"The Peeing Post"

Newsletter for dog lovers who respect the dog's nature

Chief Editor: Mogens Eliasen

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Introducing You to Your Dog...

 

Dear $first_name,

Mogens here - again. I left you sort-of "hanging" with the perception that your dog is a wolf - a "wild" animal. I hope you understand that wolves are not evil or vicious. In fact, they are some of the most caring creatures on Earth when it comes to commitment to the pack. You don't need to feel bad about this at all. Wolves are, in many regards, much more humane than humans. Wolves and dogs just follow their nature. History shows that man has to learn first to be humane - the natural instincts don't provide those properties automatically...

Next, I want to share with you that I have been involved in training of wolves. I have had several wolf hybrids in my training classes, and, many years ago, I was involved in a training program for wolves learning how to do normal "dog work", meaning police dog work. The wolves could learn everything a dog could learn - and sometimes much faster - except one thing: no wolves would attack and bite the agitators playing the role of the escaping criminal....

In the welcome letter, we briefly touched on some of the features that have changed during the domestication process. The general activity level was one. The fear threshold another. We also noticed that the size and shape and coat has changed too. Our modern dog breeds are all so different from each other on those accounts, so they will differ also from the wolf. But it all relates to the exterior. Everything inside is still intact, more or less, in our modern dogs.

Let us discuss a few of the important changes due to the domestication process. In general, dogs are easier to train and to make do what we want when they are young. Puppies learn far faster than adult dogs. Adult dogs can appear very "stubborn" because they rely on what they have already learned. But for the human cave man or later civilized citizen, this means that dogs that grow up to become adults slower than average, would be the ones preferred as companions, almost regardless the intended use of the dog as hunting dog or sheep dog or other related services, for which specific mental skills were important. Sled dogs are not included here - because, for their owners, the opposite preference was true! Sled dogs were to work with their bodies, not their brains.

One of the puppy features many adult dogs retain is the drop ears. Those ears are supposed to get upright at about 10-12 weeks of age for a wolf, a Husky, and a Samoyed. For a Golden Retriever or a Basset Hound, it never happens. For very many breeds, this is the case. They keep their puppy ears all their life. They also keep a lot of their puppy temperament all their lives, including the huge open-minded learning potential.

Is there a generalization possible here? Absolutely! Dogs with drop ears are generally much more domesticated than dogs with upright ears. Those with upright ears still have more "wolf" in their temperament and behavior than those with drop ears.

Don't be mistaken: the more domestication, the easier a time you will have with this dog. Not the other way around! Dogs that are still fairly "undomesticated" are generally not very easy to deal with in terms of training, unless you get them started on a training program while they are still only 8-10 weeks old. All the Spitzes (or "spetses", including sled dogs of all kinds, American Eskimos, Pomeranians, Chowchow, etc.) are classical examples of this. Count in also the Basenji and the Pharaoh Hound - probably some of the most difficult dogs to train for the inexperienced owner that gets started too late...

I am not saying that you cannot train a Husky. But I am saying that if you don't get that Husky trained well before it is 4 months old, you will never have any success you would want to write home about, except for training it to pull... (Most mushers actually don't do a lot of personal training of their sled dogs - they let the pack do it for them. This is great if you want the puppy to learn pull in a team of sled dogs, but it is devastating if you wanted a family companion...)

With a Labrador Retriever, you can start training when it is fully grown - and still reach some nice results. You will have to work hard at it, though - also much harder than what the case would have been if you had started at an age of just 8-10 weeks, and you will never achieve quite as good a result either. But it will still be worth your while. With a Husky or an Alaskan Malamute that has never been seriously trained by a human before it is 5 months old, any kind of traditional obedience training will remain an uphill battle that most people don't have enough energy to carry though.

There is one remarkable exception to this rule: The German Shepherd and many of the Dutch and Belgian sheepdogs. With their upright ears, you would expect that they would be difficult dogs to deal with, but that is not quite the case. They have been domesticated quite intensively, and particularly the German Shepherd has been subject to the most intensive breeding program based on performance any breed has ever undergone.

These sheepdogs do have a lot of wolf in them, though: the shyness and the high activity level. The Border Collies being the most profound example of this you can find. The German Shepherd is the exception - they can tolerate much lower activity level - and they are generally bred to be almost fearless.

The surprising conclusion you might want to draw from this is that German Shepherds generally are some of the most compatible dogs for almost any dog owner's purpose. It really puzzles me that they still have their ears upright....

There is another domestication feature I want you to be aware of. Many people plain simply don't know it - and it could cause you severe problems to be mistaken here...

I am talking about the fighting dogs. The breeds that have been bred for dog fights. You should first understand that no wolf would ever seriously hurt another pack member, not even in the most "vicious" rank fights. Dogs are the same. The are generally carrying those same genes that give them strong bite inhibitors. They may pretend to bite another dog, but their inhibiting instincts will always stop them before they do any serious damage...

This, of course, was completely unacceptable for breeders of dogs for the fighting arena. People paid for seeing blood, so those bite inhibiting instincts were certainly not welcome! This was particularly true in North America where this breeding went on more than a hundred years after dog fights were illegal in Europe and the breeds forbidden...

