Why is My Dog Eating Grass?

Summer is in full swing and by now your lawn is probably green. While admiring the fruits of your labor in the yard, are you wondering if you adopted a mini cow instead of a dog? Does he or she gorge on the grass in your garden or stop and nibble while taking a walk? Are you curious as are all of us, why your dog is eating grass?

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What is a German Shepherd? The answer from the genomic data

Sagan German shepherd

If you were to ask the average person how to classify a German shepherd in terms of dog breed taxonomy, most would say it’s guard dog, putting it somewhere with the Rottweiler and the boxer. Others might think it’s a primitive breed and might classify it with the Siberian husky and the malamute.

Those with a bit more dog knowledge would p lace it with the Belgian and Dutch shepherds.

Indeed, if you were going to ask me where I’d classify German shepherds ten years ago, I would have placed them as the German variant of what became distilled from a German-Belgian-Dutch prick-eared, black-masked herding dog landrace.

DNA studies have changed quite a bit of our understanding of dog breeds and their origins. In the initial attempts to classify dog breeds using only mitochondrial DNA found that German shepherds clustered with the mastiff breeds.

However, more recent genome-wide analyses have revealed something rather unusual. German shepherds are not directly related to the Belgian herding dogs at all. Instead,  one study found that they they are most closely related to the Berger Picard, the Chinook, and the Peruvian and Mexican hairless dogs.

Initial studies of regional Italian herding dogs using microsatellites suggested a close relationship between those dogs and border collies.  However, more recent genome-wide analyses have placed the Italian herders much closer to the German shepherd dog. Indeed, the German shepherd is very closely related to Italian prick-eared herding types, such as the Lupo Italiano and the Cane Paratore. These Italian herders and the Berger Picard all fit in a single clade with the German shepherd.

These findings upturn our assumption that the Belgian and Dutch shepherds are that closely related to German shepherds– at least in the bulk of their DNA.

However, the initial genome-wide study that found a relationship between the Berger Picard and the GSD also found that there was some GSD in the various Belgian herders, including the Bouvier des Flandres.

That means that at some point in the development of those breeds, German shepherds or proto-German shepherds were crossed into them. Crossing German shepherds with the Malinois isn’t an uncommon practice in some working dog circles even now. Apparently, this practice was done more frequently when the breeds were not so defined as they are now.

And it should be noted that only tiny ancestry blocks from German shepherds into the Belgian breeds. The bulk of their DNA derives from very distinct dog stocks. The Belgian herding breeds are more closely related to British herders and Western sighthounds than they are to German shepherds.

These genome-wide studies have lots of interesting findings, including that xoloitzcuintli and Peruvian hairless dogs are almost entirely derived from European herding dogs and that their sister breed is the Catahoula. Because of this relationship to these Latin American dogs, the Catahoula is probably more derived from Iberian herding breeds than from French ones. It is likely that the hairless dogs of the New World are the originators of their hairless trait, but because it is conferred via a semi-dominant allele it was easily transferred onto a population that consists of dog of European origin.

The relationship between German shepherds and Italian herders is easily understood. German shepherds are heavily derived from Bavarian and Swabian sheepdogs, and Bavarian shepherds were often grazing their sheep in the Alps during the summer, as were the Italian shepherds. The dogs exchanged genes in those high country meadows, and their pups went onto found populations on both sides of the mountains.

This story fits the genomic data, but it make the Berger Picard a bit of an anomaly. Picardy is in the northeastern France, a long distance from the Alps. It would make more sense for this breed to be more closely related to the Belgian shepherds and the Bouvier, but it is not. The North European Plain is easier for dogs and their genes to flow across, but the Berger Picard is very close the German shepherd breeds and its Italian cousins.

I do not have a good answer for why this anomaly exists. I don’t know much about the Berger Picard or its history. Maybe it became a very rare breed and was interbred heavily with German shepherds, or maybe the region is very connected through markets to the Alps or Bavaria or Northern Italy.

Maybe someone can answer these questions for me.  It seems weird that the Berger Picard is so closely related to dogs that have origins in Southern and Central Europe rather than adjacent Belgium.

