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From Gardiner Harris in the NYT:

Where Streets Are Thronged With Strays Baring Fangs 

No country has as many stray dogs as India, and no country suffers as much from them. Free-roaming dogs number in the tens of millions and bite millions of people annually, including vast numbers of children. An estimated 20,000 people die every year from rabies infections — more than a third of the global rabies toll. 

Packs of strays lurk in public parks, guard alleyways and street corners and howl nightly in neighborhoods and villages. Joggers carry bamboo rods to beat them away, and bicyclists fill their pockets with stones to throw at chasers. Walking a pet dog here can be akin to swimming with sharks. 

A 2001 law forbade the killing of dogs, and the stray population has increased so much that officials across the country have expressed alarm. … 

Is this a Hindu v. Muslim thing? The Muslims are anti-dog, so the Hindus are pro-dog? Or vice-versa?

With pointed ears, a wedge-shaped head and a tail that curls over its back, the pariah is similar in appearance to other prehistoric dogs like the Australian dingo. … 

Short yellowish fur and medium size seems to be sort of the Platonic Essence of dogdom, what dogs evolve back to when you stop bothering to breed them.

“Dogs essentially started out as scavengers,” Dr. Bradshaw said. “They evolved to hang around people rather than to be useful to them.” 

While that relationship has largely disappeared in the developed world, it remains the dominant one in India, where strays survive on the ubiquitous mounds of garbage. Some are fed and collared by residents who value them as guards and as companions, albeit distant ones. Hindus oppose the killing of many kinds of animals.

When I was in Turkey, there were a fair number of dogs lolling about, sleeping on the sidewalks and streets, but they seemed peaceful and undangerous. I would imagine that troublemaking dogs get removed from the gene pool pretty quickly in Turkey, but what do I know?

• Tags: Dogs 
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Susan Orlean, the New Yorker writer who wrote an unfilmable book about orchids that Charlie Kaufman tried to adapt in Adaptation (Meryl Streep played Orlean), writes:

Take the German shepherd. Originally bred to the exacting standards of a German cavalry officer, it became one of the 20th century’s most popular working breeds. But in recent years that popularity, and the overbreeding that came with it, has driven the German shepherd into eclipse: even the police in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, who had relied on the dogs for years, recently announced they were replacing them with Belgian Malinois, because the less-popular Malinois were hardier and more reliable.

I don’t know much about dogbreeding, so what exactly does “overbreeding” mean? Incest? Not culling the poorest specimens from the litter? 
I’ve only owned two dogs. First, a cocker spaniel, Topper, back when they were hugely popular and becoming notoriously overbred. He was an aggressive pacifist. He was strongly opposed to children fighting or even arguing loudly, and if you kept it up, he’d bite you. The second was a mutt, Barney. He was more socially adjusted, but he got epilepsy and died young.
When I lived in Chicago in the 1980s and 1990s, Germans shepherds were, by a long reach, the most popular breed among blacks. It seemed like a smart choice: big, loyal, scary, smart, friendly to your friends. I don’t know if that’s true anymore.
It seems like nowadays in L.A., dog ownership has trifected: the upscale winner class of nice families goes for some kind of retriever, dopey single girls go for yappy purse dog Chihuahuas, and People With Tattoos go for pit bulls. My wife’s aunt in Connecticut told me that these days you have to buy a purebred if you have small children because most mutts (or “curs” as she calls them) are part pit bull. I have no idea if that is true.
I’ve mentioned this before, but it sure doesn’t seem like there has been much progress over the last century in developing improved dog breeds relative to the hugely productive previous century. Orlean seems to imply that most of the good breeds are developed by one person or a handful of breeders, and then the breed deteriorates after it becomes fashionable. 
For example, Orlean says the German shepherd was developed in Germany by one man a little over a century ago. An American soldier brought Rin Tin Tin back to his home in L.A. from WWI, then got him into the movies. Rin Tin Tin was a great animal actor and that set off a fad for German shepherds. Perhaps, but that seems like a long time for the breed to deteriorate. In contrast, the cocker spaniel fell apart quickly after becoming the most popular breed in the 1950s.
The rise of scientific animal breeding in the 18th and 19th Centuries in turn inspired some of the best scientific minds of the age, such as Darwin and Galton, to come up with their big ideas, such as selection and regression. But all that seems very alien to the 21st Century.

