Pig It Up, Put It Elsewhere


It's a Dog's Life

When it comes to having a central nervous system, and the ability to feel pain, hunger, and thirst, a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy.

- Ingrid Newkirk

This used to be the page for pigs.  They now have their own 7-page website (which has been moved to the "Animation" section, the next section after this one).  It requires Flash, Quicktime and Shockwave plugins; it contains information about pigs, a colouring pig, cartoons, games, and other amusements.
Please see
New Yorker Porker (You will enjoy it.)

These people visited the New Yorker Porker site and you can see that they liked it!

From Hard Labour to a Beauty Contest

The Chow is the only dog with a black tongue...

photo by Elliott Erwitt

A borzoi flirts with a Pekingese; a Great Dane with a Chihuahua.  How does each even know that the other is the same species as itself?  No other animal possesses such variety, nor such manifest genetic elasticity.  Nor, probably, has any other animal had its genes so manipulated to please human fads and fancies.

It is not entirely a one-way street.  Dogs, those self-domesticated wolves, are adept at manipulating their chosen companions.  Dog owners take a heap of punishment from their beloved pooches: trudging round in the rain, spending their all on vets' bills, apologising to undoggy people for yapping or biting or smelling.  And not just these days.  Remember Launce, the man-servant in Shakespeare's Two Gentlemen of Verona, who took the punches on himself when his wicked dog Crab stole a pie, killed a goose or pissed in the dining chamber?

Owners can be saps but they have, over the years, done some very strange things to their mutts.  To fit in with passing fashion, dogs have been stretched and shrunk, their noses pushed and pulled, their coats curled and straightened, their skin wrinkled — and not with age.  This “painting with dog genetics”, as someone cleverly called it, is a relatively new development.

It is true that dogs, which began distinguishing themselves from wolves well over 12,000 years ago, have always adapted themselves, or been adapted, to fit with human requirements, growing longer legs for hunting, bigger bodies for guarding, thicker coats for sled-pulling.  Their temperaments changed too: a guard dog knew it must bite, a herding dog knew it must not.  But except for the over-privileged few, who were happily sybaritic as the cherished pets of the great and good and rich, these dogs worked for their living, and they were bred selectively to make them better workers.

All this changed in the second half of the 19th century.  With the birth of kennel clubs (first in Britain in 1873, followed closely by the American Kennel Club), breeding clubs and dog shows, a dog's life changed from hard labour to a beauty contest.  Although about eight out of ten pure-bred dogs never see the inside of a show ring, there are now æsthetic, rather than workmanlike, standards that breeders, and many owners, aspire to.  All a dog has to do, writes Desmond Morris, in his excellent dictionary of dogs, is "to look good, walk proudly and not bite the judges."

Until then, dogs were mostly dogs.  Owners of canine aristocrats proudly trace their animal's descent back to the pharaohs, Aztec kings, Spanish conquistadors, Chinese empresses and so forth.  And indeed there were modern lookalikes in ancient times: something looking like a saluki is said to have turned up in western Asia in 3000BC.  The Romans specified 6 types: guardians, shepherds, sporting dogs, war dogs, scent hounds and sight hounds.  But there was always a fair amount of cross-breeding and, even in relatively modern times, most dogs that were not dismissed as curs or lurchers, fell into the general categories of mastiffs, collies, terriers or pointers.

Purity of the breed

Today there are 300 - 400 separate breeds recognised by kennel clubs worldwide (196 recognised by Britain's Kennel Club, and 156 by the American Kennel Club).  And these recognised breeds are being split into ever smaller, more precise categories: there are now, for instance, two types of cocker spaniel, and two types of Welsh corgi, each with its own gene pool.

The separation of genes is crucial: the purity of each breed, or sub-breed, is zealously preserved and protected.  The only qualification needed to register a puppy with most kennel clubs (and thereby to obtain the pedigrees that are essential for successful showing, breeding and trading) is that both its parents were registered as pure-breds of that particular breed.

Stephen Budiansky, the author of a terrific book, The Truth about Dogs, suggests that this obsession with dog purity originated in late Victorian Britain, and has a touch of racist eugenics about it.  He mentions books and articles written at that time, and into the 20th century too, that excoriate mongrels and other weaklings for contaminating the purity of bloodlines.  The inbreeding to preserve the purity of small-population breeds sometimes has results that get him thinking of the hæmophilia that ran through the blood of all those royal European cousins.

The physical standards that each breed should aspire to are laid down by the kennel clubs in meticulous detail.  The British rules for a bulldog's head go on and on for no fewer than 240 words; a pug's foot should be “neither so long as the foot of the hare, not so round as that of the cat”; a King Charles spaniel must have a coat that is "long, silky and straight ... never curly"; a Pekingese should have a "slow, dignified rolling gait in front ... close action behind", and so on through thousands of daunting, sometimes poetic, words of æsthetic instruction.  Since the judges at the all-important dog shows assess an entry according to the exactitude with which it conforms to these arbitrary standards ("this little girl took my eye ... wish she had more wrinkles"), an ambitious breeder will exert him or herself to design a replica.

