The Greyhound Sisters

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These two pups were at the SPCA when I visited last week, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all if there were long gone. After all, their brindle brother was sold as I arrived, and I was stoked to see his new human carrying him away from his cage.

These girls were a handful, and extremely hard to shoot. I think coming out of their cages was just far too exciting for anything other than hyperactivity, but their elated frenzy was contagious, and I found myself grinning from ear to ear and playing with them in no time.

This energy is not necessarily a symptom of hanging out in a cage – it is just as likely to be the expression of their greyhound genes. It is a common misconception that Greyhounds need constant, long-lasting exercise; they are actually bred to be sprinters, so they just need to be able to have short bursts of very high energy release. Chasing other dogs or balls in the park will do the trick for the most part.

Biologically speaking, Greyhounds are incredibly fascinating. They are by far the fastest dog breed, reaching speeds of up to 70km per hour. To accommodate this skill, they have uniquely flexible spines, very little body fat, and an enormous heart which is able to pump huge volumes of blood (which itself contains an unusually large number of red blood cells) at a rapid rate, allowing for greater quantities of oxygen to reach the muscles. Because they have been bred predominately for racing, their health is of a very high priority, so Greyhounds have very little genetic health problems. In fact, the worst condition they suffer is bed sores – because they are so thin and bony, if their beds are not soft enough, the pressure gives them little bruises and muscle aches.

The temperament of a Greyhound is quite unlike any other dog breed. Once they are adults, they are eerily calm and oddly dignified, so much so that they are often likened to a cat. They are said to move through your house with distinction and grace, careful not to knock anything down or bump furniture. After their short, all-out sprint for the day, Greyhounds are content to be couch potatoes, and they do not do well around frequent tension and loud voices. These gentle giants rarely bark, and they are extremely nonaggressive. Unfortunately they often have a bad reputation because of the muzzles that racers wear. These muzzles are only worn by a trained racer, because they have a tendency to chase and nip at small, fluffy animals (just like they are trained to during a race). Despite this tendency, they are also often quick to coexist with this animals after a little bit of training.

Greyhounds make excellent pets, and the good news is, ex-racers are an ethical and wise purchase. They are well-trained, calm and collected, relatively cheap, and most importantly they would be saved from being put-down when they are of no more use to the industry. Having said that, the Greyhound sisters at the SPCA are also an ethical choice, but with their beautiful personalities I’d say you would have to get in quick!

Gumby the Frenchie

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Name          Gumby

Breed          French Bulldog

Age               12

Location    North Dunedin

Gumby seemed insistent that I not take her photo. She twisted and turned as I pursued her, and I captured her face only by chance. Her human was no help –

“Good luck!” He said, “I have been trying to take a photo of her for 12 years and I haven’t got one yet!”

Despite this, I think she’s a pretty photogenic pupper. She’s also super sweet, polite and gentle, and for an old girl she still seems extremely alert and vivacious.

The French Bulldog is an extremely popular breed, for good reason, but it might surprise some that they have actually been all-the-rage for a very long time.

After blood-baiting ceased to be a sport in early nineteenth century England (see my Pitt Bull post for more information), English Bulldogs were out of work so to speak, and were newly employed as family companions. It was decided that they could be smaller for this purpose, so they were bred with terriers and pugs to shrink them down. Thus the Miniature Bulldog was born. Then, during the industrial revolution, a large number of factory workers moved from England to France, and with them they brought their beloved Miniature Bulldogs. The french were in love at first sight. To meet this demand, England’s dog breeders started to send the Miniature Bulldogs with the less ‘desirable’ traits to France, especially those whose ears stood up. But these traits were adored by the French, and they started to favour the individuals with these unusual traits. Over the next few decades, the demand for these dogs was so high that there were very few Miniature Bulldogs left in England, and France was creating their own version of the breed. Thus the Frenchie was born.

