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.