Raymond Pierotti on domestic dog taxonomy and origins

Very interesting concepts:

Natural History

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These Senior Dogs Received a Second Chance at Love

Humane Society of Central Oregon

We all hope that our twilight years will find us living in a place where people love us and care for us with dignity and compassion. It’s only logical to assume that dogs might share that hope for their own golden years. Unfortunately, for three senior dogs they found themselves, like so many others, searching for new homes through no fault of their own. Luckily all three dogs — Troy, Shasta, and Luke — found themselves at the Humane Society of Central Oregon (HSCO). HSCO is great place for any animal in need of a new forever home. In the words of Lynne Ouchida at HSCO, “Sometimes it takes awhile to find a forever home, but HSCO never gives up on our seniors.”

Another reason for Troy, Shasta, and Luke to be grateful is because HSCO receives a regular grant of nutritious Halo food through Halo’s partnership with Greater Good and Freekibble.com, made possible by your trivia answers! Lynne noted, their “senior animals truly benefit from the good nutrition that their bodies need and require.” Another benefit, aside from the nutrition is the taste. She told us about Luke, who at 14, had lost some of his sense of smell, however he “loved eating Halo dog food.” Halo is committed to helping shelter animals of all ages have their best chance at finding a loving forever home. A good diet in the shelter is important for that because, like with people, it’s hard for animals to be on their best behavior if they’re not eating nutritious food. As the official pet food sponsor of Freekibble.com, we give away more than 1.5 million bowls a year to help nourish shelter pets and help them put their best paw forward as they search for forever homes.

Troy came to HSCO in Bend, Oregon when he was 12 years old. His owner was moving and, despite having Troy since he was a puppy, the owner couldn’t take the Labrador Retriever-Blue Heeler mix dog with him. “It broke the hearts of HSCO staff and volunteers to see this guy alone and scared in the shelter…Troy seemed lost,” Lynne shared. He quickly became a volunteer favorite though because, in Lynne’s words, he was “easy going and eager to please.” He was adopted out to one family, but returned because he didn’t fit in well with the family’s other dog and cat. After another 20 days at the shelter, including a special video to show him off, Troy finally found his forever home. “This time,” Lynne wrote, “it was a perfect match and Troy is living a life of love and adventures.”

Troy with his new family

Shasta was a year younger than Troy, but still a senior when she was first surrendered to HSCO. Like Troy though, she also “was a repeat guest at HSCO,” according to Lynne. Shasta first came to HSCO when someone who had owned her for four months realized that their own health and finances meant that they could not care for the Coonhound. She had previously belonged to a friend of that individual who kept her as an outdoor-only hunting dog. Even though she was a senior, Shasta had a lot of energy and, what the HSCO team saw as “a young spirit.” Because she had such a high prey drive, Shasta needed a lot of time. It took her nearly three months before a staff member’s friend fell in love with Shasta and adopted her. Shasta is now “the light of their life” and loves playing with the friend’s young boy and other dog. It may have taken her longer than the average HSCO dog, but Shasta finally got her happily ever after.

Shasta Got Adopted from The Humane Society of Central Oregon

Luke was the oldest of the three dogs when he came to HSCO. He was 14 when his owner died and the family surrendered him to HSCO because they couldn’t keep him. The Chihuahua mix had “lots of personality,” as Lynne put it, but “arrived confused and missing his owner.” The team at HSCO immediately got to work helping Luke feel comfortable and even improving his behavior. It took some time, but they succeeded in helping the bewildered dog. “After three weeks of behavior modification and lots of love and positive reinforcement, Luke began to trust and love again,” Lynne wrote. A mother and daughter came to HSCO to meet Luke. When Luke saw them, Lynne said that he “lit up like a puppy.” Clearly, he was in love. The pair adopted Luke in part because they believed that “they could give Luke a wonderful home” despite his older years.

Halo knows what it’s like to not give up on an animal. It’s why we were founded, after all, because a family couldn’t give up on a sick pet named Spot! We love the tenacity and compassion of everyone at HSCO who helped Troy, Shasta, and Luke, and so many other animals, find loving homes. HSCO cares for approximately 4,000 animals every year and we’re honored to be a part of that. Thank you for making that possible.

Halo Pets

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Plush Paws Products has sponsored this post and the upcoming party, but all opinions are my own. Summer is synonymous with dog travel, whether that means swimming fun at the lake or beach, a dream…



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DogTipper

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MYTH DEBUNK #1 – Dogs Don’t Like Fruits & Vegetables

MYTH DEBUNK #1 - Dogs Don’t Like Fruits & Vegetables

There seem to be a lot of myths about what/when/how people should feed their dogs, with one of the overall Major Myths being that “people food is bad for dogs.” This is sheer silliness, as anyone who has been listening to me knows already, and is a good example of how generalized sweeping statements don’t advance knowledge or thoughtful decision-making.  Feeding your dog is as individual a decision as feeding your human child, which is where I think the idea came along that dogs and vegetables are not a good combination – because many children don’t like spinach, broccoli, beets and other fine examples of bounty from the garden. But dogs are often more open-minded omnivores than young two-leggeds – although many a dog can be as fussy and finicky as some “won’t eat anything” toddlers can be.

