January 30, 2008

Sooty the Sheep vs. Poppy the Staffy

Sooty isn't feeling the love, but Poppy the Staffordshire bull terrier is having a rocking good time. Thanks for the tip, kabbage!


Not a "chox mix." Not a "buff mastiff," either: a "shred of historical evidence" for Merritt Clifton. Click on photos to enlarge.

How unnerving it must seem, how humiliating, to be a professional breed-basher this week! Spend years stoking the urban legend machine, and what happens? Famous athlete gets busted for dogfighting, his "ticking time bombs" turn out to be good dogs, and the news is all about friendly pit bulls nestled in the loving arms of their foster moms and dads, or playing happily with other dogs. Playing with children, even.

It's almost enough to make a person feel sorry for Merritt Clifton. Almost.

Clifton is the editor, and I use the term loosely, who lists the "chox mix," the “Dauschund," the “East Highland terrier,” the “Weimaeaner,” the “Buff Mastiff,” etc. among dogs that bite: these are "clearly identified" animals, he states, labeled by people "with evident expertise." ["Clearly identified" and "evident expertise" also mean that the blue heeler, the Australian blue heeler, the Queensland heeler and the Australian cattle dog are described as separate breeds in Clifton's odd tabulation of dog bites, and mixes are lumped together with dogs labeled purebreds.]

No MLA format for Clifton: no footnotes, no in-text citations, no pages of works cited. And because some editors, reporters and columnists can't tell a peer-reviewed study from a pig in a poke, Clifton enjoys a certain amount of air time. Here he is on CNN, talking about pit bulls in general and the Vick dogs in particular:
Considering the risk the fighting dogs pose to shelters, potential owners and other animals, "they just don't have a chance," Clifton said.

"You can compare it to what happens with exotic cats and people who keep tigers in their backyard. It's not the tiger's fault, but you are still on the menu. They are victims, but you do have to treat them as animals that belong in maximum security."
Imagine how ignorant and how biased you'd have to be to make that sort of remark.

Now that the wheel of Karma is bearing down on him, Clifton is beginning to sound shrill:
Merritt Clifton, editor of Animal People, takes issue with my previous post, in which I wrote: "Remember that only a generation or two ago, pit bulls were renowned as 'America's family dog.'"

He promptly e-mails me, saying:

This is a total fiction. There isn't a shred of historical evidence that pit bulls ever amounted to more than 1% of the total U.S. dog population until under 15 years ago, or that they were ever commonly kept as family pets (or indeed by anyone except dogfighters) until then.
Clifton says that between 1900 and 1950 [according to search results on the NewspaperArchive.com website] 35 breeds of dog accounted for 3.5 million newspaper articles or ads which included the word "dog" and a mention of the breed's name.

Pit bull terriers, Staffordshires, and American bulldogs account for 34,770 results, roughly 1% of the 3.5 million, leading Clifton to believe that from 1900 to 1950 "pit bulls" made up no more than 1% of the U.S. dog population.

There are so many things wrong with this, it's hard to tell where to start.

Forget duplicate ads. Forget multiple references to Lassie and Rin-Tin-Tin and Balto. Forget short stories, movie and book reviews, and breed names used figuratively or used in advertising. Forget the regional, racial and socioeconomic factors that affect what goes into a newspaper. And most of all, forget that Clifton failed to search for bulldogs and bull terriers: the two names most closely associated with the "pit bull" breed in the first half of the 20th century. Set all that aside, and the bias and ignorance still loom large. "Not a shred of historical evidence!" Not a shred, dammit!

To digress just a bit, how is it that people who don't know anything about dogs become dog experts? How is it that Jon Katz -- who allows his dogs to worry sheep and calls it "herding," who believes stockdogs are trained with a clicker, who views the no-kill sheltering movement as a threat to America's children, who [as far as anyone knows] has never trained a dog to do much of anything and has never attended a real sheepdog trial even as a spectator -- how is it that Jon Katz has become, in his publisher's words, "one of the country's most respected" writers on dogs?

How is it that Merritt Clifton -- who wouldn't recognize scientific research if he tripped over it, who thinks German shepherds are bred to "herd," who can't be troubled to edit his spelling errors or find out what dogs are really bred for, who has [as far as anyone knows] never cared for or trained or even patted a pit bull, who has written about "the custom" [known only to him, apparently] "of docking pit bulls' tails so that warning signals are not easily recognized," and who writes that "temperament is not the issue, nor is it even relevant," since virtually all pit bulls are "bad moments" waiting to happen -- how is it that Clifton has become an "expert" on the breed?

"There isn't a shred of historical evidence" [Clifton writes] that pit bulls "were ever commonly kept as family pets (or indeed by anyone except dogfighters)" until the 1980s.

Wrong. Again.

On the left: one example of a pit bull on a citrus crate label. I grew up in a region famous for its citrus crops, and love historic crate labels. Lots of the old ones feature popular breeds -- Airedales, Saint Bernards -- and these days modern breeds are occasionally photoshopped into old citrus labels. The Pup Brand label is an authentic oldie. This facsimile is for sale here.

At the top of this post is a photo of a book called The Dog Album. From the dust jacket: "For the nineteenth-century businessman, newly engaged couple, or Victorian family dressed in their Sunday best, a photo session was indeed a special occasion. Which makes it all the more fascinating to see how often the family dog participated in the event." The Dog Album includes a dozen or so photos of pit bull type dogs with their people. There are more pit bulls in this book than collies. More pit bulls than pugs, in fact. Even more pit bulls than Saint Bernards.

Vintage photos of people and their pit bulls are a staple on eBay. Here's a link to the photo below.

And here's a shot of a handsome pit bull with a group of railroad engineers:

On the right, a postcard of a lady. No, Zelig fans, it's not the same dog ;~)

A pit bull is the subject of New Yorker icon James Thurber's classic Snapshot of a Dog. "'An American bull terrier,' we used to say, proudly; none of your English bulls." "American bull terrier" was one of many names given to the dog now called a pit bull, according to American Kennel Gazette editor Arthur Frederick Jones. Jones wrote a chapter on terriers for the National Geographic Book of Dogs, and began the chapter with an appreciation of Joffre, the Staffordshire terrier his family owned when Jones was a boy.

Anyone familiar with pit bulls knows that these dogs have always been called bulldogs in rural areas and in southern parts of the U.S. When Laura Ingalls Wilder writes about the family bulldog, Jack, she's writing about a dog we would recognize as a pit bull. In the great children's book Sounder the dog of the title is half hound, half bulldog: that is, half pit bull.

Listen to Texan Jim Crainer of Hawgs, Dawgs, and Hunting:
Hello David,

I appreciate you taking the time to write. Your question is "Do I hunt with pitbulls and do I presently have any pups I'm selling or giving away". First, Do I hunt with Bull dogs? Yes, but I only use them in a catch dog capacity. When the hog is bayed up, I get as close as I can and release a protected vest covered and cut collar wearing bull dog to go catch the hog. I dont have bull dogs that I let hunt for me, but know of some people who do. Its just a personal preference on type of dogs is the reason I dont. Suprisingly to alot of people, some strains of bull dogs are good hunters and have a good nose especially for rig or hood hunting. But its like any breed of dog, you have to find the right dog to do it with. Such as, just because a fella has a blackmouth cur or a catahoula doesnt mean he will bay cattle or hogs. Or just because a person has a walker hound doesnt mean he will tree a coon. You have to go thru a number of them or get them from reputible breeders to find one that will work for you. Second, Do I have any bull dogs puppies to sell or give away? I usually raise one litter of bull dog pups a year, there is a picture of the two I kept on the baydog pictures, Under Dogs, picture #3. I do sell them occasionally when I raise a litter. Thanks again for your question.