The first dog show was a social affair held by English aristocrats to raise money for charity.  Now they are a deadly serious competitive sub-culture: mighty battles of pride and money against a sometimes murky background of back-biting and back-handers.  A blue-ribbon dog, the very model of a champion, fulfilling every condition in the rule-book, is the parent that all ambitious breeders want for their puppies, passing on his æsthetically perfect genes.

There are sometimes regulations limiting the number of litters a bitch may produce.  But there have been none, at least until the Netherlands introduces some incendiary new rules next year, about the number of times a champion sire can mate, or his semen be used.  So the proud beauties give of their best, again and again, even father to daughter or brother to sister, to produce the perfect breed-standard specimen.  Over-use is the rule rather than the exception.  It is almost, in Mr Budiansky's inimitable words, cloning the old-fashioned way.

But, alas, the almost-cloned puppy carries its parents' imperfections as well as their æsthetic perfection: unwanted genes are channelled down, in ever greater concentration, alongside the desired ones.  There is nothing inherently evil about inbreeding dogs, or line-breeding as it is cosmetically called.  Similar methods are used all over the place, for instance in the breeding of dairy cattle.  But, unchecked, it can, and is, producing lamentable results.

Diseases, disorders and disabilities

These are basically of two kinds, though inter-linked.  First, the inherited diseases and disorders.  With the intense use of “popular sires”, especially in the rarer breeds with small populations, the animals within a breed become ever more closely related as the generations go by.  Undesirable traits, from weak hearts to weak eyes to weak hips, are passed down the line along with the bushy tails and bright eyes.  Responsible breeders will not mate an afflicted animal; but many dogs are silent carriers, showing no sign of the disorder themselves but passing recessive mutant genes on to their offspring.  In the closed-book breeding conditions that prevail, which allow for no cross-breeding or diversity to creep into the blood, certain defects have become breed characteristics: blindness in setters, for instance, or heart disease in boxers and Boston terriers, or deafness in Dalmatians, or hip dysplasia, that disabling misfit of ball and socket in the hip joint that troubles a large number of different pure-breds.

Cross-bred dogs are not immune.  But, refuting the old racist ideas about degenerate mongrels weakening the race, actuarial statistics worked out by pet-insurance companies, and quoted by Bruce Fogle in his encyclopedia of dogs, show that cross-bred dogs have a median life expectancy of 13.2 years compared with the 7 years of some pure-breds, including bulldogs and Irish wolfhounds.

Second, there is the exaggeration of certain desired physical features to the point where they harm the dog: a creeping extremism, done in the name of fashion, that causes disorders.  Man, or woman, decides that it would be nice to make dogs bigger or smaller, or with squashier faces and noses, or with hairier coats, or with ever more wrinkled skin.  When carried to an extreme, it has led to many breeds of dogs being unable to breathe or reproduce or move in a normal way.

Humans have done extraordinary things to their animals.  Much of the dog-designing is well intentioned.  Sometimes it has positive results: the exquisite sense of smell of some dogs, for instance, has been fine-tuned to help to sniff out drugs or, more excitingly, to detect the early signs of prostate cancer before a scan can do so.  Much of it is harmless: West Highland terriers, for instance, were bred to have white coats after a careless owner shot his brown pet by mistake for a fox.

But the results of genetic redesign are not always so benign.  Bulldogs, it was decreed, should have big heads.  Now they are so big that they cannot pass through the birth canal and most bulldogs have to be born by cæsarean.  Dachshund bodies were lengthened, giving them hernias.  German shepherds, once straight-backed, looked more alert with sloping backs; but this has done their hips in.  Spaniels, it was decreed, should have longer, heavier ears; but this has affected the ear's anatomy.  And a veterinary surgeon's nightmare sometimes comes true: the eyeballs of a Pekingese can actually pop out.

Working dogs are often turned into something else.  The Yorkshire terrier, once a tough little ratter, has been miniaturised, resulting in slipped kneecaps and collapsed wind pipes.  Mr Budiansky tells of American owners of Border collies who unsuccessfully fought to keep their working dogs off the list of recognised breeds for fear that they would be transformed into furry, useless creatures.

The quest for perfection

And fashions have a tendency to change.  In the late 19th century, it was thought that it would be nice if the King Charles spaniel had a flatter nose.  Then, in the 1920s, an American noticed that the little dog in a Van Dyck painting of Charles II had a long nose.  So the King Charles had its nose lengthened again to make a new breed, the cavalier King Charles, which has become immensely popular and intensely inbred — and whose heart troubles now shorten the life of affected dogs by 4 or 5 years.

The marvels of science

Kennel clubs and breed clubs, cast as snobbish or money-grabbing villains by some animal-rights groups, are acutely alive to the increasing prevalence of inherited diseases among their pure-bed dogs.  They differ, however, over how to tackle the problem.  The Dutch Kennel Club, deciding that the times are serious enough to justify desperate measures, is passing stiff new regulations; others hope to achieve much the same result with information, incentives and peer pressure.  All are helped by the scientific explosion in DNA-testing for hereditary diseases.

