Thursday, January 31, 2008

Satellite dogs

I broke down and purchased a Garmin Astro. A global positioning system for dogs. My curiosity got the better of me, and it arrived on Tuesday in the mail. I had to go out for AA batteries.

I used to bell my dogs, but years of shooting and getting a bit older has made my hearing less acute. People have suggested beeper collars, but I don't like the idea of a bird dog that sounds like a garbage truck backing up.

The other side of the story... 

I admit that I am a 'traditionalist' in things sporting.  Old side by side shotguns, big running setters, cane fly rods and leather boots with stitch down soles. Wool shirts and ball caps. Stuff like that. 

But I am not a Luddite. I will probably use the Astro for Jesse and Tommy. Jesse has always required me to pay strict attention when he is on the ground. As the day gets longer, so does he. About the time I am ready to head back to the truck, he is likely to be half a mile away. Always been like that. Tommy is showing early signs of extended range too. 

So I now have an eye in the sky. 

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Line Breeding and Inbreeding

Line breeding means:"The mating of related animals less closely related than inbreeding."

Line breeders usually breed out every couple of generations to similar, but unrelated, line-bred dogs. This greatly diminishes the possibility of the 'deleterious effects' of inbreeding and overcomes breeding 'drag' - the tendency toward average over several generations.

Actually there seems to be no agreement among sporting dog breeders about where the line between inbreeding and line breeding is, exactly. There have been a number of very healthy and successful field trial dogs with COIs as high as 16.5. The average competitive setter is probably closer to 3.0 to 6.5 COI. I have one that has a 10 generation COI of 12.0 and is a very fine animal.

Line breeders do not breed brother to sister as an inbreeder might. They may breed a sire to a littermate's offspring to better fix characteristics that they value. The effects of in-breeding and at what level of COI they are manifested in dogs is not well explored with performance dogs that are bred and culled by breeders.

Carolina wild dogs are a small population that has apparently bred in the wild for many hundreds of years. As long as Darwinian principles are at work there appear to be no deleterious effects of inbreeding in this small population.

A useful discussion of Canine genetics by Dr. Jerold Bell, which defines out-breeding, line breeding and inbreeding may be found HERE

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Big Montana

At the end of September, I traveled to Montana from training camp in South Dakota to hunt sharptailed grouse and gray partridge. In Malta I met my friend and hunting partner, Pete Houser of San Diego. Pete had driven nearly non-stop pulling a 23' travel trailer with his two setters, Rosie and Silk. Shortly thereafter, Mark Copeland of Dallas joined us at our camp with his trailer and two shorthairs. With the three dogs that I brought along it made an active and interesting camp.

As soon as Mark arrived and backed in, we were off hunting sharptails. We did well with grouse for the week that Mark was with us, and hunting continued to be good through the following week. After Pete returned to San Diego, I moved operations to Big Timber, staying at the Grand Hotel and hunting around Harlowton and Judith Gap for an additional week. 

Ted's Training - work, work, work!

In Late september I was at training camp in South Dakota with Keith Hickam of Waco, TX. Keith had been working with my young dog, Ted, to prepare him for a life of birds and adventure. Keith's website may be found HERE. Ted enjoyed the whole experience, especially the birds. Keith was working to refine Ted's manners around birds, as Ted likes them a little too well. 

Nothing makes a bird dog like birds. I have developed Ted since he was a puppy, working him on wild birds in Washington, Oregon, Texas, Nevada and Oklahoma. John Yates worked with Ted in Oklahoma on wild bobwhites at his winter camp when Ted was less than one year old. Ted had a couple of hunting seasons with lots of exposure before he went to camp with Keith. 

When I picked up Ted at camp at the end of September he was a better bird dog. I took him directly to Montana for three weeks, then returned to South Dakota for a week of pheasant hunting. Returning to the West Coast in November, I entered Ted in a US Complete Shooting Dog trial and he placed, so he is now qualified to run in AF Championship trials. Ted is currently with Sheldon Twer being polished to compete in the Region 11 Amateur Walking Shooting Championship in February.

Friday, January 25, 2008

What is a 'breed' and who cares?

If you think about it a bit, you realize that a 'breed' is an arbitrary boundary drawn around a 'type' of dog - usually with shared ancestors that more or less define the gene pool.

