I watched an excellent program about dogs on the “Animal Planet” channel the end of last week. Perhaps you saw it as well. I was glued to the program because it almost socked me in the eye, almost like a wake up call if you will. It was talking about how dogs became…..well dogs. There are some different theories about it, but most conclude that they originated from the wolf. So this was nothing new to me. I’ve heard that one many times. But what made me sit up and take notice was when the commentator said that the dog is man made. I really never looked at it that way before. It’s almost like it’s not really a true species of an animal. It was created from another animal that existed on this planet for many years….the wolf.
The wolf comes from part of a group that is known as the canidae which include wolves, jackals, coyotes, dingoes, and foxes. It is thought that today’s domesticated dog is probably a mutated form of the Middle Eastern or East Asian wolf. There is archaeological evidence which points to a time-period some 12,000 to 15,000 years ago when man started creating permanent settlements. Some feel that the modern dog may have first surfaced in Northern Israel.
I love this little story about Archaeologists discovering remains of a burial site at a Natufian village called Ain Mallaha. It is here that the remains of an old man and a young pup were found buried together. The man’s left hand was cradling the puppy. They estimate that the puppy was three to four months old and was probably killed to give the man company and companionship on his journey to the afterlife. What makes this an important find is that it is the earliest chronological evidence pointing to the domestication of a dog. It would seem to suggest that humans had started accepting dogs not just as pariahs and vermin, but as companions and trusted pets,
We as breeders have made the dog what it is today with all the good that that entails as well as the bad. Man decides if he wants the dog to have a short body, a long tail, short legs, pushed in snout or a square head. Through the years man has used different breeds of dogs to create new breeds of dogs. When you think about it, it isn’t too different from what some people are doing today when they create the “designer” breeds. A lot of us complain about it, but it’s no different than what man has been doing for centuries. He’s always looking to improve on what he already has and in order to do that, he had to many times cross breed the different breeds of dogs to create a new breed.
What I found interesting in this program was how they showed that they raised wolves and their puppies and socialized them with man. The wolves were very affectionate with the people and even trainable. But what was fascinating and what really set the dog apart from the wolf was the dog’s need of man. The wolf had no need of man. They are independent from him, whereas, the dog is dependent on him.
The experiment that they did to show this point was to show how the dog if given instruction and training to find a piece of food will do so by the human showing him where to get it. Example: One person held the dog on a leash. The other person walked to the other side of the room and put two plates of food on the floor. This person gave the dog hand signals letting him know that he wanted him to get the food from the plate that he instructs him to retrieve it from, even though the other plate also has food. The dog watched and when let loose, he went to the plate that the instructor pointed to. They did the same experiment with the wolf. The wolf never went to the plate that the human pointed out. He always went for the other plate. This illustrates that the dog was meant to be a companion to man and truly lives for us and looks to us for leadership.
You can not domesticate a wolf. You can train him, but not domesticate him. From the time he is a little baby, he would need almost 24 hour supervision with the man and then this would have to continue when breeding this same pup when he got older. The same thing would have to be done with his puppies. They would be born wild and need hand rearing all over again. Wolves have a fear of man and man also fears the wolf. Even when trained they can be unpredictable, fierce and immensely powerful.
In many countries it is illegal to own a wolf or wolf hybrid. Some places you can own a Utonagan which is a cross between German Shepherds, Huskies, Eskimo Dogs and Malamutes and sometimes a few others. They are magnificently beautiful and look wolf-like, fortunately they do not act like wolves although they have been difficult to handle.
It is sad to note, that many countries that formerly had wolf populations, including Great Britain, Mexico, and Japan, now have none, and in other countries, such as the United States, wolves occupy only a fraction of their former territory.
What made me really pay attention to this program is when a few different times it said how we breeders are the ones who are responsible for all the health problems and faults within the dog’s population. It doesn’t come from any place else, but from you and me. It’s all in the breeders hands. We created these animals and sometimes their health suffers for it. I mean I never really looked at it that way before. I kept saying to myself all these years, where the heck are all these health problems coming from in our breed? The answer is you and me! We talk about health problems all the time. Watch out for that bloodline. Don’t use that dog. This dog produces that problem, and so on. But I truly never looked at it from this viewpoint before. That dog doesn’t produce the problem. We breeders produce the problems. The dog is sick or carries the potential for making his offspring sick because we weren’t conscientious enough to breed away from some of those problems. Some of us were too concerned about the pigment, the side gait, the front, etc. etc. We got lost somehow along the way and forgot that all the prettiest, all the extreme side gait in the world, mean absolutely nothing if that gorgeous dog is only on this earth for three years before he drops dead.
Some people should not be breeders. To be a breeder carries with it a BIG responsibility. If we want to be the creators, then we need to also be the guardian of the health of our dogs and the dogs through the next generations. There is no such thing as a good breeder who only produces the winners who only lives a few short years. There are some very unhealthy bloodlines out in the genetic pool made so by unhealthy breeding habits. If your dog has health problems don’t just look at his pedigree. Look at his breeders and those breeders before them. They made the line unhealthy and so now it’s up to today’s breeders to get rid of the cesspool of genetic time bombs. When breeding, we should not only be breeding for the beauty and movement that the German Shepherd dog is known for, but more importantly the longevity of this breed to ensure future generations of strong healthy animals! So truly, it’s a little bit me, it’s a little bit you. The future health of the German Shepherd dog lies in our hands!
My rating: breeding away from health problems: (4), just breeding for structure and motion: (1)