GSD history buffs - can you solve this mystery?

My last post on Ch Kysarah's Pot of Gold has become the blog's most viewed post of all time with over 50k views in just 24hrs. So now I have the attention of the GSD community could anyone help solve this mystery?

The above photo was sent to me two days ago by an American called Dave Thorpe.

"This was my grandfather’s dog named Asta," says Dave. "She was one of the first three dogs to come across the ocean. Notice the horizontal back. Finding the history of Asta has been elusive. All that I know is that she was one of the first three dogs to come to America. I don’t have any info other that this story from my parents. My grandfather was Albert Hergott and all my relatives have passed. I have spent hours searching and have come up empty. I wish I had better pictures but they have been lost. Early 1900s is all I know."

A quick Google throws up this:

The Complete German Shepherd, Milo G Delinger , 1952 third Edition, page 28 

"The first recorded reference to a GSD in America was when Mira of Dalmore (never registered) Property of Dalmore Kennels of H.A. Dalrymple, of Port Allegheny, Pennsylvania, was Exhibited. She was first Open Class, at Newcastle,  and first open, Philadelphia. These awards were probably in the miscellaneous Classes at those shows, for we find the same bitch appearing and winning the miscellaneous Class at New York in 1907. entered as a Belgium ( sic. ) sheepdog. 
"The bitch's real name was Mira von Offingen and was imported in 1906 by Otto H. Gross along with two others. How she came to be shown in Dalrymple's name is not known. After finding nobody in America was interested in the breed, Gross took Mira back to Germany.  Mira of Dalmore was never registered in the American Kennel Club Stud Book. 
"In 1908 she was again exhibited in the miscellaneous Class at New York in 1908, this time entered as a German Sheepdog. In this Class she had competition, another German Sheepdog known simply as Queen being exhibited by Adolph Vogt, who won first in her class, defeating Mira. This Queen, was in all probability, in fact Queen of Switzerland(115006), of Largely Krone blood. The first GSD to be registered in the Studbook of the American Kennel Club."


GSD winner "among the worst I have ever seen" says world's leading locomotion expert

This is Ch Kysarah's Pot of Gold. Despite the fact that his hock is on the floor, he was awarded Best of Breed at the National Dog Show in the US three weeks ago.

This winner is "among the worst I have ever seen," says one of the world's leading canine locomotion expert, Professor Dr Martin Fischer, author of Dogs in Motion, published by the VDH (German Kennel Club).

There has been quite a lot of chatter about this dog on social media - some saying the dog is awful; others maintaining that he is an improvement on other American showline GSDs. You can see his pedigree here.

Here's a video of him in the ring at the NBC-televised National Dog Show.

If you don't look too closely at him on the move, he looks OK - and the American show dogs don't have the hinged backs you see in GSD showline dogs in Germany, UK and elsewhere.  But they do have paddling-fronts and unstable rear ends which become all too obvious if you freeze the action. Have a look at these frames from this video.*

"His movement hurts almost all biomechanical principles of dog locomotion," says Professor Fischer. "It is not only the almost plantigrade position of the hind foot but - as we know from the hundreds of dogs we have studied - it is also the position of the thigh. The hind foot and femur [thigh bone] move in matched motion, which means that the femur in this dog is placed in a most unfavourable, almost horizontal, position at touchdown.

"Moreover, it is almost certain that any kind of storage of elastic energy in the hindlimb is gone with such a plantigrade position. I cannot definitively not understand how such a dog could have been selected Best of Breed."

These are strong words from Professor Fischer, who is Director of the Institute of Systematic Zoology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Jena. But I thank him for speaking out because show breeders of the German Shepherd - in the show-ring on both sides of the Atlantic - must reconsider what they are doing to this incredible breed.

The saddest thing is that this dog is by no means the worst - although perhaps the worst actually awarded Best of Breed at a flagship show.

No other breed of dog walks on its metatarsals. A dog's hock should never hit the deck when it runs in a straight line. Moreover, it has been proven to make the dog mechanically less-efficient - by Professor Fischer and others - even in the less extreme dogs.

The problem is, of course, that it is so very difficult to convince GSD show-breeders that the way they're breeding the dogs is wrong, as anyone who has ever tried can testify.

What we need is a cohort of experts with real standing, such as Professor Fischer, to lobby kennel clubs and breeders for change.