The testing is crucial to avoid passing on recessive mutant genes that do not show up in any obvious way in the parent, but can kill or maim or blind its puppy.  Identifying a dog or a bitch as a carrier would not ban it from being mated: a single recessive mutant gene does no harm, and to ban the animal would shrink an often tiny gene pool to an even tinier one.  The trick is to prevent it being mated with another carrier.  That is what is fatal: if two carriers mate, some of the offspring inherit a bad gene from both dam and sire, and are thus hit by the disease.

For the moment, DNA tests for dogs are available for fewer than 20 diseases, affecting some 50 breeds.  This is only a beginning: dogs are known to suffer from 350 inherited diseases.  Of those, the precise mode of inheritance is known of about half, and is usually a single gene mutation.

The British Kennel Club showed that it took all this seriously by appointing a molecular biologist, Jeff Sampson, to be its canine genetics co-ordinator four years ago.  All the same, British DNA-testing is severely limited, mainly because it costs so much.  It is, however, used to detect PRA, a form of blindness that affects a number of breeds, including Irish setters and Cardigan Welsh corgis, and CLAD, an immune-deficiency disease, that afflicts several types of setter.  Enormous store is set by this testing.  The CLAD test was introduced only in 2000, when it was discovered that 12% of the breed suffered from it; but the tests are going so well that the Kennel Club believes that all setters should be clear of the killer disease by 2005.

Testing is both more popular and more possible in America, where the Kennel Club, the Canine Health Foundation and breed clubs pour money into genetic and other research, amounting to at least $1.4m this year.  DNA tests are available for a range of diseases including hæmophilia for Cairn terriers, muscular dystrophy for golden retrievers, and narcolepsy for dachshunds, Dobermanns and Labradors.

Of course, in America as everywhere else, there will always be greedy, unscrupulous breeders, and every breed club has a different code of ethics.  But there is considerable peer pressure, the American Kennel Club insists, to test a dog early for whatever disorder tends to afflict that breed.  Early auditory tests for Dalmatians have cut down their deafness, orthopædic X-rays for German shepherds are helping with their hip trouble.  A breeder who skips corners, claims the club, is a bit of an outcast: to have certified tested dogs is a mark of honour.

But it is the Dutch who are ahead of the field.  The Dutch government has signed the European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals, which obliges member states to safeguard the health and well-being of their pets by national legislation, and the Dutch Kennel Club takes the obligation seriously.  During the 1990s, it carried out health inventories to see if there was truth in the belief that pure-bred dogs, because of inbreeding and exaggeration of type, suffered from more genetic problems than other pets.  The answer was an emphatic yes: in every one of the 30 breeds of dog surveyed, the incidence of hereditary problems was unnaturally high.

The Dutch Kennel Club puts less faith than others in testing, arguing that most diseases and disorders still do not have suitable, or affordable, testing methods.  By the time science has caught up with the problem, harmful genes may have spread all over the breeds, both in visibly affected dogs and in a much larger group of invisible undetectable carriers.

The cause of the problem, kennel-club experts concluded, was current breeding policy.  So they decided to cut down the inbreeding.  And since persuasion, they felt, had got nobody anywhere, they decided to make the changes mandatory.  Until now, the Dutch Kennel Club, like its fellows, had to issue a pedigree to any puppy born of two certified pure-breeds of the same breed.  But, from the new year, the Dutch will issue two sorts of certificate.  A pedigree will be given only to puppies bred under stipulated breed regulations; puppies that do not meet this standard, will get a mere “certificate of descent”.

Over the past few months, the various Dutch breed clubs have been working out the regulations for their specific breed.  By far the most controversial of these rules tackles the “popular sire” syndrome: the over-use by breeders of a single champion dog.  From now on in the Netherlands, the number of times a particular dog is allowed to be used for mating will depend on the size and the problems of his specific breed.  For instance, if a dog is allowed only 12 matings, the breeder of the puppies from the 13th mating will be denied a pedigree certificate.

The Dutch, with their touch of autocracy, are exploring this new route, insisting on more diversity within a breed and punishing those who refuse to comply.  Other clubs demur, saying their members do not like being ordered about, and would rebel against rules and regulations.  It is nicer, they say, to be gentler.  But can the Dutch experiment be extended to undoing some of the harm caused by exaggerating the way certain dogs look?

Since breeders want their dogs to win at shows, and judges assess the dogs by breeding standards, the logical step would be to change those standards.  On this point, however, there have been only the smallest of small concessions to health and well-being.  The standards no longer call for anything to be “excessive”; indeed, that is discouraged.  And diamond-shaped eyes, which caused all sorts of eyelid troubles, are no longer demanded.  But all this touches only the edge of the problem of dogs that have been disabled by a whim of human fashion.

The notion of diversifying within a breed is controversial; outside it is still taboo.  Nobody wants to end the joyous variety of dogs.  And dogs themselves can be tremendous snobs.  "I am his Highness' dog at Kew; /  Pray, tell me sir, whose dog are you?" wrote Pope, with understanding.  But they would flourish more if breeders tried harder to ensure that each generation reflected a greater diversity, perhaps injecting a drop of hybrid vigour into the narrowing aristocratic bloodlines.  The circular world of breeders, kennel clubs and dog shows rules against this.  But it is not much good looking drop-dead gorgeous if you are going to drop dead.

