first, then neck, front legs and paws, finishing up with hind legs and tail.   This means puppies don't have the muscular wherewithal to stand on three wobbly legs while one is lifted.
Getting up on the couch? Little guys use their front
legs because that's where their strength is.  Within a
few months they jump up using their hind legs.
The onset of sex hormones such as testosterone, even in dogs who were neutered at a very young age,  is directly related to when dogs lift their legs. Since the behavior is related to sexual maturity, and some breeds mature more quickly then other, then my question is:
Is timing of leg-lifting breed specific?  

If anyone knows the answer, please comment.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Domestication Syndrome and Neural Crest Cells



How do you take this guy ... and make this guy?

The traits that make them different are their eyes, ear cartilage, fur color, jaw shape and temperament. Scientists have discovered that all five traits are directly controlled by one small cadre of cells (called the neural crest) that tell these parts of the body how to grow.  And because these traits are pre-packaged in one bundle,  if one changes, they all do.   


Mild neural crest cell defincies create weakened ear and tail cartilage,
reduced brain, jaw and muzzle size,  pigment change,
and adrenal changes reducing fearfulness.

A new article in the journal Genetics outlines this theory and scientists are confident, that when tested, it will account for the mystery of domestication. 

From Science Daily (July 14, 2014): More than 140 years ago, Charles Darwin noticed something peculiar about domesticated mammals. Compared to their wild ancestors, domestic species are more tame, and they also tend to display a suite of other characteristic features, including floppier ears, patches of white fur, and more juvenile faces with smaller jaws. Since Darwin's observations, the explanation for this pattern has proved elusive, but now, in a Perspectives article published in the journal Genetics, a new hypothesis has been proposed that could explain why breeding for tameness causes changes in such diverse traits.   The underlying link between these features could be the group of embryonic stem cells called the neural crest, suggest the authors. Although this proposal has not yet been tested, it is the first unified hypothesis that connects several components of the "domestication syndrome." It not only applies to mammals like dogs, foxes, pigs, horses, sheep and rabbits, but it may even explain similar changes in domesticated birds and fish."

This would explain the curious outcome of the fox-farm project. Foxes are by nature aggressive and fearful.  Biologists began to breed only the least aggressive and most docile.  In about twenty generations they ended up with foxes that were piebald (spotted), some with floppy ears, curly tails, and shorter legs.
Coat color, ear and tail cartilage, and pigment were affected when biologists
created a population of silver foxes with docile temperaments.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Did ancient indigenous Americans breed their dogs to wolves and coyotes?

The Bureau of American Ethnology was established in 1879 by the U.S. government to preserve Native American culture. The 81 volume collection, published beginning 1879, was digitized in 2009.
Anthropologist and ethnographer 
Frances Densmore recording Mountain Chief
Smithsonian Collection

Since my dissertation was in linguistic anthropology (and my passion is dogs), the first thing I did was look up words for dog.  I figured a comparison might tell if dogs were cross-bred with wolves and/or coyotes.  This is what I found out:

The Yuman people lived in what is now Arizona and California (they still do) and traded with Pima and Seri people. The Yuman word for coyote and wolf is the same, and the word for dog has a similar phonetic sound. Maybe they bred their dogs back to both wolves and coyotes.

Dog                                                                Coyote                                                           Wolf

In the Pima language the words for dog are not similar to words for coyote and wolf.  That suggests their breeds (note list below - they had at least four kinds) were distinctly different than wolves and coyotes. (I circled the word guo because it's like the Chinese word for dog which is gou - makes me wonder if you could use words to track dog migration as people crossed into the Americas from Asia.)
Dog                                                                Coyote                                                      Wolf    

Seri people had similar words for dog and wolf, but the word for coyote is very different. Does this mean they bred dogs back to wolves but not coyotes?  Maybe.

Dog                                                                     Coyote                                                         Wolf 


Looking at reports, depending on what dialect was spoken, the words for dog and wolf are similar.  In rare cases, the words for dog and coyote are similar but the word for wolf is different. This could mean that some tribes bred their dogs back to coyotes, not wolves.  And some first person accounts in diaries from the 1700s indicate that this was the case.
Seri family with napping travois dog, circe 1890
BAE #38
Smithsonian Collection
Not science, but a pretty interesting observation.  As we say when we wear our scholar hats, "More study is needed".

You can find all 81 digitized volumes of the Bureau of American Ethnology at the Smithsonian. If you want to read the print versions, you can find them at Haskell Indian Nations University Library, Lawrence, KS., my home town.



Monday, October 6, 2014

Does the Dog Die in the Movie?

Have you ever seen a movie where totally, out of nowhere, and often for no reason, the dog is killed off?  I'll never be in that situation again - at least not with this website, Does The Dog Die .
"DoestheDogDie.com lets viewers learn the fate of a movie pet without spoiling the rest of the film. The icons offer a quick way to find out what happens. You can click on the title of the film. The list offers an explanation which will only contain spoilers relevant to the fate of dogs and other animal characters in the film."  
The icons reveal the fate of the animal.

The site lists 727 movies and you can sort titles alphabetically.  

Monday, September 29, 2014

Fake Service Dogs

It's National Guide Dog Month so my September posts are about blind people and guide dogs. I wrote this opinion piece about fake service dogs for The Bark in 2008 when I was Executive Director of the California Guide Dog Board.


