Canine Diversity Project

August 2011. A cat walks by off camera.
I was checking out the responders to one of the posts on Borderwars, Bonnie Dalzell,  and I found this wiki project for dogs. http://dogdimension.org/dokuwiki/doku.php?id=shared:purebreddogs21stc
It made me so happy, I could cry. I had independently reached so many of the same conclusions just through my layman’s reading of population genetics or biodiversity projects for other animals over the past decade, especially. I came to this position easily, just by thinking about dogs as I read about other animals.
I am not a dog professional. In fact I have come to loathe the term, if it means lay people do not have the natural ability to love and understand dogs, without making a living at it, or forming an organization that arrogates  all dog territory to themselves. There was a day when I was headed that direction. I served an apprenticeship in showing dogs as a potential breeder, so I know the landscape,though I left it behind as I came to understand the problems of the closed gene pool through my breed, the Basenji.
My next dog was a “wolfdog”, or a “rez”dog. I keep promising to post the photos from those years and I did find an old pedigree, too. I was part of a far flung network of people who kept these dogs, many were enrolled and many were not, though the dogs were all considered to be the descendents of the dogs pictured in the paintings of Bodmer, Catlin and others like them. I go into more detail about this in other posts, so this is just a brief review of myself as a dog person. I never heard the term “landrace dogs” back then, but that is what these Rez dogs were. All the breedings were outcrosses, yet all the pups remained true to type- a type I can pick out of western shelters any day of the week as husky or shepherd crosses. Husky-shepherd crosses is what they are often labeled by the shelter people, but they don’t quite look quite like a husky or a shepherd or a wolf, but something combined, or better- like the possible ancestor of the husky and the American Shepherd types. (Not there is any such breed, yet.). I know from my “dogwolf” days, that all those breedings were outcrosses and yet the “type” remained.
I have also discovered the same thing to be true of Chihuahuas from this area. The border region, from LA to El Paso is rife with landrace Chihuahuas whose ancestors were never registered with the AKC. They tend to run twice the size of AKC Chis at a 10 pound average. I have filled my blog with pix of these sweeties and will continue to do so, because most people do not know what the real Chihuahua used to look like. I have some small historical verifications, though no one has ever made this a topic of study, before, as there was little interest. The proof is actually in the present day dogs seen in shelters, though this is but a tiny fraction of the ones in happy homes.
Sidebar:
I think the complaint that the shelters filled up with Chihuahuas after Paris Hilton got Tinkerbell is not quite stated properly. In the first place, Tinkerbell was a very expensive dog and tiny. I doubt she is still alive as dogs that small do not live to an old age. So people wanted teacups, which cost thousands, then they would see the old “Chihuahua pups, $100.00” ads and buy one which would grow into a 10 pound dog. I know people will get rid of a dog that doesn’t look right or fulfill their fantasies. They will also get rid of dogs who won’t housebreak, for instance. Chihuahua who are not property trained to housebreak outside at the beginning, may never change their minds. They want the world settled, with rules and will learn quickly, but it is hard to change the rules on them by say, switching cold from a potty pad to outside without a transition. Even when they are young. But I digress.
 As long as I am digressing… Me and pet turkey. Novato CA, 1974. We did eat him for Thanksgiving.
