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Instincts & DNA

Skull of Fox Terrier

Dogs vs. Wolves

This excerpt is the first chapter of  Dog Smart, a new book by Linda Case, MS, founder and head trainer at AutumnGold Dog Training Center in Mahomet, Illinois, and the author of a number of books on training and animal nutrition. Case also taught at the University of Illinois Department of Animal Sciences and College of Veterinary Medicine for 20 years.

Dog DNA Tests: Mixed Results

While some of the early mixed-breed identification tests used a blood sample, all of the products on the market today extract DNA from cells swabbed by the dog's owner from the inside of the dog's cheek. The swab is sealed in a container provided by the company and mailed off to the company's lab. There, technicians extract your dog's DNA from the swab, and use computers to identify and compare specific bits of it to bits taken from dogs of known lineage.

Is Our Dogs’ Behavior Genetic?

We can prioritize giving dogs as solid a genetic background as possible. Temperament should be the highest priority in breeding, closely followed by physical health. Animals with questionable temperaments should not be allowed to pass on behavioral problems, either through their genes, through stress hormones in the uterus, or through modeling fearful behavior to their puppies in early life. Temperament is more important than preserving stellar conformation or spectacular performance; in fact, in breeds with small gene pools, bringing in genetic diversity from outside the breed is preferable to breeding dogs with questionable temperaments.

Your Dog’s Physical Characteristics (And Why They Matter)

if you are aware of them before your dog suffers an injury. For example

Wolves, Dogs, Differ in Ability to Digest Starches

Study finds genetic differences between dogs and wolves, with dietary implications. Domestication appears to have led to genetic changes in dogs that make them able to digest starches better than wolves can, according to a paper published in Nature in January.

Going Big

It’s incumbent on owners to make sure their large and giant breed dogs are especially well-trained, well-behaved, and well-socialized.

Dogs with the MDR1 Mutation: Drug Sensitivities

Most dog owners are aware that Collies and other herding breeds may be sensitive to ivermectin, used for heartworm prevention and to treat certain parasites. But did you know that these dogs can also be sensitive to a number of other drugs, and that other breeds can also be affected?

Understanding Highly Predatory Dogs

I remember a day when I was waiting in the vet's office for my dog's appointment. The man sitting next to us started telling me, with beaming pride, about how his little white Westie had caught seven barn rats in the past week. I couldn't help but admire this cute, fluffy dog's superior hunting skills. Predatory behavior in dogs is something I respect. From following a scent trail, to stalking a bird, chasing a ball, or herding sheep, I am intrigued with the many forms predatory behavior manifests in our dogs; it is part of what makes dogs so amazing! But, predatory behavior is not so admirable (and much less socially acceptable), when, instead of it being a country terrier ridding a barn of rats or an Aussie herding sheep, it is your city dog chasing a skateboarder or the neighbor's cat.

DNA Testing for Mixed Breed Dogs

The sequencing of the canine genome, accomplished as a public research project in 2004, opened the floodgates to endless possibilities for canine genetic testing. The holy grail for many scientists engaged in this work is the understanding of, and ultimately, the elimination of inherited canine diseases. For many dog owners, though, the most exciting outcome of this serious work is the possibility that they can learn exactly what breeds their mutts are made of. Though there are already several commercial companies offering products that purport to be able to do just that, our assessment of the breed identification tests is that the results may be just as mixed as the dogs they seek to explain. The test results may be nearly as varied, interesting, and enjoyable as our mixed-breed friends, but it seems that, at least right now, they may not be able to absolutely satisfy the question of your mutt’s parentage. The tests are getting better every day, though! And as the understanding of DNA, the size of the sample databases, and the power of computers grow, it’s likely that the tests will, at some point, truly live up to the marketing hype currently being used to sell them.

Earthdog, An Underground Dog Training Activity

As long as there have been farmers and hunters, there have been “earth dogs.” Hardy, scrappy little dogs helped hunters tree squirrels, run rabbits to ground, corner foxes in their dens, and clear vermin from dwellings. As often happens, humans found a way to create competitive games from dogs’ natural abilities. For terriers and Dachshunds, a sport is born. Earthdog! Get that rat! As early as 211 B.C., mention was made of tiny rough-coated dogs used to follow animals into their burrows. Later, in the 1576 book De Canibus Anglicis, by Johannes Caius, the use of terriers was described in detail. In 1935, after many years of friends gathering together to test their dogs’ capabilities against those of their friends’ dogs, the Dachshund Club started offering trials modeled after German training for fox and badger hunting. This included building underground tunnels up to 50 feet long, with twists and turns along the way that required dogs to make decisions about which way to go to find their quarry. And it’s dark down there! In 1941 the Sealyham Terrier Club issued the first “working certificate,” which outlined requirements for dogs to search out woodchucks. In 1971 the American Working Terrier Association (AWTA) started artificial den trials in the U.S. By 1994, the American Kennel Club had launched its Earthdog program.

Your Dog’s Ability to Track Scents

Humans have taken advantage of dogs' incredibly keen sense of smell over the ages for such uses as hunting, tracking lost and fugitive humans, and more recently, the detection of bombs, narcotics, and other contraband. It's well known that a dog's nose is many times sharper than our own – estimates range from 10,000 to 100,000 times superior to ours, with a far greater number and variety of scent receptors in their noses, more neurons linking the nose to the brain, and a greater proportion of their brains devoted to smell.

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