Sunday, December 28, 2008

Meet my new Christmas camera

As predicted, my holiday so far has been pretty boring. I've spent most of my time staring into space and wondering whatever happened to Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman. And then, upon learning that the cast would be up for another run if only CBS would sell the rights to the show, wondering if perhaps I chose the wrong issues to advocate in my blog. But I digress.

To shake up the monotony, my bestest poo pal Zack is here with me for the afternoon. Got anything to say to the viewers at home, Zack?

Zack: [sneeze]

Fantastic. Zack's a Shih-poo and he's adorable. I love him so much that when he jumped on the couch to see what I was up to (browsing MoT), I swiftly covered his eyes under their Muppetpoo mop and said, "Don't believe a word of it, Zacky."

But I think MoT is really getting inside my head, because I'm noticing things about Zack I didn't before. Like what he left on my rug upon arriving in my home.

Non-shedding indeed!

And then more things began to dawn on me with increasing horror. Like just how short his muzzle is, which I realized when I started hearing the wheeze in his breath.

And then, when he came wagging toward me with a big doggy grin on his face, I recoiled in shock upon realizing that Zack has an underbite. How did I overlook that snagglefang before??


Zack is a cute dog, really he is. See him here with the Angry Pig, who hates all life forms except, absurdly, dogs. (Well, it was cute until he got so excited by her that he started coughing and sneezing.) It is just a bit of a let-down when I was all set to show you guys how not racist I am, and here my favourite poo is a walking MoT stereotype.

Consider this my disclaimer part three (four? What am I at now?). MoT will ruin designer dogs for you forever. Zack is a sweetheart and I love him to bits, but I think he'd have been better off as a nice, low-shedding toy poodle. All of the cute and lovely, none of the snagglefang.

Anyone at home have personal designer dog horror stories? You know I love to hear them.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Post-Holiday Cheer

Happy holidays, all! Phew, who'd have thought the Christmas season could get so hectic? :)

Apologies for my absence... I'm spending the holidays with family, and have lately been busy scrambling to do last-minute shopping and kissing the chubby little cheeks off my newborn nephew. Now everything is thankfully settling down and I'm looking forward to a week of mind-numbing boredom. Oh, and blogging. I hope.

I'm afraid I haven't got much to report right now, except that I saw Marley & Me today. I hate movie theatres as a rule. They smell like popcorn and the collective breath of 200 snuffling people. But I broke my rule of thumb because Owen Wilson is adorable and, after all, I love the book. (Yes, I've heard all the negative rap - I love it anyway.) I bet half the people here have read it, too. If not, you're missing out. It's a lot of fun, especially if you're a (slightly sadistic) dog-savvy owner, because it seems like the poor Grogan family did everything wrong.

Buy from a slightly-shady breeder? Check! (I think John Grogan, who probably isn't very familiar with the terms, was a little too loose with the 'B' word, since it calls to mind such negative connotations and, as I say, the woman was only slightly shady. The place in the movie, however, sure looked like a BYB. Made me heave a big shudder.)
Forget to research research research? Check!
Buy the discount puppy, check!
Go into it knowing nothing about training techniques... Check. Oh dear.

The heartwarming thing is that Marley could have ended up a disaster, but he didn't. He landed in the right hands, if not the most capable hands, and they stuck by him and (eventually) managed to tame the beast (somewhat). Anyway, it's not a story about a dog - it's a story about a family that owned a dog, who was kind of crazy, and I think every dog lover should read it and make it their anti-Bible, or see the movie... Though I warn that the ending was a sob-fest in my theatre. Even the huge guy next to me pulled his cap down low and started sniffling. (He also read my book during the trailers. I know this because I left it face down on my jacket when I went to the washroom, and it was face up when I got back. I hate movie theatres so much.)

And for something more in the Muttpuppies vein, here's an article WB dug up for us. You may have to trawl, but you'll find it. Oh, you silly governor. Buy a Christmas puppy? Check! Buy a muttpuppy, secure in your belief that it will not aggravate your allergies? Check! There are so many other reasons to dislike the guy; this one is just a perk that made me snicker.

So a belated Merry Christmas, happy Boxing Day, let's all get crackin' on those post-Christmas sales and New Year's Resolutions, and I hope everybody is enjoying the holiday season.