Source: The Economist Thursday 19 December 2002 photo credit Magnum (top), Alamy (middle)

For an excellent article on the topic of dog (over)breeding, see also:

bulletWestminster Eugenic Show - Repugnant thinking that’s died out for humans is thriving at the Westminster Kennel Club...  The article is on the website "National Review Online", is by Jonah Goldberg, and will open in a new window.

How Many Dogs Does It Take to Put in a Light Bulb?

bulletGolden Retriever:  The sun is shining, the day is young, we've got our whole lives ahead of us, and you're inside worrying about a stupid burned-out light bulb?
bulletBorder Collie:  Just one.  And I'll replace any wiring that's not up to code.
bulletDachshund:  I can't reach the stupid lamp!
bulletToy Poodle:  I'll just blow in the Border collie's ear and he'll do it.  By the time he finishes rewiring the house, my nails will be dry.
bulletRottweiler:  Go Ahead!  Try and make me!
bulletShi-tzu:  Puh-leeze, dah-ling.  Let the servants...
bulletLab:  Oh, me, me!!!  Pleeeeeeze let me change the light bulb!  Can I?  Can I?  Huh?  Huh?  Can I?
bulletMalamute:  Let the Border collie do it.  You can feed me while he's busy.
bulletCocker Spaniel:  Why change it?  I can still pee on the carpet...
bulletDoberman Pinscher:  While it's dark, I'm going to sleep on the couch.
bulletMastiff:  Mastiffs are NOT afraid of the dark.
bulletChihuahua:  "Yo quiero Taco Bulb."
bulletIrish Wolfhound:  Can somebody else do it?  I've got a hangover.
bulletPointer:  I see it, there it is, right there...
bulletGreyhound:  If it isn't moving, who cares?
bulletAustralian Shepherd:  Put all the light bulbs in a little circle...
bulletOld English Sheep Dog:  Light bulb?  Light bulb?  That thing I just ate was a light bulb?

For an excellent site on working dogs (the kind that are still functional), see the website Dogs with Jobs (which will open in a new window if you'd like to check them out right now).

The K9 Comparison - What Dogs Tell Us About Humans

by Frank Miele

We share about 97% of our genes with chimpanzees.  But when Francis Crick, co-discoverer with James D Watson of the double helix structure of DNA, was asked what unravelling the chimpanzee genome would tell us about human differences he replied: "I wouldn't waste any American money on the chimp."  The dog genome, Crick went on, would be a better target - because dogs vary so widely in appearance and behaviour that unravelling their DNA would reveal much more about the influence of genes.

Canine evolution, because of dog breeding, has been run in fast forward - in some cases, before our very eyes.

In an informative experiment, Dmitry Balyaev selectively bred foxes to show neither fear nor aggression when approached by humans.  But the foxes changed in more than just their behaviour.  They developed floppy ears, short or curly tails, an extended reproductive cycle - successive generations literally becoming more dog-like before the experimenter's eyes - probably the result of changes in hormone levels.  [There is more about this in the article following this one.]  And a recent study by the Max Planck Institute has demonstrated that that in certain cognitive tasks our canine best friends are more like us than are our simian nearest relatives.  Fourteen-month old humans and almost any dog, but not even the brightest chimp, can use human pointing as a cue to find a food reward.  Researchers Brian Hare and Mike Tomasello concluded that this ability is heritable and due to recent selection, since wolves cannot do it.

Dog breeds provide the classic case study of within-species differentiation.  Those who would dismiss race and race differences regularly point out that DNA differences between races are minimal.  But, as Vincent Sarich demonstrated in Race: The Reality of Human Differences (pp 170 - 173) human racial differences in morphology are greater than in any non-domesticated species.  They are around 10 times the difference between the sexes within each race and larger than the differences that distinguish the two species of chimpanzee.  Despite minimal genetic differences, human physical racial differences are clearly observable.

Likewise for dogs.  But only recently has genetic analysis been able to distinguish between breeds - or even between dogs and wolves.  All the differences in body shape, size, colour, internal chemistry, and behaviour between the 100s of breeds recognised by the American Kennel Club, the Kennel Club UK, and the Fédération Cynologique Internationale (the World Canine Federation) are based on very few genes.  But while it's okay to talk about differences among dog breeds, not so for human races.  Unfortunately, this has been true even in scientific circles.  And that in itself is instructive.

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 2 - 12 weeks.  He noticed that as soon as their ears and eyes opened, the breeds differed in behaviour.  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 3-week-olds, that Freedman had to wear gloves in playing with them.  The basenjis, barkless dogs from central Africa, were aloof and independent.

Many of today's breed differences are cosmetic.  But originally breeds were selected to excel in certain elements of the basic wolf-dog ethogram [behavioural repertoire] and reduce or eliminate others.  All of these differences, including the barklessness of the basenji, make perfect sense in terms of what we know about the traits for which the different breeds were, or were not, selected.