These pictures landed in my inbox this week, btw - the collateral damage to breeding extreme dogs. This is a 7-mth-old show-bred youngster handed into a GSD rescue in Los Angeles last year; presumably because the breeder couldn't find a buyer for him. (Source here.)

Beautiful dogs, failed by the humans who purport to love them the most. 

* thank you to Ann Cardon for pulling out these freeze frames

Let chickens be chickens

A week or so ago I encountered a letter to the editor in our local newspaper that made me peevish. Its author opined that chickens have better welfare when they are kept in rather than out of cages, because when not caged they are liable to get parasites and cannibalize each other.

I responded. But the letter to the editor format restricted me to 250 words, and I had more to say. Luckily, I have you guys to rant to! So here is my original piece in full.

Dan Miner's letter, published Dec. 5, sets up a straw-man argument about the welfare of chickens kept in versus out of cages. I'm responding from my experiences as a veterinarian with a special interest in animal welfare.

Are chickens in cages free from walking in their own feces? Yes – because they're standing on wire, which is unhealthy for their feet. Are chickens out of cages walking in their own feces? Only if you keep them crowded too close together. If you keep them with enough space that their surroundings don't fill with poop, then no, they won't be walking in poop.

Are chickens in cages able to engage in cannabalism? No – but they're denied healthy social interactions as well. Chickens don't actually want to kill and eat other chickens. They just do it if they're highly stressed. Keep them in a healthy environment where they have some space and the ability to engage in species-appropriate activities, like perching and scratching for bugs, and they'd much rather do those things instead.

Does the cage system protect chickens from parasites? Sure – and keeping a human in a glass bubble keeps them physically free of parasites, too, but would anyone with a normal immune system be willing to live like that just to avoid normal diseases? Healthy, unstressed chickens have robust immune systems that can handle normal diseases. But a stresssed, crowded animal isn't a healthy animal. When bird flu swept through commercial chicken farms this summer, resulting in massive numbers of deaths, which populations stayed healthiest? The outdoor birds, who were unstressed because they had the ability to engage in species-appropriate behaviors, and therefore had robust immune systems. The stressed-out, crowded indoor birds had weak immune systems with no ability to fight off the virus, and were so packed together that when it got into those populations, it swept straight through.

Chickens are only healthier in cages compared to out of cages if the out-of-cage environment is a crowded, stressful one. Many of those environments are, of course. I encourage those who care about chicken welfare to purchase eggs from chickens who are “pastured” or kept “on grass.” Mr. Miner is correct that “cage free” doesn't mean good welfare. He just doesn't realize that there's a better way to raise these animals – with enough space to move around and the opportunity to scratch around and hunt for bugs. Those are happy chickens.

Hip, hip... huh?? (Part One...)

Last month, the British Veterinary Association and Kennel Club celebrated the 50th anniversary of the BVA/KC hip dysplasia scheme.

From the press release marking the event:

"Results from the Hip Dysplasia Scheme showed improvements in the median scores of 20 of the 21 most-scored breeds over the last 15 years, indicating a reduction in the incidence and severity of hip dysplasia in scored dogs."

Said the KC's Caroline Kisko:

“This data goes to show just how much of a positive effect health testing is having on the health and welfare of dogs. 
“The BVA/KC Canine Health Schemes are useful tools to support responsible breeding and, as evidence from the data from the hip and elbow schemes, they are going a long way in protecting the future health of the UK’s dogs.” 
“Breeders who health test their dogs should be tremendously proud that they are having such a sustained positive impact on dog health, and we would encourage any breeder who does not currently use the schemes to do so, to enable the positive results to continue.”

Well that sounds great, doesn't it? But let's have a look at the actual data for the top 21 breeds.

Click to enlarge

As you can see, while there has indeed been a reduction in hip scores, it is a very small one for most of these breeds - down just one or two points in almost 20 years (with perhaps only the Newfie and Gordon Setter showing a truly significant reduction).

"Such small changes may be statistically significant but it is doubtful they are clinically significant," says Gail Smith, Professor of Orthopaedics at the University of Pennsylvania.

And, in fact, if you look at the data provided for the other breeds in this latest report (download link), it is hard to share the KC's enthusiasm.

For the 159 breeds for which comparative data have been provided, 62% per cent have seen no recent improvement in hip scores - and in 25 breeds hip scores have actually increased!

Seriously, it's not much bang for your bucks given that breeders have spent millions hip scoring their dogs over the years.

