Table of Contents
From the Editor
IGE Expedition News
A Chat About Breeding
Honour & Glory
IMHO: Pets, et al
Point of View: Janice on Genetics and Behavior
I: On Ancient and Modern Day Genetics
Over the past 30,000 years, dog breeds or breed types (recognizable, but not necessarily registered by one of the major kennel clubs) established their identities largely through association with a geographic area and a set of functions. Function and behavior have, up until 100 years or so ago, been in most cases the ONLY thing that human beings selected dogs for. The cosmetics were just addenda to the package deal, genetically, and mostly minor-to-inconsequential, except that they might have facilitated identification. Function took care of the heavy duty anatomical/physiological requirements. Although early "breeds" were probably not as specialized and uniform as some we have today, their innate canine traits as hunter, guard/alarm, herder, draft power, companion served us well, and the inclusion of dogs in human society is too ancient to date, they were always with us: the jungles of New Guinea, the plains of Africa, all through Asia and Europe, and from the Bering Strait to Tiera del Fuego. There is a legend that when the Creator set out to make the earth, s/he took a dog with her/him. Some scholars have suggested a connection between the extinction of certain populations of herd animals and the arrival of early man with his dogs (that must have been the Pleistocene Mammoth hound, descended from the Gondwanaland Gooddog! - with appreciation to Ray Coppinger's "Fishing Dogs") Now, we are all aware that many formerly highly functional breeds are being selected by breeders/owners and show judges (1) on MORE conformity of looks and (2) NOT to work - because their once valuable working drives now make them most inconvenient as "pets". Despite what they'd have you think, most producers of purebred dogs are also breeding for the pet market to fund their "show" addiction. Few people honor, appreciate and desire the original versions. Breeding for function produces more consistent behavior and more variety of physical type; whereas breeding for image, cosmetics and silhouette produces more consistent looks but less consistent working behavior. So the direction that once functional breeds have taken in order to popularize them and create a market for the less than show competition quality specimens is too often a diminished, diluted, defanged and declawed version. The difference between the Canadian Inuit Sled Dog and the Alaskan Malamute are a familiar case in point. Why the dog fanciers who wish to breed pretty house pets don't choose a breed that is DESIGNED to be so in the first place baffles me. And where are their ethics in this betrayal of the original? In their wallet, (right next to the Trojans).
But this degenerate direction is not always a conscious choice. Those who know me may be tired of hearing this part, but I'll tell it again: recall an old episode of "Wild America" in which the host, Marty Stouffer showcased mountain goats. Nature, wind, cold, precarious heights, etc., rigorously select for the correct mountain goat. Despite this ongoing, merciless process, each Spring thaw reveals dead goats, young and old, on the mountainside. Those without the balance, without the disease resistance, without the stamina, the weather-proof coat, the efficient metabolism, the appropriate social behavior, flight distance, etc. JUST DON'T MAKE IT. And despite constant selection, less than fit variations still do occur! We have also seen accounts of young, blind wolves (the SawTooth Mountain pack on PBS), dysplastic racing greyhounds (American Canine Sports Medicine Association meeting) dysplastic tigers (A.V.M.A. meeting) and other very primitive, aboriginal dogs with hypothyroidism (a New Guinea Singing Dog). Genetically, a breed or species selected for highly functional animals would have a low frequency of these defective traits/alleles in its breeding population due to constant, SIMULTANEOUS selection against any and all such weaknesses. Once such rigorous control is slowed or removed, the always cropping up problems will no longer be reduced/eliminated and will more likely re-enter the breeding gene pool in higher numbers. The newspapers show us this when they explain the increase in Hanta virus and Plague because of the increased rodent population because of El Nino's mild Winter. In larger species, this also happened when zoo managers try to save/restore the Przewalski Horse. Zoo management unavoidably selects for "softer", easier to manage animals with less aggression and shorter flight distance. When numbers of horses were released in suitable areas, a very high percentage died. My undergraduate Genetics professor, a molecular biologist by trade, and married to a geneticist, to boot, happened to also be a fancier of German Shorthaired Pointers, with interests in both bench and field. Needless to say, there were a few discussion of dog genetics. He told me of a breeder he knew who had had it with hip dysplasia and decided to eliminate it from her stock. She inbred on her OFA excellent dogs and eventually achieved her goal with hips - only to end up painting herself into a corner with a rare-in-the-breed, but now all too frequent in her dogs heart defect, that was previously unexpressed. When we focus on only one trait,or on cosmetics, and minor conformation variations, instead of overall fitness/performance, we lose...and the dogs pay for it, big time! It is doubtful that any population of any living things is free of ALL defects - either hidden/unexpressed or potential mutations. It's a numbers game that Mother Nature has been playing forever.