(And for all you Jen fans keeping score, I hear Marley & Me beat out Brad's movie opening day by about $3 million.)

Friday, December 19, 2008

And now for something completely different.

Today I'm going to do something a little backward on MoT. In fact, let's talk about the merits of mixed breeding by design.

Wait wait, don't stone me!

I want to talk about outcrossing. This is something I touched on briefly in this post, but I've started looking into it a bit more since...

We know there's a problem in the dog world (and if you'd rather think there isn't, move on because this blog ain't for you). Purebreeds are becoming increasingly defective and thanks to closed registries we're whittling the gene pools down to puddles. What's to be done? How can we fix this mess we've created? Two solutions should be staring us in the face - the third remains a little hazy. I'm talking, of course, about:
A) Changing the AKC breed standards
B) Switching from closed to open registries
C) ...And outcrossing.

To start with, let's cover the history of the bobtail boxer. International Kennel Clubs recognize more than fifty breeds currently, the boxer included, with docked tails. Tails are docked for reasons of hygiene (hair matting under the rump), or for practical reasons, mainly in gundogs (whose tails can become tangled, torn and injured in the field) and working terriers (who have to maneuver in tight spaces). And, of course, we dock to meet breed standards. There are plenty of people on both sides of the docking fence, but recently breeders have been under more pressure to stop docking and cropping. There are people who'd rather be left alone to dock their dogs, people who recognize that only trained and competent professional should dock puppies, and people who think it should be banned altogether.

In the face of such a ban, one boxer breeder decided not to sit at home and complain, but to do something about it. There are a handful of breeds with a natural bobtail gene: these include Boston terriers, Pembroke Welsh corgies, Polish Lowlands, English bulldogs and Australian Shepherds. Dr Bruce Cattanach, breeder and geneticist by profession, took one of his boxer bitches and crossed her with a Pembroke corgi. This was the result:

Dr Cattanach then began backbreeding with typey purebred boxers. By the fifth generation, he had produced this:

This article can tell you about the whole process and give a play-by-play of each generation. Ultimately, Dr Cattanach introduced the natural bobtail gene and managed to breed back to "show quality" boxers. Ta-da! Somebody smart and qualified saw something going on with his breed, and had the perseverence to change the situation. More bobtails. Not only are these boxers being spread across Europe and Australia, they're recognized by the UKC.

There are other backcross projects going on. Breeders have been trying for several decades to eliminate uric acid defect in Dalmatians, a breed riddled with genetic defects. Dalmatians have suffered from uric-acid stones for over a century now; no other breeds are affected. High levels of uric acid can result in bladder stones - this is an emergency. These stones often need to be removed surgically, and high uric acid hits up just about every Dalmatian.

In the 70s, Dr Robert Schaible, a geneticist and breeder (not unlike Dr Cattamach), bred a Dalmatian bitch to a champion pointer dog in order to introduce normal levels of uric acid back into Dalmatians. The resulting pups, though they didn't look a whole lot like Dalmatians, all excreted normal uric acid levels. Dr Schaible started backcrossing, selecting one pup from each resulting litter for Dalmatian traits and low UA levels. Only the one pointer has been used, but the AKC refuses to register the backcrossed dogs in spite of the project receiving support from the Dalmation Club of Northern California (home to the Backcross Project). This project quietly persists, producing more and more Dalmatians with normal UA levels; the AKC continues to ignore it. In September 2008 the very question of discussing registry for these dogs was shot down by the parent club.

Seventh-generation backcross.

I can't help but wonder why it is the backcross developed for largely aesthetic purposes is embraced so much more widely than the backcross designed to cut back on health issues...

Should more backcrossing projects be encouraged and nurtured? Is this really an alternative, in the hands of gene-savvy, qualified breeders? Are these problems ones that could be eradicated by changing the breeding policies of purebred dogs?

Until somebody changes my opinion, I'd like to see more careful, controlled, supervised-by-scientists out- and back-crossing projects for our "emergency" breeds. The pug may be too far gone to save itself; maybe beagle genes really are the answer. Maybe the Shar-Pei needs a serious face-lift in the form of a non-wrinkled mate. Maybe this is the only hope of the Neapolitan mastiff. Who knows?