It's no great surprise to Professor Smith who maintains the UK/OFA/FCI hip schemes are fundamentally flawed. It was in response to this that he developed the alternative PennHIP scheme which measures hip laxity. PennHIP  has been shown to be more effective in identifying which dogs which will go on to suffer degenerative joint disease. (Smith GK, Lawler DF, Biery DN, et al. Chronology of hip dysplasia development in a cohort of 48 Labrador retrievers followed for life, Vet Surg 2012; 41: 20-33)

"The hip-extended radiograph is simply not a good phenotype on which to make breeding decisions. It should be abandoned in favor of using the PennHIP DI. It’s that simple," insists Smith.

That said, not everyone agrees. There has, for instance, been considerable improvement in some breeds in Finland using conventional hip-screening - with the indication being that when there is breed-wide selection against poor hips, it can be effective (Finnish report here.)

Longevity has improved in the St Bernard in Finland, too - it's thought because far fewer dogs are being euthanised because of severe hip dysplasia.  In the 1990s, Finnish St Bernard's died on average at 5 years old. In the 2000s, it had increased to 7yrs 1mth - and today, it is 7yrs 6mths - quite an achievement.

Finnish geneticist Katariina Maki says: "All you have to do is get reliable results and choose breeding dogs from the better half of the population."  In fact, Maki says you don't even have to breed only from animals from the very best hips; just those that are better than the breed average. Progress will be slower, but doing it this way helps maintain genetic diversity.

I had a discussion about PennHIP a few years back with Tom Lewis - then at the Animal Health Trust, now a full-time geneticist at the Kennel Club. Lewis acknowledged that PennHIP might be better but was adamant that the BVA/KC scheme was still useful and would become more useful with the introduction of estimated-breeding values (EBVs). These launched at Crufts earlier this year and are available for 28 breeds. Lewis also pointed out that it was very hard to justify throwing away 50 years of data collected under the existing scheme.

I have some sympathy with that... but it does make you wonder how much better those EBVs would be if they were built on PennHIP data rather than on the current scheme.

Incidentally, I have gone back to the BVA to ask for more comprehensive historical hip-score data from which to better assess the success of the scheme, and will report further when I get it. Perhaps if it made more grading information available we could see more of an improvement?

In the meantime, I've discovered something else interesting about the BVA/KC hip scores - something every breeder should know.

Stand by for Part Two...

Science with a sense of humor

I’m writing a peer-reviewed article right now. I can almost guarantee it’s something pretty much none of you will be interested in (it is not about dogs or foxes, but about genomics technology), but when it’s out I’ll do my best to blog about it in a way that makes it seem exciting. We’re at the review stage: reviewers give us a bunch of comments, we make the changes to the article, then we write a letter back to the reviewers. The letter is supposed to say things like “Thank you so much for your insightful comments. We made all the changes you suggested!”

One reviewer comment pointed out that at one point in the article, I had referred to humans as a model species. Now, model species are normally species that we use as models for humans. The best examples are laboratory rodents: we study rats in the hopes that what is true for rats is true for humans. The rats are a model species.

The reviewer commented “Are humans really a model species?” At which point my boss basically put her head in her hands and was embarrassed that we hadn’t noticed this stupid gaffe we’d made.

In my first draft of the reply letter to the reviewers, I replied to the question about whether humans are a model species: “They are to this veterinarian!” I, of course, love to read human research in the hope that what is true for humans is true for dogs. (But I made the change in the manuscript.)

I pointed this out to my boss and said, “Did you like my veterinarian joke?”

She: “Yes.”

Me: “Is it OK to have jokes in letters to reviewers?”

She: “No.”


Jack Russell Terrier Club of GB slams the KC over JRT recognition

The decision by the Kennel Club to register the Jack Russell Terrier as a show-dog met with outrage when it was announced in October. (See my blog here)

Now the Jack Russell Terrier Club of GB has confirmed that the KC went ahead despite its vehement opposition and has issued a swingeing statement in response. It calls the KC move "ridiculous" and accuses the Kennel Club of embarking on a journey into "a minefield of confusion, misery and despair".

Chairman Greg Mousley also accuses the KC of ruining rather than preserving the future of the breeds in its care.

The statement in full.

