Why your Labrador isn’t going to be a good livestock guardian

A recent discussion popped up on Facebook this morning in which a member of a homesteading group bragged about what a good livestock guardian and hunting dog his Labrador was. This post got posted in a livestock guardian breed group, which resulted in much, much eye-rolling.

It is certainly true that there are dogs that make excellent livestock guardian dogs that aren’t of the typical breeds. Mark Derr has written extensively about the mongrel dogs of the Navajo that guard their sheep, but within those dogs, there is quite a bit of variance about which ones are good at the task and which ones would rather go roaming and hunting.

The breeds that have undergone selection for this work are much more likely to be successful. All these breeds have been selected for high defense drive and low prey drive. Little lambs can go jumping around these dogs, and their instinct to hunt and kill prey will not be stimulated.

Most dogs bred in the West are bred for the opposite behaviors.  The most popular breeds are usually from the gun dog and herding groups, and those breeds tend to have been selected for relatively high prey drive. Those dogs are much more likely to engage in predatory behavior towards them.

Further, breeds like Labradors are bred to have low defense drive. Labradors are very rarely good guard dogs. They have been bred to fit in the British shooting scene where they would regularly be exposed to other dogs and strangers, and these dogs have had much of their territorial and status-based aggression bred out of them. If the coyote shows up to a farm guarded by a Labrador, chances are very high that the Labrador will try to play with the coyote. It might bark at the coyote and intimidate the predator as well, but there aren’t many Labradors that are going to fight a coyote that comes menacing the flock.

The poster with the LGD Labrador claimed that Labradors were great herding dogs. When pressed on this point, he posted a photo of some yellow dogs moving a herd of beef cattle. These dogs weren’t Labradors. They were blackmouth curs, a breed that can superficially look like a Labrador, but it is a hunting and herding breed that is quite common parts of the South and Texas.  You could in theory train a Labrador to herd sheep, but I doubt you could ever train one to herd cattle. And the herding behavior would be far substandard to a breed actually bred for it.

The poster claimed that Labradors were “bred down from Newfoundlands,” and Newfoundlands are livestock guardians. The problem with this statement is that it is totally false. As I’ve noted many times on the blog, the big Newfoundland dog was actually bred up from the St. John’s water dog. Every genetic study on breed evolution, clearly puts this breed with the retrievers. This dog was mostly created for the British and American pet market, but it is a very large type of retriever.

And contrary to what I have written on this blog, it is now clear that retrievers and Newfoundlands are not an offshoot of the livestock guardian breeds.  A limited genetic study that also found Middle Eastern origins for all dogs had this finding, but a more complete genetic study found that retrievers and the Newfoundlad are actually a divergent form of gundog.

dog breed wheel newfoundland

I have not written much about this study, but it does change some of my retriever history posts. It turns out that Irish water spaniels are also retrievers and are very closely related to the curly-coated retrievers. It has been suggested that curly-coated retrievers are actually older than the St. John’s water dog imports, but conventional breed history holds that they are crosses between St. John’s water dogs and some form of water spaniel. It may actually be that something like a curly-coated retriever is the ancestor of the St. John’s water dog, and this dog would have been called a “water spaniel.”  I have not worked this one out yet. The dogs we call Newfoundland dogs, though, are much more closely related to the Labrador, flat-coated, and golden retrievers than to the curly-coated retriever and the Irish water spaniel. Thus, the Labrador and the Newfoundland dog are cousins, but the Labrador is not “bred down from the Newfoundland.”

The other clue that Newfoundland dogs and their kin aren’t good LGDs is that in Newfoundland, the sheep industry was actually severely retarded by the dogs. Fishermen let their dogs roam the countryside, and any time someone set out a flock of sheep, the water dogs, which I would call St. John’s water dogs, would descend upon the flocks and savage them.