It can't hurt our breeds more than we already have.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Holiday safety tips

There are more pressing things I could blog about at this time of year - like I could tell you how you can buy a goat for a third-world family in somebody else's name as a thoughtful gift, or give something a little different and browse through the HSUS's catalogue, or I could raise awareness for the issue of a single strand of off-white LED lights looking way more depressing than no lights at all, people. But this is a dog blog after all, and I saw some of these on the news the other night and actually heard some things I hadn't known before, so! Here is a list of tips designed to help get your pooch comfortably through the holidays.

  • Digestive troubles are the biggest complaint of dogs during the holidays, and DVM Tammy Smith says that most of this stems from eating rich holiday foods. I'm sure you guys know not to feed your pets too many tidbits - but on the other hand, guests are more likely than owners to sneak food to the dog. Make sure you warn yours not to feed your pet, and if the puppydog eyes become overwhelming, treat the pup to something nice and healthy (or at least, not unhealthy). Remember that chocolate and bones are two of the biggest food hazards. Other risky foods include alcohol and, I've heard, onions and grapes/raisins.

  • Another big danger is that your dog can be lost in all the bustle of the holidays. Try not to lose him in the confusion. Out of sight, out of mind. Your dog can have laid into the garbage and swallowed a bone before you even realize he's been absent for some time. Remain aware of his whereabouts and of potential problems.

  • Keeping your dog on his normal routine is the best way to avoid stress. You also want to make sure he's got a quiet place to retreat to where nobody will bother him, in case the atmosphere starts to stress him out. Frightened dogs can bite, sometimes not intentionally. Feed him his normal dinner at the normal time, and take him for his usual walks. Exercise will wind him down.

  • Christmas trees carry a lot of hazards! I'm lucky that I can just shut my dog out of the room where the tree is, but I'm sure he'd cause trouble if left to his own devices in there. Round ornaments can look just like a ball to a dog, and they might try to grab them off the tree. Glass ornaments can be knocked off the tree by an overactive tail, and if they shatter a dog can cut its paws on the shards. Food ornaments can be mildly toxic, and the type you find on strings - like popcorn, or berries - can cause a lot of problems if ingested. Same with tinsel: tinsel can be a nightmare, causing obstruction and intestinal strangulation. And artificial snow can also be toxic, and cause respiratory irritation. Electric cords should be taped down, out of reach, or covered, and unplugged when not in use. Tree sap can cause stomach irritation, so try not to let your dog drink out of the tree holder - you may want to put down a water dish nearby to discourage him. And needles can't be digested, so they pose another threat; they can puncture your dog's intestines. TIP: Try to "dog-proof" the room as best you can, and it's a good idea to hang ornaments out of the dog's reach, on ribbons rather than hooks, just in case. If your dog can't quite be trusted, you might want to put up a baby gate, or some small decorative fencing around the tree.

  • Toxic plants include: Christmas cactus, poinsettias, amaryllis, hemlock, holly, ivy, and mistletoe. Silk or fake plants would be a worthy investment. If not, keep everything out of doggy's reach, and clean up any dead leaves or berries fast. TIP: Bitter Apple spray is great for anything you don't want your dog ingesting, like the plants and ornaments. It's cheap and effective, and available at most pet stores.

(EDIT: It turns out poinsettias are not toxic! This is a widely-held belief, but it seems the worst that can happen is gastrointestinal distress from having ingested something alien. I wouldn't advise you let you dog scarf on poinsettias anyway because the plant will look pretty silly with half its leaves gnawed off.)

  • Anti-freeze: I'm not sure why you'd leave this lying around, but many dogs (and cats) like its sweet taste. Even a small spill, if lapped up, can be lethal. This must be treated immediately.

  • Salt and other chemicals designed to melt ice on sidewalks and roads can cause burning to your dog's pads. Try to avoid these, and wash his paws when you get home. Dog boots aren't just to make your pup look snappy, either; they'll protect his little feet. You can also get products like "Muttluks Pawstik", a moisturing balm you apply before leaving for a walk, to help protect against snow and salt.

  • It goes without saying that you should supervise a dog around any new toys for the kids! It's amazing what dogs will swallow...