The Jack Russell Terrier Club of Great Britain, has, for 40 years, stood against Kennel Club recognition for the Jack Russell Terrier and will always do so. 
We along with our worldwide affiliated Jack Russell Clubs, fought tooth and nail against the recognition of the Parson Jack Russell Terrier but the Kennel Club committee blindly went ahead. Now many years later they have realised their predicted failure and Parson Russells are almost as rare as the breed the Kennel Club started with in 1860, the Fox Terrier. They badly need a small breed to gain income!

The Jack Russell Terrier Club of Great Britain wrote the definitive breed standard for the Jack Russell Terrier 38 years ago and it has been adopted by Jack Russell Clubs worldwide, even copied by the Parson Russell Club! No doubt it will be used once again.
Along with our affiliates we have a registration system reaching back to the mid 70s. Our terriers, worldwide, are classy, correct in conformation and possess a tremendous working ability. They are virtually free of both hereditary and congenital defects whilst among the Kennel Club breeds these are rife. 
Kennel Club recognition will not affect any of us and most importantly it will not affect the Real Jack Russell Terriers that are under our care The Parson Russell came and has almost left. This ridiculous attempt will also fail and pass.
The Kennel Club is about to embark on a journey into a minefield of confusion, misery and failure. 
The JRTCGB along with its affiliated JRT Clubs worldwide have a huge register of quality Jack Russell Terrier dating back to the mid 70s. Our registration system is carefully structured to prevent any Kennel Club pollution.
We have a breed standard that is totally work related and practical.
The secretary of the Kennel Club, Caroline Kisco, gave the reason for their move:  “By recognising the Jack Russell as an official breed we can help cement its heritage and protect its future”. Unreal! 
Well Caroline, you are 41 years too late. We have been doing just that since 1974!
The Kennel Club has NEVER cemented the heritage nor protected the future of ANY of the breeds under their banner! Quite the opposite. Take for example the poor old English Bulldog - they have protected it to the point where natural reproduction is impossible!
What kind of protecting and cementing is Caroline talking about exactly!? 
The true working Jack Russell is quite safe where it always has been, LONG BEFORE THE OLD SPORTING PARSON BOUGHT ONE! Safe, with the working terrier men and women of Great Britain and the rest of the world! 
Our worldwide aim is: 
To PROTECT, PRESERVE and WORK the Jack Russell Terrier. We have held firm against the Parson Russell and succeeded. The same resilience will hold firm again.

Greg Mousley
Chairman and a founder member of the JRTCGB
The Jack Russell Terrier was first registered as a showdog in Australia, where it has become very inbred. It was exported from there to be recognised and shown in FCI countries. These Ozzie exports, in fact, are the dogs that the KC will be recognising - not the working-bred/pet-bred native dogs that are popular in the UK with those who couldn't give two hoots about Kennel Club registration.

So the newly-registered KC dogs won't be the real deal. Sure, they may descend from the same original stock but they have been primped, pimped and inbred for several generations by those who are only interested in what a dog looks like, not what it it truly is under the bonnet.

Inevitably, it will lead to considerable confusion. The danger is that the imposter will start to water down the real Jack Russell as people won't be savvy enough to avoid the KC-registered dogs.

If you ever wanted proof that the KC is not about the dogs, this is it.  Bottom line? The Jack Russell is not theirs to steal.

The "Hands off Our Jack Russells!" petition to ask the KC to revoke this decision is still active - with currently over 800 signatures.   Please sign if you haven't already!

Arnie the Frenchie: "perfect in every way"


This is Arnie - a French Bulldog who, according to his UK owner, has sired a litter of puppies due this month.

Arnie is, apparently, health-tested and "perfect in every way".

Well.. except for the teensy, eensy issue of his nostrils.

Annie doesn't actually have any.

For the record, here is the visual guide the French Bulldog Club in the UK uses re nostrils.  Only Grades 1 + 2 are considered acceptable for breeding.

Of course, only Grade 1 is really acceptable. But it's very hard indeed to find a Frenchie with nostrils even this open.

Although not impossible.

I suspect it is little coincidence that these Frenchies are more moderate in other ways too - finer heads and with longer muzzles. Of course that's not what's fashionable at the moment. Just look at this nostril-free zone gracing a current Tesco advert here in the UK.

Yep every little helps, but we need a lot more when it comes to nostrils.

Dog genome ruminations

The other day I was re-reading the original dog genome paper, as you do. This is the paper published in 2005 to accompany the release of the first full dog genome sequence (of a boxer named Tasha) and accompanying annotation (a mapbook of what genes are located where in the very long sequence of bases that is the genome).

