El Perrito Pequeno – The Chihuahua

The arrival of Baby Sebastian has caused me to spend much more time at home…which equals spending much more time with my pups.  Yesterday  I found myself looking at my little Chihuahua Amigo and realizing I know very little about his breed!  Time to get down to business and educate myself about just where he came from and what his fellow Chihuahuas are like.

My Amigo (modeling one of Sebastian's baby hats)

My own Chihuahua, Amigo (modeling one of Sebastian’s baby hats)

Everyone knows that Chihuahuas originated in Mexico, but I was surprised to find that the history of their origin is often described as “puzzling” or “legend”.  Members of the ancient Mexican Toltec civilization had a companion dogs known as the Techichis, but little is know about that animal.  (Little is really even know about the Toltec themselves…they didn’t even have a written language!  All that we know about them comes from Aztecs.)  A “dog pot” thought to illustrate a Techichi was buried in a tomb in Mexico dates back to somewhere around 300 B.C. Wheeled dog toys thought to represent different varieties of Chihuahuas show up in Mexico around what is thought to be around 100 A.D.  In other words, no one knows when the Chihuahua as we think of it today showed up in Mexico…but it was a heck of a long time ago!

Another interesting historical fact about this breed – Christopher Columbus was probably responsible for bringing the Chihuahua to Europe.  He even references the itty-bitty dog in a letter to the King of Spain.

Unlike most breeds recognized by the AKC, the Chihuahua breed standard does not specify Chi Bodyheight but only weight – which cannot exceed 6 pounds.  (If you were wondering about my Amig0, he is not a pure bred, but what my husband likes to refer to as a “hybrid”…a.k.a. mutt/mix.  He tips the Chihuahua scales at 14 pounds!)  Other AKC qualifications include “muscular” hindquarters, a “slightly arched, gracefully sloping” neck, and a “saucy” expression.  (Yes…the official American Kennel Club stance on a Chihuahua’s expression is that is should be SAUCY!  I love that!!)

I think we all know about the temperament of Chihuahuas.  Unfortunately, they aren’t exactly well-known for their sweet, easy-going personality.  They tend to be very loyal to one member of the family.  They can also be easily provoked…which means they aren’t exactly patient with the poking and prodding of small children.  They are, however, much smarter than most of us give them credit for!  They often mimic the personality of their humans…so in the right family, they can be much more relaxed.

Chi

Look at those ears! (Picture from DogBreedInfo.com)

I did not know that Chihuahuas actually prefer the company of other Chihuahuas in what is often described as a “clannish nature”.  They (allegedly) do not get along with other breeds.  (Although Amigo has yet to meet a dog he didn’t like…regardless of breed or size.)  I also found that Chihuahuas especially love their dens – which explains why Amigo can be found burrowed under all the sheets and blankets at the foot of our bed.Amigo Pillow

I feel like my little Amigo does possess some of those stereotypical Chihuahua attributes, but he is very much his own man.  As I mentioned before, he loves Sebastian…and despite many accidental kicks and punches by tiny fists, Amigo has shown absolutely no signs of snapping (or even being slightly annoyed!  He still just seems fascinated.)  The only thing that gets him worked up these days are the frogs that come out at night in our back yard.  He thinks himself quite the frog slayer.  For better of for worse, he has been a perfect addition to our family…as I write this, he is snuggling up to me with his head on my lap.  I can’t imagine life without him.

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He’s a Real Dandie! – The Dandie Dinmont

Dandie Dinmont

The Dandie Dinmont

This week marked a special occasion in my family – my mom and dad got a new PUPPY!  I was shocked to hear that this new addition would be joining the fam…not because they aren’t dog lovers, but because I didn’t know they were interested in doing the puppy thing (again.)  Little did I know about my dad’s dream: being the proud father of a Dandie Dinmont.

While I never claim to be an expert when it comes to dog breeds, I can honestly say that (until two days ago) I had never come into contact with a Dandie Dinmont.  I probably wouldn’t have even heard of the breed if it wasn’t for my dad’s beloved Pepper – his “once-in-a-lifetime” dog.  Even then, all my Dandie knowledge was Pepper-specific, other than the fact that they were hard to come by.  After years of searching for the perfect Dandie Dinmont, my dad found his pup…but I was still clueless about the breed.

