Who wore it better?

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National Police Week

National Police Week is May 13th – 19th. Have you hugged a K-9 today? To all police officers, but especially the K-9 handlers: have a safe week! Until next time, Good day, and good dog!

Doggies.com Dog Blog

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Golden Poodle awards for April

The Poodle (and Dog) Blog

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Police dogs–rural style

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Towards a New Model for Dog Domestication

German shepherd mating Carpathian wolf

Original crossbreeding between a German shepherd and Carpathian wolf to found the Czechoslovakian Vlcak.

If you have been reading this blog for a long time, I used to post historical and indigenous accounts of wolves, coyotes, and dingoes being used as working animals. I also would post accounts different breeders of domestic dogs crossing their stock with wolves to improve their strains.

I have long been critical of the Raymond Coppinger model of dog domestication, which posits that wolves scavenging from Neolithic dumps created the dog as an obligate scavenger that then became selectively bred for human uses. In this model, the tropical village dog is the ancestral form of all canines, a position that has emboldened the “Dogs are not wolves” theorists to suggest some tropical Asian Canis x is the actual ancestor of the domestic dog.

This model also posits that all dogs are just obligate scavengers, and unfortunately, this obligate scavenger designation means that what could be otherwise good books and research on dogs essentially denies their predatory behavior.

Last year, I kept hearing about a book that took on Coppinger’s model head-on. This book took Coppinger’s task for having distinct Eurocentric biases and that Coppinger essentially ignored vast amounts anthropological data on how different human societies relate to wild and semi-domestic canids.

So I finally ordered a copy of this book, which is called The First Domestication: How Wolves and Humans Coevolved by Raymond Pierotti and Brandy Fogg. I do recommend this book, but I readily admit that I don’t agree with quite a bit of it. I agree with it more than Coppinger, though, because they rather clearly show massive holes in Coppinger’s model.

Pierotti and Fogg have produced a model that relies heavily upon humans and wolves encountering and then benefiting from a hunting mutualism. Humans have a long history as scavengers, and even today, there are people who follow large predators, including lions, to rob them of their kills. Dholes are targeted by certain people as well, and it is very likely that humans entering Eurasia would have done the same with wolves.

The difference between the lions and the dholes and ancient wolves is that the lions and dholes resent having humans come near their kills.  The ancient wolves, however, came to work with people to bring down more prey. These wolves and humans came to be the dominant predators in Eurasia.

Pierotti and Fogg’s model posits the domestication process as beginning with ancient hunter-gather societies. It relies upon the wolf’s predatory nature as an important catalyst in allowing this partnership to thrive.

Further, the authors are rather clear in that our Eurocentric understanding of a clear delineation between wolves and dogs is a rather recent creation. Most cultures who have existed where there are wolves and dogs have a much more plastic understanding of the differences that separate the two or they have no separation of all.

The most compelling analogies in the work are the discussions about the relationships among hunters in Siberia, their laikas, and wild wolves and the relationships between indigenous Australians and dingoes.

In the Siberian laika culture, the dogs have extensively exchanged genes with wild wolves, enough that laikas and wolves do share mitochondrial DNA haplotypes. The laikas (or laiki, as they are known in Russia) do hunt the sable and other small game. They also protect the camps from bears, and in some areas, the laikas are used as not particularly specialized livestock guardian dogs. The authors see these dogs a very good analogy to describe how the earliest people and dogs would have lived. These dogs would have been cultured to humans, but they would still be getting an influx of wild genes as they lived in the wild.

In the dingo example, the authors discuss how these hunter-gather cultures would keep dingo pups and treat them almost exactly as we would our own domestic dogs. They also would use the dingoes to hunt kangaroos, but during mating season, they would allow their companions to leave the camps or stay.  They often would leave, but some would go off for a time in the bush and return. This suggests that early humans might not have forced their socialized wolves to stay in camp and that relationship could have been a lot more libertarian than we might have assumed.

These relationships are very different from the scavenging village dogs that Coppinger contends were like the original dogs. These animals are not obligate scavengers. They are hunters, and what’s more, it is their hunting prowess that makes the relationship work.

Further, the authors make a convincing argument that we can no longer use the scientific name Canis familiaris, because many cultures have relied upon wolf-like dogs and dog-like wolves for survival.  These animals are virtually impossible to distinguish from each other, and therefore, it would make sense that we would have to allow dogs to be part of Canis lupus.

