Monday, November 30, 2009

Phrenology is Unrelated to Temperament

"I find it paradoxical that the consensus medical and genetic view is that even one single letter difference between two people’s DNA can result in dramatic differences in behavior, susceptibility to disease and risk of adverse drug reactions, but, when it comes to man’s best friend, the exact opposite argument is made. I think these attempts to “protect society” from dangerous dogs are flawed because the inherent assumption in these laws is that anatomical and morphological characteristics in dogs correlate with certain behaviors. The genetic program that results in a large thick skull, like that of a Labrador Retriever, is not the same genetic program that builds the brain. The former regulates genes that control the cellular differentiation and anatomical patterning of cartilage, muscle and bone. The latter regulates completely different processes including the highly ordered growth of millions of different neurons that migrate and interconnect to form neuronal circuits that communicate the biochemical language of the brain. The “science” of inferring cognitive and behavioral traits from physical properties of the head and skull (called phrenology) has been discredited in the last century (the 20th century). Why we would allow laws based on phrenology to be enacted in the 21st century is a question worth investigating."

I love the National Canine Research Council.

Fear Mongering in Journalism

"A four-year-old boy has been mauled to death by a dog at a family home in Liverpool.

The child, who the BBC has learnt was called John Paul Massey, was attacked at the property in Ash Grove, Wavertree, just after midnight.

A 63-year-old woman was also injured and is being treated in hospital. It is believed she was hurt as she separated the dog from the child.

Merseyside Police said armed officers killed the animal in the front garden.

Dog handlers also attended the scene and an investigation has begun. Efforts are continuing to identify the dog's breed.

'Agitated state'

Ch Supt Steve Ashley said: "This is a tragic incident and a full and thorough investigation will be carried out into the circumstances surrounding this young boy's death.

"Officers are with the family and our sympathies are with them at this time."

He added: "Of utmost importance in such incidents is the safety of the public and of police officers. "When officers arrived at the address the dog was in an agitated state in the front garden of the property and was deemed to be a danger to the public.

"As a result we were left with no other option but to have the animal destroyed quickly and humanely."

On Monday morning, police tape surrounded the house and street where the boy was attacked.

Local parish priest Father Peter Morgan, of St Anne's Church in Edge Hill, emerged from the house on Monday afternoon after meeting the family.

He said: "There is an awful lot of pain inside... They are broken, it is so, so sad."

The BBC's North of England correspondent, Nick Ravenscroft, said the youngster's identity was confirmed by the head teacher of St Clare's Roman Catholic Primary School in Wavertree.

People spoke of their shock at the death but complained there had been a problem with so-called dangerous dogs in the area.

Gillian Watson, 46, who heard the gunshot that destroyed the dog, said: "It's such a terrible thing to happen to a family.

"There are lots of dangerous-type dogs around here. You always see young lads with pit bull dogs roaming around.

"I have a dog myself and when I take him for a walk sometimes it's quite terrifying because you think your dog is going to be attacked."

Another neighbour, who did not want to be named, said residents had complained to the local Housing Association about the problem.

He said: "You see them all the time, they're huge animals and it is very threatening."

The attack comes nearly three years after the death of Ellie Lawrenson, a five-year-old killed by her uncle's pit bull terrier on New Year's Day 2007, just a few miles away in St Helens.

Merseyside Police held a dangerous dogs amnesty after her death in which more than 80 illegally-held dogs were seized."

How are pit bulls in any way relevant to this case? They had the decency to admit that the dog's breed hadn't yet been identified (I dunno, chief, whaddya think he looks like?) That being said, how did they attempt to loosely string together the rationale that pit bulls were somehow magically responsible for this? I am so sick of seeing inane comments like "I take my dog for walks and I'm afraid he's going to be attacked." What does that have to do with pit bulls? Any dog off leash may be inclined to attack the dog you're walking. If you allow your dog to get close enough to an aggressive, leashed dog that it attacks then it's nobody's fault but your own. This possibility has absolutely nothing to do with any specific breed of dog. They mention neighbors being concerned with "so-called dangerous dogs" which as evidenced by the remainder of the article is purely a reference to pit bulls. Not to dogs actually displaying aggressive behavior like the one who killed this little boy. The circumstances of the attack are hardly mentioned in the article. The only descriptors of the dog are that it was in an "agitated state" and that it was in the front garden. We don't even know if it was a loose dog, for all we know it could have been that the boy entered someone else's fenced front yard and the dog killed him. In which case, how can we place responsibility on the dog over the caretaker of the child who allowed this to happen? Regardless, you can't make any judgment with information that is this vague. I will never understand how people are able to redirect their attention from the the issue at hand to the completely unrelated idea of "aggressive breeds" that were not even involved in the attack! You can start your unfounded mud-slinging when the dog is "identified" as a pit bull, and not a moment before. Also interesting to note that they failed to mention that the number of dog bites in Britain has tripled since they passed the Dangerous Dogs Act in 1991.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