Dandie Dinmonts are terriers from Scotland who look suspiciously like dachshunds to me (long bodies, short legs.) In fact, it is suspected that certain Dandie-Dinmont-Terrierlines did interbreed with dachshunds at one time or another.  The Dandies unique characteristics are (1) the “top knot” (or “poof” as my mom eloquently puts it) on the top of their head along with (2) their hind legs – which are significantly longer than their front legs (quite adorable!) They are only found in two colors: pepper (dark black to light gray…and I’m assuming where Pepper got his name) or mustard (a reddish brown…but really almost white.)  They rarely weigh more than 25 pounds and are only about 8-11 inches high.

I was surprised to read numerous sources described this breed’s temperament as “tough”…it looks like such a little fluffy dog!  They are terriers, though…and terriers that were meant to hunt badgers and otters.  Dandies are intelligent, fond of children, and relatively easy to train.  They are adaptable – meaning they will be happy in an apartment or a house with a big back yard (though be mindful of their proficiency in digging!)  These little guys are great family dogs.

The most interesting thing I found about the Dandie Dinmont has nothing to do with the dog itself, but rather with where the breed got its name.  Originally they were known as Catcleugh or Hindlee terriers (or often just pepper or mustard terriers depending on their color).  Dandie Dinmont is actually a character in Guy Mannering, a novel by Sir Walter Scott.  The fictional Dandie Dinmont, a “jolly farmer”  was thought to be based on the real life James Davidson – who claimed that all Dandies were descendants of who of his own two dogs and is therefore credited with being the father of the modern Dandie Dinmont breed.  I just love the fact that this dog is named after a character in a book!

IMG_1170

The Newest Member of the Family (many more pictures to come!)

The thing about Dandie Dinmonts….they are incredibly rare!  In the United States, less than 100 new Dandie pups are registered each year.  That’s crazy!

My mom and dad’s pup came with the name Dakota, but we will have to see if that sticks.  Even at only 4 months old, his expressive eyes and scruffy “beard” make him look so wise…I think he needs a dignified name befitting his gentlemanly qualities.  Only time will tell exactly how he will fit into the family (long haired dachshund Scarlett is the current queen of the castle), but after only a few hours with this little guy, I’m a Dandie Dinmont fan for life!

Houston Chronicle Pit Bull Hatred UPDATE

Many of you will remember the post Why Does the Houston Chronicle Want Me to Hate Pit Bulls? from a few months back.  It definitely got a lot of people talking.  Every single one of my family, friends, and faithful blog readers (strongly!) agreed – it was a ridiculous article and should have never found its way to the front page of a major news publication.

Houston Chronicle

Me

Despite my disagreement with the Houston Chronicle’s views on pit bulls, I still subscribe to the paper.  (Reading the paper first thing in the morning over a cup of coffee is one of my absolute favorite things to do.)  And this past Tuesday, on Page 3 of the City & State section, on the very bottom of the page in the “Around the State” section a heading caught my eye: “Dad accused of negligence in mauling death.”

Turns out, the 4 year old boy who was mauled to death (the one that I mentioned in my earlier post) was missing for SEVERAL HOURS before his dad decided to contact authorities.  It was not until the NEXT DAY that the little boy’s body was discovered in the neighbor’s yard.  (The boy’s father, Michael Cole Johnson, was detailing his truck when the boy wandered off.)

While this story – when it was the grizzly tale of pit bull brutality –  was considered the #1 story on the day the paper gets the most reads; it was an 8 sentence blip in the City & State section on a Tuesday – when it was simply the story of just another idiot father.  The last sentence being: “The dog was euthanized.”

I was livid when I read this story. How could the Houston Chronicle print a story with the title “Man’s Best Friend?  Beware” on the front page…and then not find the time or the space to recant their bias reporting?  Obviously, I understand everything is a business…and if “sex sells” in advertising, “fear sells” the news…but we aren’t talking about a hurricane or terrorism.  Pit Bulls are something that we as a society encounter in our day-to-day lives.  Instilling meaningless fear in the subconsciousness of the masses will only perpetuate the problem!  