The authors contend, though I think rather weakly, that dogs derive from multiple domestication events from different wolves. I remain fully agnostic to this question, but I will say that full-genome comparisons of wolves and three dogs that represent three distinct dog lineages suggest that dogs represent a clade. They are still very closely related to extant Canis lupus, especially Eurasian ones, and still must be regarded as  part of Canis lupus.  Therefore, one does not need multiple origins for domestic dogs from wolves to make the case that they are a subspecies of Canis lupus.

I am, however, quite glad to see that the authors reject this Canis familiaris classification, even if I think the reasoning is better explained through an analysis that shows how dogs fit within a clade called Canis lupus than one that relies upon multiple origins.

Also, one should be aware that every argument that one can make that says dogs are wolves can be applied to coyotes to suggest that they are wolves. Wolves and dogs do have a significant gene flow across Eurasia, but coyotes and wolves have a similar gene flow across North America. The most recent ancestor between wolves and coyotes lived 50,000 to 70,000 years ago, which is far more recent than the proposed divergence between Old World and North America red foxes and the divergence between Qinling and other giant pandas.

I really have no problem thinking of coyotes as being a form of Canis lupus in that a pug is a form of Canis lupus. All the acceptance of this classification does is allow for a positing that this species Canis lupus has thrived because it possesses both phenotypical and behavioral plasticity.

The authors, however, would have a problem with my classification. They make regular reference to red wolves, which have clearly been shown to be hybrids between coyotes and wolves, which themselves are probably better regarded as divergent forms of a phenotypically plastic species. They also contend that coyotes and people have never formed relationships like people have formed with wolves, because coyotes are too aggressive.

However, I have shown on this space that coyotes have been trained to do many of the things dogs have, including pointing behavior. They also have ignored the enigmatic Hare Indian dog, which may have been a domesticated coyote or coydog.

But that said, I think the authors have clearly shown in their text that dogs and wolves are part of the same species.

The authors also make some controversial arguments about dog paleontology and archaeology.  One argument they rely upon heavily is that wolves could have become behaviorally very much like dogs without developing all the morphological changes that are associated with most domestic dogs. Some merit certainly does exist with these arguments, but it also puts paleontology and archaeology in a position that makes it impossible to tell if a wolf-like canid found near human camps is a truly wild animal or creature on its way to domestication.

This argument does have some merit, but it still will have problems in those fields of study, because it becomes impossible to tell semi-domesticated wolves from wild ones in the fossil and subfossil record.

However, the authors do make a good case, which I have also made, that argues that the original wolf population had no reason to show fear or aggression towards people. The best analogous population of wolves to these original ones are those found on the Queen Elizabeth Islands of Northern Canada. These large arctic wolves have never experienced persecution, so they are quite curious and tolerant of the humans they encounter. Wolves like these could have easily been the basis for a mutualism that would eventually lead to domestication.

The authors also contend that the reason wolves in Europe are reviled is the result of the Western church’s propaganda that was working against traditional totemic animals of the pagans. Wolves were among those totems, and the church taught that wolves were of the devil.

However, I think this argument is a bit faulty, because Europeans are not the only people who hate wolves. Many pastoralist people in Asia are not big fans of wolves, and their hatred of wolves has nothing to do with the church. The traditional religions of the Navajo and Hopi also do not hold the wolf in very high regard, and these two cultures have been in the sheep business for centuries.

Further, we have very well-documented cases of wolves hunting and killing people in Europe. These wolf attacks were a major problem in France, where notorious man-eating wolves were often named, and they were not unknown in other parts of Europe as well.

The authors focus heavily on the benign relationship between wolves and people, including the wolf that hunted bison calves and deer to feed survivors of the Sand Creek Massacre, but they ignore the stories that do not posit the wolf in a good light.

The reason wolves in Eurasia have sometimes taking to hunting people is really quite simple:  Eurasia is a land where people focused much more on domesticating species to create animal agriculture. Agriculture has a tendency to reduce biodiversity in a region, and when people kill off all the deer in an area to make room for sheep, the wolves turn to hunting sheep. If you live in a society in which people do not have ready access to weapons, then the wolves start targeting people. Feudal societies in Europe would have been open target for wolves living in such ecosystems. By contrast, the indigenous people of North America, did not domesticate hoofed animals for agriculture. Instead, they managed the land, often with the use of fire, to create biodiversity of which they could hunt.

The authors do show that dogs and wolves are intricately linked animals. They show that dogs and wolves are the same species. They use many wonderful anecdotes of captive wolves and wolfdogs to make their case, and in making this case, they have made the case clear that dogs are the produce of hunter-gatherer societies and still are conspecific with the wolf.

