Friday, December 28, 2012

Vintage Photos Girls and Puppies

Little girls and puppy dog tales...

Source: Library of Congress

These photos are from my collection unless otherwise noted.  You may reproduce them, but please be nice and credit my blog.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Dog Tail Shapes and Sizes

About ten years ago I statistically analyzed the shape of dog tails in 330 pedigreed dogs listed in the Atlas of Dog Breeds of the World (Wilcox and Walkowitz, 1995).

With the assistance of my 12-year old neighbor, Grace, we figured out that the most common tail types (56%) are the otter and whip tails.
Labs have otter tails.
Greyhounds have whip tails.

The ring tail is a trait found in 15% of all breeds.

The sickle tail is common in only 3%. 

Only 1% have a screw tail.
Docked Tails - twenty four percent of registered breeds have their tails cut off, although the trend is toward not docking tails or ears, and in some countries it's illegal. Dobermans usually have docked tails.

But a lot of breeders are leaving tails as nature intended.  When a breed's tail is no longer docked, what shape is it?  It might be any shape because breeders never selected for tail types. (I know a geneticist who has a drawer full of docked puppy dog tails.  I'm not naming names. He is studying the mutation that affects tail shape.)

This is a Dobie with something between a ring and sickle shape tail - very cute.

And here's one with more of a whip x otter  tail shape.

Pembroke Welsh Corgi tails are traditionally docked.  
But here's one with an otter tail.

And one with a very wet ring tail.
    And one with a cute I don't know what tail.

    Only 1% of registered breeds are born without a tail at all, called  bobbed tailIn a few breeds it's a fixed trait, like the Australian Stumpy Tail Cattle Dog.

    In all, 23 breeds have naturally bobbed tails, but the trait isn't fixed which means they may or may not be born with a tail.  These include among others Pembroke Welsh Corgi, Australian Shepherd, Brittany Spaniel, Jack Russel Terrier or Schipperke.

    Of the 23, 17 have a specific mutation on the T-box transcription factor T gene (C189G). Geneticists still haven't figured out what accounts for the bobbed tail in the other six breeds. If you want to know more about the science behind this mutation, click here.

    Doctor Barkman says no tail is a bad shape or size, and the best tails are ones still attached to the dog.
    I rest my case.

    Monday, December 17, 2012

    Who were the first dogs? Explaining genetic diversity

    Scientists still don't know. But whoever the first dogs turn out to be, if they're not extinct, they'll be the dogs with the most genetic diversity - almost as much diversity as the wolf.
    The First Dog by Benjamin Cheever
    The gray wolf, the canid with the most genetic diversity (let's say100% ), is the progenitor of all domestic dogs.

    The Empty Nest

    Dogs move in packs.  Each time dogs broke away from the original family and moved on to better opportunities, they would mate with close cousins who'd migrated with them.  Their offspring would have had less genetic diversity than their ancestors' because the parents were more closely related.  As this process continued over thousands of years, diversity was reduced.

    Humans, by applying artificial selection, have created smaller and smaller populations. If it's a very small population, it's called a bottle neck. In the case of dog breeds, the least amount of diversity will be a breed that's gone through the narrowest bottle neck.

    The Norwegian Lundehund is a good (but unfortunate) example.

    The ancestors of the Lundehund were not a breed per se, but rather a landrace, a local variety of domesticated animal that developed largely by natural processes.  Their natural environment included rocky surfaces, craggy cliffs and steep fjords.  For thousands of years the Lundehund was a genetically diverse balanced population.

    The dog in its natural environment.

    About a hundred years ago, the landrace was artificially "perfected" to negotiate rocky cliffs to hunt Puffin birds, now an endangered species. Some breed diversity was lost.
    Puffin Bird
    Two distemper epidemics, the first in the mid 1940s, wiped out all but a handful of dogs. The breed (current population about 1500-2000) was rescued with just six dogs. Unfortunately, five of those were descended from one mother.  Small groups of individuals who are this closely related, whether they be human like the Hapsburgs, or canine like the Lundehund,  have a high incidence of genetic disorders.
    The Hapsburgs had many genetic problems.
    Hemophilia was probably the worst.

    The Lundehund suffers from a life threatening digestive disorder (Lundehund gastroenteropathy) that causes the dog to be unable to absorb protein and nutrients from food.  Not all dogs are afflicted, but all Lundehunds are carriers.  Although the disease can be managed, there is no cure.  The average age of death is 7-8 years.