Good Hunting,

[Crainer writes elsewhere that he favors the Carver line of pit bulls -- a fighting strain --and won't bother with a pit bull unless it's people friendly and can ride loose in the rig with other dogs.]

If Merritt Clifton actually knew much about dogs, or cared enough to study the history of dogs in the U.S., he would know all this. Pit bulls -- bulldogs -- have been common for the better part of a century and a half, though not as ubiquitous as they are today. They were, and are, kept and loved by all sorts of people.

The photo below was taken in the 1890s. The toddler is my maternal great-aunt [a wonderful woman who loved dogs, and owned some legendary ones -- legendary in our household, anyway] and her uncle Albert. Albert was crippled: the dog in the photo is helping to hide Albert's legs in addition to providing support for the child. Seventy years after this photo was taken, my great-aunt remembered the dog's name and spoke of him fondly as "our bulldog." Her parents were hard-working, pragmatic Iowa farmers who liked good dogs and didn't keep bad ones. They were not dogfighters.

(Thanks to EmilyS for the note that prompted this post.)

January 27, 2008

See the Vick dogs! Part II

Yes, I am still beaming about Hector. He's the middle dog in the photo to the left, a happy shot for the ages by Associated Press photographer Eric Risberg. [Click on the photo for a larger view.] View this photo and many more by visiting the BAD RAP blog: they have a late-Saturday-night roundup of the best news coverage, and you can feel their relief that the dogs are finally, really safe and that the press is starting to get it.

Four posts with Hector's photo: one, two, three, four. I sure can pick em. [sprains arm patting self on back] You could call it a crush.

Another crush -- my new favorite football player, Jarrod Cooper:

A dog that made my heart turn to water -- the twin of my muddy girl in the right sidebar:

[Both screen grabs from the Contra Costa Times.]

Finally, from the boundless, staggering ignorance dept., a PETA news release:
For Immediate Release:
January 24, 2008

Richmond, Va. - Holding signs that read, "Report Dogfighters" and "Dogs Deserve Justice," next to photos of dogs who have been mauled in fights, PETA members will rally outside the federal courthouse in Richmond on Friday as Williamsburg-area resident Oscar Allen is sentenced on dogfighting charges. Allen's sentencing is related to the case that has already seen fallen Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick and three codefendants receive prison terms.

Date: Friday, January 25
Time: 8:30 a.m.
Place: U.S. District Courthouse, 1000 E. Main St., Richmond

"Vick's heinous dogfighting operation has been busted, but there are others just like it across the county," says PETA Vice President Daphna Nachminovitch. "We're calling on people across the U.S. to report dogfighters and for police and prosecutors to send them to jail."
"Holding signs that read, 'Dogs Deserve Justice'"? [Stop laughing, dammit!] Yes, that's the same Daphna Nachminovitch who told the press, "These dogs are a ticking time bomb. Rehabilitating fighting dogs is not in the cards. It’s widely accepted that euthanasia is the most humane thing for them." Yes, the same Daphna Nachminovitch whose organization wants all pit bulls dead. Ironic? Ironic doesn't even come close. Talk to the paw, Daphna: a bad day for PETA has been a very, very good day for some very good dogs.

January 26, 2008

See the Vick dogs!

Check them out in all their tail-wagging glory! The whole story is here, via BAD RAP. See the BAD RAP blog for more links. Coverage by the Chronicle, with photos, is here. The Contra Costa Times weighs in with a column by noted dog trainer and behaviorist [/irony] Gary Bogue here [more photos, and a video].

Go. Read. See the photos and watch the videos, and thank doG these good dogs got the chance they deserved. I'll be adding to this post as the day rolls on. Can't tell you how glad I am for these dogs. (That's Hector above, with his BAD RAP foster mom, screen grab from the Contra Costa Times video.)

CNN video interview with BAD RAP's Tim Racer here. Excellent comments from Tim. Good job, CNN. Love his comments to the effect that these dogs didn't need to be rehabilitated -- they're good dogs. They need good care and training and a couch to lie on.

DogTime deserves its own link. Video city! Great job, DogTime.

Best Friends will introduce its own "Vicktory" dogs on Monday.

The Salinas Californian has an excellent story here. That's Stella on the left with Justin Phillips, shelter supervisor at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals for Monterey County, one of the nine-person evaluation team chosen to work with the Vick dogs last October. More on the SPCAMC website, here.

The Murky News tells why Jarrod Cooper is my new favorite sports hero:
Today [the BAD RAP founders] got help from Jarrod Cooper, a Raiders special teams player. He and other Raiders players are helping fund a new initiative called "Code 597," after the penal code violation for animal abuse. The goal is to educate the public on better care and to fund dog shelters and other gear for local pit bull owners.

Cooper volunteers almost daily at the shelter, where pit bulls make up about half the animals that arrive at the shelter, and two-thirds of those euthanized, shelter officials said.
More coverage, including a great video report by Manuel Ramos, on the Bay Area's CBS station.

He made it! He's OK! Aw, crap, Donna, you made my eyes puddle up -- what great news, and thanks so much for everything, this news especially. #44, below?

That's Hector! Hector, the dog in the photo at the top of this post. Ossum.

Yet another link: detailed article at SeattlePI.com.

January 24, 2008

Dog bites and bite force

Memo to Merritt Clifton: here's what good GSDs have really been doing for the past 100 years.

This just in: big dogs bite harder than small dogs. [In other news: this fact is completely irrelevant if you are six weeks old.]

Contrary to urban legend, canine bite force is a size thing, not a breed thing. The larger the dog, the greater the potential for damage [but see mitigating factors above and in the final blockquote, below]. If you were to ask the gentleman wearing the German shepherd on his sleeve, he'd tell you: big dogs bite harder. [Protection-sport decoys are the unsung experts on bite force.] A 100 lb SchH III Rottweiler bites a good deal harder than his 45 lb pit bull counterpart.

There is just one study that I've been able to find in PubMed regarding bite force in dogs. Here's the link. The abstract:
A force transducer was developed to measure bite force in dogs. A total of 101 readings was obtained from 22 pet dogs ranging in size from 7 to 55 kg. Bite forces ranged from 13 to 1394 Newtons with a mean for all dogs of 256 Newtons and a median of 163 Newtons. Most measurements fell within the low end of the range, with 55% of the biting episodes less than 200 Newtons and 77% less than 400 Newtons.
1 newton = 0.224808943 pounds force, so 1394 Newtons would be 313.38 pounds force, according to OnlineConversion.com. I'm betting the dog that weighed 55 kg (121 lb) was responsible for the highest bite-force measurement in the study.

So how on earth did the 2003 Handbook of Pediatric Emergency Medicine come up with the following nonsense on bite force? No footnotes or references, by the way:

Aside from treating breed identification as if it carried weight [the CDC has indicated for a decade now that it does not], the Handbook's "2000 psi in Rottweilers [...] enough to tear through sheet metal" is pulled out of thin air. Some Rotties are hard-biting dogs, but 2000 psi? For that you need an alligator.