I do, however, have some quibbles with some of the sources they use in the text. For example, when they discuss Queen Elizabeth Islands wolves, they focus on an account of Elizabeth Marshall Thomas on Baffin Island. She was on Baffin Island for one summer and observed one wolf pack. She is a fine observer of animals, but much of her analysis about dog and wolf behavior is still controversial. The authors also regularly make reference to Cesar Millan as a dog expert, when virtually no credentialed dog behavior expert thinks he is, and to the notorious dogsbite.org website, which is of even more contentious. These authors are making serious and well-reasoned arguments about dog and wolf behavior and relying upon these sources detracted from the work. I would have liked if they had referred to L. David Mech’s wolf observations on Ellesmere or to John Bradshaw as an expert on dog behavior.

I also had some issues with their contention that the Ainu people of Japan are Turkic or Altaic. No one knows exactly who these people are, but they are interesting in their relationship with wolves. Traditional Japanese society, distinct from the Ainu, was actually quite similar to the Siberian cultures that have produced laika dogs that still interbreed with wolves. However, I don’t think anyone still thinks that the Ainu are Turkic or Altaic.

Finally, the authors do make a good case against Coppinger’s model, but they go on to accept Coppinger’s fixed motor pattern dependence model to describe breed specialization. It is certainly true that Coppinger was Eurocentric in his understanding of dog domestication, but both Coppinger and the authors are Anglocentric in their understanding of dog hunting and herding behavior. The authors think this is Coppinger’s strongest argument. I think this is among his weakest.  This model states that pointing, herding, and retrieving are all just arrested development of a full predatory sequence. A dog that can point just stalks. It never learns to use its jaws to kill. A border collie stalks but also engages is a type of chasing behavior. It will also never learn to kill. A retriever will run out and grab, but it lacks the killing bite.

The biggest problem with this model is that everyone knows of border collies that have learned to hunt, kill, and eat sheep. I had a hard-driven golden retriever that would retrieve all day, but she would kill rabbits and even fawns.

The Anglo-American concept of specialized gun dogs affected Coppinger’s understanding of their behavior. He never really looked into continental HPRs. For example, Deutsch-Drathaars, the original German variant of the German wirehair, are bred to retrieve, point, track, and dispatch game. Such an animal makes no sense in this model, for it would suggests that an animal that would point would only ever be stuck in that stalking behavior. It would never be able to retrieve, and it certainly would never use its jaws to kill.

A better model says that dogs are born with a tendency to show behaviors, such as exaggerated stalking behavior that can be turned into pointing through training. There are countless stories of pointing dogs that suddenly lost their pointing behavior after running with hard-driving flushing dog. The dog may have been born with that exaggerated stalking behavior, but the behavior was lost when it entered into social interaction. Indeed, much of these specialized hunting behaviors are developed through training, so that what actually happens is the dog’s motor patterns are refined through training rather than being solely the result of being arrested in full.  This is why all the old retriever books from England tell the sportsman never to allow his dog to go ratting. As soon as that dog learns to use its jaws to kill, it is very likely that this dog will start using its jaws on the game it is sent to retrieve.

Despite my quibbles and reservations, Pierotti and Fogg have made a convincing case for the hunting mutualism between wolves and humans as the basis for the domestication of dogs. I was particularly impressed with their use of ethnography and non-Western histories to make their case. I do recommend this book for a good case that we do need a new model for dog domestication, and the questions they raise about taxonomy should be within our field of discussion.

Natural History

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Shelter Dogs Prepare for Royal Wedding by Barking “Here Comes the Bride”

The wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle is just around the corner, and romantics and royal watchers of both the two- and four-legged variety are celebrating, including an array of adorable…

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Good Deeds at Cat Camp (NYC, MAY 5th & 6th)

Jackson Galaxy's Cat Camp

Jackson Galaxy’s Cat Camp is a two-day event in NYC that will bring together “regular” cat lovers to mingle with and hear from leaders in the field — cat experts, rescuers, and advocates — who will speak on a range of topics such as fostering kittens, behavioral issues, social media and cats, and special needs animals. There is going to be a lot of “cat merch” for sale, and while nobody is allowed to bring their own cat to Cat Camp, they are encouraged to dress up like felines themselves, to wave the flag.

Cat Camp takes place this coming Saturday and Sunday, May 5th and 6th, at the Penn Pavilion in New York City. There are a number of ticket options to get into Cat Camp each day (you can buy tickets at the door, or HERE), with separate tickets needed to attend some presentations.

Besides the entrance ticket, there are also options to buy a special ticket to have a Meet & Greet photo taken with three of the celebrity participants —  the Cat Daddy himself, Jackson Galaxy (plus you get a copy of his book, Total Cat Mojo, which you can hear him talk to me about on this episode of my NPR show DOG TALK (and Kitties, Too!), Lil BUB, and Hannah Shaw aka Kitten Lady.