Here’s an article about a German shepherd guard dog who sold for $230,000.

• Tags: Dogs 
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Being allergic to dogs and/or cats is a cause of unhappiness. It’s not uncommon in a family of, say, five for one kid to be allergic, so none of the other kids can have a dog or cat; thus, the interest in supposedly hypoallergenic breeds.
From the Washington Post:

Hypoallergenic pets may be only a myth, according to a study of 60 dog breeds
By Carolyn Butler, Tuesday, August 2, 1:33 AM 

I’ve been suspicious of all so-called hypoallergenic pets ever since my husband first came face to face with his parents’ ragdoll cat, Posey — an adorable fluffball of a kitten who, the breeder improbably guaranteed, would neither shed nor cause allergic symptoms. He took one look and promptly started sniffling and sneezing. 

There has been very little hard research on the topic, even as the market for supposedly allergy-free animals — which often sell for hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars — has boomed. (Even the White House succumbed to the trend , with First Pooch Bo, a Portuguese water dog who was chosen because of Malia Obama’s allergies.) 

But a study in the American Journal of Rhinology & Allergy suggests that there may be no such thing as a hypoallergenic canine, after all. 

Researchers at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit analyzed dust samples from 173 dog-owning households, representing 60 breeds, including 11 that are considered hypoallergenic, including Portuguese water dogs, poodles and schnauzers. They found that the homes with allegedly hypoallergenic pets contained just as much of the prime dog allergen, known as Can f 1, as those with the other breeds. “Any way we looked at it, there just wasn’t a difference,” says senior author and epidemiologist Christine Cole Johnson. “There is simply no environmental evidence that any particular dog breed produces more or less allergen in the home than another one.” 

… That’s not to say, however, that every animal generates the same quantity of dander. “The bottom line is that there’s huge variability from one dog to another in the amount of allergen they produce, but that variability is not predicted by breed, size, shedding or hair length — any of the things we thought in the past or that breeders still claim,” says Robert Wood, director of pediatric allergy and immunology at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center in Baltimore. In fact, Wood notes that it’s not uncommon, within a single breed, to see a hundredfold difference in the amount of Can f 1 one dog creates vs. another. He attributes this to a combination of genetics and behavior as well as environmental factors such as how often owners clean their pets and their home. Still, generally speaking, Wood says that male animals tend to produce and shed more allergens than females. 

Unfortunately, there’s no way to know how one bichon frise or German shepherd stacks up against another, allergen-wise, when you pick out a puppy. The only real solution, it seems, is trial and error.

But it’s hard to buy a puppy, then take him back a week later because you are allergic to him.
If there really are 100X differences between individual dogs, but not between breeds on average, then, presumably, artificial selection of existing breeds wasn’t aimed at allergenic properties, but at behaviors and looks. (Perhaps people are more prone to allergies today than in the 19th Century heyday of creating new breeds.) 
So, it shouldn’t be that hard to create a truly hypoallergenic new breed. If they knew in Victorian times what we know now about the science of allergies, people in the days of Darwin and Galton would have come up with new breeds to do the job. 
But, creating new breeds isn’t terribly popular anymore. We live in an era of great traditionalism about canine biodiversity.

I suspect that creating new functional breeds works better marketing-wise when the genes being selected for behavior pleiotropicly overlap with genes for looks. Breeds are their own advertising logos. Of course, when humans get overly obsessed with breeding for looks, they can lose the some of the functionality of a breed. But, there is an advantage to having a standardized look: if you want a dog that rescues people from drowning, you go buy a dog that looks like a Newfoundland.

Perhaps, the genes for being hypoallergenic don’t have much to do with how a dog looks. 