From Animal Planet News:
Sept. 15, 2003 — Cheetahs chomp hard and even humans can bite through an ear, but one animal reigns supreme when it comes to possessing the strongest bite — the alligator.

American alligators, Alligator mississippiensis, have the most powerful bite force ever measured. According to a recent study published in the Journal of Zoology of London, alligators snap their strong jaws shut with a force of 2,125 pounds, or with about as much force as a mid-size sedan falling on top of someone.
"Bite force is linked to the size of an animal," explained Kent Vliet, a University of Florida zoologist who headed up the study. "Since the report was published, we measured the bite of a wild gator, even bigger than Hercules at 13 1/2 feet in length missing the end of his tail. He bit down with a force of 2,960 pounds."
To put the record measurement into perspective, hyenas, which are bone-crushing mammals, have a bite force of 1,000 pounds, slightly more than the 940 recorded for lions. Dusky sharks manage 330 pounds of force, and a common dog, the Labrador, bites with 125 pounds of force. Humans surprisingly beat out the pet dog, and measured in at 170 pounds of force.
Here's a video of a Rottie from Norway [where tail docking has been illegal since 1987, in case you were wondering]:

Strong, yes -- but the jaw strength of a 600 lb alligator? Nooo.

When Brady Barr measured the bite force of various animals for a National Geographic program, the hyena again was measured at 1000 psi pounds of force. The lion's bite measured 691, the shark 669, and a Rottweiler at 328 psi pounds of force. A pit bull was measured at 235 psi pounds of force. [Edited January 27, 2007. See "note from a scientist," below.]

Ah, but don't pit bulls have a "unique bite, hold, shake" style of attack that makes them ever so much more "potentially dangerous" than any other breed?

There are two things that come to mind when I'm subjected to this particular example of boundless, staggering ignorance:
1) Have you ever seen a protection-sport dog work a sleeve or a bite suit? For that matter, have you ever seen a puppy with a sock?
2) Which pit bull? I keep pit bulls and border collies, and at one time or another, over the years, each of my pit bulls has been bloodied by a collie bitch. In each case the pit bull did nothing in response but yip and retreat. In the worst instance my heart dog was nailed in the side so badly by one of the collies he needed sutures and a drain. The collie responsible for the damage didn't have a mark on her.

Last year my male pit bull was in such agony from injury-exacerbated arthritis of the spine [he's OK now] that he was trembling violently and screaming when handled, but when the vet touched him where the pain was worst, all he did was bump her with his closed mouth. He could easily have bitten her -- he turned towards her arm faster than anyone could have stopped him -- but with people [as opposed to possums, say] he has extraordinary bite inhibition. And my vet knows and trusts him. To quote BAD RAP, dogs are individuals -- stereotype at your peril.

Dog bites are more complex events than ignorant people would have you believe. This terrific post by Rinalia [from an open-to-everyone section of the Pit Bull Forum] explains:
How hard a dog bites depends on their bite inhibition (how hard or soft a dog bites), their past experiences and their bite threshold (how quick they are to use teeth). The severity of a bite depends on the aforementioned factors plus size of dog, size of victim, location of bite, whether the dog bites once or multiple times, etc.

Let's just say I have four 60-lb dogs. I have one dog each with the following characteristics:
Dog #1: low bite threshold & low bite inhibition = quick to bite and bites hard
Dog #2: low bite threshold & high bite inhibition = quick to bite and bites soft
Dog #3: high bite threshold & low bite inhibition = slow to bite and bites hard
Dog #4: high bite threshold & high bite inhibition = slow to bite and bites soft

And that is not to say that all dogs fit into those categories. There is a whole spectrum - dogs with moderate bite thresholds, moderate bite inhibitions. Dogs who bite once, dogs who bite multiple times. Dogs who prefer legs and arms, dogs who prefer backs or stomachs.

At the outset, It would seem like Dog #1 is the most dangerous - he'll bite you at the drop of a hat and he'll bite you hard...but maybe he only bites once. But let's say Dog #3, when he is FINALLY provoked into biting, likes to bite multiple times and aims for the neck.

Add to that dog size, victim size, location of bite, warning behaviors, etc. ad nauseam, you can quickly see that there is no logic in making a statement like "Pit bulls cause more damage than other breeds." Such a generalized statement is both inaccurate and ignores the myriad factors that cause a dog to bite.

Breed is perhaps the LEAST important factor.
What a pity this is all over the heads of certain idiots in Ontario and Denver -- the dog-killing idiots that make Michael Vick look like an amateur. These legislators could have saved far more children and adults from harm by addressing swimming pool safety or handing out bicycle helmets, but with the pitchfork-waving mentality common to all bigots they decided instead to confiscate good dogs from law abiding citizens, to confiscate family pets and kill them, based on nothing more than a broad skull or a brindle coat.

"[Laws] banning breeds will not make you safer, and the illusion that they will do so is dangerous to humans and unfair to dogs." [Dr. Karen Overall]

*Note from a scientist:
"A newton equals 0.2248 pound force, which is the force a one pound weight would exert on whatever it is resting on on Earth. Thus 12 newtons = 2.7 pound weight equivalent, and 9452 newtons is equivalent to 2125 pounds of pressure exertion on an object. A newton does not distinguish the area of the force it is exerting on, ie 12 newtons or 2.7 pounds if it was pushing against a square inch, then it would be 2.7 pounds per square inch, but if it was an exertion on 12 square inches, then it woud be 2.7 pounds per square foot. It was interesting to see in the article that human and lab dog have about the same bite force, and wolves only have about 2.5 times more bite force than humans."
See the comment from Caveat in response to this post, which includes the following:
"I corresponded with Canada's version of Beck/Clifton, Stanley Coren, when I found him making the '2000 psi' statement in a little book I'd bought about 'dangerous dogs'. He switches it between 'rottweilers' and 'pit bulls' depending on the day of the week.

He could not support it, had no idea where he'd heard it, hemmed and hawed and ducked and weaved but didn't have a reference for it.

Trouble is, people like Coren or Beck, who the media think are experts, or journals such as the Pediatric one, merrily repeat these things and they put another put another nail into the coffin, not only of certain breeds, but of dog ownership as a whole."
Caveat's 2006 bite force article can be found here, and includes the "Note from a scientist" I 've quoted above.

January 21, 2008

Vestibular disease: Leave a light on

UPDATE: This thread now has over 100 comments. On some computers [that is, in some browsers] the comment form no longer functions, so please post new comments at Vestibular Disease II on this same blog. Thank you!

Who knew YouTube would be such a depository of vestibular videos?

They aren't kidding when they say, "Canine idiopathic vestibular disease begins acutely and resolves acutely." Let me back up a bit: it began acutely. I hope it resolves acutely and completely. In any event, she's much better now [huge sigh of relief].

Last Tuesday evening my thirteen-and-a-half-year-old border collie was motoring around the back yard, keen, cheerful and busy, a tad stiff but nothing that herbs and acupuncture couldn't help, and it was a beautiful evening and everything was good.

Half an hour later she was flailing panicky-eyed on the kitchen floor, all sense of balance gone.