So the natural history of the Labrador totally conflicts with its likely ability to be a good livestock guardian. The British bred these dogs to be extremely social, and their prey drive has been selected for.  They also have this entire history in which their ancestors went out hunting for their own food, which means they do have the capacity to become sheep hunting dogs.

The poster didn’t appreciate when these facts were pointed out. The response was that the other people were racist for saying that Labrador isn’t likely to be a good LGD, especially a Labrador that has been used for hunting.

This is problematic because dog breeds are not equivalent to human races. Human races are just naturally occurring variations that have evolved in our species as we have spread across the globe. Most of these differences are superficial, and none are such that it would justify any racial discrimination in law or policy.

Dog breeds, however, have been selectively bred for characteristics. The eugenics movement, the Nazis, and the slaveholders who selectively bred slaves are the only people who have engaged in the selective breeding of people. And all these periods in history have lasted only a very short time before they were deemed to be gross violations of human rights.

For some reason, people have a hard time accepting these facts about dogs, but the very same people often have no problem with an analogy with livestock.

If I want high milk yields, I will not buy Angus cattle. If I want marbled beef, I won’t buy Holsteins. If I want ducks to lay lots of eggs, I wouldn’t get Pekins, which will lay about 75 eggs a year. I would get Welsh harlequins, which might lay 280 a year. But they don’t get very big, and their meat yields are very low.

Angus cattle and Holsteins are the same species. Welsh harlequins and Pekins are too. But they have been selected for different traits.

Dogs have undergone similar selection. A Labrador retriever has its own history. So does a Central Asian shepherd.

Accepting that these dogs have different traits does not make one a racist. It merely means that one respects the truth of selective breeding.

And that’s why a Labrador isn’t really a good LGD.


Natural History

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Balance In Blogging + A Farewell To Summer

How’s that for a confusing post title? It all ties together and will make sense when you’re done reading this. I promise.

Those of you who have been reading (or writing for) blogs for a long time have undoubtedly noticed how much they’ve changed over the years. And while they much more closely resemble online magazines these days than the online journals they once were, I personally most enjoy the ones that remain authentic and balanced. I have a great deal of respect for the many bloggers who now make a livings from their blogs by working with truly great companies to create genuine content.  I personally consider my blog to be my job and rely on it to help support my family – and for me, it has been an incredibly enjoyable outlet for expressing myself creatively while getting to work with brands I love. But I also think it’s important to remember what sets blogs and small lifestyle sites like this one apart from the big online magazines – and that is personality. When I read a blog, I want to get to know the writer, even if it’s just a very small portion of who they are – and that means they need to create a balance in their content that includes at least of little of their real lives. Now, I admittedly only share very small glimpses of my personal life here, especially when it comes to my family. But I never want my readers to come here and feel like they’re reading something robotic or a blatant advertisement. I am a real person with a real life, and it’s important to me to invite you all into it, even if just on a small scale. That said, in between the regular lifestyle and “how to” and recipe and style and parenting content you see here, I will always include occasional posts like the one you’re reading right now, where I share more personal things like favorite photos from a season or pieces of real life or rambling thoughts (again, just like the ones you just read). As in real life, when it comes to the world of bloggers and influencers, I strongly believe that balance is important.

Summertime Family Story Night

So here in this post, my friends, is one of those glimpses into the more personal side of my life, via a few of my favorite memories from this summer with my little family, captured in photographs. The official first day of fall is Friday, and as we transition into a new season, I can’t help but start to feel nostalgic about the one that just passed. Looking through the photos made me want to share them here (even if some of you have already seen them), as my own personal farewell to the season. We had a really incredible summer, and I look forward to creating lots more memories with my family and pals throughout the fall season as well.

As always, thank you for reading these occasional train-of-thought ramble posts, for following along with some of my real life adventures (even the very unadventurous ones), and for also supporting the sponsored content on which I work hard. I’m very grateful for you all, and hope you continue to find this space balanced and enjoyable.