    The unique feature of the Lundehund is it's polydactyle foot with fully formed, jointed and muscled toes.  Note the six toes instead of the normal four. I wonder if she can open the refrigerator door.

    In addition, the dog has extreme range of motion in its shoulders, neck and ears. (The ear canal opening can be controlled by ear movement). These distinctive traits, found only in the Lundehund, likely developed from natural pressures the dogs experienced thousands of years ago.  If breeders were to cross the Lundehund with another breed to increase diversity and reduce the incidence of disease, these extraordinary features would be lost forever.   Breeders face difficult decisions.

    To read more about the unusual Norwegian Lundehund, click here

    Friday, December 14, 2012

    My favorite dog cartoons by Jerry Van Amerongen

    Jerry Van Amerongen's dog cartoons prove he's a tried and true dog lover.  You can see all his cartoons at    These are some of my favorites:

    Monday, December 10, 2012

    Vintage photos of students with dogs

         There really was a time when dogs followed kids to school, then waited by the classroom door all day.  When school was over, the two walked home together.

    1920s photo of students enrolled in Catholic school. 
    I wonder who the dog belongs to.

    He poses with such a sense of purpose.

    Depression era photo of children attending a one-room school house.  
    The dog is on the left (enlarged below). Many of the kids are barefoot.

    There's no question as to whom the boy belongs. 
    He may have no shoes, but he has something better-
    The love of a loyal dog.

    Class of 1908. Their mascot is in the front.

    What kind of ball is that?

    Friday, December 7, 2012

    Tibetan Mastiff, rare vintage photos

    Rare 1910 photos of Tibetan Mastiff

    These priceless photos of Tibetan Mastiffs are courtesy of my friend, Kathy Hoskins.  In the early 1900s her grandfather lived in Kalgan, China, an international trade city and the chief northern gate in the Great Wall.  Located about a hundred miles northwest of what is now Beijing, it was the major entry/exit point from China through Mongolia to Russia on what was called the Tea Road.

    Look closely and you can see that the dog is secured with a rope. 

    The Chinese word for the breed is do-khyi, translated as home guarddoor guard or dog which may be tied.  Not actually a Mastiff, the dog is a flock guard.  They were usually tied outside the home during the day and allowed to run loose at night to protect livestock. 

    In the background of the photo below, you can see an automobile, Mongolian horses (the first domesticated horse) and camels.  Where ever it is they're going, they have transportation covered.

    The man standing in front of a traditional yurt has something, perhaps food, in his hand. Yum. As every dog lover knows, food is the universal and timeless treat that crosses all cultures and centuries.

    The breed had already made its way to Europe as early as the mid 1800s. Queen Victoria's dog, Bout, is below.
    Queen Victoria's Tibetan Mastiff, Bout.
    c. 1855, by William Bambridge

    An ancient breed, it was depicted in art as early as the 1600s.

    Read more about the Tibetan Mastiff

    Saturday, December 1, 2012

    Great Dane in Danish Film, "A Royal Affair"

    One of my pet peeves is the inaccurate depiction of dog breeds in period films that are otherwise historically accurate down to the wall paper. 

    So I say hooray for the person on the crew of the film, A Royal Affair (2012), who was responsible for getting the King's dog right. The Harlequin Great Dane that the mentally disturbed King Christian VII of Denmark fawns over is not the gangly giant we're familiar with today.  The great Danish mastiff of the mid 18th century was a large sturdy dog that looked a lot like this guy.

    Danes bred in Europe continue to be more typical of the early breed types.  But elsewhere, by mid 19th century, breeders began creating a more stylized dog.  This is what the Great Dane looked like in 1907.

    And today.  
    To read about other accurate or inaccurate representation of breeds in period films, read my other posts:

    Corgis in The King's Speech

    Lab in Downton Abbey
    Scroll down in the Downton Abbey post to read about the accuracy of pooches in other films:
    Blue Gascony Hounds in The Last of the Mohicans
    Yellow Labs in Howard's End
    Xolos in Apocalypto
    Spaniels in Sense and Sensibility
    Dogs in Amazing Grace

    Tuesday, November 27, 2012

    Mixed Breed Dog DNA Tests

    Are mixed breed dog DNA tests accurate?  

    The short answer is yes.

    But will they tell you what you want to know? Probably not. But then again maybe.