I’m happy to report that Lil BUB, the famous special-needs kitty, is aligned with my sponsor Halo, who are underwriting her celebrity Meet & Greet photo op (it’s a separate ticket for $ 100 plus dollars) so that 100% of the cost to get a photo with this adorable little feline will be donated to animal charities.

Halo is actually working with Jackson on two mission-focused themes. One is that positive training can save shelter cats: Halo’s High Five / Cat Pawsitive Program trains cats to do high fives, helping them get adopted, and teaching shelters (and pet parents) that they can train their cats to do positive behaviors, helping to decrease shelter returns. The second mission is that feral cats deserve great food: Halo donated to a Jackson-inspired feral cat program in Philly (which is appearing on his TV show), and they are donating to help feral cats with Cat Camp for NYC.

Christina Ha from Meow Parlour in NYC created this event last year, and then Jackson Galaxy came on board to bring his crowd-pleasing name [and actual self!] to the event. The cherry on top is that the always beneficent Petco Foundation (I should know — they are the Presenting Sponsor of the NY Dog Film Festival which is traveling the country alongside the NY Cat Film Festival, sponsored by Dr. Elsey’s Precious Cat and benefiting the WINN Feline Foundation) has come on board Cat Camp as the Presenting Sponsor of this year’s event,

The PETCO Foundation’s sponsorship has allowed for a separate adoption area, which is entirely free for the weekend for anyone to visit the kitties looking for homes — which aligns with the PETCO Foundation’s main mission, to unite pets in shelters with people eager to give them a new home.

If you’re a cat lover — and want to hang out with other feline aficionados, and rub shoulders with the Big Names in the cat advocacy world, and visit with all the cats and kittens who need new homes — you really cannot miss this extravaganza!

Tracie HotchnerTracie Hotchner is a nationally acclaimed pet wellness advocate, who wrote THE DOG BIBLE: Everything Your Dog Wants You to Know and THE CAT BIBLE: Everything Your Cat Expects You to Know. She is recognized as the premiere voice for pets and their people on pet talk radio. She continues to produce and host her own Gracie® Award winning NPR show DOG TALK®  (and Kitties, Too!) from Peconic Public Broadcasting in the Hamptons after 9 consecutive years and over 500 shows. She produced and hosted her own live, call-in show CAT CHAT® on the Martha Stewart channel of Sirius/XM for over 7 years until the channel was canceled, when Tracie created her own Radio Pet Lady Network where she produces and co-hosts CAT CHAT® along with 10 other pet talk radio podcasts with top veterinarians and pet experts.

Dog Film Festival - Tracie HotchnerTracie also is the Founder and Director of the annual NY Dog Film Festival, a philanthropic celebration of the love between dogs and their people. Short canine-themed documentary, animated and narrative films from around the world create a shared audience experience that inspires, educates and entertains. With a New York City premiere every October, the Festival then travels around the country, partnering in each location with an outstanding animal welfare organization that brings adoptable dogs to the theater and receives half the proceeds of the ticket sales. Halo was a Founding Sponsor in 2015 and donated 10,000 meals to the beneficiary shelters in every destination around the country in 2016.

Tracie lives in Bennington, Vermont – where the Radio Pet Lady Network studio is based – and where her 12 acres are well-used by her 2-girl pack of lovely, lively rescued Weimaraners, Maisie and Wanda.

Halo Pets

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This Tiny Homeless Kitten Helped Seniors While Finding Her

Tiki the Kitten at The Humane Society of Central Oregon

It’s not uncommon for animal-loving individuals and families to move to Bend, Oregon — nicknamed Dog Town USA. However, one individual who came to Bend not only found a wonderful family and life for herself, but managed to help a lot of people along the way. That individual was a tiny kitten named Tiki.

Tiki came to the Humane Society of Central Oregon (HSCO) from the Haven Humane Society in northern California. According to Lynne Ouchida, the Community Outreach Manager for HSCO, Tiki was only 1.5 pounds and had fleas when she arrived at HSCO with a group of cats hoping to find homes in Oregon. “Tiki is one of my favorite stories in my over 20 years at HSCO,” shared Lynne. According to Lynne, six-week-old Tiki was “a bit timid and nervous around people” when she met her. Thankfully, a new program at the shelter was perfect for Tiki.