The evolution of herding breeds is complex. Apparently, having a dog with a wolf-like phenotype is useful for herding flocks. The Belgian shepherds apparently evolved their type independently of the German shepherd, the Berger Picard, and the Italian prick-eared herders. Perhaps sheep just respect that look more, and it has some advantage in their management.

As we have seen, dogs can evolve very similar physical traits in parallel with each other, which is why we must always be careful when creating an umbrella classification for different breeds.

Just because they look alike and have similar functions does not mean they are that closely related.


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Natural History

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Achieving Your Pet’s Summer Body Goals

A number of my clients have seen their dog’s bodies change as a result of COVID lockdowns. Some have had extra time to walk their dogs and their dogs have trimmed up– great! But for many, there has been extra time at home which has only encouraged pet owners to dole out too many treats. Even before the pandemic, pet obesity was considered an epidemic, with over half (!!) of the dogs in the USA overweight as of 2018.

Here are a few tips and tricks to help your pet stay in a healthy body condition this summer.

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Protected: History of Bulldogs, Part 2

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Natural History

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First Premium Membership Rewards Post has been published

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I just published the first rewards post for my Premium Members. It can be only accessed through subscription.

To subscribe, go to this page and click on the link.  You pay by entering your bank or card information, which is protected through Stripe.com.

Thank you so much for my current members. Every subscription helps me produce quality content for this site.



Natural History

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Growing Our Own Organic Food (Inside Our Home!)

Gardyn Indoor Garden

This post is in partnership with Gardyn.

Here on Bubby and Bean, I share pieces of life and things that I enjoy and are important to me. You guys know that I love healthy organic food, gardening (even if I’m not very good at it), interior design, and teaching my kids how to live an eco-conscious lifestyle. So it’s probably no surprise that I’m thrilled to talk about something that incorporates all of these things, and has brought incredible joy to our home and family over in recent weeks: Gardyn.

A lot has changed in the last few months – for us, and for everyone. We’ve been trying to make less visits to the grocery store, and we’ve also been thinking more about the benefits of growing our own food. I heard about an indoor vertical garden system that grows sustainable produce called Gardyn and was intrigued. The more I read about it, the more I wanted to try it. So I did!

Gardyn Indoor Garden
Gardyn Indoor Garden

The order process is incredibly simple – you just choose the produce you want to grow when you order your Gardyn. You can also sign up for a membership, like I did, where you get free plants every month, delivered just a few days after you order them. (Every plant is the same price and shipping is free!) The Gardyn app makes ordering seamless.

Once the system arrived (just a few days after the order was placed), we easily put it together, then dropped the yCubes into the Gardyn (reminded me of dropping a Keurig cup into a coffee maker). We filled the water tank, connected the unit to Wifi and the Gardyn app, and turned it on. After that, we just let the Gardyn work its magic. The water (and plant food, which is added later) circulate automatically. In a few days, we saw them start to sprout. It was very exciting. I have always been fascinated by vertical gardens and their ability to produce in small spaces, but I’ve never seen anything like this.

Gardyn System
Gardyn Indoor Garden System
Growing Indoor Garden
Indoor Garden System

Within the Gardyn app is Kelby, your very own virtual Gardyning assistant. Kelby is rad. When our tank needs to be refilled with water or plant food added (for us, this has only been necessary every few weeks), Kelby sends us an alert in the app to let us know. Kelby also lets us know if the plants need more or less light, and sends other fun messages. It feels like we have our own personal gardener doing all the work, which is pretty great. My kids’ excitement over getting Kelby alerts and watching our Gardyn grow is contagious.

How to Grow Organic Food Inside Your Home
How to Grow Organic Food Inside Your Home
How to Grow Organic Food Inside Your Home

One of the most thrilling parts of our Gardyn experience has been the harvest. There is something incredibly fulfilling about growing your own food (even when you’re not doing any work!). In addition to be able to eat fresh, organic food, I love knowing that I’m not wasting food. I’ve noticed that when we buy produce from the store, no matter how hard we try, there is always something that goes bad before we can eat it. With Gardyn, we just take what we need, and the rest of the plant continues to grow until we want to eat more. There is no need to store in the refrigerator either. We just pick it daily right before we cook a meal. From salads to smoothies, we are literally eating food moments after it’s harvested. The flavor is so much more intense, and nutrients haven’t been lost. There is truly nothing like freshly picked veggies and herbs! It’s also very reassuring to know exactly where our food is coming from, and to know it was grown without the use of pesticides or herbicides.