Just one week to go, can you believe it? I hope all your shopping's done by now (mine isn't, oh dear). And I hope you and your families and pets have a lovely holiday - and that your dogs get everything they ask for. :)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Lhasapoo on trial

Exhibit A. The Lhasapoo.

I won't lie. I don't actually like Lhasa Apsos all that much. They look very much like Shih-tzus to me, and it makes me suspicious. That's prejudice for you. I comfort myself with the thought that they probably don't like me either. (I know Shih-tzus don't.)

Like the Shih-poo, the Lhasapoo is a classic example of a Muppetpoo. Note the woolly, 70s shag rug texture and tan fur colour. (Also the tear staining. This crops up now and then in Muppetpoos.) And, like many other poos, there is no good reason for it to exist.

THE PROS: These dogs are capable of getting along quite well in an apartment. Not to say they won't need their daily walk; but they'll typically burn off steam by motoring around the home on those little legs of theirs, and apartments can satisfy this habit just fine.

They're capable of being decent family dogs. Of course this hinges on the socialization they receive, and the temperament of the dog in question, as it's not a consistent thing.

And lastly, unlike their Lhasa parents, their coat is relatively low-maintenence, though you're advised to take it to a professional groomer every now and then.

THE CONS: The big one? You have no reason to be crossing Lhasas. They are already low-shedding, and as far as breeds go, they're pretty healthy. Plus, they have a long lifespan (14-15+ years!) without being crossed.

Lhasas also come with some of the strongest wills in the dog world. They look like lapdogs, but they're more like cats - cranky, snobby cats. They're cunning, manipulative, obstinate and fearless, which can be a nightmare to train if you're not prepared for it. Corrections may not be welcomed, so you've got to be careful, because putting a hand on the dog can get you snapped at: they'll correct you right back! For this reason they're not considered very good around kids. They won't be teased or roughhoused with.

All this is why Lhasa devotees don't seem so enthused about the idea of mixing Lhasapoos. Like with many mixes, it's a bit of a roulette game. You can get a watered-down Lhasa, or a dog as headstrong and aggressive as its parent.

HEALTH CONCERNS? Underbite. Eurgh. This is due to the Lhasa's short muzzle. People keep saying that breeding a poodle to a brachycephalic dog will give you a longer muzzle and a proper bite, and I'll keep not listening.

Both Lhasas and miniature poodles share keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS) or "dry eye" in common. This is a painful disorder of the eye that can cause blindness over time. To be fair, nobody's quite sure how it's inherited, but both parent breeds are predisposed to it, and affected dogs should not be bred.

Also occurring in both parents: Patella luxation, which we see when you breed small. Retinal atrophy, for which there's no cure. And a skin disorder that acts like allergies, and can be treated but not cured.

So: Will this breed take off? Common sense says no. Lhasas are doing great on their own, provided we keep those muzzles long enough, and I just can't see a huge market for Lhasapoos ever happening. Come on, Lhasa breeders, you can do it! Beat those poodles off, and be proud that you've kept your breed out of crisis. They're cute, smart, and healthy enough to stand alone.

Monday, December 15, 2008

What happened here??

I don't get it.

Today I stumbled across A & R Country Kennels and had a look around. They breed designer dogs only. Okay. Not enough to land you on MoT. They aim to sell healthy dogs; no mention of hybrid vigour. Alright. Two-year health warranty for each puppy and not a NuVet link in sight, not bad... Their puppies leave home after 8 weeks, vet-checked and ready to go; even better... Their facilities seem great; looking good...

And then I got punched in the face with the realization that they've got about eight litters on the go simultaneously.



Is this a Christmas thing? This is a Christmas thing, right? Well then why on earth are most of their litters so far off the mark from D-Day? And WHY ARE THERE EIGHT LITTERS?

And then more holes are poked in the kennels all around me. Why is there no page where I can look at the sires and bitches? Why isn't your health warranty actually on the site? Why have you only raised "85%" of your "purebed stock"? Why do you call Goldendoodles "Golden-poos"? Are these F1 crosses or what? Why do you have a litter of Goldendoodles ready for adoption when you also claim that you only breed your Golden retriever bitches once a year each for summer litters? Why are you breeding "Eskie-poos" when American Eskimo dogs are already quite healthy, thank you very much, and require dog-savviness? Why do you keep saying your poos are "non-shedding" when this very likely isn't true for every single puppy, especially the Goldens? Why is your spay/neuter recommendation crammed at the bottom of the page like fine print? Why are three of your eight litters Shih-poos? WHY DO YOU HAVE EIGHT LITTERS??