A volunteer at HSCO was the Life Enrichment Manager for Aspen Ridge Memory Care at that time. Lynne told us that the volunteer “wanted to see if fostering kittens would have a positive impact on the memory care residents.” Because Lynne used to be the foster program coordinator at HSCO, the foster coordinator at the time “bounced the idea off of” Lynne, as she put it. HSCO decided to do it. Lynne shared that having a vested program coordinator in place at the facility was key to making the program a success. Because the coordinator at Aspen Ridge already had a relationship with HSCO through her volunteering, that made it easier. HSCO still had all of their specific foster policies, procedures, and guidelines along with medical and behavior checks to make sure the kitten would do well at the center.

A volunteer at HSCO was the Life Enrichment Manager for Aspen Ridge Memory Care

Lynne told us that because of Tiki’s timidity and size, the team at HSCO wanted Tiki to go into foster care so that she could “mature a bit before returning to the shelter.” She “also needed to have positive experiences with people to learn to trust and love them,” continued Lynne. The team decided that Tiki would be the first kitten to head to Aspen Ridge.

At Aspen Ridge, residents cared for and played with Tiki. She, in turn, visited the residents in their rooms and even had “a social hour with residents and their guests,” Lynne said. Tiki was fantastic for the residents. Lynne explained that although “the residents struggled with short-term memory,” staff and families observed that the seniors’ emotional bond with Tiki seemed to prompt their short-term memory! “They asked where Tiki was when not in the room, they remembered to feed and play with her, and most of all they knew they needed to snuggle and love on the kitten,” said Lynne. Tiki was even featured in a video by Central Oregon Daily. Joan Wray, a resident who cared for Tiki, told Central Oregon Daily that raising Tiki “was absolutely fabulous.”

The program has indeed been fabulous for both the kittens of HSCO and the residents at Aspen Ridge Memory Care. “The families of the Aspen Ridge residents loved the program and could immediately see the positive impact it had on their loved ones,” said Lynne, noting that Aspen Ridge has fostered 14 kittens so far, including Tiki. Lynne revealed that the“HSCO would love to see the program continue.” The staff and residents at Aspen Ridge “exceeded all expectations by providing excellent care to the kittens. Best of all,” Lynne told us, “the kittens loved people and were always very playful!”

Kittens with seniors - Humane Society of Central Oregon

When Tiki had grown to become “a strong, loving, 2.5 pound kitten,” she returned to the HSCO where she was soon adopted. The young woman who adopted Tiki “was excited to adopt her own kitten” and then came back to adopt a second kitten a month later to be Tiki’s playmate and buddy! Lynne told us that some of the residents from Aspen Ridge have come to the shelter to bid farewell to their foster kittens. Although it can be “difficult for them to say goodbye,” they look “forward to the next kitten” that they get to foster, she said.

Part of what enabled HSCO to care for Tiki’s fleas, spay surgery, and other medical costs was a donation of Halo pet food made possible through your clicks at Freekibble.com and Freekibblekat.com. HSCO was the very first shelter to receive a donation of food from Freekibble.com when the site launched 10 years ago! Lynne explained that not only did the food provide great nutrition, but also that “the consistent, super premium diet for our shelter animals provide[d] benefits beyond the palatability of the food. Our veterinarian and staff know that if there are symptoms of illness, it is not due to a change in diet,” explained Lynne. Plus, she told us, it “not only saved money on [the] cost of the food, but also enabled our staff to dedicate time to saving lives instead of purchasing and delivering” pet food. In addition to all that, the money saved means that HSCO can spend money on “diagnostic medical tests, dental work, surgeries, and time in our foster care or behavior programs.” Halo is proud to have helped Tiki and the other animals at HSCO. We love that Tiki reminds us that when humans help animals in need, we not only make their lives better, but we also help ourselves in the process.

Kittens at The Humane Society of Central Oregon

At Halo, we believe that each and every animal impacts our lives and plays a role in improving our collective well-being. We don’t think that animals only help us though. We think that we all need to take care of each other – people, animals, and planet. The partnership between HSCO and Aspen Ridge Memory Care is a great example of people helping animals while those animals help right back.

Through #HaloFeedItForward, we donate a bowl of food to shelters every time you buy Halo. That’s more than 1.5 million bowls of nutritious, easily-digestible Halo cat food and dog food that help nourish and transform shelter pets like Tiki to help them get their best shot at finding a forever home. We’re excited to have helped HSCO and Tiki. We believe that every animal carries a halo above it and strive to earn ours every single day. It’s obvious that HSCO, Tiki, and everyone at Aspen Ridge Memory Care have more than earned theirs in an amazing partnership of people and pets!

Halo Pets

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Japanese Monks Host a Funeral for Robot Dogs

The Poodle (and Dog) Blog

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Raymond Pierotti on domestic dog taxonomy and origins

Very interesting concepts:

Natural History

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