English Bulldogs

English Bulldogs are my personal poster child for how breeding for appearance rather than ability ruins dogs.

The below section in quotes is all taken directly from

Three varieties of “ Alauntz ” are mentioned in The Mayster of Game, written in the fourteen century: “ The which men clepyn Alauntz gentil. Other there byn that men clepyn Alauntz ventreres. Other byn Alauntz of the bocherie.”

The first variety is so “gentil ” that Edmund de Langley, in giving a list of the animals which it would attack, mentions oxen, sheep and swine, “ or to men or to other hounds, for men have seen Alauntz sle her mayster.”

Evidently a nice pet to leave with the children. This variety was shaped like a “ greyhounde ” except the head, “ which shuld be greet and short.”

The second and third varieties were evidently more heavily built, and “ Thei holde fast of here nature.”

They were used for bull-baiting and boar-hunting in company with greyhounds.
Edmund de Langley alludes to mastiffs in addition, but it is fairly clear that they and bulldogs descend from the same parent strain.

In old pictures of bull- and bear-baiting the dogs shown are like small, active mastiffs. They were magnificent specimens physically and, necessarily, brave to a fault.

The shows did the dogs more harm than the bulls, bears of Bill Sikes. Lest I be accused of prejudice, I will quote the Natural History Museum : “ Other characteristics are the short, wide skull, the small loins and hind limbs and the strength of the forequarters. These features are exaggerated in the present breed, which is useless for fighting. The skull for instance (as shown by the specimen in the table case), is so broad and underhung as to be a monstrosity, while the outward bending of the legs is excessive.”

It may be noted that the specimen alluded to (a show champion whelped in 1901) is far less of a monstrosity than present-day champions.

The present-day bulldog is born old ; he is a wheezy amiable creature, useless for any purpose, but, usually still retains the indomitable courage of his ancestors.

Doubtless, if a club were formed to revive the old breed it could be done. It would only be necessary to pick out and breed from the least deformed puppies produced by parents themselves not too inbred.

The rapidity with which dogs will throw back to ancestral and natural type is proved by the Brancaster Basset hounds Q. V.

I have been accused by no less a person than the secretary of the London Bulldog Society: he said that I had tried to discredit the National Dog.

I replied that my regret was that the national dog is extinct, or almost so, and has been replaced by a useless, wheezing monstrosity. Underslinging of chassis may improve motor-cars, but it does not improve dogs.

Additionally: (all from Most English Bulldogs are delivered via cesarean section due to the bitch's small hips and birth canal as compared to the large heads of the pups. "Most Bulldogs cannot successfully consummate a mating without assistance[...] If natural breeding is chosen, the bulldog will need assistance and even the natural breeding will have to be planned, guided and supervised more carefully than with any other dog breed, for a variety of reasons. One of the problems with natural breeding is that the morphology of the bulldog does not allow the stud to easily mount the bitch." I don't think Mother Nature can speak much louder than that.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Vicious, Unpredictable Dogs...

Beautiful American Pit Bull Terrier bitch showing the amazing level of obedience that training can accomplish. I will always be astonished at how determined a dog can be in their bite work but the moment their handler gives the "off" command, they let go. I also really love videos of bite work showing the dog being friendly with the agitator after the fact. "Nothing personal, buddy, it's just you were yelling at me and you had the sleeve on..."

Merritt Clifton doesn't sound like much of an "Animal Person" to me...