With all their endearing traits, Frenchies sadly do have a smorgasbord of health problems. Like Bulldogs, Pugs and a handful of other breeds, Frenchies are brachycephalic, meaning they have been bred with shortened snouts, and as a result they often have extremely severe respiratory problems (hence the conspicuous breathing). The purpose of this snout was originally for blood sports – when English Bulldogs fought, their opponent was less able to hold on to their snouts. The wrinkly skin allowed the blood flow to be directed away from the eyes after a facial injury. But their adorable ‘squashed’ faces mean that they cannot be exercised too intensely, nor is it good for them to be overheated, because excessive panting for brachycephalic dogs can actually be lethal. Anatomically speaking, Frenchies are a bit of a disaster. They are so top-heavy that the males cannot physically mount the females, so they have to be artificially inseminated. Then, to make matters worse, their heads are so large and their hips so narrow that it is rare for a Frenchie to give birth naturally – they are almost always given a caesarian section. This flies directly in the face of evolution by natural selection.

But there is a reason why we persist to breed these naturally un-breedable doggos. They are monumentally gentle, kind, patient and fun, and they make the perfect lap dogs.

A bonus is that their low centre of gravity can be a good thing – Frenchies have such exceptional balance, they have been known to be champions at surfing and skateboarding (but if you try the surfing, don’t forget a doggie life jacket!).

(video curtesy of INSIDER)

Marley the Spoodle

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Name          Marley

Breed          Spoodle (Cocker Spaniel X Poodle)

Age               3 months

Location     St Clair Promenade

Marley was learning how to come when she was called when I introduced myself (or rather, emitted a high pitch squeal and ran over), and in all her fluffy puppy glory she was doing pretty well for 3 months… Must be the Poodle brains in her.

The Spoodle is  a curious thing. It is a so-called cross, but as Marley’s human confirmed,

“She’s purebred, from a proper breeder and everything- and was really quite expensive!”

Cross-breeds like Marley are commonly known as hybrids (although this is not technically accurate, as a biological hybrid requires that the parents be members of differing species, and that their resulting offspring are infertile). Many hybrids go on to become more a breed in their own right due to their popularity, especially if they succumb whats in vogue.

Most of us would assume that Marley’s mum was a Cocker Spaniel and her dad a Poodle (or visa versa) but actually what her human meant when he said she was ‘purebred’ was that both her parents were actually Spoodles – and probably their parents too. It is very important to draw the distinction between what we deem to be a ‘mutt’ and a purposefully mixed breed. They best way to differentiate them is to remember that most mutts are born of parents who naturally chose each other and were not forced to breed. Hybrid breeds can potentially have many of the same health problems as their purebred parents, especially a few generations on. In fact, those problems can potentially be even worse, and they may be bred in compromising environments because breeders have no obligations to fulfil if they are not breeding a recognised purebred. Purposefully mixing breeds is precisely how we have been creating new dog breeds for centuries – it is not a new concept by any stretch of the imagination.

The good thing about hybrids is that you can pick two dogs breeds with features you like and combine them to make one adorable super-dog! That’s how it works, right?

Well, sometimes, yes. But contrary to popular belief we can’t actually choose which genes are going to be expressed and which aren’t. For example, if we breed a Cocker Spaniel with a Poodle, we can’t guarantee that the puppies won’t inherit the Cocker Spaniel’s lack of brain cells and the Poodle’s stubbornness (on that note, it is a myth that all Poodle hybrids don’t shed hair like their Poodle parent, so beware!). That’s why we begin to breed hybrids with other hybrids, thus beginning the new breed cycle all over again.

But genetic variation is always possible – Marley’s human says that she seems all Cocker Spaniel, even though her brothers and sisters appear to have inherited more of the Poodle traits. Lucky she obviously has the Poodle smarts!

Flygility and the Amazing Border Collie

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Remember when I wrote those posts about how amazing mutts are? I completely stick by it, and I couldn’t reiterate those points enough.

Having said that, I think most dog people have that breed. You know what I’m talking about – the one that you love above all others. It’s the breed that you will run across a busy highway to pat, and it’s probably the breed of that beloved canine you grew up with, the one that tore your world apart when it went to doggie heaven (RIP Rexy boy).

For me, that breed is indisputably the Border Collie – and I can’t be the only one.

After all, the Border Collie is widely recognised as the most intelligent breed in the world. The smartest Border Collies are said to have the intelligence of a two-and-a-half year-old human child and can potentially understand over a thousand words. Last year it was discovered that the Border Collie was amoung a handful of dog breeds that are able to distinguish between human facial expressions and associate them with negative or positive emotions (dogs are the only non-human animal that has been found to possess this talent – probably a result of their unique co-evolution alongside humans for so many years).