Unfortunately, many of those North American breeders have been able to breed fighting dogs that no longer have those bite inhibitors; when fighting with another dog, nothing but their own death will stop them. It will certainly not stop them that the other party surrenders and shows submission... Great for the commerce of the illegal arenas - but horribly sad for the breeds that were subject to this....

The unpleasant fact is that you cannot "re-introduce" an instinct that has been bred to extinction.... It is simply not there any more. Extinct means extinct. Exit of planet. Forever.

It does not count here that these dogs can be the sweetest things on the planet - as long as they have strong owners that constantly keep them at a low ranking position in the pack hierarchy. When this is the case, these dogs can be excellent companion dogs - I have even trained many of them to become Search & Rescue dogs! But in the very moment they get a chance to creep up to a higher rank on the totem pole, they become outright dangerous. This is particularly the case if they have any controversy with another dog. The fight will be very likely be fatal for the other dog...

This means that all owners of those old fighting breeds, particularly including Bulldogs and Bullterriers of all kinds, are not to be allowed any contact with other dogs without first making sure that it is safe to do so. It is simply not responsible, unless you have proof that they do indeed still have their bite inhibitors... (and you will not borrow my dog to prove it!)

In many countries, these breeds are illegal to breed and even to own. They are ranked as illegal weapons. It is that simple. In my opinion, it is the only responsible way of dealing with the liability of that past irresponsible breeding. I personally don't want to see those missing genes pop up in any dog whatsoever where the owner is unprepared for dealing with this problem in a responsible manner.

Akitas and Boxers have been removed from the dog fighting arenas at a very early stage (more than 150 years ago), and the modern breeding stock is created through in-breeding of many "fresh" gene carriers (also from many other breeds), so, most often, individuals of these breeds do carry the bite inhibitors. The darn thing is, though, that you cannot be sure... I have met individuals of those breeds that are no fun to deal with in fights with other dogs, but I have also met very many that are very nice dogs, fully "armed" with all the bite inhibitors they are supposed to have.

The bottom line of this is that you should not give up your dog because it happens to be of a breed that in the past was bred to lose the bite inhibitors. If you got such a dog, you just need to take your ownership responsibilities serious - and to respect other people's fear for their dogs coming too close. And then, of course: you plain simply do not breed such a dog, please. I have had many such dogs with responsible owners in my classes and I have never had a problem with it. I have met many responsible owners amongst the people who own some of these fighting dogs, and I have met far more owners of "harmless" breeds that have created monsters out of their supposedly friendly dogs.

Just an example from the statistics: American Cocker Spaniels are five times more likely than a German Shepherd to be involved in accidents where a human got seriously bitten...

Problem dogs are all man made...

 

Cheers and woof,

Mogens Eliasen

 

If you have any suggestions to contributions or contents of The Peeing Post, or some comments or questions pertaining to this issue or in to dogs in general, I will be happy to know about them. If I can find an answer for you, I will!

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P.S. I have deliberately not covered all kinds of different historical backgrounds of all kinds of breeds - and I do not plan on doing so either. I strongly suggest you research this yourself, so you have some understanding of your dog's heritage. The past uses of the breed of your dog will have a significant impact on your dog's temperament and its personality. You will also get to understand many "peculiar" behaviors, once you know what your dog's ancestors did for a living, generation after generation.

One such feature (which I do not personally condone...) is the Basset's short legs. In the past, English noblemen wanted a mentally strong dog that was an excellent noseworker and a fierce fighter - but too slow to catch the foxes they were hunting. So, dogs that were heavy and short-legged were preferred in the breeding program - not because they were healthier, but because they were too plump to catch a fox...

There are also may examples of plain fashion leading to bad health in dog breeds. Chowchows are a disgusting example. They have been deliberately bred to look like a teddy bear - with short noses and big heads. Following this came a lot of lose skin on the face. This, in turn, has led to a more or less constant eye problem for these poor dogs. It just happens so that the genes for short noses are coupled in the DNA with excessive skin growth. The large skin wrinkles on the forehead, causing folds to fall down in front of the eyes. This makes the stiff hairs irritate the eyes - often with chronic eye infections being the result.

French Bulldogs are no more capable of giving birth to their own puppies - their heads are too big, so it is very risky for both mother and puppies... Well, instead of changing the show standard to something more healthy, the generally accepted solution is to recommend a caesarian....

Chihuahuas have been bred to develop a general liver failure that does not allow the liver to transform fat depots effectively into blood sugar, as a liver is supposed to do. This means that these dogs will exhibit diabetes-like symptoms when they are not fed several times a day - a completely unnatural thing for a pack-hunting carnivore...

The general source to check these things out is not the specialty club for the breed. It is the national Kennel Club where you live. The club for the specific breed will always emphasize everything else and try to not discourage you to by a dog of their breed. They may not necessarily be objective about it. The Kennel Club can afford to be more objective and honest - if you don't like one breed, you will find another - and still get a puppy from one of their members....

Do yourself the favor of checking this out - you are always better off knowing about the possible problems than by ignoring them.

History is an amazing teacher!

Cheers,

Mogens