Best of Breed Basset Hound Crufts 2014

Want to see what all the fuss was about regarding the Best of Breed Basset Hound at Crufts this year?

Here you go - Akasha Banana Split - aka "Nana".

It is clear in Frank Kane and Jessica Holm's commentary that they are not fans.. no superlatives here. Frank Kane mentions that breeders are trying to steer away from exaggerations, but notably doesn't suggest that they've succeeded in this dog. And Jessica Holm, struggling to say something nice, finally plumps for Nana's ears.

You can see that this dog does move well given her physical limitations. But this is the human equivalent of what the morbidly-obese are left with post extreme weight loss.

Just  imagine what it would feel like to run with this.

That Nana can do it  - at the moment - isn't testament to selective breeding. It's testament to our dogs' incredible spirit and stoicism - something they have not yet managed to breed out of her.

When they do, the breeders better watch their backs.

Learn about the genetics of dog behavior with me

As promised, my big announcement: I will be teaching two online courses for the Association of Professional Dog Trainers this summer.

DNA, courtesy of Wikipedia

 The courses are open to APDT members and non-members, so anyone can take them. I'm working hard to make them fun, and I would love to see some blog readers or Twitter followers in the class!

The first class is just a basic grounding in genetics, nothing really special about dogs (although I use dogs for many of the examples). So if you have a solid or even just passable genetics background, you don't need to take that. If you're not sure you could explain what a gene is or what a chromosome is, though, you would probably be a bit overwhelmed in the second course without having taken the first one.

The APDT is an organization that I've respected for quite a while, so I'm thrilled to be working with them. If these classes are well-received, they will repeat periodically, so if you can't take one or both this summer, you should get another chance later.

French Bulldogs - an enviable life?

A picture of health. Not.

An anonymous poster tipped me off to this 'letter' featured on the French Bull Dog Club of America's website