You might think that a genome paper wouldn’t be very interesting, because basically the point of it is to say “here is this genome. We published it. It was a lot of work, and it’s done, and now you can use it.” But most groups try to have something interesting to say in their descriptions of a new genome, and this one actually had a lot of interesting stuff about dog genomics in it.

Don’t just take my word for it. It’s open access, so you can read it for yourself.

Lindblad-Toh, Kerstin, et al. “Genome sequence, comparative analysis and haplotype structure of the domestic dog.” Nature 438.7069 (2005): 803-819.

The dog was one of the earlier mammals to be sequenced, so a lot of this paper consists of comparisons between dog and the other sequences we had at the time, human and mouse. We already knew that humans and mice were more closely related than humans and dogs in one sense: they share a most recent common ancestor. This means that as you follow the branches (and tangles) of the tree of life, first you get a branch that divides the most recent common ancestors of human, mouse, dog, and relatives from species like opossum and chicken; then you get a branch that divides the most recent common ancestors of human and mouse and relatives from dog and relatives; and only then do you get a branch that divides the most recent common ancestors of human and mouse. It looks like this:

Tirindelli, Roberto, et al. "From pheromones to behavior." Physiological reviews 89.3 (2009): 921-956. Fig 5
So we’d expect that human and mouse would share more genomic sequence than dog and human, right? Each of those branches in the tree of life represent a point at which one species becomes two, with resulting divergence in genomic sequence. So if the species divergence between humans and mice happened more recently than the species divergence between humans and dogs, then the genomes of humans and mice should look more similar than the genomes of humans and dogs. But it turns out, as this dog genome introductory paper reports, that dog and human share more genomic sequence, more base pairs, than human and mouse do. So how can that be, if humans and mice are closer together on the branches of the tree?

There are several forces contributing to this result, but the one that made me smile was the different rates at which each species reproduces. In the time since humans, mice, and dogs branched off from their shared common ancestor (before humans and mice branched off from their shared common ancestor), mice have had many more generations than humans and dogs. They reproduce so quickly compared to us and dogs that they have more chances to change their genetics from generation to generation. And as a result, while the number of divisions (places where the tree branches) are greater between human and dog than human and mouse, the number of generations of mice between today’s mouse and that last common ancestor of mice and humans and dogs is greater in mice than in dogs or humans. As the paper’s authors put it:

The lineage-specific divergence rates (human < dog < mouse) are probably explained by differences in metabolic rates or generation times, but the relative contributions of these factors remain unclear.

The other way of looking at it is saying that species age at different rates. So while behaviorally modern humans appeared around 50,000 years ago, and dogs appeared arguably 10,000-32,000 years ago, nevertheless the human population is about 4,000 generations old while the dog population is around 9,000 generations old. Because dog generations are shorter.

We created them, but they’re now older than us. Just like how my dog was younger than me when I got him, but aged right past me. Science!

New campaign targets the use of Pugs, Frenchies + Bulldogs in the media

I am getting phenomenally irritated with the bandwagon use of Pugs in advertising in the UK (and elsewhere). They are absolutely everywhere this Christmas and being used to flog everything from supermarkets to laptops.

The one above from Vision Direct has got to be just about the worst, though.

Here, Vision Direct, is why you've got it wrong.

• first it's just horrible to be manipulated into thinking the Pug has fallen through the ice and drowned. This doesn't emotionally hook us - every dog lover will just hate you for you putting them through the emotional mill. 

• Pugs suffer a lot of eye problems - corneal ulcers because they bump into things because their faces are so flat (no muzzle to act as abuffer...). So sticking glasses on a Pug is pretty much taking the piss out of disability.

• This Pug has stenotic (pinched) nostrils, which impairs his breathing

• This Pug has excessive facial wrinkling and is fat - both welfare concerns.

Today, I am announcing the soft-launch of CRUFFA - The Campaign for the Responsible Use of Flat-Faced Animals (in advertising and the media) - a new lobby group born out of  concern over the increasing use of Pugs, Bulldogs, French Bulldogs and other 'brachycephalic' breeds used in advertising and the media.

While many people find flat-faced breeds cute, they suffer from health problems as a direct result of having been bred with a very short muzzle. Their current popularity - in part fuelled by the media - has led to a huge surge in the numbers being bred. It adds up to a lot of suffering.