I helped her to her feet, but she couldn't stand. And then she could, but she was unsteady as a new calf, and when she tried to walk she staggered and would have fallen if I hadn't been there to hold her. Her eyes weren't focused on anything. Vestibular? Wouldn't her head be tilted? My little dog looked old, frail and very frightened.

Seizure? Stroke?

There are times you say to yourself, "Eh, I'll watch her for a while, maybe take her to the vet if it doesn't get better in a day or two." This was not one of those times. We headed for the emergency vet hospital.

In my mind, or heart, there are a thousand images of my good girl at the farm moving sheep across the pastures, sometimes barely visible through the summer dust or winter rain, working or waiting to work. She was a great partner. Did I think of those times on the drive to the vet's? You know I did. I should have petted her more often. She was never a demonstrative dog, but last year she began sitting next to me each night when I took the pack out. She'd tap my leg with her paw to get attention, and if I stopped petting her she'd tap my leg again. Silly animal, so different from her younger, fiercer self. Her last surviving littermate died of a brain tumor in October. My girl was one of three pups, and she was born smiling: I told her she was mine before she was out of the sac.

The emergency vet seemed far less anxious than I felt. Temp was normal. A tech carried my little dog away for bloodwork, and those numbers were perfectly normal, too.

"Brain tumors, strokes and vestibular disease can share symptoms," said the vet, "but I think it's vestibular. An MRI would tell us more, if you'd like. Keep her on a well padded-floor where she won't hurt herself if she falls. Be sure she gets enough to eat and drink -- the vertigo often makes dogs too nauseated to show any interest in food. She can stand on her own: that's a good sign. She's already compensating for the loss of balance."

By the time we got home the head tilt was pronounced, and her eyes were flickering, slow to the left, fast to the right, constant, involuntary movement.

"Vestibular," said my traditional vet, watching my dog's eyes on Wednesday. "Once they've had it, they usually don't get it again. Keep me posted. If she isn't showing some improvement by the end of the week, it might be something else. Be sure she gets enough food and water. If you're on the computer [who, me?] go to veterinarypartners.com -- they'll have an article or two."

"Her ears and her facial nerves and reflexes seem fine," said my holistic vet on Thursday. "I'll fix some herbs for her after I put the needles in."

I won't bore you with my views on [amazing, wonderful] acupuncture. I will tell you that my good girl slipped past me and navigated the back stairs by herself on Friday morning, and managed just fine. I caught a glimpse of her tail as she trotted off with the other dogs. Yesterday, Sunday, she ate her first full meal in days, and ate it on her own -- no hand-feeding. She's on the mend.

My first bit of advice for anyone whose dog is suffering from vestibular disease: leave a light on 24/7. She can't maintain any kind of balance if she can't see.

Also: don't carry her unless she is quite small and you can put your hand under one or two of her front feet. Web legend, perhaps, but it really does seem to give the dog a "grounded" feeling. Losing contact with solid earth is frightening when you have no other reliable means to tell which way is up. If a dog is too big to be carried easily, use a padded harness to help her move around outside so that the dog can keep her feet on the ground. This will be easier on her and much easier on your back. Target, Home Despot and other stores have cheap, non-slip floormats that provide secure footing.

My girl was never so incapacitated that I needed to dribble water into her mouth with an eye dropper or turkey baster, and she never completely lost her appetite. If she had gone a day without eating I think I would have called the vet for a consult.

If you google dog + vestibular you'll probably read about someone's pet that recovered completely in 72 hours and someone else's that was still unsteady on his feet a year later. Many dogs are left with a permanent head tilt. My holistic vet said that three to four weeks is the average recovery time, based on the cases she's seen in her practice.

Another thoughtful YouTuber has posted several videos of her miniature schnauzer's experience with vestibular disease. Here's the first one:

Here is the VeterinaryPartner article on vestibular disease.

And here's my girl. Suffolks feared her:

January 20, 2008

Blessing of the Animals, Part II

Wake me when it's over: a pup sleeps during the blessing of the animals in Madrid [slide show]. Click on photos to enlarge.

Blogger QoE [knitter of green socks I covet, and parent of kids that fit in Christmas stockings] wondered, "So how did Minnesota get this mixed up with St. Francis? We do the blessing of the animals in October." ["Frozen holy water," heh.] As it turns out, lots of churches have a Blessing of the Animals on October 4, St. Francis' feast day. You can see the 2007 schedule here. That last website, you'll note, is run by Franciscans of the order of friars minor.

"Order of friars minor" has a cool Sword in the Stone, Brother Cadfael vibe, and in fact the Franciscans brought the tradition of blessing animals -- on St. Anthony's feast day -- to the New World not too long after the days of real knights and squires and crusades and codes of chivalry. The custom of blessing animals on St. Anthony's Day, based on the saint's legendary compassion for his fellow creatures, was already established in Europe and soon became tradition in Latin America.

You'll notice in the photo on the right that Anthony is portrayed, as he generally is, with a pig at his feet [photo by Gregorio Fernández].

Legend says that whenever the saint saw an injured animal he would heal it, and on one occasion he was approached by a sow seeking help for her blind piglets. After Anthony cured their blindness the sow never left his side and protected him from harm. Another legend says that when Anthony visited fellow saint and hermit Paul in the desert, a crow carried food to them in its beak, and when Paul died, lions and other animals helped Anthony prepare the grave. Velázquez illustrated both scenes in one painting, below.

Francis of Assisi was born some 800 years after Anthony of the Egyptian desert, and founded what is now one of the largest male religious orders in the world. He called the animals "my brothers and sisters," and he loved nature, believing that if one loves God one must love all God's creation. How perfect for the age of ecology and environmentalism, no? With encouragement from the friars minor, many churches here in the U.S. and in Latin America now bless the animals on October 4, St. Francis' Day. And good luck finding an Anthony of Egypt medal for your dog here in the States. My pups have St. Francis medals in their Quiet Spots [even though my own first allegiance is to the Parking Space God, and yes, I know I'll be a valet parking attendant in hell for that. At least the dogs should be OK].

For those interested in blessings of hunting hounds, horses and more, Diana Guerrero has written an entire book on animal blessings. Read more here.

I bought the St. Francis medals for my pack online from a store that no longer carries them -- great little medallions. Other St. Francis medals are available from Diana Guerrero's site, though I'll offer a correction: the St. Anthony/St.Francis medal actually shows St. Anthony of Padua, a hugely popular Franciscan contemporary of Francis, in a characteristic pose with the infant Jesus.

To paraphrase Francis, May the Lord [whoever your lord might be] give you and your animals peace and all kinds of good blessings.

January 17, 2008

Blessing of the Animals

"Whether you're a cat, dog, tortoise or spider, today's your day. Visit St. Anthony to get your blessing." Click photo for a larger view.

The tradition of blessing animals began, so they say, with Saint Anthony [not St. Anthony of Padua and the eponymous California mission, the other one] in the third or fourth century. Today, January 17, is his feast day, and in Madrid and other communities the dogs, cats, fish, birds, hamsters and iguanas are lining up -- along with turtles, sheep, tarantulas, horses and hermit crabs -- to receive their blessings. [As it happens, Anthony is considered one of the first Christian hermits.]

The photo above and the smaller one on the left were snagged from El País, where you can find an article [in Spanish -- Google Translate Beta will be glad to translate for you] about Madrid's celebration. In L.A. the blessing of the animals is held in April. Way too cold in January, she said on a beautiful 63F day ;~)

January 14, 2008

Waz the Pit Bull Wins Purina's Incredible Dog Challenge

Andrew Yori holds a beaming Wallace aloft as the crowd gives the new top dog an ovation.

