A blog by Jane Brackman, Ph.D.

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.
Wild Dog biologists and friends

We spent the day in this vehicle
using binoculars to follow the dogs.
It was just like doing field research in Yellowstone Park except biologists in Africa carry shotguns. Elephants were the biggest threat to vehicles.

We were lucky to be there during breeding season. And even luckier to observe denning behaviors.
Our topic of study. She's looking at
pups in a den dug in the ground. 

Where we stayed - Little Muck Lodge,
Limpopo Province, South Africa
A 2014 report from South Luangwa National Park in Zambia reveals good news. The Wild Dog population has increased to 7000 and remains steady. In some parts of Africa the dogs are doing better than expected, even reestablishing territories in countries where they'd gone extinct.  The New York Times has a good overview of the report.

If wildlife biologists are successful in establishing a vast wildlife reserve that will span parts of Zambia, Angola, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Namibia, the painted dogs will get an opportunity to thrive.  The Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area  (KAZA) will be the size of Sweden.

If you're into wolves, you'll want to know
more about these unusual animals.  

Monday, August 11, 2014

Prostrate Cancer Sniffing Dogs

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%.
That's what Dr. Barkman calls a real LAB report.

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

Monday, June 23, 2014

Ashkelon - Largest Ancient Dog Cemetery in the World

The largest ancient dog burial ground ever discovered is in Ashkelon, a thriving city located on the southeast coast of the Mediterranean Sea, 30 minutes by car from Tel Aviv.  The dogs were buried 2500 years ago.

To date, archaeologists have excavated the remains of more than 1400 dogs. The burials spanned a period of only 80 years. 

The dogs were buried on prime real estate
near a seafront bluff, the graves spread out over many acres.
Each dog was carefully positioned by itself, in a shallow pit, with no grave goods.  Dogs were placed on their sides, legs flexed with tails gently tucked around their hind legs, then covered with a mixture of earth and gravel debris. 

Why were they buried?  It's an ongoing mystery.  They were not offered as sacrifice, nor eaten.  They appear to have died of natural causes and their ages at death represent what you would expect in a contemporary population of village dogs - 70 percent puppies. (In feral dog populations most pups die before age one - it's a tough life.)  However some dogs were quite old with signs of arthritis and even injuries that had healed indicating that they'd been cared for to some degree. 

Dogs were all about the same size - 30 pounds and 20 inches tall.

The Ashkelon dogs looked a lot like this guy.

Read more about the ancient dogs of Ashkelon.

Monday, June 16, 2014

All Work and No Play

We have a deadline this week.  Come back next week for new posts.
Dr. Barkman and her assistant Gus McBarkley

Monday, June 9, 2014

How Much Was That Doggie in the Window?

How much did a purebred dog cost in the 1800s when canine price tags were snobby indicators of breeding differences among not only dogs but also the people who owned themThe short answer is - a whole lot more than the $500 to $1500 you'd expect to pay now.

"Dachshunds of patrician blood and perfect
Blenheim and King Charles Spaniels, like
the large dogs, St. Bernards, Mastiffs, and
Great Danes, always command fancy prices
as do rare orchids, violins or books."

Considering that in 1890 $1 was worth around $40 in today's value, and the average annual U.S. income was less than $300, a pedigreed dog was expensive.  In general, people paid more for "proven" adult dogs, so puppies were cheap.   To get an idea of the actual prices, I looked at vintage newspapers, Victorian era dog breed magazines, and 18th and 19th century books. This is what I discovered. (I put the calculated worth in today's dollars in parentheses.)

 "Four English Setter dog pups for sale at Slaterback's gun shop, Commercial Street, $50" ($1042)
1875 San Francisco Daily Examiner 

In 1891, A Cocker Spaniel, Fox Terrier, and Black and Tan Terrier
might command $50 to $100 
($1250 to $2500).

In 1893, a King Charles Spaniel could cost as much as $350,
equal to $9000 today. But as a rule, a puppy cost
around $15 ($400) and an adult $75 ($1900).

In 1896, during the Alaskan gold rush, an average dog could
bring $50 to $100 
($1500 to $3000). Considering you might need up to
nine dogs for a sled team, that was pricey.

About 1900, exclusive hobby kennels operated by the wealthy gave way to a large number of small commercially operated kennels run by entrepreneurs of moderate means.  Dog prices plummeted. This is when kennels began selling puppies in newspapers.

1912 San Francisco Call classified ads- Puppies for Sale: Toy Poodle $25 ($600), Japanese Spaniel $15 ($350), Cocker $25 ($600), Boston Terrier $10 ($245), Pekingese $15 ($350), French Bulldog $35 ($850), Airedale $30 ($730)   

This is what Dobies looked like in 1914.
A pup might cost upwards of $50 ($1250)
Photo from Leighton's Book of the Dog, 1906

1914 New York Tribune Classified Ads - Puppies for Sale: Bull Terriers $20 ($500), Yorkshire Terrier $20 ($500), Wire Haired Fox Terrier $15 and up ($300 and up)
In 1914, a Yorkie puppy cost around $20, equivalent to
the $500 we might pay today. However, the annual wage
then was around $500 so purebred dogs were still the
privilege of the upper class.
Photo from Leighton's Book of the Dog (1906)

Monday, June 2, 2014

An Ancient Dog's Life Story at Lake Baikal

In the past, an ancient dog's life story was told through an analysis of his bones. Now a more comprehensive tale can be told as scientists supplement traditional archeology with modern technology including isotope geochemistry, DNA analysis, and radiocarbon dating.

A rich collection of prehistoric dog remains dot the south and west shores of Siberia's Lake Baikal, the largest and oldest fresh water lake in the world. The area's well-preserved Middle Holocene (three to nine thousand years old) hunter-gatherer cemeteries attract scientists from all over the world.
Siberia's Lake Baikal lies in a vast crescent 
about 400 miles north of Mongolia. The Baikal 
Archeology Project is a consortium of 
international scholars studying how 
social and environment pressures
 influence long term cultural change. 

An international team of scientists, led by Robert Losey, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Alberta, examined 17 human and dog burial sites, most about 7,000 years old. Analyzing their findings within the rich well-studied culture of Lake Baikal,  the researchers concluded that ancient indigenous people thought of some dogs the same way they did other extremely powerful animals - NOT as simple beings whose souls collectively recycle back into the primordial species-soup, but as beings who, like humans, had distinct and  individual souls, and as such required appropriate mortuary rights so they could be reborn as the same "person". (Read about the 2013 study in the Siberian Times.)

Stone and bone implements surround the skull. 
The dog has a round rock in its mouth.  
Buried with artifacts the dog would have 
used regularly during its life indicates he 
had near human spiritual status. 

Although many dogs received no special treatment during life or at death, the remains of some dogs indicated 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. In one case a man was buried with two dogs, one in each arm.
Using DNA and stable isotope analysis, 
researchers determined that the dog and 
human diets were the same. 
Note calf skull placed between 
the dog's legs.

Professor Losey told the press, "I think the act of treating [a dog] as a human upon its death indicates that people knew it had a soul, and that the mortuary rites it received were meant to ensure that this soul was properly cared for."

The Paleolithic Siberian dog looked 
a lot like this modern day Siberian Husky,
 only larger with significantly bigger teeth.  
Bone wear indicated he worked
along side his people, likely as a transport
animal hauling heavy loads.

Canids as persons: Early Neolithic dog and wolf burials, Cis-Baikal, Siberia; Robert J. Losey et al, Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, Volume 30, issue 2, June 2011, pp 174-189.

Read more about the project here.