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.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Africa's Wild Dogs

Africa's Wild Dogs aren't really dogs.  They split off from wolves millions of years ago. Like coyotes, domestic dogs, jackals and grey wolves, they have 78 chromosomes so they are indeed canids, but they are so distinctly different from their lupus relatives, taxonomists place them all alone in their own genus- lycoan.
An unusual pooch. The ears are big to disperse heat.

A few years ago I went to South Africa to hang out with biologists studying the painted dogs, a mid sized carnivore (60-70 pounds) whose dwindling population has made them Africa's most endangered mammal. When I was there in 2007, there were only about 5000 dogs left.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Prostrate Cancer Sniffing Dogs

That's what Dr. Barkman calls a real LAB report.
Canines have around 220 million olfactory cells in the nose (humans have about 6 million) enabling some dogs to smell chemicals released by cancerous tumors.  In a study presented at the 2014 American Urological Association's annual meeting, researchers reported that two dogs trained to identify these chemicals smelled the urine of more the 650 patients, and demonstrated a 98% accuracy in detecting prostate cancer.  Currently, blood tests are used to diagnose the disease, and have an accuracy rate of about 80%.

Read the pros and cons of using dogs in cancer detection in this issue of Slate magazine.

Monday, August 4, 2014

English Setter Neon Sign

I saw this sign in Los Angeles several years ago. The tail wags when the neon is turned on.  Unfortunately the location is now a Starbucks. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

American Dingos

The American Dingo is a an ancient dog rediscovered in the 1970s in Georgia's isolated cypress swamps in the Southeastern U. S. by ecologist Dr. Lehr Brisbin.
The dogs weigh 30 to 44 pounds.
Like its Australian Dingo cousin, the free ranging dog, called the Carolina Dog,  is a landrace or naturally selected type of dog, although today some are bred in captivity.  The dog is similar to Native American dogs depicted in early paintings and drawings.
"Crow Lodge of 25 Buffalo Skins"
By George Catlin 1830

When Europeans arrived in the Americas they found close to 20 indigenous breeds. Most bred with European dogs and within a hundred years had all but disappeared. The Carolina Dogs probably survived extinction because they were adept at living in packs in the wild, far away from people, which is precisely where they were when Lehr Brisbin found them.
A typical pack of Carolina Dogs looking for something yummy to eat.
Photo Source:
A DNA study led by Peter Savolainen of Sweden's Royal Institute of Technology proved that Carolina Dogs arrived with people as they migrated from Asia, as long as ten thousand years ago. They are without some genetic markers indicative of European origin.

They look a lot like other ancient breeds including
 the New Guinea Singing Dog and Shiba Inu.

Monday, July 21, 2014


Dingos are free ranging dogs found mostly in Australia. 

They are ancient domestic dogs that reverted to wild status about 5000 years ago, although some scientists say they may be twice that old. Based on genetic analysis, dingos are descended from only a few dogs, theoretically one pregnant female.  She probably accompanied seafaring explorers from southeast Asia.
Although the largest population is in Australia,
dingos inhabit much of southeast Asia.
Some think dingos originated in Southeast
Asia and were then brought to Australia.  

Dingos weigh between 29 and 44 pounds.  Although they bark like dogs, they howl and whimper more.  Their social behavior is like that of coyotes or wolves.  They live in packs of three to twelve, although some remain solitary and nomadic.  The size of the pack corresponds to the size of the most common food source.  Hunting is opportunistic and scavenging common. A pack consist of one mated pair along with adult offspring. Only the alpha pair successfully reproduce.
Although their coat colors vary, most look like this fella.
The dingo fence (below right), still maintained today, was constructed in the 1880s to protect sheep. It stretches 3488 miles.

Dingos are endangered by hybridization.  Less than 30% of the population is pure due to crossbreeding with domestic dogs.

Read more.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Dr. Barkman Reviews Ray Coppinger's Book Fishing Dogs

Fishing Dogs: A Guide to the History, Talents, and Training of the Baildale, The Flounderhounder, The Angler Dog, and Sundry Other Breeds of Aquatic Dogs (Canis Piscatorius)

Skyhorse Publishing, 2014
Author: Raymond Coppinger
Forward: Nick Lyons
Illustrations: Peter Pinardi
Buy the book at Amazon