CRUFFA does not seek to ban the use of Pugs, Bulldogs and French Bulldogs in the media; rather to educate advertisers, suggest alternatives and to promote the use of a healthier phenotype - e.g Pugs and Bulldogs that are not overweight, have good eyes, less wrinkling and wide-open nostrils.

Please join us on our Facebook page here.  You can help by posting links to ads which use brachcyephalics -and in lobbying advertisers to use more normal 'cute' dogs next time.

To come in the New Year... a website, literature and a press release formally announcing the launch.

All I want is the air that you breathe

Such an upsetting video, this - currently attracting a lot of unthinking comments on Facebook here where it has attracted over 700,000 views and over 10,000 likes.

For those that don't know, this Pug would love to lie down but can't because her airways are so compromised - first because of those very narrow nostrils; second because she's been bred with a flat face, squashing not just her external features but the internal ones, too. She is propping herself up to stop her airways blocking completely. As you can hear, she's still struggling. 

In effect, what you're seeing here is awake-apnoea. Without surgery, these dogs spend their whole life fighting for air and it gets worse as Pugs age as the effort to suck in air begins to thicken/coarsen internal tissue.

The medical term is orthopnea - laboured breathing (dyspnea) that is relieved by being in an upright position.

Many Pugs, Frenchies and Bulldogs sleep sitting up or with their heads propped up on cushions/sofa arms in an attempt to keep their airways open.

As for that tongue... it is sticking out because it doesn't fit in her abnormally-squashed mouth.

Have we done enough here, at least, to educate you that this is not cute? (If, that is, you didn't know already and of course many of you did.)

Have we?

Should you breed your dog?

Click to enlarge

Pure races only to breed! Sterilise mixed races!

Now... where have I heard that before? Ah yes.

Please help Hattie!

What a great pitch this is from Hattie Wright who has an offer to do an MPhil in Veterinary Science at the University of Cambridge doing a research project within their BOAS group. It would be a dream come true for Hattie, who adores dogs and is determined to use her education to improve dogs' lives.

To make it happen, though, she needs to raise the money to cover the tuition fees. 

Hattie's crowdfunding page is here.

If you'd like to help, please don't delay as the deadline is this Thursday.

Kitchener: cooking up the enemy?

Best in Show Daily last month ran a piece by Jay Kitchener arguing that unless the fancy stepped up to the mark politically, the AKC and the purebred dog were doomed - the victims of a clever and organised campaign by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).

Kitchener writes:
"It’s a political agenda for social change that seeks a world without purebred dogs and eventually no dogs at all.  If you think that’s an exaggeration, then you’re not paying attention to the very real and dangerous changes to dog ownership that are sweeping the nation.  If you think this professional political agenda for social change could never happen, you’re mistaken.  Twenty-five years ago not many of us truly believed gay marriage and legal marijuana would ever become a reality."

He goes on to bemoan that the purebred lobby has not seen fit to campaign against "the wave of anti-pet shop legislation sweeping the nation" and in particular he states clearly:
"All dog breeders have a right to breed dogs in the manner they choose to breed them." 
Have a read of the whole thing here then come back and tell me what you think.

• The view from here is that the AKC is auguring into the ground because it has failed to embrace reform - in both the way it views dogs and in the way its breeders produce and value them.

• The view from here is that breeders do not have the right to breed dogs in the manner they choose to breed them when it causes them harm.

• The view from here is that while HSUS is clever and sneaky in its efforts to secure local ordinances that impact negatively on some good dog breeders, it is not the bogeyman the purebred fancy thinks it is and it does not want "all dogs gone".

• The view from here is that the best way to tackle the perceived threat is for the AKC and breeders to   embrace better science and breed dogs in such a way that there is no question about their worth or welfare.

• The view from here is that gay marriage is a good thing. Oh, and that the legal recreational use of cannabis does considerably less harm than breeding a Bulldog or a Pug or a crippled German Shepherd.

Hoping the Kitchener reference
works for you Yanks...

The Bizarre Truth about Purebred Dogs... Take 2

I confess I've featured this before... and some of you will have seen it already. Over 4 million people now have.

A big thank you to the brilliant Adam Conover for doing this - it is extremely funny - and also for crediting Pedigree Dogs Exposed.

Fit to buy?

Click to enlarge

Of course, the real story is not the cheek of the advert - but that someone will likely be stupid enough to pay for a non-registered, fat, epileptic Pug with separation anxiety. 