Beagles are scent hounds.  They run in packs and use their sense of smell, which is better than that of almost all other breeds, to track fox and other small game.  They have been selected not only for increased olfactory tracking ability, but also diminished aggression.  Beagles are a band of brothers (often literally).  They all have a job to do.  They are usually kenneled together, and howl to other members of the pack when finding a scent or needing help.  Fox hunting is sometimes called "riding to hounds" because that is what one does, mounted on horseback and following the pack as its members pick up the fox's scent.

Fox Terriers come in two varieties, wire-haired and smooth-haired, but this is largely a cosmetic difference.  Like beagles, they were bred for fox hunting, but their job is quite different.  The fox terrier literally gets a free ride in the hunter's saddlebag - at least, that is, until the fox, as they say, goes to earth.  No fun that for the hunters because it ends the chase and their chance to bag the fox.  Game to the fox... or so it would seem.  But this is where the terrier earns his seemingly free ride and free lunches.  The hunter grabs him by his short tail and hurls him to the ground.  His job is to run into the den and convince the fox to resume the game by making him an offer he can't refuse.

No beagle in his right mind would want any part of this.  Terriers, on the other hand, are born scrappers.  There is a reason why we have the expression "a pack of hounds", but not "a pack of terriers".  Rather than a peaceful assembly the latter would quickly become a canine gladiatorial.  Even the smallest terrier, like the Jack Russell thinks nothing about taking on a rottweiler or a pit bull.  Hence another dog saying: "It's not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog".

Among terriers, two's company, three's battle royal.  Many people have purchased Jack Russells, thinking they'll have a companion, only to find they've brought a canine Mike Tyson into their house.  (With its recent popularity, breeders have started to select for less aggressiveness in the Jack Russells.  Dedicated fanciers of any breed will tell you the worst thing that can happen is for it to become popular overnight because of some movie or television show.  The heightened demand is met by the unscrupulous puppy mills.  And even a dog from a reputable breeder can end up with an owner or family totally unsuited for him.)

The third breed in Freedman study: the Shetland sheepdog, often affectionately termed shelties, or incorrectly, and to the great annoyance of their owners, miniature collies.  They are indeed sheep herding, not sheep protecting, dogs.  The sheltie motto is "herd ' em, don't hurt 'em".  They have been selected for being very responsive to commands from humans and for inhibiting the part of their wolf ancestry that says, "Look at all that nice mutton, here for the taking."  Shelties are excellent dogs for obedience training and competition.  When I took my great Dane, Payce, to K9 obedience school he was the second-best pupil in the class.  A sheltie was #1.

One of the most basic behaviours taught in obedience school is for the dog to walk alongside the handler and stop and sit as soon as the handler halts, its front paws parallel with the handler's toes.  Payce had no trouble learning to sit.  At 127 pounds and over 6 feet tall when he gets up on his hind legs, however, it wasn't that easy for him to put on the brakes and stop on a dime.  The sheltie almost always stopped and sat dead even with her handler.  Then one time the sheltie goofed and ended up about 6 inches out in front.  She looked around and quickly backed up until her front paws were dead even with her handler toes, hoping he wouldn't notice - very much as I had in basic training, hoping to avoid the gaze of the drill instructor.  Everyone in the obedience class noticed the sheltie's miscue and attempted cover-up.  The instructor - quite unlike my DI - pointed to it gleefully as an example of just how much the dogs can learn.  Shelties have been selected for both canine IQ and canine conscientiousness.

Fourth in the Freedman study: the basenji.  Basenjis are more recently domesticated than most of the better-known breeds.  Like wolves, they have never added barking to their behavioural repertoire.  (Barking may be an exaggeration of the pup calling to its mother which human selection has enhanced as a means of dog-master communication.)  With their tails carried up in a corkscrew, basenjis belong to a group called pariah dogs, which includes semi-domesticated breeds around the world.  (When humans cease selective breeding of dogs, the distinctive breed traits disappear, the surviving dogs take on a pariah-like appearance and the full wolf-canine behavioural repertoire resurfaces.)

Basenjis do not lack canine IQ, but they are at the opposite pole from the shelties in conscientiousness.  They don't like taking orders from their owners.  They are born canine scofflaws.

In another classic study, experimenters put some dog chow out for the pups and told them "No!"  Then they would leave the room to observe the pups through a one-way mirror to see if they would go for food.  If they did, the experimenter would go back into the room and scold them "No!" while also swatting them on their backside, painlessly, with a newspaper [Genetics and the Social Behavior of the Dog, by John Paul Scott and John L Fuller].  Shelties are so given to inhibiting, they wouldn't touch the food.  Some of them even had to be hand-nursed back into feeding again.  Basenjis, on the other hand, started to chow down the minute the experimenter turned his back, before he even left the room.

A third study compared the same four breeds in getting through a series of increasingly difficult mazes.  The breed differences were not in the ability to master the mazes (a rough measure of canine IQ) but in what they would do when placed a maze they couldn't master.  The beagles howled, hoping that another member of their pack would howl back and lead them to the goal.  The inhibitory shelties simply laid down on the ground and waited.  The pugnacious fox terriers tried to tear down the walls of the maze.  The basenjis saw no reason to play by the rules and began jumping over the maze walls.

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 behaviour 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], my wife and I were clearly of two different breeds.  Were some of our behavioural differences determined by breed?