• Tags: Dogs 
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Race can’t exist because the boundaries are too vague. The existence of species, however, is assumed in the name of the Endangered Species Act. Yet, when we stop and think about dogs, wolves, and coyotes, it’s not immediately obvious whether these familiar beasts should be classified as three species or three races within one species.
A press release has some genetic relevant to this old conundrum:

ALBANY, NY.- A State Museum scientist has co-authored a new research article, representing the most detailed genomic study of its kind, which shows that wolves and coyotes in the eastern United States are hybrids between gray wolves, coyotes and domestic dogs.  

Dr. Roland Kays, the Museum’s curator of mammals, was one of 15 other national and international scientists who collaborated on the study that used unprecedented genetic technology, developed from the dog genome, to survey the global genetic diversity in dogs, wolves and coyotes. The study used over 48,000 genetic markers, making it the most detailed genomic study of any wild vertebrate species.  

The research results are especially relevant to wolves and coyotes in the Northeast. The study shows a gradient of hybridization in wolves, with pure wolves in western states and increasing hybridization as you move east. Wolves in the western Great Lakes area averaged a genetic makeup of 85 percent wolf and 15 percent coyote, 

My wife saw one of these wolf-coyote hybrids in Racine, Wisconsin a dozen years ago: it looked big, assertive, and scary like a wolf, but was fairly solitary, like a coyote. In Southern California, in contrast, there are no wolves, and coyotes furtively skulk around by themselves.

while wolves in Algonquin Park in eastern Ontario averaged 58 percent wolf, and the ‘red wolf’ in North Carolina was only 24 percent wolf and 76 percent coyote. Populations of eastern coyotes, which only colonized the region in the last 60 years, were also minor hybrids, with some introgression of genetic material from wolves and domestic dogs. For example, Northeastern coyotes, including those in New York State, had genetic material primarily from coyotes (82 percent), with a minor contribution from dogs (9 percent) and wolves (9 percent).  …

Kays said “In most cases this breeding across species lines seems to have happened at times when humans were hunting eastern wolves to extinction, and the few remaining animals could find no proper mates, so took the best option they could get.” Kays continues, “The exceptions were an older hybridization between coyotes and wolves in the western Great Lakes dating from 600-900 years ago, and a coyote-dog hybridization in the eastern U.S. about 50 years ago, when coyote were first colonizing eastern forests.”  

This study also provides fresh data on the controversy over the species status of the Red Wolf in North Carolina, and the Eastern Canadian Wolf in Ontario. Both are medium-sized wolves that some have argued represent unique species. However, this new detailed genetic data shows both are the result of hybridizations between coyotes and wolves over the last few hundred years, and do not share a common origin in a unique eastern wolf species.  

This research is also relevant to a recent U.S. Fish and Wildlife proposal to remove the western Great Lakes wolves from the Endangered Species Act by showing that those wolves are only marginally hybridized with coyotes, should be considered a subspecies of the Gray Wolf, and have no genetic ties to a more endangered form of eastern wolf. 

As with modern humans and Neanderthals, introgression allows rapid evolution to adapt to new environments:

This study follows another research paper co-authored by Kays last year in the journal Biology Letters, which used museum specimens and genetic samples to show that eastern coyotes hybridized with wolves to rapidly evolve into a larger form over the last 90 years, dramatically expanding their geographic range and becoming the top predator in the Northeast. This hybridization contributed to the evolution of coyotes from mousers of western grasslands to deer hunters of eastern forests. The resulting coy-wolf hybrids are larger, with wider skulls that are better adapted for hunting deer. 

Are Neanderthals and modern humans different species? I dunno.
• Tags: Dogs, Genetics, Race 
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Some of the most prevalent Dumb Ideas about Race that crystallized as conventional wisdom around the time of Bill Clinton’s celebration ceremony for the Human Genome Project revolve around the idea that genetic differences couldn’t possibly cause differing behavioral tendencies among the races because we’re all 99.999% (insert as many “9s” as you feel necessary to make the point) the same!
From the New York Times:
Wide Variety of Breeds Born of Few Genes

Spaniels have notably floppy ears, basset hounds have extremely short legs, and St. Bernards are large and big boned. Not to mention Chihuahuas.