Sigh. They sound like nice people, too. But I have to say it.




Good grief. It seems appearances can indeed be deceiving.

Friday, December 12, 2008


Yesterday I read about a dog whose owner was in a car accident. He dragged the man out through the windshield and kept him awake by licking his face until paramedics arrived.

Today my dog peed in my bed.

I forget why I wanted a dog.


We can thank Sil for this one. It's been too long since I visited Married to the Sea!

You'll appreciate this one if you've ever owned a feline. In the spirit of the season: How To Wrap Presents If You've Got a Cat.

TGIF, I'm off to strip my bedsheets.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The logic behind the poo

Yes, I'm still contemplating poodle hybrids. (No, not bodily functions.)

In the comments of this post, it was ascertained that the logic behind breeding poodles to anything that moves goes like this:
- People want a "hypoallergenic" dog
- People want a curly-haired dog
- People want a dog with a cute breed name involving any combination with the words "oodle" and "poo".

To which I say pish and tosh.

There are also those who breed because they don't want the problems that come with purebreeds, therefore they breed for a) hybrid vigour, and b) to avoid inbreeding. But these topics come up a lot on MoT already and no doubt will again, so today let's just have a look at the superficials.

1) Hypoallergenic dogs do not exist. They won't help you with your asthma, nor your allergy to dander or dog saliva or whatever else may float off a dog's body that isn't fur. Or maybe it is the fur. In which case, that's okay. Designer breeding for low shedding dogs is the most admirable objective I can think of. (Breeding for hybrid vigour is not admirable. Breeding for health is admirable. Yes, there is a difference.)

Just bear in mind that low shedders need lots of brushing and grooming. Also that dogs like Labradoodles and Goldendoodles can end up shedding as much as their notoriously sheddy retriever parents, especially as most are F1 crosses.

Plus, you know, there are purebreeds out there for you too. Not just toys, either! I'll promote retired greyhounds again; lovely, calm dogs who shed very little. Also in the medium to large category are Airedale terriers, Kerry Blue terriers, Wheaten terriers, Irish Water Spaniels, and Portuguese Water dogs (the ones with the shaved butts. Terrific!). In the toy group you've got a bunch of small woolly dogs like Shih-tzus and Malteses - eg dogs you don't even need to breed to the poodle in the first place.

2) As for curly dogs, there is a secret behind poodle hybrids that I'll divulge to you now. Lean in close. Are you ready for this? It's big.

They all look the same.

I'm not even kidding. There are only three categories of poodle hybrids and they go like this:

Type A: The Woolly Muppetpoo. This variety of poo is small, fluffy, and all the rage. They seem to come in white or tan more than any other colour, regardless of parent breed. There is an inexplicable amount of Woolly Muppetpoos in my neighbourhood. Representing the Woollies today are the cockapoo, the schnoodle, the Shih-poo, the Maltipoo, the Pekeapoo, the Lhasapoo, and the Yorkiepoo. Goldendoodles also count as Muppetpoos.

Tell me what kind of poo this is. Go on, guess.

Type B: The Irish wolfpoo. So named because they all come out looking like weird Irish wolfhound hybrids. Weimardoodle. Shepadoodle. Dober/poo. Beardiepoo. Labradoodles, usually. Eerie, isn't it? Sometimes it begs the question, where the hell did they get those genes?

And dear old Type C: Miscellaneous, AKA "What the Hell Is That Thing?!" This one can crop up in the most unsuspecting of mixes. This is a Chihuahua/poo that looks like a vaguely sinister seal. And a pug/poodle with some of the most ridiculous ears I've ever seen. Here's a Maltipoo that falls way short of the Muppetpoo look. And I don't even know what happened here (a Lhasapoo, if you couldn't guess).

That's the big secret behind poodle hybrids. The most unique ones end up with What the Hell Syndrome while the rest are shaggy cookie cut-outs.