The unfortunate aspect of this is that the Darwinian component that constrains the passing of non-functional genetic traits has been removed from our domestic dogs. So any dog, no matter how dysfunctional, has a chance to pass its genes along in the gene pool.

Breed clubs have tried to make the decisions that would imitate, in some ways, the natural pruning that Darwinian evolution does in nature. Mostly, they fail.

In my mind, the point of a sporting breed (or herding, or other working breeds) is performance of the work tasks they are given. Dogs have a richer genetic tapestry than humans - they are more dependent on innate abilities and characteristics than we are. So breeding must be tempered by culling based on performance. Without breeding based on performance, we are letting breeds go in the wrong direction.

Does it really matter? I would argue that it should matter to people who want their dogs to be intelligent, physically capable and trainable. Defining a gene pool (provided it is large and diverse enough to sustain breeding that is true to type) is useful when the breeder is striving for consistency and improvement in dogs when line breeding. There must, however, be enough genetic diversity within the type to sustain breeding for many generations without the effects of inbreeding.

On the other hand, I have no problem with those who, for a number of reasons, are trying to change or resurrect a type of dog (as was done with the field bred red setters) and who go outside the breed boundaries for contributions to type. THIS IS THE WAY ALL MODERN BREEDS HAVE BEEN DEVELOPED.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

A true American wild dog?

Old news to some people, but new to me is the 'discovery' and investigation of the Carolina dog...

Dr. I. Lehr Brisbin Jr., a Senior Research Ecologist at the University of Georgia's Savannah River Ecology Lab, first came across a Carolina Dog while working at the Savannah River site. Horace, a stray white dog with brown markings, was wandering the site’s boundary when he caught Brisbin’s attention. Brisbin, who had seen many rural dogs chained to the back of porches and doghouses, assumed this was just a normal stray. Many of these dogs roamed the woods and would turn up in humane traps, and Brisbin began to wonder how many more of these were in the wild. On a hunch, he went to the pound and was surprised by the resemblance the dog had to dingoes.

The preliminary DNA testing provided an intriguing link between primitive dogs and Carolina Dogs. Brisbin stated, “We grabbed them out of the woods based on what they look like, and if they were just dogs their DNA patterns should be well distributed throughout the canine family tree. But they aren't. They're all at the base of the tree, where you would find very primitive dogs.” This wasn’t conclusive, but it did spark interest into more extensive DNA testing.

The exciting idea remains a hypothesis, one that's under examination by an analysis of fossils, cave paintings, and other pieces of the North American historical record. Early paintings of Native Americans, for example, show accompanying dogs whose appearance looks strikingly like today's Carolina Dogs.

Another suggestive piece of evidence is comparison with dogs that remain on the other side of the long vanished Asia-North America land connection."It's a hypothesis," Brisbin stressed, "but we might infer that if dogs look similar on both sides of the Bering Strait land bridge, maybe our first American dogs came over from that area." On Chindo Island, Korea, local free-ranging dogs exist that have apparently been free from hybridization by other breeds. "That native Korean breed, the chindo-kae, is indistinguishable from Carolina Dogs, Brisbin noted. "If they were mixed in a group, I couldn't tell who was who."

The distinctive appearance of Carolina Dogs is not their only link to the world's surviving primitive breeds. Brisbin's studies have also revealed behaviors not observed in domestic dogs.

For more... National Geographic

Early origin of dogs pushed back...

Plowing around, looking for the origins of domestic dogs, I found this bit on 

People have long wondered about the circumstances that led prehistoric dogs to come, sit, and permanently stay, thus creating the first human-animal bond. Researchers have generally based their interpretation of the origins of the domesticated dog on archaeological records. In the past decade, however, molecular biologists have started to study canine DNA to trace the complex ancestry of the more than 400 dog breeds and related canine species.

Dog genes are telling a radically different story from dog bones. An analysis in the June 13 Science concludes that dogs were domesticated much earlier than archaeologists maintain. Instead of a 10,000- to 20,000-year time frame, Robert K. Wayne of the University of California, Los Angeles and his colleagues now have evidence that dogs could have been domesticated 100,000 years ago -- if not earlier.

That conclusion has raised some hackles.

"I'm flabbergasted," says Brisbin.

"It's bound to be controversial because it's such an early date," says Marion Schwartz of Yale University. Schwartz's book, A History of Dogs in the Early Americas (Yale University Press), was released this month.