Freedman and his wife set about designing experiments to test that hypothesis.  Their story is interesting not just for its scientific results and for the different receptions they received in even the most prestigious scientific journals.  The Freedmans decided to observe the behaviour of newborns and infants of different races using the Cambridge Behavioural and Neurological Assessment Scale.  Unlike the typical reflex tests performed by pædiatricians, these tests, called the Brazelton after their developer, measure social and emotional behaviour.  The Freedmans found that European American and Chinese American newborns reacted differently even though hospital conditions and prenatal care were the same.  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 manœuver called the defense reaction by neurologists, the baby's nose was briefly pressed with a cloth, forcing him to breathe with his mouth.  Most Caucasian and black babies fight the manœuver by immediately turning away or swiping at the cloth with their hands.  Not surprisingly, this is listed in Western pædiatric textbooks as the normal, expected response.  But not so the average Chinese babies in the study.  They simply lay on their backs, breathing from their mouths, accepting the cloth without a fight.

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.  They then tested Navajo babies.  Anthropology, linguistics, and DNA agree that Amerinds have a relatively recent Asian origin.  And the behaviour of the Navajo babies was indeed like that of the Chinese-Americans, not the whites.

Freedman submitted the paper on racial differences in neonate behaviour to Science, the most prestigious scientific journal in the US. It had published his study behavioural differences in pups of different dog breeds without any problem or controversy.  The paper on race differences, however, was rejected by a split vote of the reviewers.  Freedman then submitted it to Nature, the British analogue to Science.  It again received a split decision from the judges.  Fortunately, the editor broke the deadlock by casting his deciding vote in favour of publication ["Behavioural Differences between Chinese-American and European-American Newborns" D G Freedman & Nina Chinn Freedman, Nature 20 December 1969].  The Freedmans' studies are important because they used a comparable experimental design for humans and dogs.  And although our society does not automatically consider being more or less active as being better or worse, unlike IQ differences, race difference in behaviour among humans was viewed even by scientists as too hot to handle.

Group differences can be a life or death issue in which ideology should have no place.  Take pharmacogenetics, the study of genetic differences in the tolerance and effectiveness of medicinal drugs.  Breed differences are taken for granted in the Veterinary Drug Handbook (analogous to the Physician's Desk Reference).  Two examples:

bulletIvermectin - This active ingredient in the most commonly prescribed medicine for prevention of heart worms is quite safe used in the proper dosage, killing the parasites without having any adverse effect on the dog - except for collies, collie-like breeds, and collie-mixes.  For them, the same amount of Ivermectin that wouldn't faze a chihuahua can be fatal.
bulletThiopental - This ultra-short acting tranquiliser is potentially lethal for greyhounds, whippets, and similar breeds.  The lightly-built coursing and racing dogs carry more muscle and much less fat than other breeds.  Fat is able to take up more barbiturate than muscle.  Coursers take much longer to metabolize the drug in their system. Veterinarians use different tranquilisers.

Does race have any place in human medicine?  The answer increasingly is yes.

bulletHypertension - African American patients, on average, do not benefit as much as whites from ACE (Angiotensin Converting Enzyme) inhibitors, a standard treatment for heart failure.  This is probably because of race differences in nitric oxide, which is produced by the cells that line our blood vessels and dampens contraction of the muscle cells, relaxing the vessels and lowering blood pressure.  Blacks are more likely than whites to have nitric oxide insufficiency.  Why, no one currently knows.  Jay N Cohn, a professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota School of Medicine, has patented a drug called BiDil which is a combination diuretic and vessel dilator that replenishes nitric oxide.  The Food and Drug Administration authorised the testing of BiDil, the Association of Black Cardiologists has recruited patients, and the Congressional Black Caucus has supported the project.  And with good cause - blacks have twice the rate of heart failure as whites, and those afflicted are twice as likely to die.
bulletTuberculosis - Isoniazid was introduced soon after the end of WWII to combat tuberculosis.  It was soon found that the drug was not very effective in Eskimos because they have a variant enzyme which metabolizes the drug so rapidly that it never has a chance to be effective.

At least in medicine, humanitarianism and common sense are increasingly trumping ideology for humans as well as for dogs.  The take-home lessons from our brief look at ourselves, our best friends, and our nearest relatives are:

  1. Small DNA differences can produce large and significant differences in body shape, size, internal chemistry, and even behaviour and cognition.
  2. Changes in all three are often linked because of the action of a small number of regulator (master) genes.
  3. When the selection pressure is high enough, changes can take place in a very short time - the stronger the pressure, the less evolutionary time required.
  4. These differences can be of vital importance in both human and veterinary medicine - and in human behaviour.

One can only hope that we can learn to handle group differences in humans as intelligently and humanely as we do those in dogs.

This article is adapted and updated from Race: The Reality of Human Differences by Vincent Sarich and Frank Miele

Source: vdare.com 25 March 2008 © Frank Miele

A Mystery in Back and White

by Cynthia Mills

Domesticated animals look - and act - differently from than their wild counterparts.  Why?