"Pet owners who misinterpret the law, or worse intentionally mislead retailers so they may bring their dogs into places of business, jeopardize the access rights that guide dog handlers worked so hard to establish beginning seventy years ago."

No other charity excites more sympathy than dogs assisting disabled people, combining as it does the beauty and nobility of the animals with the needs of challenged individuals.  And no other assistance programs create so much controversy.



In the 1940s, before the organization of the California State Board of Guide Dogs for the Blind, a consumer affairs licensing agency whose mission is to maintain the professional threshold of guide dog training, the guide dog field suffered from many of the same problems the service dog industry is experiencing today.  Besides considerable public confusion as to the role and function of service dogs in public places, a long list of scandalous activities historically characterized our field.  Providing dogs with no training, raising funds with no plans to produce trained dogs, selling dogs, accepting people for training and not providing any, and selling unauthorized certification papers were significant features of many of the “guide dogs schools” operating in California.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Guide Dog Training

It's National Guide Dog Month so my September posts are about blind people and guide dogs. If you know something about obedience training, you might think training guide dogs is counter-intuitive.

Watching blind travelers confidently make their way through busy city traffic, many people assume that dog is leading person. But the cornerstone of guide work is that the dog, trained to judge speed and distance of moving vehicles, will, when necessary, disobey the human partner’s command, and signal through the rigid harness that it’s unsafe to go forward. 
Traffic Training
The handler not only directs the dog, but supports decisions the dog makes, even when the animal disobeys. Taught to allow for the person’s height and width, the dog can make a decision to walk around or under obstacles, or stop to ask for input as if to say, “Here is an overturned garbage can. Which way would you like to go?” In addition, dogs learn to safely maneuver stairs, elevators, escalators, public transportation and are trained to stop for hazardous overhanging obstacles, including things like scaffolding, metal stairs, sagging awnings and tree limbs.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Difference Between Guide Dog Breeds

In honor of national guide dog month, I'm reprinting excerpts of an interview I did several years ago with seven experienced blind people who've used guide dogs most of their lives.  Here they compare problem solving strategies between 36 dogs representing six breeds.  Compared to my usual posts, it's a lengthy conversation, but if you've lived with a Lab, Golden, German Shepherd, Aussie, Border Collie, Flat Coat,  Poodle or hybrid of these breeds, you'll be fascinated by the comments.


 “Because we can’t see, we don’t know the particulars of what we’re commanding our dogs to do. The dog has to stand up to us, to get it through to us that something is there that we don’t know about, then find a way to get us out of a dangerous situation. A dog that isn’t comfortable holding his ground isn’t suited to the job.”

Some blind handlers argue that there are marked differences in each breed’s approach to guide work, while others think that the traits that make good guides neutralize the larger behaviors that characterize each breed. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Guide Dog Breeds

It's National Guide Dog Month so my September posts are about blind people and guide dogs. Guide work isn't breed specific, but all guide dogs have one thing in common:


"Not just simple rote-learners, guide dogs have to be able to recognize what one situation has in common with another and react accordingly. They have to perform spectacular feats of disobedience. And they usually have to do it all without reinforcement because their blind handlers, nine times out of ten, don’t know what it is they’ve done."

Although German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers are the most familiar guide dog breeds, any confident, friendly, intelligent and willing dog, large enough for the harness but small enough to lie comfortably under a bus seat is eligible. Boxers, smooth-coated Collies, Poodles, Dobermans, Border Collies and Australian Shepherds are increasingly finding employment as guides, as are their hybrid offspring. 



Breed differences aside, successful guide dogs have an innate confidence that nurtures their unusual ability to solve problems in stressful situations without consistent positive reinforcement.



But is problem solving breed specific? Next week I'll post comments from experienced blind handlers who've partnered with different breeds. They'll relate, first hand, the differences in ways breeds solve guide work problems.


In the meantime, read my other posts and articles about guide dogs:


  • Bark magazine's - The Making of a Guide Dog: From Puppy to Partner
  • History of guide dogs including photos of the very first dog, Rolf, trained to lead a German soldier after WWI (Surprise! Rolf was a German Pinscher)
  • Morris Frank, the first American to receive a dog, a female German Shepherd named Buddy


About 60 - 70% of working guides are
Labrador Retrievers like this fellow.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Vintage Airedale Photos

The only thing I know about Airedales is they like to fetch tennis balls and swallow towels, and that's based on a sample of only two dogs, Mic and Pete.

A cross between old fashioned Black and Tan Terriers and Welsh Terriers, neither breed fond of water, and water-loving Otter Hounds, Airedale Terriers were registered with the Kennel Club of England in 1886.

Monday, August 25, 2014

National Dog Day is August 26, 2014

The National Dog Day Foundation explains, "No one can win hearts like man's best friend and in honor of this bond between [humankind] and canine, Dog Day is celebrated.  Take time to appreciate the love and value that dogs bring to our daily lives, and to do your bit for homeless and abused dogs the world over. Recommendations for ways to celebrate Dog Day range from adopting a dog from a rescue home to giving your dog a holistic spa treatment or even buying yourself and your dog matching t-shirts.  The National Dog Day Foundation supports all breeds and varieties of dogs and discourages purchasing from unethical backyard breeders and puppy mills; instead, support reputable breeders or adopt from rescue homes."

Read more about twenty ways to celebrate.