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.