Variation Station: A quick look back at the Bull Terrier

Bull terriers have changed a lot in the past 100-ish years. They’ve entirely lost the normal shape of their heads to the extremity of the roman nose. They’re also bred a bit stockier now, less athletic than they used to be.

 

Here is a bull terrier from 1915. Notice the stop, the lean body, longer legs.

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You can still find these dogs being bred if you look hard enough. I’ve read of at least one breeder in Wales, and a Pakistani version still used often for fighting called the Gull Terr is a throwback to old Hinks style bull terriers.

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Modern bull terrier skull, improper underbite.

 

Personally, I prefer the old Hinks dogs. Their heads are much nicer, yet they, as a breed, still stood apart and were recognizable. I doubt we will go back to that any time soon, but I’d certainly love to see more dogs being bred for the less-extreme skulls and bodies.

 

Some bull terrier breeders still breed dogs away from strict conformation standards, and even work their dogs. I did some digging and found some of these dogs. Here is a female from a kennel that breeds older type bull terriers. I believe this female is out of Thunder Rock kennels.

ImageI often tend to prefer working lines, and more natural (read: landrace) lines of breeds that have splits. It’s just my preference, no offence is meant to anyone that prefers differently!

Understanding.

A really great article has been circulating around my Facebook feed, through behaviourists and anti-BSL groups alike. It focuses on dog bites, why they’re so high, and what can be done. The article, written by trainer Robin Bennett, can be found here.

I was glad to see this article being posted so many times and starting some good discussion, even teaching and learning, among commenters.

We have lived with dogs for many, many years now. They have evolved at our side and we have shaped them, for better and worse. I can’t help but feel like the least we could do now is learn to understand them as they are trying to be understood. It is better for everyone involved, making life easier.

There are lots of resources on the web about canine behaviour and canine body language and how to read it.  There is a plethora of great books on these subjects at DogWise. I highly recommend reading Patricia McConnell and keeping up with her blog, The Other End of the Leash.

And of course, the wonderful body language infographic by Lili Chin.

Animal Behaviour

If you’re interested in animal behaviour, Coursera and the University of Melbourne have got a treat for you.

You can sign up on Coursera to take the animal behaviour course now, before it’s too late! Classes start on Monday, August 19. Click this link to sign up!

This course only covers wildlife, not domestic dogs and cats.

Coursera offers several biology-related courses with new courses added all the time. Keep your eyes open for others!

Sit, kitty. Good kitty.

When is the last time you told your cat to do something and expected him/her to do it? The idea of a cat following orders is foreign to most and downright comical to more than a few. But, why?

Traditionally, we have used cats as pest control, a job we have never had the need to specifically breed for. While they served other purposes through the ages, it was their ability to keep these pests under their paws that really made us see their value and continue sharing our lives with them, while allowing them their own freedom to breed. Today, we do selectively breed cats, though not for work. Most of us get cats because we admire their independence and often don’t want the responsibility of socialization, obedience training, and all the rest that comes with dog ownership. Some of us just adore cats.

The truth is that cats can be trained. Not only that, but it is both mentally and physically beneficial to do so. Providing enrichment through play is extremely important to the happiness of all our pets, but through training we build a bond that brings us closer together. It’s the difference between a cat or dog that comes grudgingly after several recalls, and one that comes immediately and happily.

Positive reinforcement has been making tsunami-size waves in the dog training world, and it is just as important with cats. Clicker training in particular is very good when working on your kitty’s obedience or tricks. Here is some more information on positive reinforcement and clicker training for our feline friends.

My cat, Rockefeller, almost always comes when called. Almost always… Well, he is a cat, and if he’s asleep just calling his name isn’t going to stir him from his dreams. He will sit on command in the presence of treats. I haven’t worked extensively on training him. After the death of our housemate’s cat, Rock was a bit depressed so I picked up the training again in hopes of strengthening our bond and getting him active again. He is, as most cats, food motivated. His treats are actually just pieces of Acana brand kibble, fish flavoured. For Rockefeller, this is high-value reward, but your own cat may prefer something else such as cooked chicken or turkey meat.

Whether you’re simply doing it for fun, to have a few fun parlour tricks, or you truly need to work on obedience, positive reinforcement is a good method to use. The old saying speculates that we don’t train our cats, our cats train us. I think it’s both! Later I will cover more on clicker training and freeshaping behaviours.

Variation Station: First stop, time travel.

One of the major attractions fanciers have regarding dogs is how we have used genetics to create such an enormous variation in them. It’s something we haven’t truly been able to do with any other species that we have had in our care for a comparable amount of time. Cats, while having different breeds, are largely very similar. We only recently started breeding cats with achondroplastic dwarfism, called the Munchkin cat, and some breeds carry the bobtail gene, such as the Japanese Bobtail, but that’s about as varied as cats get aside from their coats, height, and weight. Horses, also coming in many different breeds and various sizes, are still not in the same genetic variation ballpark as dogs.

These variations are not just between individual breeds. Anyone that has paid close attention to both conformation dog shows and working dogs has probably noted that many breeds have experienced a definitive split between the two camps. While, today, I’m not here to argue or delve into how conformation standards have ruined some dog breeds, I do want to look at some of these differences both between show dogs and working dogs, and between today’s dogs and dogs from around 100 years ago to see how changes can happen over short periods of time. I also want to look at location, as there are often clear differences between dogs bred in different countries, or especially on different continents.