According to storyteller, dog biologist and fisherman Raymond Coppinger, some time ago, when fishing technology hit a high water mark, and anglers had more leisure time, generic fishing dogs were bred for increasingly specialized tasks – to balance and bail the boat, set and find fish, and carry home the day’s catch. Today, the serious angler would never use a Log Dog where a Matt Dog was required. Nor would the noble Monsoon be appropriate for balancing the boat when the proud Bowplunk is best for ballast. Coppinger takes playful aim at dog culture and science, lampooning breeders, anthropologists, registration agencies, Germans, geneticists, Italians, trainers, and dog scientists including himself (see Chapter 6 on Bilge Puppies, founding stock of all fishing dogs). Tongue-firmly-in-cheek, he lays out canis piscatorius’ evolution, taxonomy, and complicated ancestry along with each breed’s specialized merit, from the rare Flounderhounder that attracts romantic Flounders, to the Stringer Spaniel that carries fish home in its coat. Artist Peter Pinardi’s delightful illustrations add whimsy to Coppinger’s droll narrative.  Fishing Dogs is biting satire that sometimes tips precariously toward mockery, especially regarding registration agencies which the author lampoons 22 times.  But for those who know dogs, fishing, or both, it’s a fun read.

Read Dr. Coppinger's 
guest post about starch 
digestion mutation in dogs.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Mange in Urban Coyotes

This article has been updated. Read more about rat poison 's link to mange and death in local wildlife:  Household rat poison linked to death and disease in wildlife
(Thanks to one of my readers for sending the link.)


I've seen a whole lot of mangy coyotes this year in my Altadena foothills neighborhood, a lot more than last year. And nocturnal coyote songs and yips have all but disappeared. Is there a relationship?  Apparently so.
Coyote with sarcoptic mange

Coyote with healthy coat
Photo Source: Jim Coda
Sarcoptic mange (not to be confused with the less serious demodectic mange) is a highly contagious infestation of a burrowing mite. The little fiends dig into the skin causing intense itching, pustules, skin crusting, hair loss and secondary infections that can lead to death in some animals.  Sick animals move closer into the neighborhoods to find easier sources of food and water, and exhibit unusual behaviors like lethargy and lack of wariness.
This poor little fella has advanced stage sarcoptic mange.
You can see why hairless coyotes
gave rise to the Chupacabra legend.
As bad as these animals look, only about 20% die from mange or conditions directly associated with it. In really bad epidemics it can be as high as 50%,  In those that die, it will take anywhere from  a few months to over a year.  Less than 15% recover and regrow hair.

Under normal circumstances mange drastically affects population size because infected females either reabsorb their fetuses, or give birth to pups that usually don't survive. However coyotes eating rats that have ingested anticoagulant poisons are significantly more likely to suffer and die from mange. (Read more here), Although I couldn't find any literature on mange and coyote population reduction, in a  red fox study, the population was reduced by as much as 90%. 
Source: Mary Cummins
When animals overpopulate a territory, resources gets scarce causing immune systems to weaken. The incidence of mange increases and the coyote population plummets. As the infestation recedes, the population increases.

The incidence of mange fluctuates, but is likely always around.  According to a long range study in Canada, 24% of the population consistently harbored sarcoptic mange mites. In comparison, a really bad epidemic can affect 70% of the population (Texas, 1980s).  I couldn't find any studies that said how bad it is in our area right now.  

Will your dog get mange mites from coyotes traveling through your yard?  They could, especially if the coyote is nesting there at night.  But researchers think it's not likely because monthly application of tick and flea meds may control mange mites in companion dogs.

So Dr. Barkman says: Don't buy or use anticoagulant poisons for rodent control. Keep your dogs up to date on their flea and tick meds. Don't leave food out for coyotes no matter how destitute they look.  And maybe, until the coyote population increases again, we can let our cats go outside.

If you want to read more, I recommend a thesis paper by Evan C Wilson, The Dynamics of Sarcoptic Mange in an Urban Coyote Population. Although the study took place in the Chicago area, much of the information can be applied to local populations here.  This KCET article is about how rat poison is increasing  immune system dysfunction, sarcoptic mange and death in California bobcats. 

Monday, June 30, 2014

Post-Mortem Portrait of Saint Bernard and Child from 1850

You may have noticed that three out of the last six posts have been about dogs and death. The blogmeister apologizes for this, but she is writing an article about ancient canine burials and has her head buried in research.
Mourning portraits, also called post-mortem portraits, were commonplace when the 1839 invention of the daguerreotype made portraiture inexpensive.  It provided a means for the middle class to memorialize recently deceased loved ones. In the 1800s when child mortality rates were high, post-mortem portraits were sometimes the only picture the family had of the child.  Deceased children were usually posed as if sleeping or with a favorite toy.  This photo from my collection is especially poignant because the sleeping boy is posed with his beloved dog, who I think is alive.  

Daguerreotype, collection of the Jane Brackman
About 1850-1860