Other researchers find the result convincing, however surprising. The report "has really very compelling data," says Elaine Ostrander, a molecular biologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle who is collaborating on a study of the dog genome. "It's a fascinating and exciting story."

The bird dog's nose...

From an abstract on work by Johan B Steen, University of Oslo, Norway.

The ability to catch scent continuously while running, which may be an essential skill for many animals of prey, requires that ambient air flows inward through the nose also during expiration. In this study on  bird dogs, the direction of the air flow was detected by measuring the temperature of air inside the nostril. 

While resting, nose ventilation was synchronous with lung ventilation. While searching for ground scent, the dog was sniffing at a frequency of up to 200 s-1, a strategy which may create turbulence in the nasal passages and thereby enhance transport of scent molecules to the receptors in the ethmoidal cavity. When the bird dog was searching for game while running with its head high against the wind, it maintained a continuous inward air stream through the nose for up to 40 seconds spanning at least 30 respiratory cycles. We suggest that expiratory gas flowing at high velocity from the trachea to the mouth cavity creates a lower pressure than in the nose thus causing an inward sir stream through the nose during expiration by a Bernoulli effect.

So, a dog can scent birds when running even while breathing out. This contradicts what has long been believed by bird dog people - that dogs cannot scent while panting. It may also explain why dogs can scent a second bird while carrying the first in their mouth while retrieving.

Sunday, January 13, 2008


Toby will have been with me for 15 years in February. He is very old, his hips are crippled with arthritis, and he doesn't hear very well. But I remember brighter days when he ran along the breaks of the Grande Ronde River and deftly pointed and handled chukars, Huns, and blue grouse. 
Toby has been retired for five seasons now. His pedigree is  patchwork of great dogs and dogs you never heard of, but he has a nose, intelligence and a great love of hunting. I wish I could keep him forever, but he is near his end. But it is because of him that I have other setters - younger dogs that I hope will be as good, and that will carry his memory for me long after he is gone.

Some cool transportation

When my friend Pete and I were in Montana last October we discovered this old, mid-thirties Bombardier snow cat in the Malta power company equipment lot. Of course, we had to get a picture, and I had to post it here. 

Friday, January 11, 2008

PETA - People for the (un)Ethical Treatment of Animals

This from John Yates of ASDA:

WASHINGTON, Jan. 10 - An official report from People for The Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), submitted nine months after a Virginia government agency's deadline, shows that the animal rights group put to death more than 97 percent of the dogs, cats, and other pets it took in for adoption in 2006. 

During that year, the well-known animal rights group managed to find adoptive homes for just 12 pets.

The nonprofit Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) is calling on PETA to either end its hypocritical angel-of-death program, or stop its senseless condemnation of Americans who believe it's perfectly ethical to use animals for food, clothing, and critical medical research. 

Not counting animals PETA held only temporarily in its spay-neuter program, the organization took in 3,061 "companion animals" in 2006, of which it killed 2,981. 

According to Virginia's Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS), the average euthanasia rate for humane societies in the state was just 34.7 percent in 2006. 

PETA killed 97.4 percent of the animals it took in. The organization filed its 2006 report this month, nine months after the VDACS deadline of March 31, 2007. 

"Pet lovers should be outraged," said CCF Director of Research David Martosko. "There are thousands of worthwhile animal shelters that deserve Americans' support. PETA is not one of them." 

In courtroom testimony last year, a PETA manager acknowledged that her organization maintains a large walk-in freezer for storing dead animals, and that PETA contracts with a Virginia cremation service to dispose of the bodies. In that trial, two PETA employees were convicted of dumping dead animals in a rural North Carolina trash dumpster. 

Today in Southampton County, Virginia, another PETA employee will face felony charges in a dog-napping case. Andrea Florence Benoit Harris was arrested in late 2006 for allegedly abducting a hunting dog and attempting to transport it to PETA's Norfolk headquarters. 

"PETA raised over $30 million last year," Martosko added, "and it's using that money to kill the only flesh-and-blood animals its employees actually see. The scale of PETA's hypocrisy is simply staggering." 

Thursday, January 10, 2008

White Crowned Pigeons

In Jamaica one of the most popular birds for sportsmen is the white crowned pigeon. This attractive arboreal pigeon ranges through the Greater Antilles and into Southern Florida and parts of the Bahamas. We frequently host them in trees around our house, and I can watch them flying into and out of the bush from the balcony. 