    If your mixed breed pooch has a purebred parent or grandparent you'll be happy with the test.  If she's a mish-mash of this and that, you'll be scratching your head.  Here's why.  (Read the detailed version of my explanation, DNA Tests, published in The Bark (Nov/Dec 2012). 

    It's complicated.

    Dogs are not like us (or any other mammal apparently).  They're made up of many packages of traits rather than a whole bunch of individual traits.  The pointing/feathery fur/happy feet/floppy ear package goes into, lets say 30% of breeds, whereas the funny face/elegant tail/find-a-varmint-in-a-hole/sloppy-kiss bundle goes into, for instance, 40%. And both packages go into making up numerous breeds. (Yes, I'm making this up, but just to illustrate a point. Geneticists know about the packages but haven't as yet figured out what's in each one.)

    Back to your dilemma. Once the lab tracks the mongrel DNA back past a purebred parent or grandparent,  it's likely only able to tell you what packages of traits are involved.  What it's saying is "Sparky is all mongrel, but he's got some trait packages similar to the Husky and the Border Collie."  Then you go, "That's impossible. Sparky looks like a Corgi/Beagle mix."

    Here's the other weird thing about dogs. All modern dogs, no matter what they look like, are so closely related that if you go back a few generations, your pooch is closely related to every breed.   (More details about this in my article in the 2012 winter issue of The Bark.)

    Here are a couple of examples.

    Chance (pictured left enjoying his pond) a ten year old mixed breed dog who's lived with me for six years was my DNA guinea pig.  In 2009 I had his ancestry tested with the MMI Canine Heritage Breed Test. At that time  MMI looked at 96 markers and tracked them to 38 identifiable breeds.  Chance's breed composition analysis results: no purebred parent, one purebred grandparent that was a Siberian Husky, and in his ancestry - Borzoi, Doberman, and Border Collie.

    The results make sense.
    He takes after his Husky grandpa
    This is what my boy looks like
    As far as what's in the mix- Borzois were mixed with Huskys to increase speed.  Dobies are a relatively new breed.  Working Border Collies don't breed true, meaning as long as they do the job they can appear very different from one another.  According to the company, new breeds don't "breed true" in that their DNA doesn't always cluster as the breed that they are.  Rather it can indicate breeds that were used to make the new breed.   That's a vague answer, but it's enough of an answer to sway my opinion to say that this test is accurate. But I wanted to know more.

    In April, 2012, I again tested his ancestry, this time using the MARS Wisdom Panel.  Mars looked at 321 markers and tracked them back to 185 breeds in their database. This is their report:  No purebred parent.  One grandparent that was a cross between a German Shepherd and a mongrel.  The other grandparent was a cross between a Japanese Chin and a Standard Schnauzer.   In the mix- German Pinscher, Pembroke Welsh Corgi, Italian Greyhound and Leonberger.  Hmmmm.  I'm losing confidence in the tests.  I'll do one more.  Two out of three?  (A fool and her money soon part).

    In May, 2012, I tested his DNA with the Canine Heritage test again because now they had 120 breeds in the data base. (Update: Mars Wisdom Panel purchased Canine Heritage in July 2012 so Canine Heritage is no longer available)  I could have paid $25 to upgrade his 2009 test.  But to be fair in my test of the tests experiment, I decided to send the DNA in as if he had never been tested. The test results: No purebred parent, grandparent or great grandparent.  But his distant relatives include Alaskan Malamute, Pembroke Welsh Corgi, and a very small smattering of English Setter and Cocker Spaniel. OK. What's going on here?

    What's going on is that the labs doing the DNA analysis have made huge advancements in the last five years and are able to dig a lot deeper into a dog's ancestral DNA.  Unfortunately the additional information is only adding to our confusion.

    How can dogs looks so different than what they actually are?

    Would you believe a DNA test that said this dog was a purebred Whippet?  She is.
    Bully Whippet

    And although she is a purebred, this is a good illustration of how a mixed breed dog might look completely different than what the DNA results indicate. and how it can happen in a very short period of time. In this case, it has to do with a mutation on one gene.  If a Whippet has one copy she will be very fast.  If she has two copies she will be over-muscled.  (I'm over simplifying a very complicated subject. If you want to know more, read the New York Times article.)

