Saturday, December 8, 2007

Genetics and Breeding Strategies, essays for the dog breeder.

(This blog originally posted on 1/24/2006.)

Genetics and Breeding Strategies; essay's for the dog breeder. By Dr. Susan Thorpe-Vargas.

(This is an e-book, and not so easy to get. You may request a copy for 14 dollars by emailing the author at docvite NOSPAM_OR_SPACE

-- A flat out advocation of out-breeding.
-- A promotion of open stud books.
-- A warning of a bleak future for purebred dogs.
-- An insiders' perspective.
-- A wakeup call to today's purebred dog breeders.

Well, it ought to be the latter, but Ms. X is betting many breeders will just hit 'snooze'.

Ms. X found herself agreeing with the author on much of the book's content, but there was also a sad flareup of AKCitis, and an oddly conflicting push for genetic testing as the ultimate health panacea.

It's a bumpy start at the front of the book, where Dr. Vargas, despite her advanced education, promotes a long list of "responsible" breeder practices. You know, the ones breeders push to cover the breeding problems widely experienced because most breeders don't believe what she goes on to write in this book. Mmm. If you followed that you know exactly what I mean. It's tempting to roll your eyes and put the book down here, but don't. Keep reading. It's worth it.

In chapter two, Dr. Vargas explains a lot of genetic terms. Put a bookmark here. The best way to understand them is to keep reading, then flip back when you come across one of these concepts. Then you will learn it in context of usage.

At times Dr. Vargas almost sounds like an epigeneticist, like when she writes "One should be aware that no matter how high the genetic heretability of a trait, there will always be some environmental component in the expression of that trait."

There's a great section on the immune system. Dr. Vargas writes "When inbreeding occurs, the chance that the puppy will inherit an identical set of these genes from each parent increases. This, in effect, cuts the functional ability of the immune system in half and seriously compromises the quality and duration of life for the puppy."

Amen and amen! Eh?

But by the middle of the book, the commendable has slid into the mundane as this author pronounces "It is strongly suggested that breed clubs look at the heritable diseases associated with their breeds, and establish a well-defined screening protocal mandatory for all dogs owned or bred by members of the club."

Quickly followed by a placatement to AKC ("we are them, they are us") and calls for breeders to fund research - but only research for genetic disease, markers and tests. Not a word about research into environmental influences.

One other interesting footnote, this author also co-authored a multipart paper on Hip Dysplasia that said the disease was about 30 percent genetic, and she states in this book: "Over the several decades that hip x-rays have been done, the incidence rate of hip dysplasia in the general dog population has been virtually unaffected. OFA and Penn Hip, both closed registries, have had minimal impact." She seems wholly to blame this state of affairs on OFA and PennHip being closed registries... not a word about environmental impact studies.

Don't dispair though. This book is a good first step (you'll get this reference when you've read the book) we can hope, to opening epigenetic dialog and studying environmental influences.

Ms. X recommends: Read it. It won't tell you everything you want to hear, but it says a lot you want to know.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Cesar's Way (by Cesar Millan)

Cesar's Way. By Cesar Millan

Ms. X has been waiting for this book her whole life. Cesar brings to print, to page, to life! That evasive quality of communion between man and dog. I don't know about you, furry reader, but Ms. X has always envisioned an epitomical relationship between man and dog, where the faithful canine companion trots at your heel, attentive and intune. Responsive to you slightest movements, he follows you trustingly and confidently through sunny meadows and bramble lined paths.

But Ms. X spent too much time as a kid chasing the family terrier down the road. The vision of that perfect relationship seemed just that, a vision. Unattainable, except for a lucky few that had a "knack" with animals. You know them, Dr. Doolittle, Ellie May Clampett...

Dog training was somewhat effective, the traditional methods bring obedience, and clicker training brings attention to your every movement. But traditional methods require a lot of work, a certain amount of harshness and a dependency on training and retraining commands. And clicker training creates a dog that obsesses over getting tangible rewards. There are schedules of reinforcement to implement and perfect timing to achieve. And the end of both methods were always the same, a dog that was trained, responsive to the commands he knew, but without any deeper connection.

There had to be a better way.