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Bubby and Bean ::: Living Creatively

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How do you submit a photo for the contest?

How do you submit a photo for the contest?
BAD RAP Blog

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A lesson in breed creation

huddesfield ben

Huddersfield Ben, the main foundation stud behind the modern Yorkshire terrier

For a variety of reasons, I’ve been looking at golden retriever pedigrees.  One rather unusual thing about golden retrievers is that they are a common breed, but they have relatively complete pedigrees. They were created by elites in the United Kingdom, many of whom were students of English agricultural improvement.   For example, the Marjoribanks family, which founded the yellow strain of wavy-coats on which the breed is based, were active in breeding Aberdeen-Angus cattle, the famous “black Angus” that now dominate the beef market.

Golden retriever pedigrees are easily accessed online. This website has vast listing of goldens living and dead, and it isn’t hard to follow the links back from any backyard-bred dog to animals that might have sat next to Winston Churchill’s aunt or may have been shot over by George V.

But it is also easy to trace virtually any dog back to the foundation stock. The pedigrees merge after just a few generations. The popular sire effect is really strong in the breed, with certain males siring many puppies that went on to sire many puppies. The foundation stock for the breed appears to pretty diverse. Any line-breeding that exists is relatively loose. I find it hard to find early pedigrees in which someone bred tightly for more than a generation or two.

Retrievers were the dogs of the elite. They were bred from stock that had to serve a purpose, and what’s more, they came from diverse stock.  Every one of these breeds is a distillation of crosses of St. John’s water dogs.  They were bred much like lurchers are now.  Sir Bufton Tufton would breed his own sort of retriever, maybe crossing the St. John’s with a foxhound or perhaps he’d breed to a setter or a collie.   Lord Fauntleroy might say nuts to that, and he would breed Irish water spaniel dogs to his St. John’s bitches.

But they were still molded in the breeds we have today. Different features, such as the smooth coat of the Labrador retrievers or the tight curls of the curlies, would be selected for within the strains.  These strains eventually were molded into breeds that we know today, but it was a process that took place over 80 years or so.

Going through these golden retriever pedigrees, I’ve come to appreciate this process of formation, but my curiosity has been piqued.  We have very good records on the foundation of golden retrievers. Virtually no other breed has these records.

So I started perusing about the internet, looking into breeds I don’t really know that well.  Golden retriever pedigrees include listings of dogs that were alive in the 1860s. I began to wonder about what other breeds have parallel histories in this fashion.

Well, I found another common breed, the Yorkshire terrier, had a very different sort of breed foundation. They aren’t like retrievers at all.  In fact, their history is sort of the inverse of golden retrievers.

Golden retrievers have their foundation in Scotland. Their founders were among the elite who had made big money in England over the generations and were now living large across the Tweed. The Yorkshire terrier breed is derived from dogs belonging to Scottish migrant laborers who had come into the Industrial North of England to escape poverty and the Highland Clearances.  These Clearances were the Scottish Enclosure, and they made possible the vast estates that fell into the hands of the wealthy, who shot grouse and needed gun dogs to retrieve them

Laborers from Scotland brought the terriers south.  Terriers are useful dogs for the rural poor. They keep the rats down. Grain stores will always attract them.  You need a dog that will murder them.

And the Scottish working class had many sort of terriers, including several strains with silky coats.  Two of these breeds were developed into show dogs. The Skye terrier is still around, but there was another breed that was developed from that same stock. It was called the Paisley terrier, and it is from this breed that the Yorkshire terrier was created.

What essentially happened was that clothing factories in Lancashire and Yorkshire became breeding grounds for rats, and rough-bred strains of Paisley terriers were used to control them.

A woman living in Yorkshire named Mary Ann Foster (or “Mary Anne Foster” as some sources spell it) happened to obtain some of these factory rat catchers, and she exhibited them in shows.