3) Adorable/silly names. The solution to this one is staring you in the face. I'll tell you another secret. I shouldn't be giving these away for free, but I guess I'm just big-hearted like that. Okay, here it comes:


Seriously. Do what I do and make up your dog's breed. Why the hell not, if he's just a companion pet? Unfortunately, Tip is much too distinctive to be mistaken for anything other than a Border collie, but this is part of the reason I can't wait till I have my own Leonberger. That dog is gonna have a new name and profession every week. One day I'll tell people he's a Serengeti tiger-mastiff (African tribesmen bred these dogs in the absence of real tigers to do battle with lions in gladiator-style showdowns). The next day he'll be an Egyptian River dog (fisherman of Ancient Egypt relied on dogs to frighten away the hippos that upended their boats and ate people or whatever hippos do). Next week he'll be a Taiwanese Pirate dog (while the pirates board other vessels, the dogs stay back on the pirate ship to guard their booty). Why not!

Or if your conscience nags at you, just buy a dog that already has a silly name. Get a Sloughi. That's "Sloogy". Hours of fun! Or a Weimaraner: "Why-ma-rah-ner", but most people don't know that. Call it a Way-marooner if you want to.

Or maybe they just like the silliness of the suffix. I mean, really. "Poo" and "doodle"? Make your friends jealous by slapping on something even sillier. Call your dog a "[whatever]oogle". Say that it's a mix between whatever it actually is and the Scottish Broughel (which doesn't actually exist, but there are lots of dogs who could pass for Scottish. They've already got terriers and sheepdogs coming out of there, and once upon a time Scotland had wolves, from which you can derive all sorts of doggy jobs like guarding and hunting). Pretend to know a lot about the Broughel (pronounced like bugle but with an R) and mention how superior it is to poodles because it performs all dog jobs in Scotland on top of companionship. Drug sniffing, police work, shepherding, service to the disabled; the Broughel is the world's up-and-coming canine all-rounder and they're trying to maximize its usefulness by breeding to other dogs and creating a canine race of oogles. Finish your spiel with a smug, "Oogles are the new poo."

And if they ask how do you get one?

Say, "You mate a dog of one breed to a dog of the same breed and then lie for the rest of the offspring's life."

Sigh. Superficialities may be silly, but I would kind of like to start calling Tip a Scottish Bordoogle.

Monday, December 8, 2008

MoT: Going Nordic

I love the Swedish Kennel Club.

Keep watching the papers because when we announce our engagement it will be big and splashy. I'll change my last name to Kennelklubben. We will have many genetically correct babies and grow old together.

I finally got off my ass and watched Pedigree Dogs Exposed, which I thought, personally, made a lot of good points. And it was fun because before now I've been piecing together my information in, well, not narrated and illustrated form, plus my version definitely lacked British accents. Being a generally lazy person, I enjoy being fed information, and foreign accents are always a bonus. They make me pay attention.

And then - woe - they mentioned the Swedish Kennel Club and a little lightbulb clicked and afterward I had to trawl the Internet until I found what I was looking for, and then dug even deeper.

This is what I've found out about the Swedish Kennel Club's policies:
  • Inbreeding is frowned upon. In fact, they go so far as to AVOID breeding close relatives. How great is that. Kennel Clubs are usually all talk and no action, but the studies say that, so far, Sweden is actually cutting back on inbred dogs (from a 3.7% inbreeding coefficient in 2002 to 2.7% as of April 2008).
  • Open registries! Yes! And it gets better! Since introducing open registries, they have halved the occurrence of hip dysplasia in dogs. This is a Scandinavian revolution, people! The information on any one individual dog, plus his siblings, parents and offspring, are all available for anybody to peruse on the SKC website. It includes stats for each breed on health traits, mental status, breeding animals (age at breeding, litter size, etc), number of registered dogs, and average levels of inbreeding. The GDC, America's open registry, was modeled after Sweden's.
  • They've placed limits on the number of offspring any one dog can sire.
  • They've started outcrossing programs in order to increase the population of certain breeds and improve health.
  • Mental health is valued alongside physical health. In order to breed, working dogs must pass a behavioural assessment. Border collies have to be assessed at herding before their offspring can be SKC-registered. I think I might cry.

Now what is so hard about doing the same thing in North America??

Pass the smorgas. I'm moving to Sweden.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Sorry guys...