Humans have bred dogs to produce tremendous variety. But a new study reports that the physical variance among dog breeds is determined by differences in only about seven genetic regions.

These seven locations in the dog genome explain about 80 percent of the differences in height and weight among breeds, said Carlos Bustamante, a geneticist at Stanford University and one of the study’s authors. The findings, published in Public Library of Science-Biology, are a result of what is the largest genotyping of dogs to date, involving more than 1,000 dogs and 80 breeds.

So, in the big picture, Labrador retrievers and pit bulls don’t actually differ very much genetically. They do differ genetically on a very small number of genes. But some of those few genes that differ are related to biting. Labs tend to retract their teeth and gum whatever they’re handling with their mouths, while pit bulls tend to bite down and, more unusually, not let go while they whip their heads back and forth. So, that tiny, tiny fraction of the dog genome is important when deciding which breed of dog to buy depending on your needs — e.g., pet for your toddlers or guard dog for your crack stash.

By the way, here’s Malcolm Gladwell in 2006 arguing that opposition to pit bulls is racial profiling and therefore immoral and ineffective, just like racial profiling of humans must, therefore, be.

The great thing about Malcolm is that he lacks the Uh-Oh-Let’s-Not-Go-There gene that makes most spouters of the conventional wisdom prudently change the subject when they find that the logic of their argument has carried them to the edge of reductio ad absurdum.

• Tags: Dogs, Genetics 
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Nicholas Wade reports in the NYT on the latest on dog DNA:

Borrowing methods developed to study the genetics of human disease, researchers have concluded that dogs were probably first domesticated from wolves somewhere in the Middle East, in contrast to an earlier survey suggesting dogs originated in East Asia.

This finding puts the first known domestication — that of dogs — in the same place as the domestication of plants and other animals, and strengthens the link between the first animal to enter human society and the subsequent invention of agriculture about 10,000 years ago.

A Middle Eastern origin for the dog also fits in better with the archaeological evidence, and has enabled geneticists to reconstruct the entire history of the dog, from the first association between wolves and hunter gatherers some 20,000 years ago to the creation by Victorian dog fanciers of many of today’s breeds.

A research team led by Bridgett M. vonHoldt and Robert K. Wayne of the University of California, Los Angeles, has analyzed a large collection of wolf and dog genomes from around the world. Scanning for similar runs of DNA, the researchers found that the Middle East was where wolf and dog genomes were most similar, although there was another area of overlap between East Asian wolves and dogs. Wolves were probably first domesticated in the Middle East, but after dogs had spread to East Asia there was a crossbreeding that injected more wolf genes into the dog genome, the researchers conclude in Thursday’s issue of the journal Nature.

The archaeological evidence supports this idea, since some of the earliest dog remains have been found in the Middle East, dating from 12,000 years ago. The only earlier doglike remains occur in Belgium, at a site 31,000 years old, and in western Russia from 15,000 years ago. …

Several thousand years later, in the first settled communities that began to appear in the Middle East 15,000 years ago, people began intervening in the breeding patterns of their camp followers, turning them into the first proto-dogs. One of the features they selected was small size, continuing the downsizing of the wolf body plan. “I think a long history such as that would explain how a large carnivore, which can eat you, eventually became stably incorporated in human society,” Dr. Wayne said. …

Dr. Wayne was surprised to find that all the herding dogs grouped together, as did all the sight hounds and the scent hounds, making a perfect match between dogs’ various functions and the branches on the genetic tree. “I thought there would be many ways to build a herding dog and that they’d come from all over the tree, but there are not,” Dr. Wayne said.

This suggests that the first step, wolf to dog was the hardest, then generic dog to herding dog was also hard, while making subsequent variations on herding dog is easy. I don’t know why dog breeders have given up on creating new functional breeds. For example, it is becoming common in New York City among people looking to rent an apartment to hire a dog to come sniff for bed bugs? Why not create a bed bug sniffing breed that is outstanding at this?