How to Grow Organic Food Inside Your Home
How to Grow Organic Food Inside Your Home
How to Grow Organic Food Inside Your Home

I was admittedly a little concerned about what Gardyn would look like in our home. The images I’d seen of the unit were lovely, and I envisioned it looking beautiful in a kitchen. Unfortunately, the only free wall space we had was in our dining room. Once we set it up, however, I was instantly reassured. The design is minimal and really attractive, and when the produce started growing, it added (literal!) life to the space. The lights aren’t blindingly bright and actually give a nice ambience to the room when they’re on. It also only takes up 2 square feet of space to grow 30 plants, which is quite impressive.

All in all, we are in love with our Gardyn – so much so that I just had to share our experience with you all. During a time of so much uncertainty, it’s really nice to have the experience of growing our food. And the fact that we can keep growing it into the fall and winter is just awesome. If you have any questions about Gardyn, please contact me. I love talking about it!

How to Grow Organic Food Inside Your Home

Oh, and here is some exciting news: the folks at Gardyn are offering you $ 100 off a Gardyn unit with code bubbyandbean. If you get a Gardyn of your own, let me know what you think!


Bubby and Bean ::: Living Creatively

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Friday Funny: So Glad Baseball is Back!

Happy Friday! Until next time, Good day, and good dog!

Doggies.com Dog Blog

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Blueberry Frozen Dog Treats Recipe

Along with serving as small treats, this blueberry dog ice cream also makes a fun filling for a stuffable rubber treat dispensing toy for some longer-lasting fun. Rich in antioxidants, blueberries…

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Toasted Chickpea and Avocado Pitas

Avocado and Pan Toasted Chickpea Pitas
I’m almost embarrassed to admit how many times a week I eat these toasted chickpea and avocado pitas, but once you try them, I think you’ll understand. I initially shared a similar version of this recipe a few years ago, but it’s been updated so I had to share the new and improved version with you.  They’re so simple to make, they’re absolutely delicious, and they’re good for you too. Triple win.
Avocado and Pan Toasted Chickpea Pitas
Toasted Chickpea and Avocado Pitas
Serves 2 as meal, 4 as a snack 
2 medium to large ripe avocados 
1 can of chickpeas (also called garbanzo beans) 
2 multigrain pitas 
Small handful baby spinach or other greens 
Plain Greek Yogurt for topping 
Chili powder 
Heat a small amount of coconut oil or olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Drain the chickpeas, then pour into the pan. Sprinkle chili powder, cumin, and salt to taste, then stir well. Cook until chickpeas are slightly browned, about 8-10 minutes. While chickpeas are toasting, mash avocado in a bowl to desired consistency, adding salt to taste. Remove chickpeas from pan and allow to cool slightly. While chickpeas are cooling, place pitas in warm pan to soften, about one minute on each side. On each pita, spread an even amount of mashed avocado. Top with a few baby spinach leaves, followed by chickpeas. Top each pita with a dollop of plain Greek yogurt and sprinkle with chili powder.
Avocado and Pan Toasted Chickpea Pitas
Avocado and Pan Toasted Chickpea Pitas
Avocado and Pan Toasted Chickpea Pitas

These make the perfect lunch or hearty snack. Enjoy!


Bubby and Bean ::: Living Creatively

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When Germany unified in 1871 under the Prussians,  the new nation began a period of modernization and industrialization. For lack of a better word, it aped much of what the British did. Britain was the world super power at the time, and it made sense to do many of the things that made it successful.

Agricultural improvement was a subject for which the British had a great understanding, and Germans were deeply involved in their own selective breeding projects in a wide variety of species.  Dogs were no exception. Indeed, the Germans largely adopted the British dog fancy system as a way of improving canine stock.

In Edward Tenner’s remarkable piece called “Constructing the German Shepherd Dog,” the author points out that German dog fancy was largely derived from the British one, and by the 1880s, there were three main factions that were operating in the field of dog breed improvement:  a faction that was working breeding good urban pets, a faction that was interested in experiment with various working breeds to improve them for greater utility, and a faction that was concerned with dogs of the rural gentry, especially Great Danes.