The experiment was derived out of a discussion student Brian Hare had with his adviser, Michael Tomasello, an expert in primate behaviour at Emory University.  They were talking about how bad chimpanzees were at understanding human social cues.  Despite being the heavyweights of animal intelligence, chimps were insensitive to what seemed to be obvious hints: they failed to pick up a cup hiding food even when the experimenter stared at it, pointed to it, and even tapped it.  Tomasello wanted to talk about what this meant about the limits of nonhuman intelligence.  Hare, a pet owner, had a down-to-earth response: "My dogs can do this."  Tomasello, the scientist, scoffed.  Dogs just aren't that smart, he insisted.  But Hare was sure.  Finally, Tomasello said: "Prove it."

So Hare did.  He tested his own dogs in his garage and they passed with flying colours.  He has gone on to test dozens of dogs, comparing their performance with chimpanzees and wolves, with the results that dogs outscored both.  To see if this was a learned behaviour, he tested puppies; they scored nearly as well as adult dogs.  He could only conclude that the skill of reading human hints is genetically hard-wired into the domestic canine.

Hare will not tell you that dogs are smarter than chimpanzees.  He will say they are more domesticated.  Now a graduate student at Harvard, he continues his investigation into canine perspicacity as a way to delve into just what domestication means.  The classical view has been that domestication is something we humans impose on animals: we select and breed them for their looks and talent.  A careful look at traits characteristic to our domestic companions, both physical and behavioural, hints at alternative explanations.  Charles Darwin wrote: "Not a single domestic animal can be named which has not in some country drooping ears."  Not just dog breeds, but goat, llama, rabbit and even cat breeds sport flopped-over ears.  Ears are just the start.  The large black-and-white patches typical of dairy cows and pinto horses, not to mention dogs, cats, and rabbits, do not exist in their wild counterparts.  And domestic animals characteristically have smaller heads, teeth, and horns, and go into heat more frequently.

What is remarkable about these differences is that they are so universal.  The same traits are common to species as different as cats from cows, rabbits from dogs.  While the old explanation has been to say that people wanted these different traits and selectively bred for them (who wouldn't want a bull with shorter horns?), the global nature of the changes casts some doubt.  To that, add this: no wild animals exhibit these traits.  How would people even think to want pintos when there weren't any spotted horses around in the first place?

The mystery goes deeper, with evidence provided by a 50-year-old experiment done on a Russian fur farm.  A geneticist named Dimitry Belyaev set out to breed a fox that would be easier to manage.  Typically, captive foxes panic at the approach of humans, either crumpling into catatonia or flinging themselves at their pen walls.  Belyaev kept his experiment simple.  At first, he picked and bred only the foxes that were last to flee when a human stood by their cages.  As each generation grew to be more tolerant, he selected the ones that would accept food from a human hand.  He was remarkably successful.  In a mere 18 generations, he had foxes that would follow him around and cuddle in his lap.  They would even bark and whine for attention.

Unfortunately, their fur coats were ruined.  The newly docile foxes no longer had the lovely coats of wild foxes.  Instead they sported white collars and spots.  Some grew floppy ears and curled-up tails.  How did all these changes occur when all Belyaev wanted was a calmer fox?  Belyaev had his own explanation, said Lyudmila Trut, his successor at the farm and keeper of the tame fox family.

"It's rather difficult to figure out the whole concept," she said.  In brief, it has to do with the timing of gene expression, or when a gene is turned on and off during an animal's development.  Belyaev linked coat spots to the gene for a molecule called L-dopa.  L-dopa is a building block for melanin, the pigment molecule.  L-dopa is also necessary for the production of adrenaline, the hormone that turns on our flight-or-fight response.  If activation of the L-dopa gene was delayed, the animal would have less melanin and less adrenaline.  With less melanin, there would be white patches on the animal's coat.  Less adrenaline would dampen the urge to fight or flee.

Belyaev's theory remains untested.  And no one has offered proof tying in other traits, like smaller heads or teeth.  Still, this kind of a one-size-fits-all change probably represents the true story of domestication, according to Ray Coppinger of Hampshire College.  He scoffs at the theory that cave men took home orphan wolf cubs and tamed them, breeding the best to the best until they had huskies and hunting dogs.  Instead, Coppinger said, garbage is what turned wolf into dog.  As humans settled down, they created heaps of scraps.  The wolf that was calm enough not to run from humans was able to take advantage of this largess, and so ate well and reproduced more successfully.  As the species became calmer and calmer, the other traits were trundled along.

This theory of domestication clues us in to how clever genes can be.  A simple, single change in one gene, resulting in a calmer nature, turned on switches for changing the whole organism - looks and behaviour - as it did in Belyaev's foxes.  Although the details may change, the theory works for other species.  People may have captured horses and cattle, instead of these species choosing to follow on their own.  Still, the ones who tolerated human closeness ate better, didn't hurt themselves, and reproduced.  As they did, they passed on their calmer nature, and all the rest.