A Letter To My Vet
by Jan Grebe
"Hi! I’m a French Bulldog, and unless you are extremely lucky, you may not have any other patients of my breed. If that is the case, please let me alert you to some special health needs of Frenchies, as our friends call us.
"Though our Minimum Daily Requirement for human companionship and love is high, our day-to-day needs are simple. Petting keeps our coat shiny; praise keeps us happy. The best medicine for a Frenchie is TLC. But we do have a higher incidence of certain structural problems that go along with our-flat faced, dwarf status than do other breeds (the ones we think of as spindly and pointy-nosed).
"As with other brachycephalic breeds, we have airways that are easily compromised. We overheat very easily, often have an elongated soft palate that may need to be shortened, and anything that causes swelling in the mouth or pharynx (trauma, insect stings, tonsillitis, etc.) can cause a respiratory emergency. Sometimes our nares are rather stenotic; this does, however, give us the most endearing snore. Cleft lip/palate, of course, is more frequent in short-faced breeds. And it has been suggested that we are more likely to have oddly-formed thyroids and anterior pituitaries, since the pharynx, from which these structures develop as outpocketings, is so abbreviated. Whether these glandular abnormalities cause any functional problem is uncertain, but it’s worth considering if any problems are seen that could have an endocrine basis.
"Anesthesia, of course, is a constant worry. Thanks to our laid-back attitude, many procedures requiring a general anesthetic in other, more excitable breeds can often be done without it in Frenchies. When a general anesthetic is required, we are very hard to intubate; even more so than Bostons, we’re told. First, please note that our necks tend to be rather squatty (no way to put it delicately). The endotracheal tube may have to be shorter than in a longer-necked dog of comparable size; if it is too long, it will end up in a bronchus and we’ll only be half-ventilated. Also, we must be kept lying on our bellies and watched closely after extubation, until we are up and walking around, because our large tongues and/or floppy palates can easily relax and obstruct the airway. And any swelling in the pharynx or larynx, which is an ever-present danger with intubation, is doubly serious in our breed. With our generally calm nature, we may also require less anesthesia than other dogs of comparable size, as anesthetic depression can occur more easily in us than in, say, a Fox Terrier. Please note that any time we are anesthetized it should be done with a slowly administered injectable induction agent, intubation, and maintenance with the safest available inhalation agent. Never, ever “mask down” a Frenchie (or any other brachycephalic patient) as this is contraindicated in short-faced breeds.
"Probably our most important and serious built-in anatomical problems (other than the airway) are back problems caused by the chondrodystrophic dwarfism that gives us our distinctive shape. Like the other dwarf breeds, we suffer from a high incidence of hemivertebrae and premature disc degeneration. The incidence of the former in our breed is high based on data that have been collected, but most dogs that have malformed vertebrae never have problems related to them, so that they are often only detected incidentally on a radiograph done for some other reason. If they do occur, they are most often seen between T5 – T11; a single vertebra may be involved, but often there are two or more. Depending on which part of the vertebra is malformed, they may cause scoliosis or kyphosis; and this can produce secondary changes in the rib cage.
"Premature intervertebral disc degeneration most often is seen in 3- to 5-year old dogs and generally affects the discs between C2 – C4 and T11 – L2. Disc degeneration that is a consequence of age is more likely in the cervical region. If you should note any hemivertebrae, calcified discs, or narrowing of discs spaces on an x-ray, or palpate any bony deformities, please instruct my owner about how to best protect my back, and what neurological signs to watch for in case problems should develop. Should I develop sudden pain and hindlimb weakness with neurological signs suggestive of spinal cord compression, an injection of steroids followed by a Prednisone taper and strict crate rest for several weeks will generally allow the problem to resolve without surgery. However, should my condition worsen in spite of this, speedy surgical decompression is needed. Many Frenchies are frisking happily about today after extensive spinal surgery, because their owners quickly sought help at the first sign of trouble, before the cord was permanently damaged.
"As is the case with Bostons and Bulldogs, we often have whelping difficulties. Though some Frenchies are free whelpers, the combination of the big head and narrow pelvis combined with uterine inertia often necessitates cesarean delivery. (Considering the anesthesia risk, this helps explain why finding a Frenchie puppy may not be an easy task.) We also seem to be plagued by pyometra more often than other breeds; some believe that our odd construction tilts the female reproductive tract in such a way that it doesn’t drain properly. Whatever the cause, this is a problem to watch for.
"Impacted anal glands may also afflict us (especially if the screw tail torques sharply to one side and compresses a duct.) We may suffer from most of the other usual canine ills. Some people feel that Frenchies with lighter coat colors have more skin problems than do the darker ones. Whether this is a factor, skin problems tend to be more common in hot, damp climates, where every variety of fungus and bacterium tends to flourish. Atopic skin disease is also common, and skin fold dermatitis can occur when the deep folds on the face and in the rear are not kept clean and dry.
"Though hip dysplasia is not known to be a major clinical problem, it has been reported in the breed.  But Frenchie hips that do not look very good on a radiograph may never cause any clinical problems because our massive thigh muscles and good ligaments can compensate well, so even if OFA doesn’t give us good scores, we can generally go through life without developing degenerative hip arthritis.
"Our breeders are constantly trying to produce sounder pups, and the French Bull Dog Club of America has established a Health and Genetics Committee to gather information about health problems in the breed that might be inheritable, serve as a liaison with the AKC Canine Health Foundation, raise funds for health research, and to help educate breeders about potential inheritable problems. We would appreciate your help in this regard. If you should detect in a Frenchie patient any problem that you believe is genetic, please discuss this with the owner and/or breeder of the dog so that we might avoid the spreading of harmful genes through the breed. Our gene pool is so small that a recessive gene in a popular sire could spread like wildfire; and early detection requires the help of our vets.
"We Frenchies are a proud lot, and are rapidly increasing in popularity. We would appreciate any new observations or information that you might give us about our breed to help our breeders and owners keep us sound and happy, both as a breed and as individuals.
"And, finally, should the time come when — because of age, injury, or illness — my life should become more burden to me than blessing, please help my owner/friend make and accept the most loving and kind decision. Tell him to “Sing no sad songs for me,” but to know that my life, however short or long, was an enviable one. I was a French Bulldog."
The tragedy - as if it needs to be said - is the total absence of any awareness of the role French Bulldog breeders and owners play in perpetuating the dysfunction and disease in the breed.