Yay Wallace and Roo! Congrats to the new flying disc champs at the Purina Incredible Dog Challenge National Finals [stands, applauds]. If you missed the show Sunday you can catch it again on ESPN2 Monday, January 14. [Today, yikes.] Check the listings here: I think it will be on at 11:00 AM. You can also watch the video [source of the screen grab above] at this link. Excerpt:
"We actually have to be careful about what cities we go to compete in because some cities don't allow pit bulls so we always have to check that before we go,” says Clara.

But with a chance to compete, Wallace proved his disc-catching skills and came out as the top dog.

"It’s just some of the best times of my life just being out on that disc field with him; just having the whole world melt away and just have him and me connecting through the training that we've been doing. You just can't put words on it,” says Andrew.

A happy dog and proud owners who are glad their best friend got a second chance.
So cool. And how I love this, from the article's "Comments" section:
As a more-or-less typical owner (retired engineer/MBA) of an American Pit Bull Terrier, I'm always glad to see news coverage of the best the breed has to offer. Thank you, KAAL, for countering some of the hysteria generated by less responsible news outlets.
Wallace has a terrific website [and what a crying shame that several pages need to be devoted to the fight against BSL in Wallace's home state of Minnesota. State Representative John 'Boundless, Staggering Ignorance' Lesch wants a state-wide ban of Akitas, Chow Chows, Pit Bulls and Rottweilers. If I've said it once, I've said it a million times: ignorance, hysteria and urban legend are bad grounds for legislation. Mr. Lesch, call the CDC, for crying out loud].

Under "Wallace vids" in the WallaceThePitBull.com gallery be sure to catch the Rocky-style training video: it's ossum. There is nothing cuter than a pibble in a little sweatsuit. Foster dog Bosley is featured in another good vid ["Human Aggression"] under "Pit Bull Myths." There are videos all over Wallace's website, so brew a pot of tea, get comfortable and enjoy.

January 12, 2008

Pit Bull Junior High

You know how they say Hollywood is "high school with money"? The extended pit bull community is like middle school in a rough neighborhood, with a double helping of angst. Cliques and characters are thick on the ground. No one ever gets enough sleep, self-absorbtion is endemic and adults were put here to make your life miserable.

Diane Jessup is a Queen Bee at Pit Bull Junior High. She has a pit bull website, a forum, a (pending) non-profit and an ego as big as all outdoors, not that there's anything wrong with that. Her full name is The Controversial Diane Jessup. [See, for example, the post and subsequent thread that led to her bannination from the Pit Bull Forum.]

Here is an archived page from Diane's LawDogs website. Excerpt:
LawDogsUSA is always looking to help out homeless American pit bulls that have "the right stuff". We want to save homeless American pit bulls and give them a job - as American heroes! We ONLY accept American pit bulls from shelters and legitimate rescues. Unfortunately, accepting dogs from some rescues and the public has proven problematic, creating situations which take time and resources away from the work of LawDogsUSA.

We get many emails a day from people wanting us to take their pet pit bulls. We encourage those looking to get rid of their pets to use the following resource to try and either keep their dog or place it: [link to Pit Bull Rescue Central].

Please read the following information and pass it on. There are potential detection dogs dying in shelters everyday. It is up to us - together - to help them help us.
That page is under revision. Diane now says that pit bulls with the appropriate temperament and drives are, for all intents and purposes, next to impossible to find in rescues or shelters, so she is breeding her own, with foundation stock from Tatonka Kennels. Absolutely gorgeous dogs, by the way, and someone has to breed good pit bulls for the future. [I believe two of her homebreds are already serving with the Washington State Patrol.] But breeding dogs and buying breeding prospects takes money, and that can put a crimp in things like, oh, paying those pesky insurance premiums.

These days Diane is worried about the Vick pit bulls, specifically those dogs facing the prospect of a pointless, loveless, warehoused eternity at Best Friends while greedy caretakers remodel their kitchens with money that should have gone to groups approved by Diane and LawDogs, dammit! Here's the big whine. Dance, straw men, dance! Excerpt:
We are very sad to report that due to the "Special Master" Rebecca Huss getting what we consider very poor advice, the determination was made to only allow those agencies which carried a one million dollar insurance policy (and had for the past three years, making it impossible for anyone to comply at this time) to take the dogs. After a quarter century of working in pit bull rescue I have yet to know of even one pit bull rescue which carries this kind of insurance. I have heard of one which does, and they state they had to lie about being an "all breed" rescue to get the insurance. Out of the Pits, an extremely reputable rescue, certainly could not comply as well. Most "hands on" rescues simply would never dream of spending the kind of money needed for a million dollar policy on anything other than direct care of dogs, education, advocacy or spay/neuter.
Or, you know, buying pups and breeding your own dogs. I have a million-dollar umbrella policy from State Farm. It costs me a little over $200 a year, about a fifth of what it would cost to buy an $800 puppy and pay to have her shipped from Florida to LAX.

More from Diane:
I am very disappointed American pit bulls deemed "adoptable" by ASPCA "experts" had this million dollar liability insurance requirement slapped on them. In my county, even a dog which has severely mauled someone and been declared "Dangerous" doesn't carry this kind of requirement! Rebecca Huss has, in effect, achieved the impression that even "adoptable" pit bulls are somehow a huge risk. A sad day for the breed, indeed.
Give me a break. Organizations need the insurance, not individual adopters. Put on a sheepdog trial, your organization needs a million bucks of insurance. Hold an agility fun match for Shelties, you need proof of insurance. As I've written before, I've had my own million-dollar policy for ages, and not because I'm afraid my dogs will "turn" on someone, but because 1) we live in the most litigious society in the history of the universe, and 2) some people are scary stupid and others are totally unpredictable. Some are scary stupid and totally unpredictable. I can't always control what people are going to do around my dogs or my livestock. I'm surprised that anyone working with lots of dogs [and people] wouldn't have some serious insurance coverage, but that's just me. Yes, I have earthquake insurance and long-term care insurance, too, because I have a vivid imagination when it comes to worst case scenarios. Sue me.

More from Diane:
Michael Vick was ordered to set aside almost a million dollars for "care" of these dogs. While I am all for seeing Michael Vick lose his money, in this case I feel adding that amount of money in to the mix was a mistake. When large amounts of money are involved in any manner, too often the wrong kind of people are attracted and dogs are generally the losers. And so they were in this case. Reputable organizations were shut out.
LawDogs was shut out, which isn't quite the same thing. I expect there are safeguards to insure that qualifying rescue organizations don't vacation in Tahiti on Michael Vick's tab. And is $5000 exorbitant for lifetime care of a rescue dog? Let me get back to you when I've paid off the elbow dysplasia and ACL surgeries.

In the court document discussing placement of the Vick dogs, Rebecca Huss [who I suspect also has a vivid imagination when it comes to worst case scenarios] writes:
Due to the ongoing criminal proceedings, each of the rescue organizations has agreed not to disclose anything about the dogs unless prior approval of such disclosure has been granted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. After the final sentencing in the federal proceedings, the organizations would be allowed to discuss the dogs as they would any other dogs under their care unless the dogs’ safety would be compromised.
But none of this seems to apply to trailblazing iconoclasts like Diane, who not only talks in detail about the dog she got, but posts his picture in her rant.