Cesar's Way is just that way. Cesar is one of those guys with the "knack" for animals. What has made Cesar a famous, household name is his unique ability to cognitively describe his knack.

Cesar has made it possible for every dog owner to achieve that epitomical relationship between dog and man. And it's simple. But not easy. Cesar presents a three step program, Exercise, Discipline and Affection - in that order. In 275 pages, he repeats his simple message approximately, oh, 275 times.

The Exercise part is the hardest. It means we dog owners have to get off our lazy hineys and walk the dog, at least 45 minutes a day. The more the better. And Cesar tells us why this is so important to achieving his desired dog-state of calm submissiveness. The 'calm-submissive' state for a dog is the one that allows the dog to follow us faithfully and confidently through the sunny meadows and the bramble lined paths.

Discipline is the next hardest, maybe the hardest for some owners. The single most important element of discipline is consistency. And some of us were surely hatched in the waffle maker! But again, Cesar hammers his message home oh, 275 (approximately) times, and lets us know (unequivocally) why Discipline (and consistency) are key elements of the calm-submissive dog.

Affection is the easy part. And it's a full third of the equation! That's great news for us hard to motivate dog owners. If we complete the first two parts, then Affection can be OUR reward - and the dogs. Cesar is very sensitive to our deep affinity to our four legged children, and his respect for us is reassuring.

Drawbacks to this book? Well, there aren't too many, but one thing Ms. X wishes there were more of is detailed examples of Cesar working with his pack of 40 (yes, FORTY) dogs. HOW exactly does he get them all to be "calm-submissive" at dinner time? I imagine he has many helpers, to watch and correct signs of aggression etc., More of those kind of details about pack interaction would have been fanstastic.

Hey, maybe it will be the subject of his next book! (Cesar, if you read don't have to give me any credit ;-) )

Ms. X recommends: Don't wait for Christmas to buy thisbook. Buy it right now and read it before New Years. This is the stuff of New Year's resolutions! And your dog will love you for it. An added plus? The 45 minutes a day plus of exerise will negate the need for unpleasent dieting resolutions. It's a win-win!

Monday, October 15, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: "Of Pedigree Unknown"

"Nothing spoils dogs like shows. Scientific breeders have exaggerated superficial appearance, often at the expense of stamina and courage and brains, until many modern showdogs are but miserable caricatures of the original animals which made their breed famous." - page 1, Chapter 1, Of Pedigree Unknown

Thus begins a fascinating, spellbinding tale of a lifetimes' adventure with real working dogs.

Beginning with Mick, the bull terrier mix ratting companion of his youth, Mr. Drabble introduces his reader to the arts of ferreting for rabbits and rats. As he grows, his tastes in sport mature and the excitement of netting gives way to lamping and coursing hares with the fleet lurchers.

Along the way he shares the struggles and trials of working dog breeders and players, the sad fate of the pit bull and vanishing of working whippets. In the real working dog world, ability is the key, not pedigree, and many workers pick their best dogs out from the animal shelters.

"They were not quite like the modern show whippet, which is a hunched-up, weak-looking creature, tail tucked so tight between its legs that it appears to be trying to ward off the worst effects of chronic colic." - page 78, Chapter 5, Of Pedigree Unkown

When Mr. Drabble wanted a replacement for his pedigreed german shephard, with the showdog hips that cut short her working years, he went out to a 'backyard breeder' ad in the local paper. The female was chained, the male (from an animal shelter the owner said) was penned and both were as threatening and intimidating as could be. The pups were carousing with the human youngsters and Mr. Drabble was pleased. A wise and experienced working dog owner, he knew what he was looking for and he knew what he saw. The boistrous little girl he picked out of that litter turned out to be one of the best dogs he ever had.

Phil Drabble was never a libertarian but his early involvement with working dogs developed a true appreciation for the natural relationships between hunted and hunter, an appreciation that doubtless held at bay more emotional sympathies for the anti-human activists.

If you want to learn the thrill of the hunt, feel the excitement of the dogs and breathe the crisp dale morning air, Phil Drabble provides a solid afternoons diversion with dogs 'Of Pedigree Unknown'.

Ms. X recommends: Get it. Read it. Live it.