But should I be so upset?  At least the paper printed something!  While the small article doesn’t even mention that the poor, euthanized Pit Bull was originally blamed for the boy’s death, it does say that Michael Cole Johnson was indicted on charges of negligent homicide, injury to a child and child abandonment in the “mauling death.”

So, what do you think?  “Ridiculously too little” or “At least they tried“?

New Editions to Old Traditions (New breeds & how they get recognized by the AKC)

As a dog lover, you would have to be living under a rock to not know that Malachy, the Pekingese, took the coveted Best in Show title at this years Westminster Dog Show.  I must admit, I’m not the biggest Pekingese fan.  (In all fairness, though, I haven’t met too many of them!)

You have to love the tradition of the dog show!  This year was  the 136th Westminster Dog Show…which means it’s the second longest continuously held sporting event in America.  (The Kentucky Derby holds the top spot; it was first held in 1875.)  Way back in its first year, the Westminster Dog show drew 1200 entries.  (Now held at Madison Square Garden, 2500 dogs are able to participate. )

All pup participants must be registered with the American Kennel Club.  The AKC now recognizes an incredible 185 unique breeds.  How does a breed become recognized by the AKC?  That’s a very good question!

First of all – you have to prove people are interested in your new breed.  That means you must have a breed club with at least 100 members.  Then you have to prove that there are at least 300 dogs with a three generation pedigree in your shiny new breed.  THEN you have to prove that your new breed (and its fans) are spread over at least 20 states.  Once the AKC reviews all this info – along with the breed’s standards AND all the details about your breed’s club – you still aren’t even recognized!  Now your breed is allowed to compete in the Miscellaneous Class.

Dogs of new breeds usually complete in the Miscellaneous Class for one to three years.  After the first year, the AKC follows up with the breed club and makes sure they are still hosting events and adding new members.  Once the AKC is confident the long list of criteria has been met, the breed is presented to the Board of Directors to be officially recognized.

Xoloitzcuintli - We suspect they are behind the phrase "so ugly they're cute"!

This year, six new breeds made their debut at the Westminster Dog Show: the American English Coonhound, the Cesky Terrier, the Entlebucher Mountain Dog, the Finnish Lapphund, the Norwegian Lundenund, and the Xoloitzcuintli.  Over the next week or so, we are going to be exploring these new (and strangely named!) breeds to find out what makes them different from the other 179 already established.  Stay tuned!

Possibly the PERFECT Pet – (The Story of the Vizsla)

Before working with dogs professionally, I was relatively unfamiliar with the Vizsla.  I did have one friend, older than the rest of our circle, who got a dog (a Vizsla) as a substitute for the family he wanted.  (He was a sweet guy, but he just couldn’t find it in him to commit to more than a dog.)  He took that dog with him EVERYWHERE (as you can only do in NYC) and dressed her in hats, shirts, coats, costumes…whatever he could find.  He made YouTube videos featuring her and posted endless pics on social media.  All I could think was “That is one sweet, patient dog.”

Not long after I met another Vizsla, Sadie.  She came to my dog daycare every day.  We all called her “Sweet Sadie” because she was just that.  Never barked, rarely played (she was an older pooch)…she was affectionate and well mannered.  A perfect dog.

So, Vizslas!  I don’t think they are as popular as the lab, and I don’t think they are as well known as the retriever.  They are a fascinating breed, though, and ideal pets for family life.

Vizslas originated in Hungary, and stone etchings confirm they have been kept as pets for over a thousand years.  As Hungarians at this time lived a nomadic life, these dogs were not just companions but herded and guarded livestock, tracked wild animals, and hunted (often alongside falcons.)  In other words, they were essential to human survival. Later, Vizlas would accompany lords and barons when they hunted for sport.  They were such a sign of aristocracy, it wasn’t until 1825 (when breed standards were established and Vizslas were named the Official Pointing Dogs of Hungary) that non-nobles were permitted to own them.