His team has also used the dog SNP chip to scan for genes that show signatures of selection. One such favored dog gene has a human counterpart that has been implicated in Williams syndrome, where it causes exceptional gregariousness.

That’s pretty funny.

Dog domestication and human settlement occurred at the same time, some 15,000 years ago, raising the possibility that dogs may have had a complex impact on the structure of human society. Dogs could have been the sentries that let hunter gatherers settle without fear of surprise attack. They may also have been the first major item of inherited wealth, preceding cattle, and so could have laid the foundations for the gradations of wealth and social hierarchy that differentiated settled groups from the egalitarianism of their hunter-gatherer predecessors. Notions of inheritance and ownership, Dr. Driscoll said, may have been prompted by the first dogs to permeate human society, laying an unexpected track from wolf to wealth.

Domesticating dogs was a big deal, although we don’t know in what precise ways.

• Tags: DNA, Dogs 
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From the NYT:

Good Dog, Smart Dog
Sarah Kershaw

Life as a Labradoodle may sound free and easy, but if you’re Jet, who lives in New Jersey, there is a lot of work to be done.

He is both a seizure alert dog and a psychiatric service dog whose owner has epilepsy, severe anxiety, depression, various phobias and hypoglycemia. Jet has been trained to anticipate seizures, panic attacks and plunging blood sugar and will alert his owner to these things by staring intently at her until she does something about the problem. He will drop a toy in her lap to snap her out of a dissociative state. If she has a seizure, he will position himself so that his body is under her head to cushion a fall.

Jet seems like a genius, but is he really so smart? In fact, is any of it in his brain, or is it mostly in his sniff?

The matter of what exactly goes on in the mind of a dog is a tricky one, and until recently much of the research on canine intelligence has been met with large doses of skepticism. But over the last several years a growing body of evidence, culled from small scientific studies of dogs’ abilities to do things like detect cancer or seizures, solve complex problems (complex for a dog, anyway), and learn language suggests that they may know more than we thought they did.

Something I’ve noticed over the years in this kind of article or television documentary about all the new tasks to which dogs are being applied is that they seldom mention what would have immediately occurred to a pre-20th Century reader. Contemporary readers are interested in the selection process for finding dogs with the best propensities for the job and the subsequent training process. But a 19th Century reader would have immediately thought of taking the dogs who are best at a particular skill and breeding them together.

Consider the Newfoundland, a giant water dog with webbed feet who doesn’t dog paddle like the average dog, but uses a more powerful technique rather like the breast stroke. Moreover, Newfoundlands desperately want to rescue people from drowning. On shorelines all over the world, there are statues of heroic Newfoundlands who rescued humans from watery graves. Unfortunately, you can’t really take a Newfoundland for a walk along a public beach because he might immediately splash into the water and start hauling protesting swimmers out.

Presumably, it took a lot of generations of selective breeding to come up with a great beast with these characteristics. Presumably, you could breed together dogs that are best at each new job and eventually come up with new breeds where a much higher percentage of the dogs would pass the selection process and would require less training. But modern readers don’t want to hear about that because that would be eugenics. For example, here’s Jonah Goldberg’s 2002 National Review Online column:

Westminster Eugenics Show
Repugnant thinking that’s died out for humans is thriving at the Westminster Kennel Club.

This is not to say that foresighted individuals aren’t developing new breeds, just that the entire concept is usually left out of mainstream discussions.

For example, I’ve seen it claimed that a few dogs can sniff out cancer in people, at least melanomas on the skin. I don’t know how accurate that is, but say you could develop over a few decades a breed of dog that could detect a variety of cancers by sniffing people. Think of what a boon that would be to the world’s poor — instead of expensive scans, doctors in poor places could do cancer screenings for the price of dog food!

But this kind of thinking is unpopular today because the conventional wisdom is that eugenics is a “pseudoscience” — i.e., it’s not just morally wrong, it’s impossible.