    New York Times
    So then, how many generations would it take for the little dog gene (the IGF1 mutation is the gene that, when switched on, makes little dogs little) to be trumped by a more dominant size variant to create a dog that is no longer little. Apparently not very many.

    This 75 pound beast of a girl, Sumo, has a grandparent that was a Chihuahua mix.  The results were so counter intuitive to what she looks like that the lab (Canine Heritage) did the test twice.  Same results.

    Packages of traits add to the mystery
    As I mentioned above, to further complicate things, dogs get their traits in a collection of packages.  So if one trait in the package is trumped by another version of a gene during the transition from purebred to mutt, like the domino effect all the traits in the package may change markedly as well.  It's like the default setting in your computer.  (I get to mix metaphors on my blog, because after all, it's my blog)

    That's probably what's going on here.  A reader sent me the DNA results of Daisy's Wisdom Panel test.  Intuition says she is a Lab mix, but DNA says something else.


    Daisy's parents and grandparents were all mutts, with fairly strong DNA signals from Cocker Spaniel, Australian Cattle Dog, German Shepherd and Dachshund.  Other breeds in the mix, with weaker signals, include Toy Fox Terrier 18.6%, Irish Water Spaniel 17.2%, Rat Terrier 3.6%, Finnish Spitz 3.1%.

    Not a Labrador Retriever anywhere in her family tree. How can this be?    My guess is that there are a whole bunch of linked traits that geneticists haven't identified yet.  When one trait is trumped by another, lots of stuff changes.  
    Think of Daisy as the quintessential default setting.

    On the other hand, sometimes a Lab is just a Lab.  My Lollie's results came back showing that she had a grandparent that was a purebred Lab.  Her mongrel relatives were part German Shepherd and part Rottie.  She looks like a Lab/Rottie mix, with the face of an angel. (Results on angel DNA pending.)

    Here's another example, in my own back yard.
    My Izzy was born in late 2010, weighs 25 pounds and looks like a Chihuahua/Whippet cross in a Golden Retriever costume.  I tested Izzy's DNA with the Canine Heritage Mixed Breed DNA test and the Wisdom Panel Mixed Breed DNA kit.

    The Wisdom Panel results indicated that one parent was a Miniature Pinscher/Shih Tzu mix. On that side of the family her grandparents were too, as well as her great grandparents. This means that one parent was a "Pin -Tzu" designer hybrid which is an intentional cross between the Miniature Pinscher and Shih Tzu.  Her other parent was a mongrel of indeterminate ancestry. On that side of the family, all her ancestors were mixed breeds of unknown origin.  That's a Pin Tzu above, and Izzy to the right.  So based on Izzy's looks, I would say this test is accurate.

    The Wisdom Panel test indicated she is the offspring of a carefully bred
    hybrid dog who fell in love with a mongrelly mongrel.
    The results of the Canine Heritage test indicated that both parents were mixes, which confirms what the first test described if you agree that a hybrid designer dog is a mix.  Like the first test, it indicated a purebred Shih Tzu grandparent, but it didn't mention any Miniature Pinscher ancestry.

    Then again, sometimes it's totally confusing.  A reader sent this comment and photo.


     "I just got the results of my dog today, and am scratching my head.  I guess anything's possible, but I REALLY expected Catahoula in there somewhere! ...The DNA test came back as Kuvasz/Chow mix with some mixed breeds in there. I'm kind of baffled, because I'm not even sure if those dogs have the blue merle gene!I sent Wisdom Panel a question asking if Catahoula could be close to any of those breed markers or not. Wonder what they'll say." 

    MARS responded promptly and comprehensively. To read what MARS said, click here

    And sometimes a dog is just a dog.
    Cholee's results indicate that on one side she has all mixed breed ancestry. On the other side she has grandparents and great grandparents who were Dachshunds, along with a great grandparent who was a Collie.

    Her person wrote, "It's just fascinating how much we assume about a dog's appearance, and also how that impacts what we expect behaviorally from that animal.  We thought that Cholee was part Beagle, maybe Lab, maybe Rhodesian (mostly based on personality), but she is no none of those ... which makes sense.  She seems to be a good example of the default dog - 35 pounds and tan."

    Lookit.  The bottom line is that dogs are very weird, and a lot is still unknown about how they are put together. But we dog lovers knew this all along, because there is nothing else in the world that comes close to a dog.  So how could it be easy to make one? 

    Send me your dog's photo along with her DNA results and I'll post them on my blog.  Email me -