Just another day [gum snap] at Pit Bull Junior High.

January 9, 2008

The fetch

Porterville Spring Trial, Montgomery Ranch, CA. [Click on photo for larger view.]

Another photo with my good girl as a tiny speck.

I loved the Montgomery Ranch: it was a beautiful place for a sheepdog trial. The first time we ran there Bracken took what seemed like ages to find her sheep, but after that she seldom lost a point on her outrun.

Bracken was whippet-fast and had a fine, confident outrun that owed not a thing to my novice handling skillz. She'd leave my feet and run somewhat tight -- maybe 100-200 yards off the fetch line, keeping a keen eye out -- and at the right moment in relation to her sheep, she would cast out wide in a move I always, always loved to watch. Her speed and the angle of the cast made it rather dramatic. [I timed her outrun once, on this course. She reached the top in a bit less than a minute, exactly half the time it took the good dog whose run preceded hers.] Bracken had a quiet, steady lift and a lovely feel for her sheep: she could work close without rattling them. I've known religious people with less faith in their deities than the faith I had in Bracken.

This photo of her was taken at Mission San Antonio de Padua in Central California. Bracken is gone now -- she died in 2004, almost sixteen -- and the last time I visited the mission, the sign was gone, too.

January 8, 2008

The big picture: why sheepdog trial photos make me kind of insane [and how to fix that]

Back in the day: my Bracken at the drive gates. Porterville Spring Trial, Montgomery Ranch, CA. [Click on the photo for a larger view.]

Michael McAdoo is a photographer with a good eye for dogs, as you can see by visiting his sheepdog trials galleries at this link. This week he posted a few of his photos on the Border Collie Boards, where you can also see the work of talented photographers like Denise Wall, Laura Hicks, Christine Henry, Melanie Chang, Mark Billadeau and others. In his first post to the Border Collie Boards, Mike wrote:
I've been looking through the posts here and see some fine quality photos, so am asking as "trialers" and working dog owners, what shots do you prefer and which shots have you frankly seen enough of? I understand that some shots which work for me artistically may not convey the action you want conveyed or the sense of why this form of competition/exhibition is enjoyable to you.
I love working-dog photos. What drives me nuts is that a perfect close-up of a great USBCHA Open dog -- for example, a terrific photograph like this by Denise Wall of Bev Lambert's Bill --

isn't always that easy to distinguish from a carefully-cropped photo of a dog that couldn't herd lemmings off a cliff.

Which is why I love shots like this:

This photo [a
nother great one by Denise Wall] shows Alasdair MacRae and Star on the crossdrive of the International course at the 2005 Bluegrass. The dog is just a speck, but you can by God tell this is a real sheepdog trial and not the sort of event where dogs are given titles for following tame sheep down the fence in a small arena.

After all [as I've said a million times], any responsive dog with sufficient prey drive can be trained to move tame stock in a controlled setting. Look at the snaps of American Pit Bull Terrier Dread, who earned ASCA titles on sheep and ducks:

My dogs can do more challenging work than this. So please, photographers, let me see the big picture.

I love the beautiful close-ups of intense dogs at work, and I love the arty through-the-fence shots, and I especially love the photos with both sheep and dog in the frame. If it were my dog, I'd want to purchase them all.

But let me see at least one photo of the 800 yard, uphill outrun or the 200 yard crossdrive -- even if my dog is a just black speck. If I can afford to buy only one photo, that's the one I'll purchase. I can take portrait snaps of my dog at home, but a photo of my dog and me on a course like Edgeworth or the Bluegrass...? Just about priceless.

"Nature: Dogs That Changed the World"

Coming up this Sunday on your local PBS stations:
NATURE's two-part special DOGS THAT CHANGED THE WORLD tells the epic story of the wolf's evolution, how "man's best friend" changed human society and how we in turn have radically transformed dogs. Part one, "The Rise of the Dog," airs Sunday, January 13 at 8 p.m. (ET) on PBS. Part two, "Dogs by Design," airs Sunday, January 20 at 8 p.m. (ET) on PBS (check local listings for both broadcasts).
You can read more and watch a short promotional video ["Ooh, border collies!"] at this link.

Quote that makes me want to beat my head on rocks:
Despite the plethora of new shapes and sizes, dogs have retained the instincts bred into their ancestors by thousands of years of work: the urge to herd or hunt, to dig and to guard. In DOGS BY DESIGN you'll discover how these hard-wired behaviors help different types of dogs, from hounds to herders, excel at different tasks (and why it can sometimes be so difficult to train them to do otherwise).
Virtually all healthy dogs will dig and guard [objects, territory, people]. Most will chase things. Digging and guarding and chasing are indeed "hard-wired." "Herding" is not. Your Sheltie is not "herding" the kids. It's a conceit of the show fancy that dogs can be bred for looks and still "retain the instincts" to be useful workers. Sorry, but no. Nature shouldn't encourage pet owners to trot out the old "We can't make him stop -- he's a herding dog" routine. [You can -- and he isn't.]

January 5, 2008

What eBay can teach you about buying a dog

Snap of Elizabeth Baker's Rye at Zamora. I'd love a pup of his someday.

"Don't buy the item. Buy the seller."

Since I'm devoting space this week to thoughts on dog breeders, here's a quick rundown of my own most recent puppy-buying experience. First, my personal rules & regs for puppy buying:

1. Know the breeder
2. Know the breeder
3. Know the breeder

I bought my last border collie pups sight unseen, but I wasn't flying blind. They had an older sibling I loved, other relatives I'd watched and admired and a breeder I trusted. His dogs, the pups' parents, met all my criteria:

Sire and dam were both working ranch dogs, able and willing to work all day.
Both parents trialled successfully in USBCHA Open.
Both were able to work cattle.
Both were able to work out of sight of the handler.
Both had lots of natural balance.
Both had a grip and the brains/presence/guts to move stubborn stock.
Both were so keen you'd need a crowbar to get them off stock, if not for their natural biddability. [No electric collars, please. Scroll down in this link for Alasdair's remarks on "the collar."]

If you want a good border collie, look for an experienced border collie handler and stock owner with a reputation for honesty, fair dealing and good, sound, working dogs. Look for someone you'd value as a mentor. You'll have far better luck than if you buy from someone who can offer a sheet of blood-test results but no proof the dogs can actually do anything. [Good stockdog breeders generally do have hip and CEA information on their dogs.]

When you go to sheepdog trials, don't ask, "Does anyone here have puppies for sale?" Ask something more along the lines of, "Do you give lessons? And are you planning any litters? [Because I've seen your dogs run at three different trials now, and they always do well and seem very nice to be around, and you handle them so kindly and quietly.]"

As on eBay, so with puppies: Buy the seller.

Introduction: What they looked for in a breeder

I'd like to write a couple posts on what I look for in a dog breeder, and what I think other people ought to look for in a breeder, and to get things rolling, I'm going to delegate. Here are two links to posts written by Smart People with Really Nice Dogs.

Henry Chappell is a writer and outdoorsman who wanted a good "meat, hide, and stock dog," and found what he was looking for in a pup named Cate, a Mountain Cur. Read the first post about Cate here.