And unusual dog of this strain was born in Huddersfield, and Ms. Foster wound up owning him.  He did very well at shows. He was called Huddersfield Ben, and over his short life of only six years, he was bred extensively to other dogs of this sort of Paisley-type terrier. Although it is almost impossible to find the pedigrees of these early Yorkshire terriers, it is likely that all Yorkshire terriers descend from him.

This dog’s pedigree was very tight.

pedigree ben

A sample golden retriever pedigree from roughly that time period is not nearly that tight.

The reason the golden retriever pedigree is not as tight is because there was a belief that retrievers should have some amount of crossbreeding, and these dogs were being bred by nobles with access to lots of different gundogs of different breeds. They had money and resources to develop strains much more slowly.

Yorkshire terriers arose in a different milieu. They came about when working and middle class people in the North of England wanted to produce a distinct show dog strain. These people did not have access to all the elite strains of terrier, and they did not have unlimited resources to devote to breeding programs.  In order to establish the strain, they bred very tightly.

The British Empire had long promoted “breed improvement” in livestock. Since roughly the year 1800, livestock showing became a major part of the common culture.  Livestock shows were widely attended, and the landowner or noble who produced the best strains of cattle, swine, sheep, and goats became much celebrated in the nation.  By the middle of the nineteenth century, these shows were a major part of British society,

But these big breed improvement shows were inaccessible to the working and middle classes. You have to have vast acreages to maintain herds of cattle and other hoofed stock, and anyone outside of the elite would have been unable to participate in these programs.

However, dog shows provided that outlet.  They were a way that the average man could participate in the elite’s game of producing new strains, and small terriers don’t require that much in terms of resources to maintain.

Yorkshire terriers come out of a society in which everyone wanted to produce animals for exhibition.  Breeding small terriers provided this opportunity.

To understand breed formation, it is important to understand the society in which these breeds were founded.  Britain in the nineteenth century was a class conscious society, but one in which people could move from the lower class to the upper middle class (at least in theory).  There was a tendency to imitate the nobility, even if this desire was inchoate or in defiance.

It is no wonder, then, that the foundation of Yorkshire terriers is almost the exact inverse of the founding of golden retrievers.  Different social classes do dogs differently.

So much about dogs is really about people, and the inverse foundations of these two popular breeds really does show it.

 


Natural History

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Sep 4, Our pawesome dog food guide!

Did you know that most stores currently carry brands of dog food that have been linked to recalls, class action lawsuits, and serious health consequences?
Dog Food Blog | Best Dog Food Guide

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Friday Funny: Following Directions

This made me laugh. Can’t say he did it wrong. Until next time, Good day, and good dog!


Doggies.com Dog Blog

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Human Health Irritations Due to Pets

Some people are unfortunate because they have allergies to dogs and will never be able to enjoy the love, devotion, and companionship a human receives from a pet dog.

The symptoms of dog allergies are very similar to the symptoms of other types of allergies or the symptoms of a cold. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, …
Dog’sHealth.com Blog

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Sep 4, What makes Back to Basics dog food different?

As someone who blogs about the latest in dog food, we know that you’re more than just a pet parent – you’re a pet advocate. We’ve made some exciting changes
Dog Food Blog | Best Dog Food Guide

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A wall can’t stop this

irma

The most pernicious delusion of our species is that we are somehow above nature. Ever since we chipped away at flint to make spear points or domesticated fire to do our bidding, we’ve contriving hard against nature.

But for the past 10,000 years or so, we’ve been in the process of wall-building. Domesticating grain species is a wall built against hunger that could come from depleted game herds.

But grain grows best only in certain areas, and thus, we’ve become sedentary and possessive. We’ve become better fighters to defend our lands. We’ve built better tools of war. A gun is a finely crafted rock-chucker.  An ICBM with a hydrogen bomb is little more than a super rock-chucker that throws a very deadly rock.