I was lucky to grow up in the 40’s and 50’s in a multicultural atmosphere. So anthropology as a topic of study came naturally tome and still does. I got my BA in anthropology and built up a lot of graduate level courses at fine schools, but no advanced degree in Anthropology was ever finished,though it remains the foundation of my POV. (I did get a Masters in Counseling) One of the things I “got” quickly was the extremely conservative and racist atmosphere in the AKC. I had a privileged upbringing so I was familiar with this culture and saw it as a “culture”. The AKC Dog Culture was pervasively run by the lords and ladies of America. The names of judges routinely hark back to the Mayflower or at least before the war. The Revolutionary War that is.  I did my apprenticeship in Washington DC and went to shows from Delaware to VA. But basically, the heritage of the dog people was firmly rooted in eugenics, which although they no longer practice as much inbreeding themselves, seeing what it did to royalty, were still applying the same principles to their dogs! The AKC was run by Anglophiles whose dearest wish was to be presented at the Court of King James, if they hadn’t been,already. I know that has changed considerably around the edges, but at the core, this is still the culture of the real powers in the organization. And for what end, but to carry on the mistakes they made in thinking when they first started forming into breed clubs, then in the original KC in the late 19thcentury.
I have joined clubs and lists for various breeds. In my opinion, most breeder are fundamentalists. They carry out breeding programs in the same manner as they have always been carried out in the past. They don’t look at the big picture including the history of the dog, the different approaches to breeding, genetics, except to whittle down their own stock’s diversity by eliminating bad genes. They do not look at population genetics, evolutionary biology (probably a number of them don’t even believe in evolution) or try to place their breed into the center of its variety rather than breeding for extremes.
If you mention “outcross” ears slam shut! They feel horror at the idea! Yet they never have done the academics to be able to place current breeding practices into context. Messing with the “purity” of their dogs’ breeding is a sure way to get kicked out of the club! No one even seems to be able to entertain the idea rationally. But no one has looked at what this purity is- homozygousity to the extreme- and placed that into the scientific knowledge that is growing everyday.
In fact, the Canine Diversity projects’ pages are all from2003! You’d think dog people would have seen them and thought about it and added to them as a wiki, but they are ignored- just as the knowledge in them is abhorred. A huge, resounding silence has greeted the legitimate work of the contributors and nothing has been added, for years.
As happy to tears as I was when I found these pages, I am now saddened to tears at the lack of response. BTW, I found they had a forum,so I applied and was immediately rejected for being an amateur, or rather not being a professional in the field. OK, so I can’t join and see what they are doing behind the scenes, but I can still say, they are on the right track and will probably have a huge “I told you so” to the AKC, some day.
Meanwhile, the work done by Chris of Border Wars lately is a stunning continuation of the same work as seen in the CDP. If people have to look at the 10 generations and count the missing ancestors in every such breed, count the actual number of founders, and point it out to the public, then the only refuge for people with their head in the sand, is to hope the internet gets shut down.
I see a popular blog is dissing this work, by attacking the Young Turks carrying it out, but everything he said to insult them, only endeared them to me. And meanwhile some really good suggestions for diversifying the genetics of purebreds are laid out and easily doable, if people will just give up the concept of Genetic Purity (read Racial purity) by eliminating the dominants in favor of homozygousity of the alleles. and instead go for heterozygous dominants whenever possible
Someday dogs like the pug will be a thing of the past and regarded as a terrible part of the history of the dog. Or the pug will be redone into a Chihuahua, maybe. Yeah, right.
Naiche and me at Morro Bay, summer of 1983