Elsewhere on the site the US Club refers to its health surveys and highlights all the things "responsible" French Bulldog breeders should be doing in terms of genetic testing etc. Except of course, it neglects to mention the one thing that would truly make a difference.

Which is changing the conformation of the dog.

Those breathing problems? Entirely down to breeding a dog with a flat face with all the other features that contribute to brachycephalic airway syndrome.

Those spinal problems? Entirely down to breeding a dog with no tail.

Those whelping problems? Yep, that will be the conformation again.

And so on.

And, just to remind that the Frenchie once used to be a much more functional dog, here's the 1899 model. Note the longer legs, lighter frame, longer muzzle, open nostrils and, although you can't see it here, this dog would have had a bit of a tail (with much less likelihood of the spinal defects that come for breeding a dog with no tail).

The UK Frenchie Club is no better.  The picture at the top comes from the Kennel Club's 2013 Dog Health Group Report which highlights all the wonderful things the Club has done to warrant removing this breed from the need for vet-checks at championship shows.

They couldn't actually find a picture of a Frenchie without stenotic nares.

Because there isn't one.

The state of the Zombieverse: spring 2014

No matter how many times I resolve that I will post at least once a week, life always seems to get in the way. So I figured I’d make lemonade from the lemons and tell you guys about what I’ve been up to. I know a lot of you enjoyed the posts about life as a shelter medicine intern, but I’ve been suspicious that life in the lab would be less interesting. (“Today I found the perfect set of pipetters! It was awesome!”) Still, it seems possible that there are people out there who wonder what first year PhD students spend their time doing, so here it is.
Me escaping from lab for Scio!

I went to ScienceOnline Together 2014, which was a great deal of fun. The head of my lab smiled tolerantly and let me go — she doesn’t do much layperson-level science communication herself, but she knows I love that stuff and figures there’s probably a good reason for me to get better at it. I went to a discussion about engaging undergraduates in science (run by two undergraduates), where I learned that Facebook is the Thing right now but Twitter might be catching up; a brainstorming session about providing explanations of various scientific concepts to people at a variety of levels, elementary school through expert; and an intergalactic gala, where I met Malcolm Reynolds, the Doctor, and an inflatable Dalek, and ate carbonated ice cream which was made before my eyes.

Back home but still on the science communication track, I have been kicking around ideas with another science blogger here about improving science communication education at UIUC. Let me tell you a story about how much the world needs help training aspiring scientists about science communication! I was in class with some undergrads, and they were talking about our recent midterm. One said: “I didn’t really understand that question where we were supposed to explain the findings as if to a scientist, and then as if to a non-scientist. What did that mean?” The other replied: “I don’t know, so I just wrote the same thing twice.” Ouch.

So yeah, I had some midterms. The one mentioned above was for an excellent class on genes and behavior. I really dig the structure of this class: every week we read some articles, then discuss them on the message board. We come to class already understanding the articles fairly well, and we discuss them more in person, both in small groups and as a full class with the professor. It’s a great design, though it does suffer around midterm time when the students are too tired to muster the energy to do paper analysis. Still, it is always better to read articles than a text book!

I also had a project for a statistics class. Statistics can be mind-bogglingly boring, but it is really essential to understand it if you want to be able to analyze your data well. In my experience doing my Master’s work, asking a statistician for help will lead to some terrifyingly complicated analyses that you will only understand during the moments that he is explaining them, and will immediately become completely opaque when you are trying to explain them to your advisor the next day. Anyways, this stats class was designed for grad students, not undergrads, and this project was to do some analysis of our own data. I am a first year student, so what do I not have yet? Data. I have a bunch of RNA which had been sitting in the sequencing machine for weeks. My hope was that sequencing would finish up in time for me to analyze that data for the class. Nope. So, with the teacher’s permission, I made up the data. It was kind of fun. Not enough significant results? Let me just change those numbers... This is apparently not something we are supposed to do in real life, unfortunately.