I have wanted to travel to South central Cuba to experience hunting for these birds, and started organizing a trip several years ago. Logistics and political climate killed that trip, but I will do it sooner or later.

The illustration is by John James Audubon, painted during his trip to the Florida keys in 1857 I think. The birds are now scarce in the Florida keys, but regionally abundant in the Greater Antilles.

American Sporting Dog Alliance

My friend and fellow bird dogger, John Yates, has lifted a heavy burden. He has a begun a national organization to counter political action aimed at restricting the breeding, keeping, transporting, and running ALL types of sporting dogs - coursers, hounds, retrievers, terriers and, of course, bird dogs.

John is an articulate, hardworking and honest man who is doing something that deserves support from any dog owner, especially the owners of sporting breeds. Check it out...

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

My old Fox gun

I've been carrying this gun since 1992. It was made by the AH Fox Gun Co. of Philedelphia, PA in 1915. It has been restocked to fit and 'refurbished' to suit my needs for a field gun. A quality American product, from the time when such things were not only possible, but expected.

Specifications - 16 gauge, double triggers, straight hand grip, 28" Krupp steel barrels choked for bird shooting over pointing dogs. It's worn a groove in my soul, and I won't leave home without it.

Tommy arrives after a wait of two months

The latest addition to the household is Wenaha Tomahawk - 'Tommy'. He is 10 weeks old in this picture...

Tommy was sired by CH Jetsetter, and his dam is See Mountain Cassidie (CH See Johnny Run X Mountain Apache). 

I bought Tommy in November, but due to holiday vacation plans I had to defer delivery until this week. He is 4 months old now. Always nice to have a puppy around the house.

Protecting our bird dog heritage

Wayne Pacelle of HSUS.

Animal ownership has come under increasing attacks by several groups - the most prominent of which are the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). 

The HSUS are the folks who ran TV spots during the Hurricane Katrina crisis and solicited funds to 'save the animals'. Despite the words "Humane Society" on their letterhead, HSUS is NOT affiliated with your local animal shelter; It does not take in sprays, run spay and neuter programs, or even contribute to organizations that do this important work. No, HSUS is big, rich, powerful, and has a political agenda - no less than the elimination of the private ownership of ALL animals. This might seem silly, but they have over $100 MILLION dollars - a large portion of which was donated by unsuspecting people who believed the TV ads and sent their money in to 'save the animals' during the Katrina disaster. None of the that money was spent on the ground in the afflicted area, and no HSUS people were there to help with rescue - they were there to film TV spots and raise money for the war chest to accomplish their political agenda.

PETA is described by as "the most successful radical organization in America". They are dedicated to 'total animal liberation'. This means no zoos, laboratory animals, farm animals and their by-products, no dogs, cats, or hampsters. No leather and no meat... they even oppose companion animals and guide dogs for the blind. 

According to PETA co-founder, Alex Pacheco, "...arson, property destruction, burglary and theft are 'acceptable crimes'  when used for the animal cause." I don't think I need to add anything more to that, except to note that they spent just over $25 million dollars in 2004 to further their objectives.

These organizations and others that they are affiliated with and/or support are active in every state of the Union and abroad where they have pressed lawmakers to introduce laws aimed to harass and cripple pet owners, animal breeders, farmers, and kennels. The early targets of their wrath are hunters, sporting dog breeders, buyers, and transporters in California, Ohio, Pensyvannia, Michigan and other states. Do not expect them to just g away. Do not expect that the uniformed, but well-meaning, voters will not support the legislation that they sponsor.

Bird Dogs - what they are, and are not

The term bird dog is used pretty loosely sometimes. I cringe a bit when I hear the term misused, so I offer my definition of Bird Dog...

... any of a very few pointing breeds - pointer, setter, and maybe Brittany - that is trained to find, point, and handle upland birds before the flush and shot, may (or may not) retrieve shot birds, and does not hunt fur-bearers. 

So what they are not is any of the European versatile breeds. spaniels, retrievers, or mixed breeds. I have no problem with people who own and like these breeds, but in my book, they are Gundogs - a broader category that seems to suit these dogs and their abilities best.

I do not expect that everyone will agree with me - but there it is.