When diseases have developed as a result of our great concentrations of population, we’ve created sewage systems. We’ve developed medicines to defend ourselves against disease.

We have made it so our average lifespans are at least double what they were just centuries ago. The planet now teems with us.

And we all want walls to protect us.

We’ve spent so much time designing and contriving new ways of security, new ways of comfort, that in these wealthier countries, we live almost as aliens upon our own planet.

In the United States, we live in a sort of fairy tale fortress. The nuclear triad and our advanced airforce mean that no enemies are going to get us.  Most of us live in cities, where the only predators we’ll ever know are those belonging to our species. Air conditioning and mosquito control make the South livable, and insulation and fine furnaces make the North’s winters pass in comfort.

We have power, but that power is finite.

Very simply, there is isn’t a wall we can build of any kind that can stop a hurricane. We cannot nuke our way out of this threat. We are totally at its mercy.

Harvey, which dumped all that rain on Texas and Louisiana, ruined the best-laid plans of cotton farmers and urban planners.

The boiling seas off Africa are now sending us another.  This one is a vortex of water vapor and wind that no more cares that it is going to hit West Palm Beach than it would Winnipeg. It is mindless force of nature, and it is about to humble the sunny lands. It will cost billions of dollars.

And no presidential act, no bluster or official act, can stop what is coming. True, the warming planet makes these superstorms more likely, but the contribution our carbon-addicted economy did to create this storm was already cast into the atmosphere. Whether we elected the denialist or the one who didn’t deny it,  we were going to warm and warm anyway, and the storms will still come.

We are laid out vulnerable now. The millions of years of evolution and the thousands of years of civilization are but a veneer.  Before this coming storm, we are the Taung child, and the great eagle is stooping from the sky, talons poised.

We’ve spent much of our political energy over the past year or so engaged picayune squabbles. We’ve become obsessed with immigration, especially of how it relates to our so-called “national character.” We’ve elected a man who will keep us safe from the scary Mexicans and Muslims, as if those were the greatest threat we had to face.

We lost our minds about who gets to refuse service at the bakery and who gets to use what bathroom. We fought those wars of culture so long that they are so well-worn and threadbare that we no longer have a body politic. We have our factions now. That is the United States. States that are united in law but no longer in national purpose or understanding.

But while we were worrying about all these things, the planet warmed a bit more. We landed, then, one year on a bad roll of the dice, and the big storms are coming.

We could have spent this time working on building up a post-carbon economy, improving infrastructure, and developing innovative ways of flood control and evacuation procedures.

That’s what a rational people would have done with these past few years. The debate of the last presidential campaign would have largely been based upon those issues and not the worst sort of nationalist fear-mongering.

But we build the walls. We imprison more people in the world than any other, and yet we do not feel safe. We are armed to the teeth with more guns per capita than anywhere else, and yet we don’t sleep easy at night.

Income inequality and job insecurity eat away at our sound minds. We might have spent the last election fighting over those issues.  We chose differently.

Now the poor  are exposed to the drowning waters and the howling winds. It won’t be as bad as Katrina, we hope.

But no wall can stop what is coming.  It is coming. People will die.

No matter how advanced we are, the fortress cannot protect us.

We are vulnerable, exposed. And this is truly frightening for such a walled-off species.

 

 


Natural History

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Dog Runs Away To Find Missing Elderly Woman

Flash with the rescue team

It’s always scary when a pet runs away from home. However, the Ward family in Durham, England, had an extra joyful reunion with their dog, Flash, after he disappeared overnight. While away from home, Flash managed to find a woman who had been missing since the day before!

According to The Telegraph, an elderly woman disappeared on Saturday, July 22. Police began searching for the woman at the request of her family. The search involved a search and rescue team, members of the public, a police helicopter, and more than 20 officers. As one officer noted, “The whole community chipped in.” However, it was the ten-month-old Patterdale Terrier, Flash, who ended up the hero.

Read the complete story.

Halo Pets

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