So, if our personal sympathies, egos and ethics do not allow us to cull as ruthlessly as M. nature, or as those people living close to their ancestral traditions and stringent selection of animals, we MUST, if we truly honor and wish to maintain the Inuit Sled Dog/Canadian Eskimo Dog/Greenland Dog as that which first inspired awe in us, encourage and allow such people to continue as our compass in breed selection. THEY should be our judges! Otherwise, what's the point? Do we need another malamute story? I do not think that Fridtjof Nansen would think much of the work ethic of most of today's Samoyeds. I do not think that Iron Man Johnson or Leonard Seppala would be impressed with the genetics behind most Siberian Huskies. I do not think that Scotty Allen would be in the market for most of today's Alaskan Malamutes. We have seen this process ad nauseum in so many breeds, not just the Northern breeds. At this point in time, only 20+ years after the revival of the Inuit/Canadian Eskimo Sled Dog, we can make choices that will prevent another sad story of lost genetic integrity. "But you and I, we've been through that, And this is not our fate; So let us not talk falsely, now, The hour's getting late!" (with apologies to Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix).
II: On Behavior and Training
My local paper (the New York Times) had an article (8/18/98) by Mark Derr on bears who become too dangerous with people in national parks (Glacier and Yellowstone). This is attributed to the Disney-fied tourists who have been feeding the bears and are generally careless with their food/garbage dumps. The same is true of the Churchill polar bears, I hear. The bears had become so pushy, fearless and aggressive after being accustomed to clueless tourists. This reminded me of the current clicker/cookie training style in vogue with some commercial (as opposed to "professional") dog trainers. Because they like to perceive themselves as humane and enlightened, (or think they can circumvent the problem) and their clients are evaluated as incapable of achieving legitimate leadership in their dog's eyes, the trainers frequently advise avoiding traditional pack leader training methods and using food rewards instead to achieve the desired behavior. I am not the first to realize that an already large/aggressive/unruly dog might become even MORE dangerous if their ineffective/passive owner creates a new "bone of contention" by introducing treats (really "bribes") into their training regime. Those of you who are at the level of managing Inuit dogs, or any powerful animal, may find people coming to you for advice with their own pet problems, whether you offer yourself publically, or not. You may be asked for a second opinion on what a commercial dog trainer told your friends/neighbors/co-workers to do. The assessment must be individual, but "bear" it in mind! An issue of Equus (#146), some years ago, had an article entitled "Rewards, Punishments And Bribes" by Harvey Black. Quoting Cynthia McCall, a horse specialist at the University of Connecticut, some horses respond to a light tap from a riding crop, others will need the proverbial and figurative whack with a two-by-four. A bribe is defined as something a horse can see before he does what you want him to do...at best, this method of training is unlikely
to work. It can be counterproductive, and at its worst, it can put a trainer or handler in peril...the horse may be able to manipulate the situation to get what he wants without complying to his handler's wishes, or he may become demanding toward people - biting or developing vices reflecting his insistence on being fed or rewarded in other ways. It's also possible that bribes will teach a horse to behave only when he can see the reward.
Some day, I'll take out an ad in the paper or Yellow Pages as the "Two By Four Dog Training Academy" and wait for the hate mail!
That's all, folks!