Did you hear me mention RNA in the sequencer? Yes, I am also doing research! Last semester was a lot of time at the bench, doing ridiculously finicky extraction work to get RNA out of tissue samples. RNA, you will remember from high school biology or some such, is a single-stranded copy of DNA. The cell makes these single stranded copies for use in making proteins, so RNA is part of the whole translation mechanism whereby DNA turns into an organism. Because RNA is single stranded, it isn’t as stable as DNA (which is double stranded), so handling RNA is a really annoying process involving gloves and this magic spray bottle which kills the evil RNA-eating demons which apparently live in the air, your hands, on counters, and on the mobile phones that undergraduates like to leave in your work area.

But once you get the RNA extracted into teeeeny little vials, you can send it off to be sequenced. What I will get back (what I got back a few days ago, but which involves a lot of processing before I can extract useful information from it) is information about which genes are expressed at different levels in particular tissues. I am using tissues from foxes selected for tameness versus foxes selected for aggression. (Remember, I work on the tame fox project.) Why is that interesting? Well, it seems likely that a lot of the differences that we see in tame foxes aren’t due to changes in their actual genes, but changes in how those genes are regulated. So maybe tame foxes express more of a particular gene rather than a different form of that gene. If I know which genes are expressed at higher or lower levels in tame foxes, I can start to guess at the functions of those genes, in foxes and, eventually, in dogs and humans.

What else? Helping the head of my lab teach her class in domestic animal behavior. I have been working behind the scenes to find good papers for students to read and writing questions to assess the students’ understanding of those papers. It’s the perfect job for me. I get to read a lot of papers about domestic animal behavior, and I get paid to do it.

Finally, I’ve been working on another project which is days (DAYS, I tell you) away from being ready to be announced here. I think it’s safe to say I find it more exciting than you will, but I still think you should check this blog daily in breathless anticipation!

Border-line incest

Over on the Border Wars blog, Christopher Landauer has highlighted the extent of inbreeding in the Border Collies at Crufts.

It turns out that this year's winner is the equivalent to a grandfather/grand-daugher mating and the Reserve Dog is the equivalent of a father/daughter mating.

As Landauer points out, it's totally unnecessary. There is quite a lot of extant genetic diversity in Border Collies. The problem is that it is split into factions of type or geography, isolating sections of the breed in increasingly compromised gene pools.

Check out the rest of Landauer's blog here:

Crufts 2014 - Best of Breed Basset Hound

Click to enlarge
Ch Akasha Banana Split passed a vet check yesterday to take Best of Breed.  As you can see, she has marked ectropion (the drooping of the lower eyelids). This is abnormal eye anatomy and it makes her eyes vulnerable to a host of painful problems. But if they weren't obviously sore on the day, the rules state that the vet has to pass her.

Same goes for the stupidly-long ear leathers, which make her ears prone to yeast and bacterial infections. And then there's all that gross and entirely unnecessary extra skin which flobs around as she moves.

Show breeders think this is a good thing, a desirable breed feature. They claim it prevents the dogs getting snagged when working in dense cover - despite the fact that a) the dogs that actually work have never had this much skin and (b) when this amount of skin is concertina'd on to the show Basset's short, chondroplastic legs, it clearly hinders the dogs' movement.

But the show vets are not allowed to disqualify a dog for exaggerated features.  Which means, essentially, that for all the fine talk it's business as usual when it comes to the Bassets at Crufts this year.

More pix - and a list of this Italian dog's extensive show wins - here.

And just to remind you what a proper Basset Hound looks like, here are some new pictures of the working Albany Bassets - which the show breeders think are mongrels.

Note, btw, that although the Albany hounds still have large ears, they are very different from the floppy, flabby appendages on the show Bassets. The Albanys can lift/move their ears more normally, allowing vital air flow into the ear chamber. This helps reduce the risk of infection.

Every dog is different...

And so another Crufts comes to pass (6th - 9th March).

And with it comes a broadcaster (More4 - part of Channel 4) with no moral compass attempting to flog its coverage with an image of an animal broken by humans for their own amusement. 

Huge, wonky, blister-prone eyes. Massive nose roll. And no discernible nostrils.

You can complain here.

Here's the whole video.