Julie Zickefoose has been in my sidebar since this blog was born. She's an artist and writer and NPR commentator, and I'm in love with her Boston Terrier. His name is Chet Baker, and he is too cool for school. [It doesn't hurt that Julie is a fine photographer and Chet, of course, is a great subject.] Here is A Brief History of Chet: Part 1, and here is Part 2, with possibly the cutest puppy photo in the history of the universe.

Finally, to add to the mix, here is the oft-quoted/oft-linked Reputable Breeder vs. the Backyard Breeder.

All food for thought. I'll write more tomorrow.

January 4, 2008

Why blogging matters: Free Fouad

We live in interesting times. I can listen to music, enjoy my favorite tea and blog about the animals I love, while children die of starvation and wars rage and brave people are jailed for speaking, and writing, about things that are true and important. So no apologies for this post, which concerns a political prisoner. Writing about him is the least I can do.

His name is Fouad Ahmed al-Farhan, and he is a blogger in Saudi Arabia.

Saudis Confirm Detention of Blogger

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — An outspoken Saudi blogger is being held for “purposes of interrogation,” the Saudi Interior Ministry confirmed Tuesday.

Gen. Mansour al-Turki, an Interior Ministry spokesman reached by telephone, said the blogger, Fouad al-Farhan, was “being questioned about specific violations of nonsecurity laws.” Mr. Farhan’s blog, which discusses social issues, had become one of the most widely read in Saudi Arabia.

Mr. Farhan, 32, of Jidda, was arrested Dec. 10 at his office, local news sources reported. Two weeks before his arrest, he wrote a letter to friends warning them that it was imminent.

“I was told that there is an official order from a high-ranking official in the Ministry of the Interior to investigate me,” read the letter, which is now posted in English and Arabic on Mr. Farhan’s blog.

Since his arrest, friends have continued to post entries on his Web log (www.alfarhan.org) on his behalf under a banner that reads “Free Fouad” and features his picture.

“The issue that caused all of this is because I wrote about the political prisoners here in Saudi Arabia, and they think I’m running an online campaign promoting their issue,” the letter continued, saying that Mr. Farhan had been asked to sign a statement of apology.

“I’m not sure if I’m ready to do that,” he wrote. “An apology for what? Apologizing because I said the government is a liar when they accused those guys to be supporting terrorism?”

Ahmad al-Omran, a blogger and a friend of Mr. Farhan, said that Mr. Farhan had been the first Saudi blogger to be detained by state security. The arrest created widespread anxiety among other Saudi bloggers and advocates, he said.

“An incident like this has its effect,” Mr. Omran said by telephone. “It’s intimidating to think you might be arrested for something on your blog. On the other hand, this means that these voices on the blogosphere are being heard. But it’s really sad that a blogger who is writing about important issues out in the open would get arrested, while there are extremists who call for violence and hate, and the government is not doing much.”

Mr. Omran said Mr. Farhan was one of the first Saudi bloggers to post items in Arabic and to use his real name. At the top of Mr. Farhan’s blog is a call in Arabic for “freedom, dignity, justice, equality, public participation and the other lost Islamic values.”

The Interior Ministry would not say specifically why Mr. Farhan had been arrested.

“The violation is not a security matter,” General Turki said. “He is not being jailed. He is being questioned, and I don’t believe he will remain in detention long. They will get the information that they need from him and then they will let him go.” [source]
Visit his blog and scroll down to read a letter to the Saudi king from the Committee to Protect Journalists, and for RSS feeds like this. More news here.

And for a great, heartbreaking essay on the courage to speak out, read this. Fouad al-Farhan has been in detention for almost a month. Set him free.


Site updates: yes, I have a favorite lizard. When Western Skinks are youngsters and just two-three inches long, that blue is so blue it can make you stupid with delight. These lizards live in California's mountains and foothills. They're deep in hibernation now -- nestled between the bark and the wood of fallen trees and buried in leaf litter beneath slabs of granite, dreaming their lizard dreams under the falling snow.

California is mostly storms at the moment. My sister was reading by candlelight in San Jose this afternoon -- no electricity.

Meanwhile, I'm hacking, and posting, and if the winds here knock out power I will spit ink.

Christmas decorations and subsequent hacks slowed down my blog's loading time, and I've been trying to clean [virtual] house. Images have for the most part been optimized. Most widgets and gadgets have been tossed.

Sidebar links [the ones in the link lists] now open in a new window. I adapted the link-arrow gif from a template design I like very much, created by César.

The menu bar below the header is just a link list: a good horizontal menu idea from Hans at Beautiful Beta.

The hack for an Open/Close feature on longer posts can be found on a number of sites: I followed César's instructions.

The navigation icons for Older Posts/Newer Posts [that's the neon Indian chief from the old Arrow Motel in Las Vegas] were added according to directions at La Bloguería.

Code doesn't need to be translated, how cool is that. For everything else, Google will be happy to translate. You can provide the site's URL or a section of text.

[Edited to add: yay rain!! It's pouring.]

January 3, 2008

Happy Birthday, Molly

Bill Fosher on the dog that changed his life:

Old Molly just keeps on keeping on. She turns 105 today, if you buy the notion that one calendar year is seven dog years.

Just a few weeks ago, I thought she might not make it to this milestone. She suffered a major seizure, and had a hard time coming out of it. But come out of it she did, and bless her heart, she paces up and down "harr-ing" for her dinner every night starting about two hours before feeding time.
Bill is the owner/moderator of the invaluable Sheep Production Forums. He doesn't write much, but when he does, it's good: for my money, he's one of the best writers on dogs, and ought to write a book about shepherding. You can read On the occasion of Molly's 15th birthday at Bill's Edgefield Sheep blog.

Companion dogs are wonderful. My pit bulls are fantastic dogs, and I've loved all of them at least as much as I love my collies. But the bond with a working stock dog is different, and very special. Stock work is like a crucible. Treats, praise, comfort and predictable conditions are burned away, and what's left is the essence of a centuries-old working partnership: instinct, resolve, communion. I'm not saying you have to have been out there counting on your dog in the middle of the night with fences down and the rain blowing sideways to understand what I'm talking about --- but you have to have tended stock with a good dog to know.

Happy Birthday, Molly!

January 1, 2008

On titles and codes of ethics [or, "How can you tell if a dog is worth breeding if he doesn't have a title?" Answer: Watch him work.]

Or "Watch her work," as the case may be.

So I asked, "What's the 'HIC' after his name stand for?"

The nice lady at ringside with the rough collie had just shown me her dog's name in the program. She was delighted to explain what all the letters meant.

"That stands for 'Herding Instinct Certificate.' He's a Champion -- and he can herd, too!"

Oyyyy. I'm all for people enjoying activities with their dogs -- agility, obedience, SAR, and yes, "herding," provided the instructor is a good one and the sheep are comfortable with the routine and treated with consideration. But the truth is that any dog with a pulse can "earn" an HIC. It doesn't have anything to do with "herding," and it doesn't mean your dog has the potential to be "trained to herd." The test involves showing interest in sheep in a tiny pen. That's it. And I apologize for all the ironic air quotes. [Please give them special emphasis in the next paragraph.]