So, can appearance predict behaviour?  Temple Grandin, an animal scientist at Colorado State University, decided to investigate.  A horse trainer told her that cowboys often judged how calm or testy a horse or a cow was by where the hair whorl - akin to a cowlick - lies on the animal's forehead.  If the whorl was at the level of the eyes or below, the horse would be easy to train and the steer easy to handle.  If it were higher, the horse would be fractious, and the cow a maverick.  Grandin decided to test it out.  At a cattle auction, she set up one assistant to mark the location of a cow's whorl.  Another assistant watched as each cow loaded in the chute.  Sure enough, the cattle with high whorls were more likely to panic and struggle during loading.

Grandin has noticed other correlations between appearance and temperament.  The current nutritional emphasis on leaner meats has meant the breeding of taller and rangier cattle and pigs.  These same animals are harder to manage because they are more high-strung.  They react more violently to loud noises and have nervous habits like chewing each others' tails.  "It definitely seems," Grandin said, "that we are breeding the wildness back into them."

Hare's work with dog intelligence echoes this whole puzzle of domesticity.  Did dogs evolve to be good hint-takers because they were living with humans, or is their sensitivity just one more byproduct of domestication?  "Perhaps it comes just from being calmer, tamer, and more able to pay attention," Hare said.  He hopes to test his theory on Belyaev's and Trut's foxes in Russia; if the calm foxes can also take a hint, his theory holds water.  Then Hare will prove that people can take a hint from dogs - and learn a new way to look at how genetic change affects development.

Cynthia Mills is a Globe correspondent

Source: Boston Globe page C1 28 January 2003 © Globe Newspaper Company

Thai Elephant Torture Video Sparks Controversy

by Tessa Unsworth

Bankok - Bound and dragged from his mother into a crude wooden enclosure, 3-year-old Plai Boonsom screams as he is beaten on head and body with metal hooks.  The ritual, carried out daily for up to a week, is part of a young Thai elephant's training by villagers for a working life entertaining tourists in Thailand and has been secretly videotaped by animal rights activists.  "Our footage shows elephants covered with wounds, blood, bruises ... and back of the legs covered with diarrhea as a result of the fear and stress," said Jason Baker, Asia representative for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

PETA used the video to launch a global campaign this month urging tourists to boycott Thailand, hoping to hit the country where it hurts and force the government to ban the tethering of elephants and their use in tourist shows.  But PETA's findings have been challenged by conservationists and the Thai government, which says the group is promoting a one-sided campaign about the treatment of elephants, Thailand's national symbol.  Conservationists and the government say there are few alternatives to domestication or living in captivity for the country's estimated 4,000 elephants.

In a word, space is the issue.

The elephants' natural habitat is disappearing fast, eaten away by rapid urbanization, greater demands for resources and a growing human population.  Critics say the campaign video misrepresents the overall humane treatment of most domesticated elephants and could do more damage than good in the long run.  "We have to remember that 150 years ago Thailand had only 6 million people and was almost entirely covered by forest," said Richard Lair, an American adviser to Thailand's National Elephant Institute.  "Now it has more than 60 million people and only 20% forest.  You cannot release these elephants back into the wild.  They will likely start crop raiding, injuring people and people will start injuring them.  It's just too dangerous."

A single elephant in the wild needs about 8,000 acres to survive, and there is little choice but to keep more than half the country's stock in captivity, said Lair, who runs a conservation centre in Thailand's North that is home to 49 tuskers.  The Thai government has taken steps to protect elephants and says it is drafting laws to ensure this.  Laws already ban the use of elephants in the logging industry and to beg for food and money in the capital, Bangkok.  The state funds a number of elephant centres employing local and foreign conservationists to care for and train captive elephants for work in the tourism industry so that handlers and owners can earn money to support them.

Three-year-old Jewel is a favorite with tourists who flock to watch him perform musical numbers, paint pictures and do tricks at twice-daily performances at the government-funded Lamphang Elephant Conservation Center in northern Thailand.  It is only four months since he went through a process similar to, though far less brutal than, that captured in PETA's footage, said Lair.  Jewel is already a confident performer and an important money earner at the center, which relies on the revenue to supplement government funds, Lair said.  "When it's done well, there may be a little bit of physical pain, but it's more like the trauma of being separated from your mother on the first day of school - you cry and scream."  Lair said the hook-like instrument used by elephant trainers, or mahouts, was not meant to be used as a violent tool as shown in the PETA video.  "The hook is more like a conductor's baton than a policeman's truncheon."

Preecha Pehuangkum, chief veterinarian at the government Forest Industry Organization and chairman of the National Elephant Institute, said authorities seek to teach villagers to use more humane methods.  "In the video ... they are hill tribespeople who are not educated and have trained their elephants like this for more than 200 years," he said.  "We are trying to ... teach them new methods for training elephants that are less cruel."

Groups like PETA remain unconvinced, advocating sanctuaries similar to those in Africa where elephants can roam freely and tourists pay to enter the park.  "Tourists would flock to Thailand to observe herds of elephants from a distance roaming freely in sanctuaries instead of performing circus tricks on command," PETA's Web site said.  Yet that approach is no longer viable as forests dwindle.

"These animals ... cannot be put back into the forest, we just have to have common sense about what the human responsibility is," Lair said.  "I think that telling people to boycott elephants in Thailand is about the cruelest thing you could do."

Source: The Washington Post  23 December 2002


Source: fliggo.com

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