It is no wonder that when I arrived at Forrester Park for the Otago Canine Training Club’s Flygility tournament, almost all the competing canines had the distinctive, bicolour coat and the focused eyes of a Border Collie. Flygility is a sport that involves two dogs racing side-by-side along an obstacle course – usually including a series of jumps and tubes – at the end of which they have to retrieve a ball and bring it back to their owner, running through the course a second time.

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Border Collies are working dogs, and then tend to want to work all the time. This can drive some owners up the wall, because they always want you to tell them what to do next, and they find it difficult to entertain themselves. If enough time is not given to these intelligent creatures, their need for a job can lead them to destructive behaviours like digging and destroying furniture. This thirst for work makes them extremely easy to train so long as you earn their respect, especially since these quick-witted canines are not driven by food like other breeds are – simply saying ‘good dog’ to a Border Collie is enough to make their day. Training can sometimes become frustrating though. The Border Collie is so eager to please its human that it often tries to predict instructions, reading everything from body language to spoken language. This means it is extremely important to remain consistent for every instruction, otherwise they may well get confused.

The Border Collie’s hardworking drive comes from hundreds of years of herding livestock, during which the hardiest, healthiest, most agile and most attentive dogs have been selectively bred to be unbelievably successful sheepdogs. This is what they love to do most, and when Border Collies don’t have livestock to herd, you will often see them trying to round up various other moving objects like other dogs and pets, balls, people, and (in the more dangerous cases) cars. Apart from the routine running around the object in circles and barking, they will also usually deliver ‘the eye’ – a hypnotic tactic they use to startle sheep by staring at them with terrifying, unblinking eyes.

If you catch your pup doing this to you, it’s a pretty clear sign that they don’t see you as the leader of the pack, meaning you need to practice your tough voice and give them some good old fashioned discipline. The best thing to do to keep your beautiful Border Collie as happy as can be is give them a job that they can focus all their energy on, like ‘flygility’. You never know, they might earn you some ribbons!

 

 

Bear the Mutt

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Name          Bear AKA Scooby Doo

Breed          Rhodesian Ridgeback/Labrador/American Pitt Bull (mutt)

Age               18 months

Location     Pineapple Track

A second ode to Mutts! Why not? I couldn’t not put Bear in here, he’s the coolest dog I’ve come across so far! He’s excitable, energetic and inquisitive – all the traits you’d expect from a young and healthy canine – but Bear is smart too. He graduated puppy school at the top of his class, and even though he ran far ahead on the track, whenever he was called, he would wait patiently for his mum.

Bear is in every way a fit and happy form. He’s strong and loyal like a pitty; loving and gentle like a lab; and agile and affectionate like a ridgeback. That’s because he has genes from all three breeds, and probably others too. Bear made me think again about my post on mixed-breeds, and I decided to delve even further in to why they’re so wondrous.

I have already discussed some of the health issues surrounding ‘pedigree’ dogs – their favoured traits are by no means healthy, and they are often offspring of incest, further increasing their chance of severe health problems. I found an article from the New York Times (2001) discussing exactly this issue – it states that an overwhelming 25% of the purebred dogs in America in 2001 were afflicted with a serious genetic health problem. These problems included deafness, blindness, obesity, osteoarthritis, osteochondritis, dysplasia, dwarfing, heart problems, chronic skin disorders and seizures, to name a few.

The limited gene pool is the main culprit with purebred dogs. Diseases that are carried by a recessive gene are more likely to be expressed in the offspring of purebred parents – in other words, if mum and dad both have it, I will too. If only one of my parents have carries the gene, I have a very small chance of inheriting the disease. Mixed breed dogs naturally have much larger gene pools, which basically means their parents carry differing traits, and each trait is much less likely to be inherited than if both parents carried similar traits.

So we can deduce that mutts are healthier than purebreds. What else is so great about them?

Well, their medical bills will be cheaper, for one, but the purchase price of the dog will be significantly less too. There is a much higher demand for purebred dogs, mostly because people do their research and know what they want – just like they would when deciding on a new camera or car. With mixed breeds, we can’t be sure which traits they will have, so we have to take a gamble.

But I reckon the gamble is totally worth it. You end up with a dog that is entirely unique in both appearance and personality -just like Bear – and you will absolutely cherish it for that.

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