• Tags: Dogs 
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Turkey is full of unleashed or outright stray dogs (as well as cats). The place looks like the illustrations for the classic children’s book by P.D. Eastman Go Dog Go.

Many of the dogs have collars, so they aren’t stray, but their owners don’t bother tying them up. Almost nobody leashed his dog when taking Fido for a walk. Dogs sleep all over the sidewalk and in the streets, typically in parking places, usually placing their noses about 9 ninches from traffic before drowsing off. I imagine that some of these sleeping dogs on the pavement are guard dogs owned by nearby shopkeepers, but there isn’t all that much street crime in Turkey, so the dogs have it easy.

This sounds fairly chaotic, especially with cats everywhere, and many of the dogs with lean and hungry looks. Yet, it isn’t, because the dogs, about one-third of whom appear to be some kind of retriever, halfway between Labrador and Golden retrievers, are so laid-back. I saw a dog curled up dozing with a sleeping cat, like a picture out of a children’s book. Other times, I saw dogs sleeping on the beach a few feet from sleeping flocks of ducks and geese. Most of the few yappy, hyper dogs in Turkey were held on leashes by German tourists.

The reason for the profusion of dogs in Turkey is presumably the lack of programs for and indoctrination into neutering dogs. As my son pointed out, to enjoy a well-run country like Sweden, you have to worry about a whole lot of little niggling details, like spaying dogs, that most people in the world just don’t worry about.

As for the personality differences between Turkish and American dogs, I can only speculate. My guess would be that in a society without much in the way of leash laws or big backyards, dogs with anti-social habits are dealt with, summarily, and that selects for pro-social habits of sedateness among the survivors.

• Tags: Dogs 
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Frank Miele has a fun article in on “The K9 Comparison: What Dog Breeds Can Tell Us about Humans.” An excerpt:

The classic study was carried out by Daniel G. Freedman for his doctoral dissertation. Freedman spent every day and evening rearing four dog breeds—Beagles, Wire-haired Fox Terriers, Shetland Sheepdogs, and Basenjis—from age two to twelve weeks.

He noticed that as soon as their ears and eyes opened, the breeds differed in behavior. Little Beagles were friendly from the moment they detected him. Shetland Sheepdogs were the most sensitive to a loud voice or the slightest punishment. The Wire-haired Fox Terriers were so tough and aggressive, even as clumsy three-week olds, that Freedman had to wear gloves in playing with them The Basenjis, barkless dogs from central Africa, were aloof and independent….

But what does this have to do with humans? Professor Freedman wrote that

“I had worked with different breeds of dogs and I had been struck by how predictable was the behavior of each breed. A breed of dog is a construct zoologically and genetically equivalent to a race of man. To look at us, my wife and I [Freedman is Jewish; his wife Chinese]

Freedman and his wife set about designing experiments to test that hypothesis. …

The Freedmans decided to observe the behavior of newborns and infants of different races using the Cambridge Behavioral and Neurological Assessment Scale. Unlike the typical reflex tests performed by pediatricians, these tests, called the Brazelton” after their developer, measure social and emotional behavior.

White babies started to cry more easily, and once they started, they were more difficult to console. Chinese babies adapted to almost any position in which they were placed. When placed face down in their cribs, they tended to keep their faces buried in the sheets rather than immediately turning to one side, as did the Whites.

In a maneuver called the

But not so the average Chinese babies in the study. They simply lay on their back, breathing from the mouth,

There were other more subtle differences. While both Chinese and Caucasian infants would start to cry at about the same point in the examination, especially when they were being undressed, Chinese babies stopped crying immediately, while Caucasian babies quieted only gradually.

The Freedman noted that the film of their finding left audiences awestruck by the group differences.


This study is about four decades old. To keep it from disappearing even further down the memory hole, somebody should contact Dr. Freedman about putting his film on Youtube.

• Tags: Dogs, Human Biodiversity 
Steve Sailer
About Steve Sailer

Steve Sailer is a journalist, movie critic for Taki's Magazine, columnist, and founder of the Human Biodiversity discussion group for top scientists and public intellectuals.

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