And just a little PS. I know of no epilepsy meds that cost this little. "Chubby due to medication" sounds like steroids to me... very likely not an appropriate treatment long-term.

Teaching genetics

Summer before last, I taught my first online classes, in introductory and behavioral genetics. It was a ton of fun and I learned a lot about how to teach genetics online to students with a variety of backgrounds and interests. I have since been itching to try again after redesigning the courses to take what I learned into account. In addition to my own experiences, I’m drawing on advice from Rosie Redfield’s excellent and very approachable paper on how to design a modern genetics class. She teaches Useful Genetics for EdX based on these principles, so check that out, too!

DNA being repaired by an enzyme

So I’m hugely looking forward to teaching a series of genetics courses for the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC). The plan is to cover all the material that a college-level genetics course would cover, but to do it in a way that makes the material accessible to students who aren’t in college and can’t commit to a massive course all at once. So I’m planning to teach four separate courses. They will be completely modular: you can take them in any order, or take some but not all of them. If they prove popular, I hope to continue to offer them in coming years, so that students can enter and leave the flow of classes without worrying that there won’t be another chance to take a particular class.

Anyways, the first class in this series is starting January 11, 2016, online at IAABC. It’s a course in molecular genetics — what is DNA, what are genes, how in the world do these tiny little molecules deep inside your cells code for processes that make you who you are? (And your dog who he is, and your horse who he is, and...) The topic list for the class is:

  • the molecular structure of DNA
  • DNA replication and mutations
  • transcription of DNA to RNA
  • translation of RNA to proteins
  • protein structure and function
  • genome sequencing
  • variation between individual genomes
  • genetic testing for disease (how it works, how reliable it is)
  • new advances in gene editing
Future classes will cover heritability (how do your parents pass genetic information on to you?), population genetics (focusing on breeds, what it means to be a purebred, and the consequences of inbreeding), and oh yes, everyone’s favorite, behavoral genetics (which you’ll be able to take without taking the others — but you’ll get more out of it if you take the others first).

More info? Sign up? At IAABC.

Questions? Comments? Requests? Bring ’em on.

Our Dogs covers the PDE v Deppen row

I blogged this story here 10 days ago. the As you can see, Mr Deppen is not terribly pleased with me.  

Here, for the record, is my full reply to his email.


Dear Mr Deppen

I believe I have accurately reported the case which is a matter of public record. You were charged with cruelty; you denied the charges but were found guilty on three counts; you later had your criminal record expunged in a first-offender rehab initiative. 

You are, however, very welcome to send me a statement which I am happy to add to the piece.

Clearly you like Neapolitan Mastiffs.  “I like things that look like they hit by a car” you said in an interview in 2005.  No doubt, like most breeders of dogs with extreme phenotypes, you believe your dogs don’t suffer for the form breeders have inflicted on them. You also clearly believe that exposed haw is a breed feature, not a fault. I would ask that you pull down your own lower lid and take a few steps outside. That’s what it feels like for the dogs, too.

Poppy’s nostrils are clearly stenotic, too.  These are a risk factor for heat-intolerance/compromised airways and breeders need to take these into account when breeding.  The old Mastini  - who incidentally never looked like they had been hit by a car - had open nostrils and would have coped with heat better as a result.

Here’s a 1960s dog against your Poppy.  Please ask yourself… which dog would you rather be? If you can’t see it, show your friends outside of the show-ring and ask them.

Dogs are very stoical; they put up with a lot and they still love you. My view is that the suffering we impose on Neapolitan Mastiffs is not acceptable. The ectropion. The cherry eye. The pyoderma. The cancer. The very short lifespan. The sheer grinding weight of that body and sagging flesh as they age. You don’t see this because you are immersed in a world where it is acceptable. 

And yet you surely know that the modern dogs are not historically correct - because it is impossible to find a single archive picture that looks like any of the dogs today. 

I am passionate about purebred dogs and have campaigned on Mastino health for some years now. There have been some improvements in the UK as a result of this; certainly dogs as “hypertype” as Poppy would no longer win in the big rings here.

I would say that I think Poppy moves well compared to the UK dogs though. I watched the Westminster 2013 footage and could see that he moved fluidly and freely and has much better angulation than the UK dogs. If you could combine this with with a more moderate head and skin, you could indeed have a magnificent dog.