7 Comments

Pai

There is a club in Germany breeding Pugs to a healthier (and historically accurate) longer-nosed phenotype: http://www.mprv.de/A step in the right direction.

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Kate Williams

Thanks for the link.Well maybe not quite to Chihuahua nose length(of either type).What degree, if any, of brachycephaly is OK, say according to the club? It practically always impairs the natural bite. For that matter, what about that hairless gene? Hairy hairless may not even have missing dentition, just tusky canines. How does the bad dentition affect the thl if they can eat dog kibble and chew bones with only incisors and molars? Same thing for the flat faces, they can chew dog food, just fine. So should the line be drawn at relieving the breathing issues, somewhat? Even though it seems a full nose is best for temperature control? Are these genes to be banned? Or allowed? Or something in between?Thanks as always, for commenting!

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Pai

Icesis, my HHL (she would be coated if left to grow out, except on her belly) has worse teeth (peglike, loose, missing) than my THL Nea, who is only minus one fang and has a firmly rooted retained baby tooth on the bottom front (and normal shaped teeth, not pegs). That is my anecdote that body hair does not seem to automatically improve teeth quality.I really think that hairless dogs can have 'good' bites and teeth, besides the ones that the gene always removes (premolars). The amount of other teeth that are missing/weak seems to vary with dog to dog, whether hairy or not. This kennel has some photos illustrating that: http://www.evercrestkennels.com/TEETH.htmlI think most dogs in the modern lifestyle can live perfectly normal lives even with some 'weird' genes. A stub nose is better than no nose. I've seen some Frenchies do agility and love it, and not overheat or appear to struggle while having only a little more nose (and leg) than is fashionable in the ring. I think that even a small change to the phenotypes of many brachy breeds (more neck, more face) would be a big difference in their quality of life.Many toy dogs, not only the hairless ones, often miss teeth or have weak jaws with shallow roots. They manage just fine, mostly because pet dogs are kept in very pleasant conditions and basically waited on for their every need. These dogs are not cripples by any stretch because of their lack of hair. To me, it can be clearly demonstrated that noseless dogs have impaired lives, but it is not really so for hairless dogs (or cats).As for 'banning', who would be the ones determining what to ban? Would quality of life be the determining factor in determining which genes are too detrimental, or would just anything too far off 'wolf normal' get dumped?

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Kate Williams

Thanks so much for these comments. I too, wonder who will determine such things… Personally, I vote for amateur breeders (as opposed to those seeking to make money on their dogs) with landrace stock as producing the healthiest, least "designed" dogs suitable for family life. Do you have pix of your pups up anywhere? I'd love to see them.

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Kate Williams

I studied those pictures carefully. Of course they are anecdotal and not statistical in any way. However, I could see that hairless dog with only 25%hair on the body has a far, far, far, hairier face than Ruthie who only has hair on her head, hardly any on her nose around her mouth. A matching photo of her mouth is of a true hairless, not a thl with 25% body hair.Now the crookedness of teeth is an issue in all dogs, including hairless, but it is a separate issue. The puff in the photos has ALL his teeth genetically, they just didn't come in correctly-Leaving puffs out of it- that was a fallacious argument that distracts from the issue, I do believe there will be a statistical correlation between the amount of hair and the missing teeth. Why, because it occurs developmentally. the teeth and hair do not develop separately, but both record the developmental stags at which the gene kicks in and that ranges from from when the teeth and hair both begin to develop- the most hairless stage to the hairiest single coat stage.Would you be willing to photograph Icesus and Neas teeth? I will put up the Photo of Falca's mouth and it sounds like a good discussion for the future!

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Lori Z.

The Boston terrier standard used to state that the muzzle should be no more than 1/2 the length of the skull. That leaves room for quite a bit of muzzle. However, you would never see one in the ring like that. They have changed the standard in the past 10 years or so, probably not for the better. I don’t know because I don’t look at it anymore.

Even a short amount of muzzle vastly improves the dog’s quality of life. My first BT’s, from show stock, had pretty short muzzles, altho still longer than most show dogs. They both had bad breathing problems and overheated very easily. They both snored, and both eeded to have their nostrils opened surgically. My current BT, from a breeder who never inbreeds and doesn’t show, has a short, but visible muzzle. She doesn’t snore, and she has open nostrils. Her kids, the product of a cross breeding to an Olde Boston Bulldogge, have longer muzzles and open nostrils. Their premolars are still crooked and crowded, but their breathing is not compromised.

So, in answer to your question, yes—even a small amount of muzzle vastly improves the dog’s quality of life. The really important thing to look for is open nostrils, which you will never find on a dog with no muzzle, like current day pugs and show BT’s and Frenchies.

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Kate Williams

I love the classic types and your dogs seem to stick to that archetype. The problems come with extremes. Just as with humans, the average is the most beautiful, not the most extreme.

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