Why is the bar set so low? Because the AKC "Herding Group" consists chiefly of dogs whose last real working ancestors, if indeed they had any, "worked stock" over a century ago. They've been bred for everything but work since, and no, the "instinct" hasn't been "sleeping" -- it's gone. Nevertheless, in the interest of "fairness" -- and entry fees -- the AKC wants to give every "herding dog" a shot at winning a "Herding Championship." In order to facilitate this, the bar isn't just set low, it's set lower than low. Mariana Trench low.

AKC titles in general say far more about owner effort and/or bank account than they do about a dog's merits. Odds are that an obedience title reflects your training skills more than your dog's genius. A conformation title may mean a) you figured out which judges like your dog's lines, and b) you were willing to drive across the country to show your dog under those judges. An AKC "herding" title means your dog was able follow tame sheep down a fence line, and it doesn't matter that it took thirty attempts to win those three qualifying scores.

To the extent that titles demonstrate owner care and interest, I love them. As proof of special merit? Meh. As evidence of stellar temperament or excellent health? Surely you jest.

There isn't a title on earth that guarantees a bombproof temperament. And as far as health goes, many titled AKC dogs are physical disasters: champion bulldogs that can't breathe, champion GSDs that can't move normally.

Here's an excerpt from the Bulldog Club of America's Code of Ethics:
Members who contemplate breeding a litter, or who allow the use of their stud dog for the same purpose shall direct their efforts toward producing dogs of quality, of even temperament, vigorous and free of health problems. They shall be familiar with the bulldog breed and its BCA/AKC approved standard and breed only those specimens which conform to it.
Contradictory, no? Not to pick on the bulldog people, but when puppies must be delivered by C-section, and when bulldogs suffer from the highest rate of hip dysplasia on record at the OFA, and when they must be kept indoors and quiet on warm days on account of their brachycephalic issues, the phrase "vigorous and free of health problems" seems to me to be very much at odds with breeding "only those specimens which conform" to the standard.

In light of all this, what sort of chucklehead would insist that only titles and codes of ethics prove a dog is worthy of breeding? Answer: the sort of chucklehead who writes mandatory spay/neuter laws. Take a look at L.A. County's Spay/Neuter Ordinance:

By spaying or neutering your dog, you are helping solve the problem of pet overpopulation and protecting your dog from potential harm. However, since some dogs cannot be spayed or neutered for certain reasons, this ordinance has exemptions for these cases. These are:

  1. Dogs which are unable to be spayed or neutered without a high likelihood of suffering serious bodily harm or death due to age or infirmity. Written confirmation from a licensed veterinarian is required to qualify for this exception.
  2. Dogs used by law enforcement agencies for law enforcement purposes.
  3. Service or assistance dogs that assist disabled persons.
  4. Competition dogs. A Competition Dog is a dog which is used to show, to compete or to breed, which is of a breed recognized by and registered with the American Kennel Club (AKC), United Kennel Club (UKC), American Dog Breeders Association (ADBA) or other approved breed registries. The dog or owner must also meet ONE of the following requirements:
    1. The dog has competed in at least one dog show or sporting competition sanctioned by a national registry or approved by the department within the last 365 days; or
    2. The dog has earned a conformation, obedience, agility, carting, herding, protection, rally, sporting, working or other title from a purebred dog registry referenced above or other registry or dog sport association approved by the department; or
    3. The owner or custodian of the dog is a member of a department approved purebred dog breed clubs, which maintains and enforces a code of ethics for dog breeding that includes restrictions from breeding dogs with genetic defects and life threatening health problems that commonly threaten the breed.

If you believe your dog meets one of these exemptions, please complete and return an Exemption Application.

Look familiar? You bet. This arrogant nonsense was produced by the same folks who brought you the Puppy Mill Protection Act. When people who don't know anything about dogs write laws, AB 1634 is what happens. Ed Boks, Judy Mancuso and Lloyd Levine apparently believe that a lame, wheezing pair of AKC bulldogs -- or Labs, or Barbie Collies -- are better breeding prospects than the best working stockdogs in North America.

In contrast, some of the people who know most about dogs are perfectly willing to crossbreed. Legendary Australian stockman Scott Lithgow wrote that his ideal cattledog was from 50-75% border collie, 25% "blue Cattle Dog," about 6% Bull Terrier [not the show dog of that name, but a Staffy Bull type] and with a trace of dingo, all depending on "the strengths of the particular strains of dogs used."

Depending on the strengths of the particular strains of dogs used. Whoa, what a concept.

In his book The Malinois Jan Kaldenbach writes:
Cross-breeding Malinois with German Shepherds, Dutch Shepherds, Boxers and Great Danes has given the Malinois the best characteristics of all the breeds to withstand the stresses and challenges of being a police service dog.
And here's the history of the Red, I mean Irish Setter:
The Irish Setter of the late 1800s was not just a red dog. The AKC registered Irish Setters in a myriad of colors. Frank Forester, a 19th-century sports writer, described the Irish Setter as follows: "The points of the Irish Setter are more bony, angular, and wiry frame, a longer head, a less silky and straigher coat that those of the English. His color ought to be a deep orange-red and white, a common mark is a stripe of white between the eyes and a white ring around the neck, white stockings, and a white tage to the tail."

The Setter that was completely red, however, was preferred in the show ring and that is the direction that the breed took. Between 1874 and 1948, the breed produced 760 conformation champions, but only five field champions.

In the 1940s, Field and Stream magazine put into writing what was already a well-known fact. The Irish Setter was disappearing from the field and an outcross would be necessary to resurrect the breed as a working dog. Sports Afield chimed in with a similar call for an outcross. Ned LaGrange of Pennsylvania spent a small fortune purchasing examples of the last of the working Irish Setters in America and importing dogs from overseas. With the blessing of the Field Dog Stud Book, he began an outcross to red and white field champion English Setters. The National Red Setter Field Trial Club was created to test the dogs and to encourage breeding toward a dog that would successfully compete with the white setters. Thus the modern Red Setter was born and the controversy begun.

Prior to 1975 a relationship existed between the AKC and the Field Dog Stud book in which registration with one body qualified a dog for registration with the other. In 1975 the Irish Setter Club of America petitioned the AKC to deny reciprocal registration, and the AKC granted the request. It is claimed, by critics of the move, that the pressure was placed on the AKC by bench show enthusiasts who were unappreciative of the outcrossing efforts of the National Red Setter Field Trial Club, as well as some AKC field trialers following a series of losses to FDSB red setters. Working Irish Setter kennels today field champion dogs that claim lines from both the FDSB dogs and AKC dogs.
The sanctioning body for sheepdog and cowdog trials in North America, the USBCHA, has never granted titles and never will: the membership would have apoplexy. Which is the reason that North America's finest working stockdogs -- the wisest, most athletic dogs on the planet -- can be seen at USBCHA trials like the one in the YouTube video at the top of this post.

How can you tell if a dog is worth breeding? Watch him work. Watch her work. Do your research on the breed or type and and watch the dog work.

Healthy dogs with great, friendly, rock-solid temperaments -- pedigrees be damned -- should be bred for pet homes. Good working dogs should be bred by working-dog experts and placed in working homes (or experienced, active, pet homes). People who don't know anything about dogs should be strongly discouraged from writing laws affecting them. And if everybody adopts a dog or two, or three, from the local pound: Utopia. "My Utopia," anyway.

[This post was prompted in part by a question from a smart, patient person playing devil's advocate during last year's AB 1634 debate. I still owe her a Starbucks.]