It is in the latter that it most resembled that of the British dog fancy. The dog fancy had come from learned nobility or those very near to reaching peerage, and the main interests were dogs used for hunting or dogs that were used for guarding large estates.  The first dog shows in England were about setters and pointers. They later came to encompass virtually every hunting dog, as well as the noble mastiffs.

This part of the German dog fancy was particularly concerned with Great Danes. Bismarck, the Prussian statesman whose Realpolitik had made unification possible, was a much-esteemed leader of the new nation. He was very much a fan of the large boarhounds, and the dogs that surrounded his court and those of his associates came to be known as Reichshund or “dogs of the Empire.”

In this way, the Germans aped the British. The British heavily promoted the improvement of very large mastiffs in the early days of their fancy, and the German did much the same with their own indigenous mastiff.

One of the great ironies is that English speakers call this breed a “Great Dane.” Buffon called the dog “Le Grand Danois,” and such a misattribution has continued in the English-speaking world almost without challenge.  Some English-language authors called the breed the “German boarhound” or just “boarhound,” which are far better names.

But if one knew of the popularity of Great Danes among the elite in Germany in the early decades of the Empire,  it would be hard to see them as anything other than German.

Indeed, the foundation of breed as we know it today started in Berlin in 1878, just a few years after unification. Various boarhound fanciers–almost all of them nobles who either used them as catch dogs or as estate guardians– got together and began combining their strains.

The breed had a terrible reputation in England. Rawdon Lee saw the breed as a menace and recounts a story in which a Great Dane nearly killed a Newfoundland dog.  He also lamented that dogs exhibited at the Crystal Palace shows spent most of their time growling and snarling at other dogs and exhibitors.

This breed did have a reputation very much like we see about pit bulls today, and they are three times the size of a pit bull.

When the Germans began the pioneering of the modern concept of a police dog, the Great Dane was the breed that was used.  In the late 1890s, Franz Laufer became a the police commission in Schwelm in Westphalia, where he became instrumental in developing a modern police force.

One thing that Laufer thought was necessary was to have dogs that worked for the police. Initially, he thought the dogs’ main utility would be in protecting the police from hostile subjects, and the breed he chose to work as a police dog was the Great Dane. Indeed, the first modern police dog was a Great Dane named Caesar, who was enlisted for service in 1897.

Great Danes were the first police dogs, but of course the breed isn’t that well-suited the task. They lack the biddablity of the shepherd dogs, and in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, this breed had much of a fighting spark than could ever be made safe for the public. They are also very large and aren’t as easy to transport. They also take years and years before they mature mentally.

The Great Dane, the boarhound, the Deustche Dogge, or German mastiff was really the first attempt by the German Empire to create a unified national breed. But they were mostly the dogs of the elite, because of the limitation in turning them into truly versatile working dogs, they were eventually replaced by the German shepherd, a dog from more rustic and working class roots.

The reputation of this breed has changed quite a bit. Americans grew up on The Ugly Dachshund, Scooby Doo, and Marmaduke formulation of the breed. One cannot do a search for the Great Dane and not see the words “gentle giant” mentioned in the majority of your results.

The breed has been toned down greatly from that über that frightened people all over the English-speaking world. Indeed, the breed is almost never used to catch wild boar and feral swine, which was its original purpose.

The breed still has some capacity for aggression, especially toward other dogs, and some can be absolutely dangerous creatures.

But the passing 123 years since time of Caesar in Schwelm, the breed has become a companion animal and a novelty. Virtually no one breeds a real working Great Dane. Americans prefer their own strains of catch dogs, as do the Australians and New Zealanders, and such methods of hunting are illegal in Germany and most of Europe.

It failed as a national dog. It made a short career as a police dog.  It no longer makes the swine squeal.

It fits in now because of its novelty and its rebranding. But in its blood still courses the boarhound of yore. Its blood courses in the Dogo Argentino and maybe a few other feller mastiff strains as well.

But the dog itself go on into the twenty-first century, in hopes to find a space in a world no longer needing such a creatures as true German boarhounds of the old strain.


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Natural History

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