I am sure that nothing I say will change your mind. But how I wish you could look at your dog afresh and see him for what he is - a no doubt-gorgeous boy trapped in a body that fails him.

You have - or certainly had - some great looking Pointers. You do know what a functional dog is. 



Jemima Harrison
Pedigree Dogs Exposed - The Blog


No reply yet from Mr Deppen.

The real turkey

This pic has been posted on the pro-show Best in Show Daily Facebook page today promoting the television coverage of the Philadelphia National Dog show  - which airs on NBC in two days' time. The rather random reference is to The Weekend's big hit of that name this summer.

This Neapolitan Mastiff male is Ch Ironwood's Paparazzi - call name "Poppy"  - co-owned by a chap called Jim Deppen. He sounds thrilled.

Here's another picture of this dog - butchered ears set upon a gross head of excess skin, entropion and stenotic nostrils. But no matter. He went Best of Breed at the National last weekend - and was also the Westminster BOB in 2013

Here's what Mr Deppen feels about owning a Neapolitan Mastiff.

Nope; nothing to do with God. This is one of man's best examples of qualzucht (torture breeding) as they call it in Austria. 

And of course's the breed history stuff is just all so much bollocks anyway. The breed is a 20th century recreation - and a terrible one at that - as documented succinctly on the Terrierman blog here.

Then there's the fact that this breed looked nothing like this historically. Nothing. The wrinkling, the acres of excess flesh.. all a totally modern conceit.

In fact, Neapolitan Mastiffs remained fairly moderate - and certainly physically very able -  right up until the 1970s.

And now this - Deppen's dog winning Best of Breed at Westminster in 2013. 

Like all Neapolitan Mastiffs, the sagging increases with age. This is the same dog this week winning Best of Breed at the National.  It almost looks like lymphedema on those hocks - something that blights Shar-pei.

On Deppen's Facebook, someone has commented on this pic: "Magnificent, such an expressive face."

As for Deppen's claims that this breed has "fought in battles against man and beast" and "been starved" - now might be a good time to mention that, in 2010,  Deppen and co-breeder Mimi Winkler were charged with 60 counts of cruelty, kennel violations and operating an unlicensed kennel. 

They denied the charges of cruelty detailed in this report:
The visit turned up 18 bichon frise dogs that were "living in unsanitary conditions and had heavily matted coats, long nails and open tumors on some of the dogs that were untreated," police said.
On April 28, Aguirre returned to the kennel, where Winkler relinquished "an emaciated and sickly border collie," police said.
The three dog wardens then returned June 4 to the kennel and discovered three Neapolitan Mastiff dogs "in health conditions that indicate that necessary vet care had not been provided."
The wardens returned June 7 to find "two of the Neapolitan mastiffs were deceased, one of which was disposed of outside of the kennel in a wheelbarrow," police said.
According to another report, Deppen's criminal record was subsequently wiped clean:
A district judge found Deppen and Winkler guilty of four counts of animal cruelty and a count of running an unlicensed kennel, and acquitted them of the rest. The pair appealed the verdicts to Common Pleas Court, and were allowed to enter Accelerative Rehabilitative Disposition, a program for first-time offenders that includes expunging any criminal record. According to Deppen, the outcome only required him to admit running an unlicensed kennel and pay a fine. Court documents on the case have since been destroyed.
Deppen and Winkler's breeding license was revoked by the Department of Agriculture, but the AKC appears to have take no action. Deppen is still listed as an AKC judge.

Perhaps it all was a case of falsified evidence - as claimed by Deppen's attorney who said his clients were being punished for their dogs simply "having a bad hair day". The court also heard  from the defence that there was nothing wrong with the Neapolitan Mastiffs' eyes, as claimed, because "exposed haw" is entirely normal for the breed.

But simply breeding modern show-bred Neapolitan Mastiffs (typically dead by five years old such is the effort to stay alive in that body) is an act of cruelty.

"I like things that look like they were hit by a car," said Deppen in 2005 (source here).

For dog show people to make a joke about those welfare-limiting folds is just disgusting.

It's like showing a picture of a gasping pug with the tagline: "All I need is the air that I breathe".

Or a Basset with his penis dragging on the ground with the line: "No scraping the barrel here!"

Has Purina seen this, I wonder?

You can let Purina know what you think by leaving a comment on their Facebook page here. 

Please chip in on the thread on the Best in Show's page here.