However, just as vegetables are very good for people’s’ health, they are also good for dogs, providing fiber, vitamins, minerals and a [usually] low-calorie way to feel full. The Healthy-Weight dry food from Halo that I feed my dogs is rich in non-GMO vegetables [and I do want to educate myself about non-GMO veggies and address that another day].  A couple of my friends who are lifelong vegetarians are deeply grateful for the Garden of Vegan food from Halo –  which is a complete and balanced recipe that proves the nutritional value of vegetables. Here is a partial list of those vegetables:  non-GMO green peas, chickpeas, pea protein, potato, sweet potato, celery, beet, parsley, lettuce, watercress, spinach,and  dried kelp (which I think of as a vegetable from the sea!).

Dogs benefit greatly from having a nice mix of vegetables in their diet, whether cooked in their food or given to them as raw snacks. I know lots of people whose dogs go nuts for raw carrots, string beans, broccoli and even zucchini. Mine are gluttons for handfuls of frozen broccoli (they will eat many cooked vegetables but mostly if they have some nice butte or olive oil on them!).  My sister’s little toy Brussels Griffons amaze me for how they hover around her feet when she’s cooking and will gobble up any sort of vegetable she drops for them – from Belgian endive to red pepper or romaine leaves. And they go nuts for apples, blueberries or watermelon!

I’d love to know what fruits or vegetables your dogs gobble up – or if you’re to start experimenting yourself.

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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Tom bird

tom bird

The early weeks of May begin the age of green pastels. The soft greenery of foliage pokes its way out of the gray smudge of the canopy, and the pastures are thickly verdant in the revived grass.

This age of green pastels is the harbinger to the age of photosynthesis, high summer, when the days steam long and hot and all living things in this temperate zone play out the business of growing, reproducing, and laying store for that long winter darkness that will return someday– but not soon.

This is the time of the cottontail doe kindling her kits in a bowl nest made from weaving the fur plucked from her belly with the furrows at the bases of the rising orchard grass. This is the time of the resplendent red cardinal cockbirds and their wild singing to ward off their rivals from the best nesting grounds. Testosterone rushes in them hard, as it does with all those of the avian kingdom, who are now at that season when procreation is the main consideration.

Just as the spring turns the “redbirds” into their state of lustful madness,  the wild turkeys turn their attention to these same carnal pursuits. Not pair-bonded in the way that most birds are, the big toms woo the hens with their gobbling and fanning and turning their light blue heads deep warrior red.  The spurs get thrown on occasion, especially for those foolish jakes who try to sneak a tryst with a hen in the undergrowth.

This time of green pastels is also a time when the shotguns go blasting.  Most other game beasts are left to alone in the spring time, but the wild turkey is one species where the hunt comes now. The camouflaged hunters, armed with their turkey calls and 12 and 20 gauges, braved the early spring snow squalls and bagged a few jakes and naive lustful toms.

But this big tom has survived the slinging of lead wads. Most of his rivals now reside in freezers or have already been fried as a fine repast.

The big bird has the hens mostly to himself, and when he hears the kelp-kelping of a hens on a distant ridge on a May morning, he lets loose a few loud gobbles.

“Come, my beauties! Behold me as your lover and protector!”

And the gormless hens kelp-kelp and wander in all directions, searching with their exquisite eyes for the big tom’s fanning form among the undergrowth.

The naive toms and young jakes will often go charging towards their calling, but the turkey hunter uses these exact same sounds to toll in the quarry.  The naive ones come in, and the shotguns have their number.

The big tom has seen his comrades dropped so many times that he hangs back and listens. He gobbles back every ten minutes or so. He walks in the opposite direction for about 20 yards then gobbles at the hens.

They kelp-kelp and meander around, but eventually, they line themselves on the right trail and wander over to meet the big tom. He fans for his girls, but none crouches before him for a bit of mating. They are just here to check the old boy out.

But sooner or later, they mate in the spring sun, and the hens will wandered to their nests in the undergrowth and tall grass. They will lay speckled eggs, which will hatch into speckled poults, which will carry the big tom’s genes into the next age of green pastels.

Someday, a skilled turkey hunter will work the old boy over with the hen calls in just the right way, and he will stand before the hunter’s shotgun blast. He will be taken to town and shown off to all the local guys, the ones who shoot jakes in the early days of the hunting season.

He will be a testament to the hunter’s skills, for real hunting is always an intellectual pursuit.  It is partly an understanding of biology and animal behavior, but it is also about the skillfulness at concealment and mimicry.

21 pounds of tom bird will be a trophy for the hunter, but they will also be the story of a bird who outwitted the guns for four good years and whose genes course through the ancestry of the young jakes gobbling and fanning in his absence.

A century ago, there were no wild turkeys in the Allegheny Plateau, but conservation organizations funded by hunters brought them back.

In the heat of July, the hens will move in trios and quartets into the tall summer grass of the pastures. They will be followed with great parades of poults, who will be charging and diving along at the rising swarms of grasshoppers and locusts. They will grow big an strong in the summer.

And someday, a few may become big old toms that will gobble on the high ridges, calling out to the hens to come and see them in their fine fanning.

And so the sun casts upon the land in the spring and summer, bringing forth the lustful pursuits among the greenery, even as mankind turns his back on the natural world more and more each year.

And fewer and fewer will feel sweet joy that one hears when a big tom gobbles in the early May rain that falls among the land dotted in green pastels.

Natural History

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May the fourth be with you…

The Poodle (and Dog) Blog

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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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Tiki + Barli Try the Purple® Pet Bed

You may very well already be familiar with Purple®, the mattress that’s scientifically designed to keep you comfortable and cool throughout the night. Now Purple has designed a product just for…



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DogTipper

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Japanese Monks Host a Funeral for Robot Dogs

The Poodle (and Dog) Blog

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Police dogs–rural style

The Poodle (and Dog) Blog

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