Wednesday, April 25, 2012


The original Collie was a generic herding dog.  It's an ancient breed-type that's been around in one form or another since people began herding sheep thousands of years ago.  The meaning of the breed name is lost.  According to the Oxford English Dictionary, "collie" may be a derivative of the word, "coaly" used to describe the black color of the sheep it herded. Or it may be taken from a proper name for dog.  In 1386, Chaucer used it as a call name, "Ran Colle our dogge." 

Chaucer's dog probably looked just like this one.
breed history border collie
Engraving by Wm. Lizars, "The Naturalist's Library," 1830-1840

In fact all Collies looked pretty much like this one until the mid 1800s, when Queen Victoria's passion for the breed made the working dog a society favorite. It wasn't long before everyone who was anyone had to be seen with a Collie. One Victorian fashionista gushed, "Indeed her gracious majesty was the very first to render these celebrated dogs fashionable in good society, having adopted one." In 1864 a London journalist wrote, "No young gentleman would be seen walking down Union Street with a collie dog in 1863, but now collie is positively king of the canine race."

I wrote an article for The AKC Gazette about Queen Victoria's dogs.  You can read it here.

This is a photo from the article.  Sharp was the Queen's favorite.  Although he looks more like a retriever in this photo, he was Border Collie.

The mid 19th century generic herding dog is the common ancestor of the numerous herding breeds we love today.  
These photos are from my collection* showing how the rough coated Collie looked 

in 1907
vintage photo collie
in the 1930s
vintage photo collie
in the 1950s
vintage photo collie
on a palm chair
vintage photo collie

And this is the rough coated Collie today (photo: )

Click here to see classic Collie stalking behavior.

Click here to read more about Queen Victoria's Collies.

*Be nice. If you reproduce my photos, please reference my blog.

Thursday, April 19, 2012


This post is the first in a series I'm doing about dog science.  I'll provide links to easy to read summaries of the science. And to add a little context, I'll include links to similar studies - some with different findings.  If you want to know more you can jump in from there.

This post is about breed-related causes of death. Mortality is 100% no matter what the breed (or species for that matter), but if you want to know what will likely be the cause of death of your favorite purebred dog, then read this journal article.

Mortality in North American Dogs from 1984 to 2003: An Investigation into Age-, Size-, and Breed-Related causes of Death, by J. M. Fleming, K. E. Creevy, and D. E. L. Promislow

The science is pretty techy, but the charts and graphs are well explained.  On the other hand, if you like your science summarized in easy to read format,  then check this article out:  Breed-Specific Causes of Death in Dogs Revealed in Landmark Study

I've listed some interesting statistics below, but before you read on here are a few things to remember:
  • Without exception, the highest killer of dogs in the US is euthanasia of unwanted shelter dogs.  If you've got room for one more (and who doesn't), please ADOPT!
  • Most dogs don't die of the diseases cited in these studies, rather they are euthanised to relieve suffering caused by the disease.
  • Statistics are helpful but they cannot tell the whole story.  For instance, if dogs of a certain breed are mostly killed by gastrointestinal bloat in middle age, then we don't know what the cancer rate is, because onset of cancer is usually later. 
  • More important than the general cancer rate in a breed is what kind of cancer and which organ is affected.  You can find out if you read the studies I've cited here in depth.  
  • What these studies don't tell you is average age of onset.  Some breed-specific cancers are diagnosed in dogs as young as five or six.
  • To give you cancer rate frame of reference, keep in mind that the cancer death rate in people is around 20-23%.  

Little breeds are more likely to die of heart disease or metabolic disorders like pancreatitis or diabetes than cancer.  In general their cancer rates are under 10%.  For instance:
  • Chihuahua  7%
  • Dachshund  9%
  • Pekingese  8%
  • Miniature Pinscher - 4%

Little breeds die in accidents more often than big dogs:
  • Dachshund 11%
  • Pomeranian 13%
  • Pekingese 13%
But this probably just means that big dogs are more likely to survive an accident than a little one.

However, this is interesting.  The two breeds at highest risk for accidental death are the Jack Russell Terrier (19%) and the Australian Heeler (20%).  I'm guessing these are on-the-job mortalities like encounters with snakes and horses that don't end well.


Mixed breeds were included in the study.  They die of the same diseases, but it's more difficult to predict what those might be.  Like dogs in general, cancer is the biggest killer - 27%

Big breeds are more likely to die from cancer and gastrointestinal diseases. Cancer rates in some large breeds:
  • Rottweiler 29%
  • Saint Bernard 27%
  • Rhodesian Ridgeback 37%
  • Vizsla 36% 
It's no surprise that Bulldogs die from respiratory disease, but so do Afghans and Vizslas.  This was an unexpected finding.  And researchers were surprised to find that heart disease is the most common cause of death in Fox Terriers.

Breeds at the highest risk for cancer:
  • Golden Retrieve 50% (some breeders say it's closer to 60%)
  • Bernese Mountain Dog 54%
  • Bouvier des Flandres 46%
  • Boxers 44% 
In Sweden they did a similar study using statistics from pet insurance records (most dogs in Sweden are insured).  The paper is well written and easy to read but the charts and graphs are difficult to understand. If the science is too technical jump to the end and read the discussion.