It is incredibly irritating to me when people cite unreliable, shoddily done studies from unqualified sources. Especially when they are passed around out of context (like the CDC study, I'll have to get into that one another time) by people who have never looked at the actual report. Case in point: Animal People's editor creating a report based on press accounts. I'll address at a later date why press accounts are horribly flawed when it comes to covering dog bites.
this perfectly illustrates why the Merritt Clifton article is completely bogus.

A few things that weren't included in the above excellent critique of the report: "Pit mix unknown", "Sharpei/unknown mix" and the innumerable "/mix" dogs are obviously not "clearly identifiable breed type or ancestry" as he claims are the only reports used in the study. Also, thirty bites are attributed to the "Bull mastiff (Presa Canario)" A Bull Mastiff and a Presa Canario are two completely different breeds.

"The humane community does not try to encourage the adoption of pumas in the same manner that we encourage the adoption of felis catus, because even though a puma can also be box-trained and otherwise exhibits much the same indoor behavior, it is clearly understood that accidents with a puma are frequently fatal. For the same reason, it is sheer foolishness to encourage people to regard pit bull terriers and Rottweilers as just dogs like any other, no matter how much they may behave like other dogs under ordinary circumstances."

The arguments comparing certain breeds of dogs to big cats, bears, sharks etc are beyond absurd. The domestic cats and dogs are (by definition) domesticated animals that have lived with humans for thousands of years being specifically bred for tameness. I have seen no evidence that any big cat or bear species has been bred with this same goal even over multiple generations, and they certainly do not have anything approaching the longevity of dog's domesticity. I hope that there is no need for me to make it clear to anyone why it is ridiculous to compare a dog's relationship to humans to a shark.

Dog Bite Prevention

"For example, recently in Maryland a 13-year-old boy was bitten after he was caught leaning over the fence into a person’s yard, teasing the Pit bull contained there. Prior to the bite incident, this boy was warned 3 times to leave the dog alone. The dog owner was having so many problems with people teasing and provoking her dogs that she contacted Animal Control for assistance. Under advisement from the authorities, she ringed her backyard fence with evenly spaced “Beware of Dog” and “No Trespassing” signs. Yet these signs and 3 verbal warnings from an adult witness were still not enough to keep this boy out of the dog owner’s yard. The dog owner has now lost her dog to the authorities and another bite statistic has been entered[...]

Hand in hand with this is the general failure of parents today to teach their children even the most basic rules of canine safety and good manners. Parents encourage their children to approach and touch strange dogs without a single thought of the consequences, not bothering to ask permission of the dog owner involved. They allow children to put their hands through fences to grab at animals inside. This is the epitome of irresponsibility. Fences are there for a reason! To throw things, tease, or poke a fenced animal is cruel and should constitute criminal trespass. No animal should have to put up with strangers grabbing, groping, pulling their tails and ears, and hitting or poking them, yet this goes on and people expect that the animal will be some sort of saint in fur! A parent would be screaming in outrage if a stranger approached and started groping their child, yet they think nothing of doing the same thing to a strange animal."
- Katharine Dokken, freelance writer

A great example of a very much provoked bite coupled with an owner making a significant effort to prevent it from happening, yet ignorance overcomes it all and the dog is confiscated. The second point is something that I fell prey to before I began working with dogs. The more I have learned about dog behavior the more I am astonished that more people are not bitten. Things like reaching your hand in a car window or through a fence to pet an unfamiliar dog are a perfect way to get bitten but people do it every day. Most people have completely unreasonable expectations that their dog should tolerate immediate rough handling from all strange dogs and people. We don't run up to strangers and pat them because we understand that would be a very uncomfortable, bewildering, and possibly frightening experience. Just because it is obvious to you that your intentions are good and harmless, that is not necessarily clear to the dog. Affectionate gestures are not always welcome, especially when they are from someone unfamiliar. Yet people subject their animals to this on a daily basis.

Josephine Trainer, an advice columnist, was asked "When you meet a dog, how should you pet him? I love dogs, but I don't want to get bitten." I feel her reply sums up this subject perfectly: "Pet him just as you would the Queen of England or a Secret Service man." It seems it is mostly in retrospect do we give dogs the respect they deserve: only after one has bitten. It would go a great deal farther to respect their feelings before we create a situation where they feel the need to defend themselves.