So you know that they are a competent noble  breed, but what makes them good pets?  Well, first of all, they are gentle mannered and extremely loyal.  They are quiet  and affectionate.  They are great with children.  Best of all (as if you didn’t already think they were the perfect dog!) they are incredibly easy to train – both in basic obedience and hunting.

If you are lazy and don’t want to spend any time with your dog, the Vizsla is not for you.  These dogs want to be outside hiking and biking.  They are intelligent, so they need to be stimulated.  They will not be content to sit inside and watch tv all day, and they will not be happy to be left alone much of the time.  (I am the same way myself!)

I have always been drawn to this breed.  I think they are amazingly beautiful creatures and (while I know it is a dangerous game to make assumptions about an entire breed off a handful of examples) I have never met a Viszla who wasn’t he absolute sweetest, most gentle and loving creature.

So, I’m curious.  What do you think of Vizslas….are they the perfect pet?

Book Review: Dogs by Raymond and Lorna Coppinger

Enter any book store or library, and you are sure to find no shortage of dog books. My problem with many of these books is that they are long, drawn out, and extremely oversimplified. They spend page after page spelling out information that you could have just as easily gotten from a 5 minute Google session. Look for something more in depth, though, and you might soon find yourself reading behavioral or biological studies on the present day dog…using vocabulary that has you frustrated, confused, and reaching for that Cutest Puppies picture book instead.

Dogs, by Raymond and Lorna Coppinger, is the perfect middle ground. This book had me hooked by the time I finished the introduction. By using scientific terminology and referencing evolutionary theories, I felt like I was actually learning something. The authors’ casual writing style and simple explanations kept me from getting confused. Raymond and Lorna go into details about how a dog’s brain works – how it grows, how it learns, how it is wired. They also spend many pages analyzing exactly what kind of relationships we have with dogs. Who is benefiting who….and why we probably should not consider ourselves dog’s best friend.

In the book, dogs are broken into five different categories – modern household dogs, village dogs, livestock-guarding dogs, sled dogs, and herding dogs. The reader is then given a comprehensive look on the physical and mental aspects of each of these categories. As someone who deals exclusively with household dogs, I have somewhat limited knowledge of “working” dogs…and virtually no knowledge at all of sled dogs.  I was blown away at the details given – everything from how sled dogs are raised, to why certain breeds do (or don’t) make good sled dogs, to the physics of how dogs are harnessed to maximize their speed.  It was truly fascinating while not being so detailed that I lost interest.

Ray & Lorna Coppinger

The Coppingers also have strong feelings about purebred dogs – feelings that I completely agree with.  “I believe the modern household dog is bred to satisfy human psychological needs, with little or not consideration of the consequence for the dog.”  Some modern household dog breeds, they explain, have been bred for their aesthetic looks alone – and have become unhealthy, almost cartoonish versions of their ancestors.  (They – like many people today – cite the bulldog as the number one example of this.) I also agree with the authors in their opinion that working dogs should never be pets.  People love the way these dogs look…but have no idea how ingrained these dogs’ “working” behavior actually is.

The most fascinating part of this book, though, is the chapter devoted to the dogs of Pemba.  In a quest to discover just how wolves evolved into dogs…and the relationship humans and dogs had during this evolution, the authors studied the people and pups on this fairly primitive island.  The island’s residents live in villages and are hunters and gatherers.  The dogs are isolated enough so that there aren’t  new genes being introduced each generation.  This chapter was AMAZING.  Reading about how people benefit dogs (living with dogs in their midst, but not as pets) and how the dogs live as “wild” animals….it was just an incredibly captivating read.

So, if you couldn’t tell, I loved the book and highly recommend it to every dog lover – whether you are looking for something to help you better understand your own pooches origin and thought process or you have a more scientific brain and really want some detailed biological research.

And don’t worry….scattered amid the science mumbo-jumbo are the quite a few of those cute puppy pics!

The Biography of your Best Friend (The Creating of dog breeds) – Part 2

In, The Biography of your Best Friend (The Evolution of the Dog) – Part 1, we learned all about how wolves became dogs…and just how long those dogs have been a part of human life.  All wolves pretty much look the same, though, and everyone knows that dogs come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, colors, temperaments, and energy levels.  So how the heck did that happen?