Today (and I’ll be doing more of these in the future), I’d like to look at difference over time. My favourite example of how a short amount of time following specific breeding programs or standards can change a breed is the Pembroke Welsh Corgi, not least of all because of the recent boom in popularity the breed is experiencing (it is currently #25 on the AKC registry list and there is a recent increase in activity from backyard breeders as well).

The dog below was born in 1932; 81 years ago (on August 15, precisely). This is Rozavel Red Dragon, call name ‘Buster’. He’s one of the most successful PWC’s to hit the show ring, and sired many champions. Today, one might call him ‘backyard bred’, ‘out of standard’, or even a mutt. Yet his line is credited with helping bring the breed to its current standing.

Rozavel Red Dragon AKA Buster, 1932

Now, compare this Corgi with recent champions, even to dogs as far back as the 60s and 70s. Notice the difference in the legs, particularly the back legs. Notice the length of the tail stump compared to the stumps of today that are so close to the body. The dog’s belly and chest do not touch the ground at all. We also seem to prefer more coat these days as well. Buster lived to be 15 years old, a good age for a Corgi and indeed for any dog.

In the past 81 years, we have further stunted the legs of the Corgi. Many people prefer the stumps to be nearly non-existent. The back legs are even less-straight than they were in the past.

You can find the pedigree of Rozavel Red Dragon here at PedigreeDatabase.com. This website is great to look at to see how dogs have changed over time. I regularly sift through pedigrees going as far back as possible, comparing dogs from the early 1900s to the dogs winning titles today. It’s very interesting stuff.

I’m not interested in going after the low-hanging fruit that is the English Bulldog. The vast majority of people in the dog world know very well how the breed has changed, and certainly not for the better. There’s more than enough information out there that goes into detail about the altered legs and skull, etc etc. I am very interested, otherwise, in the bulldog recreations that are out there doing sport work and able to breed and whelp litters. I’ll go into those in another post.

More Variation Station will be posted! Stay tuned.

Rockefeller: My Heart Cat

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Rockefeller came to us from our local humane society. We adopted him during one of their many adoption drives for cats and kittens. He wasn’t free, and you might even say he wasn’t cheap, totalling at the end just under $200 for him, his prescription diet (which he no longer eats), and a ‘starter kit’ including litter box, bowl, and cardboard scratcher. He was found with his littermate left in a carrier somewhere in the area. He was 7 months old when we brought him home, and on October 1st (his makeshift birthday but his definite birth month) he will hit the big 4. He is slightly cross-eyed.

Growing up, my cats were primarily outdoor cats. They’d leave for days, hunting in the woods and fields we lived around, and return bearing gifts of beheaded birds and disemboweled rodents. They were tough kitties, not cuddly lap cats. They also probably had other families when they weren’t with us, because that’s what outdoor cats do.

The change from a cat with such freedom and independence to an indoor cat that seemingly cannot stand to be more than ten feet from me is interesting and sometimes challenging. A lot of information has surfaced about feeding pets healthy, species-appropriate diets. My childhood cats were all very healthy, and most lived fairly long lives as well. We fed them kibble and wet food when they were indoors, and they hunted for themselves when they were out (when they weren’t likely hustling other homes for some dinner). As an adult human being in a developed country with full internet access, I have been able to learn a lot about feline nutrition and behaviour.

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The first thing we did when we brought Rockefeller home was pay attention to how he reacted to the food we paid for. This prescription diet (Royal Canin Feline GI) he was on due to having gastrointestinal issues from a bad bout of worms as a kitten. After two weeks of runny, smelly poops, I was pretty much over it. I’d been studying raw feeding (both raw in the sense of raw meat and food, and raw as in unprocessed and without additives) for a few years, and had fed pets on it in the past with amazing success across the board. I got right to work. Around 3 years later, he has been fed primarily raw along with some various kibbles and wet foods that I have tried. Currently, we’re feeding a mix of The Honest Kitchen, Nature’s Variety Instinct, and raw organs, bones, and meat. Poop status? Odourless, small, and infrequent, just how I like it. He is also more energetic, has more muscle mass, a clean bill of health, and fur that would put the most valuable of cashmere sweaters to shame.

But Rock has his faults and quirks. He has separation anxiety (yeah! not just a dog thing!). He screams to get your attention, and when he has it, he screams some more. He talks more than anyone I know. He doesn’t respond to catnip (just a little disappointing after seeing how fun catnip can be for them).

We’ve come a long way with his separation anxiety. He is much better about not screaming at the top of his tiny (though seemingly disproportionately giant) lungs when we leave or come home; now he usually just approaches us, tail held high, eyes and ears pointed right towards us, trotting happily and ready to smell and detect what adventures he wasn’t invited to go on.

People often talk about heart dogs. I think Rockefeller is my heart cat. The past few years have been less than spectacular for us. Through anxiety, depression, stress, and sickness, my little dude has entertained me endlessly and even comforted me when he saw fit and necessary. He has turned me into a crazy cat lady, but one with just one cat. He pushed me to want to expand my studies from dogs and into cats; feline behaviour, training, health, and nutrition have become incredibly important to me. Even cooler, he seems to change the perceptions of people who claim they hate cats; with the little bit of training I’ve done with him, and his general floppy-yet-friendly personality, I’m told he is a bit more like a dog than most cats. Also, he’ll roll in front of you and present his tummy, and he totally lets you rub it without risk of claw and fang!

So here’s to you, buddy. You’re a pretty cool cat. We’re really lucky to have ended up with you. Thanks for reaching through the bars of your kennel and grabbing our pants legs as we passed by; you chose us.

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