I got some really bad news yesterday and have some things to sort out, so I'm not sure when my next post will be. Maybe Monday, maybe later. Bear with me; I'll be back as soon as I can.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Law of Suppy & Demand

EDIT: I'm closing comments, because I think we're basically going in circles at this point. Everything that needs to be said has been said. Despite posts of late, this isn't actually a "the AKC is stupid" blog. (Even if I rather think it is.) This is more of a "there is a problem in the dog world, and breeding mutts isn't the solution" blog. If you happen to agree, fantastic; stick around. If you don't think there's a problem at all, I'm afraid you need to move along, read some literature or make your own blog, because my opinion isn't about to change and nobody's forcing you to read this stuff. Have a nice day.

'Tis officially the season, my friends, and we know what that means. Apart from the scents of smoke and gingerbread mysteriously lurking everywhere, annoyingly cheery carols warbling out from every store and a rapidly haemorrhaging wallet, that is. It means pet stores are stacking the shelves with cutesy Christmas canines, much like the one pictured. He can't even stretch out. Adorable.

We are only human and sometimes a sad puppy's gaze can have the effect of a high-power tractor beam off the Starship Enterprise. It sucks you in like a black hole with the force of its sweetly bewildered face. And isn't it so much better to think of a woebegone petshop puppy shacking up with you, rather than in the arms of somebody who thinks it would be a good idea to give the pooch to someone else for Christmas?

This law applies at all times but seems especially applicable now: The Law of Supply and Demand. Anti-puppy mill propaganda often uses the argument that buying a pet store dog just makes room for another puppy to take its place back at whatever mill it came from. That's never made a lot of sense to me; it's not like they have room for 300 dogs absolutely, no more than that. What you ARE doing when you buy a pet store dog is saying, "I want this dog, and I want more like it." And the supply (the pet store and puppy mill) will respond with glee. No matter what your intent was. If you're a bleeding heart who has to rescue the one sickly little pup, you're saying you don't care what condition they sell their dogs in. You want it anyway.

If you do your pet-shopping where puppies are sold, firstly you might want to reconsider your choice of pet store. Secondly you must stay strong! And these are the three biggest scams I see running around at large:

1. He's AKC-registered! Woohoo! Now let me tell you where you can put those papers. As we should all know by now, AKC guarantees nothing. They will tell you this themselves on their website. All it means is one parent was a purebred and so was the other parent. The resulting puppy could be a mixed-breed, deformed, unhealthy, nasty in temperament, or all of the above. You could probably sneak your dead rabbit into the AKC for all they care.

2. He's rare! Look at the pretty colours! Let me remind you that the genes for some 'rare' appearances in certain dog breeds also carry ticking time-bombs of disease. Remember the double dapple gene in Dachshunds (which is A-OK by the AKC!). Double dapple comes with blindness and deafness, among other things, like no eyes. Fantastic.

3. But he's so cute and little. Take him home. People seem to be giving puppies away younger and younger. "As soon as they're weaned" is not, in fact, the right age to give a dog away. They've only just started toddling around and socializing when they're weaning age. He needs this learning stage with his mom and siblings in order to be well-adjusted. This article will tell you about it more concisely than I can - it says 7-12 weeks is the best time to bring puppy home. So why are we seeing five-week-old babies up for adoption?

(Alas, I fell for this trap. Three and a half years ago I was woefully much less educated about pet stores than I am now, and in the market for a new guinea pig to be a companion to my suddenly-single increasingly-Elder Pig. When I met her at the pet store, Baby Angry Pig was four weeks old. That's way too young! my common sense screamed. She should have been six weeks at least. That her socialization was going to be all messed up if she ended up with a clueless child was weighing heavily on my mind, but even heavier was the way she fit perfectly in my palm like a fluffy tennis ball, and snuggled there. When I took her home I left her alone for two days; I did everything by the book - but, of course, she grew up into a bullying sociopath who routinely beats me and my dog, so I believe she was a lost cause from the start. Looks like selling too young can even adversely affect a rodent, so imagine what it could do to a dog. But the pet store has no idea that they sold me a tiny Hitler incarnate. They only know that I snatched up a too-young baby pig almost as soon as she was put up for adoption and thereby "demand" more. Damn it.)