A modern day Siberian Husky - a close relative to the wolf (as if you couldn't tell by this picture!)

Evolution is an amazing thing.  Once the partnership between humans and dogs formed, some of the wolf-y qualities began to fade.  For the first time, dogs as a species began to take on their own characteristics.  Barking is probably the first to come to mind.  Wolves howl to communicate with each other.  Dogs would have developed barking as a way to warn their human counterparts at the sight or sound of something unfamiliar.

By the time humans began to increase their population and therefore spread to different areas of the world, dogs were already members of “society” – so they came along for the ride.  Just as our own species did, dogs had to adapt to the new environments while simultaneously adapting to fulfill our own changing needs.  Technically, though, this created new dog landraces not new dog breeds.  By definition, a landrace is a domesticated animal that develops because of its adaptation to a new natural or cultural environment.  In other words, humans were not forcing two dogs to mate to create new, more helpful creatures.  It was an organic process.

Of course, though, we humans couldn’t sit by and let nature take its course.  Over time, we began to create breeds (NOT landraces) to help accommodate our own needs.  Modern dog breeds were not recognized until the creation of the English Kennel Club in 1873.  The American Kennel Club was founded shortly after in 1884 and is now the largest purebred dog registry in the world.  (Now recognizing 173 breeds!  Woof!)

Even now…after all this time… some of our breeds are very closely genetically related to wolves.  Some of the most similar breeds?  The Siberian Husky, the Afghan Hound, the African Basenji, the Chinese Chow Chow, the Japanese Akita, and the Egyptian Saluki.  It’s really not surprising seeing as where these dogs hail from…surely the sites of some of our earliest civilizations.

Saluki - these dogs look like they jumped out of an ancient Egyptian relief!

But just what part did humans play in creating the “modern dog”?  Hmmmm….good question!  You will just have to check back in with the Wags & Whiskers blog for the third instalment of “The Biography of your Best Friend.”

Pug Life

For six days of last week, I was lucky enough to be asked to stay and take care of three wonderful pups – two of which were Pugs.  My husband stayed with me, and in the midst of the chaos (Buffy came with us…and when you are inside with four dogs it can only be described as chaos!) he asked me “So, what are pugs for?” I am forever spewing random facts about dogs and dog breeds, so I understood his question to be inquiring about what pugs were originally bred for rather than what purpose they serve in today’s society.  (That purpose could only be to increase the world’s overall CUTENESS factor!)

I am embarrassed to stay, I was stumped.

Action Shot!

“The Pug is well described by the phrase “multum in parvo” which means ‘a lot of dog in a small space.'” is the first sentence of the pug’s profile on the American Kennel Club’s website.  Well, I definitely agree with that!  These dogs have lots of personality.  As a dog walker, I don’t come into contact with too many pugs – these guys usually don’t need a whole lot of exercise.  The ones I do, though, have giant personalities.  The tiny Pug puppy I was staying with was extremely playful and spent hours and hours chasing Buffy around.  Buffy….the lab….being chased around by a Pug puppy.

Pugs….

One of the oldest breeds of dogs?  They have been around since 400 B.C.  400 years before the birth of Christ!

They were kept by Buddhist monks?  Really?  I must say, I didn’t see that coming.  Most of the pugs I know are pretty playful and spunky….I can’t really picture them in Tibetan Monistaries.

Comfortable in small spaces?  That I totally knew.  They were so popular in New York City.  Those New Yorkers are always walking everywhere; they don’t want to have to walk their dogs after a long day of buses and subways.

For some reason, I also think of pugs in those beautiful old oil paintings in ornate frames in museums.  Turns out, I’m not completely crazy!  Apparently, a lot of wealthly ladies (who had money to throw around to get portraits painted of them) had pugs as pets.

La Marquesa de Pontejos (1786) by Francisco Goya

Countess Anna Orzelska (1730) by Antoine Pesne

So to answer my husband’s original question – Pugs weren’t really bread for anything other than what they do today – lay around and be cute!  They have been fashionable in many countries and royal courts, and can adapt to any lifestyle they are thrown into.  Great with kids, eager to please, adorable….sounds like a great breed to me!