Mortality in Over 350,000 Insured Swedish dogs from 1995-2000: I. Breed-, Gender-, Age- and Cause-Specific Rates

Their cancer findings were different.
  • Bernese Mountain Dog 41%
  • Boxers 37%
  • Golden Retrievers 30%

Morris Animal Foundation is conducting a lifetime study of 3,000 Golden Retrievers that will identify genetic, nutritional and environmental risk factors for cancer and other diseases in the breed.  Read about it here:  History's Largest Dog Study Gets Ready for Takeoff    Better yet - donate!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


Victorians believed some breeds to be more loyal than others. The breed most often lauded in pen and paint (some paintings better than others) was the Saint Bernard. Their selfless courage - saving people in alpine blizzards - was the stuff of legend.

This photo was taken about 1935

Mostly though, they were hard working cart dogs. By 1900 the breed's much embellished heroic work was steeped in so much romantic nonsense that the dog became the poster child for nostalgic sentiment.
A silly French postcard

This Saint contrasts nicely with the stylish William Morris designed wall paper (photo 1902).

By the beginning of the 20th century they were a popular companion dog - some say the hardest job of all.

All the images in this post belong to Doctor Barkman. You may use them if you reference my blog.

Monday, April 9, 2012


I watched a handsome coyote trot across my street early this morning. He reminded me that coyote pups are being weaned about now, and papa coyotes are out scouting for food.

In our area, just a stone's throw from Pasadena, CA, most coyotes mate in January/February. Like domestic dogs, gestation lasts nine weeks (63 days). While mother nurses the 4 to 8 pups, the male coyote does a large share of the hunting. He returns to the den and regurgitates the goodies so she can eat.

Pups are weaned at about 6 weeks of age.

In the early stages of weaning both parents eat their fill of a meal,
then regurgitate their stomach contents in front of the pups.
Puppies initiate the behavior by licking the parent's muzzle.
After a while, the pups are presented with pieces of meat that they must chew themselves. By late spring, pups require more food and parents go to great lengths to keep their offspring fed.

So be extra vigilant now. Keep you pets inside. Don’t leave food bowls outside. Lock the doggie-door at night. Coyotes are opportunistic eaters. Once they realize that small pets are easy prey, they'll ignore rodents and grasshoppers, their primary diet in some states.

In our community coyotes killed many small pets last year. Not only was it a tragic loss for owners, but seven local coyotes were trapped and killed by the California State Department of Fish and Game – which tells you just how bad the problem was, as Fish and Game rarely removes indigenous wild animals in Los Angeles County.

Keep your pets safe and our coyotes wild.

Get more information on coping with urban coyotes here.

Here is another good site with tips
on how to coyote proof your fences
along with a recording of howling coyotes.

Saturday, April 7, 2012


I received a few comments in response to my last post about dogs in period movies. One person in particular from The Bark magazine blog pointed out that the corgis in the King's Speech (2010) are inaccurately depicted. Just coincidentally, I have a photo in my collection of those very dogs.

Here's a picture of the Queen Mum, Elizabeth (about age 12) and her two corgis, showing what the breed should have looked like in the film about King George VI and his reluctant ascent to the throne in 1936.

Instead, they looked more like this contemporary model.
(Doctor Barkman's boy, Auggie, sits second from left.)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


In period movies, dog breeds, just like fabric on the furniture, should be accurate to the period. Only a few contemporary breeds look exactly as they did 100 years ago.

Downton Abbey, the early 20th century story of the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants, with its authentic Yorkshire country house and period decor, is accurate down to thread in the costumes. But oops. No one thought to research what Lord Crawley's loyal dog would actually have looked like. And Pharaoh (played by Roly) would not be a light cream colored yellow Labrador Retriever.
Wikipedia the Free Encyclopedia
Ben of Hyde, born in 1899, was the first light colored Lab - not really yellow but rather a dark butterscotch color. Prior to Ben, Labs were black, usually with white markings. The light cream colored coat we see in every opening episode as Pharaoh trots along side his master is a much later 20th century look.
When it comes to dogs in period films, historical inaccuracy is a pet peeve of mine. Here are some winners and losers:
The Last of the Mohicans (1992) - set in 1757, takes place in the Hudson River Valley, includes two American Black and Tan Coonhounds pretending to be Blue Gascony Hounds.
Mrs. Brown (1997) - the story of widowed Queen Victoria, her servant, Scottish Highlander John Brown, and their extraordinary friendship that apparently left no time for any of her 88 dogs. Nary a single dog appears on screen. We don’t even hear a proxy dog barking off screen.
Howard's End (1992) - a typical Merchant Ivory production, historically accurate from turn of the century wardrobe to wallpaper, is a tale of social class, theosophy, and two poorly placed four month old yellow Labrador Retrievers.
Apocalypto (2006) - the story of the demise of the ancient Central American civilization and two hungry Xolo dogs that check out a smoldering camp fire for leftovers. Accurate depiction, but 8 seconds of screen time is hardly enough.
Sense and Sensibility (1995) - At a time when spaniels were a soupy mix of similar shapes and sizes, the movie depicts spaniels just that way.
Spaniels were a generic sort of working bird dog until the end of the 19th century.
Amazing Grace (2002) - the story of religious social reformer and abolitionist William Wilburforce. The 18 historically accurate Regency period dogs include in order of appearance: Papillion, Border Terrier, Collie, little black dog, little terrier dog, another Collie, yellow Lurcher, grey Lurcher, little white dog, Irish Red and White Setter, and another field dog that looks suspiciously like a contemporary Springer Spaniel groomed with an electric trimmer. I didn’t say the movie was perfect.
This is what Reverend Wilburforce's Collie would have looked like.
Engraving by Wm. Lizars, "The Naturalist's Library," 1830-1840
To read my entire diatribe about historically inaccurate dogs in period films, click here.