Be strong, put your blinders on when you shop for your pets' stocking stuffers, and if you're in the mood to make life difficult for someone else and you do see a puppy for sale, give the store a heaping helping of hell. Ask them all the questions they are so not predisposed to answer. It's a unique way to blow off holiday stress. And think about where you'd rather put this Law into action - good breeders and petshops without pets, anybody?

Monday, December 1, 2008

Salvation in sight?

First off, thanks so much to Terrierman for linking MoT in his blog! MoT is still just a baby blog, and any publicity it can get is appreciated. But hang tight, I'm not done singing your praises yet.

Today I want to talk about open registries, which are - apparently - little-known in the dog world. Stand still so I can condemn you (despite not fully understanding the concept myself until recently). If you already knew about open registries, you move to the front of the class. If you're a breeder and you work with open registries, you get a gold star! Two more and I'll let you pick something out from a box of garage-sale trinkets at the end of the week.

The concept of open vs. closed registries can be difficult to grasp if, like me, a lot of the medical genetical jargon goes over your head and genetic pedigrees reeling off numerous abbreviations and symbols lose you somewhere around the third generation. Just to double-check I had my facts straight, I did some extra research a couple days ago and - hallelujah! - at last, found an article I could understand, that cleared up a couple things for me. And then I reached the bottom of the article and guess who it was by! T-man, have I mentioned lately that you're my hero?

Anyway, I wanted to talk about registries because they tie in nicely with what I've been yammering on about lately; the health problems in purebreds. It goes like this:

Closed registries will tell you what health checks an individual dog passed. Think OFA and CERF: these are closed registries. If the dog was screened for health problems and is sound, it'll show up in the registries. So, obviously, you want to breed a dog that shows up sound.

Open registries don't just tell you what the dog passed. They tell you what the dog failed. They also tell you that, although this dog is free from eye problems, one of his parents has glaucoma, and so does his sister. (GDC is an open registry.)

So you see why open registries are becoming more favoured.

Inbreeding is indeed a raging problem in purebreds. And by using closed registries to select the dogs we breed, we are increasingly tightening the noose already wrapped around the doggy gene pool, slowly making that pool smaller and smaller - and more unhealthy. Switching to open registry flings open the door to a whole new pool, a big, diverse one. Open registry doesn't mean cross-breed and it doesn't mean lower your standards either. It means toss out this useless traditional method and breed healthy - I mean really breed healthy.

I searched long and hard for a pro-closed argument that would explain to me why we're still using this system if open is that much better. Terrierman can explain it much better than I can, but essentially: it comes from an old, outdated idea about genetics that we're still seeing now - that the best genes will out. The idea behind the closed registry goes along with the idea of "survival of the fittest". Problem is, of course, dogs aren't wild animals, and we choose their mates. The lesson here, basically, is that just because something's been done one way for a long time doesn't mean it's all good (hello, America! Letting gays marry won't cause Russia to invade).

So why hasn't it changed?

That's thanks to the AKC - that tall guy in the cape, twirling his moustache, over there. The AKC's closed registry policies are strangling our gene pools to puddles. They make the rules and we follow them so our dogs can go on proving their quality by trotting around the show ring and stacking nicely. Our dogs are WAY TOO UNHEALTHY and the AKC isn't facing up to that. We need an open registry system now.

On a similar note, could cross-breeding be the solution? NO. I'm tired of people pretending that they mix dogs up for the good of dogkind. Yes, F1 hybrids can be healthier than their parents, but they can also inherit the genes for defects from both sides. Mutts can be a disaster in the hands of people who don't know what they're doing.

Crossing and back-crossing, on the other hand... I'm inclined to say this could help the situation, when I think of especially unhealthy dogs that need change NOW. My thoughts always go to the pug and the Shar-pei first, but that may be just because I hate their Ori-pei offspring almost as much as I hate those stupid square blocks in Tetris that only show up exactly when you don't need them. Are we really on to something with mixes like the puggle? Could breeding in proper airways and breeding back to pugs be the breed's salvation? Or can they hang on till the Kennel Club gets its collective ass in gear and starts thinking about the dogs?

(Find out next week, on ...!)

I guess this forum is now open for discussion - I'd love to hear some opinions on this one, especially if you're more involved in registries than I am.