Healthy Dogs

Both Reid and Matt reviewed Ted Kerasote’s first dog book, Merle’s Door, here. His newest book, Pukka’s Promise:the Quest for longer- Lived Dogs, nearly got by me as I worked on my own dog book, and that would be a shame. Less a narrative than his previous book, it uses his present dog Pukka to examine all the odd modern attitudes to dogs that hamper our efforts to breed and live with healthy animals. Without being an exact parallel to Hounds of Heaven, it nevertheless is concerned with many of its issues: how to breed healthy dogs, how to feed them, how to let them lead good lives. He deals with everything from genetic diversity to cancer.

I  was intensely interested in his chapter on, and against, spaying and neutering. Even for stopping population growth, he argues, vasectomies and tubal ligation, which can be cheaper, are superior methods– dogs with intact organs are less likely to stress their adrenal glands, have fewer cancers, and are generally healthier. He puts a little less emphasis on genetic diversity and its loss, my chief worry, but he catches the cultish spirit behind universal spay neuter. Many people are actively hostile to him when they realize his dog is “intact”; one asks him “Don’t all dogs have to be spayed and neutered?”

“Why?” I replied.

“For their health”.

“Where did you hear that?’

“From my vet.” !!!!

It seems even with the struggles and arguments I have had, I have been living in a bubble.Kerasote goes on to state:”Intact dogs have almost vanished from ordinary family life during the last four decades and can now only be seen on a regular basis at dog shows and field trials, in some inner-city neighborhoods, and on Indian reservations. [emphasis mine SB] This is not a representative sample of dogdom, either behaviorally or genetically. But when I’ve remarked to people in the animal welfare movement that we need to be concerned about the narrowing of the canid gene pool, and its consequences for the health of dogs as well as our understanding of them, I’ve been called an egghead. As one person told me, “I can’t get exercised over long-term genetics effects when millions of dogs are dying in shelters.'”

If you want to have dogs, never mind healthy dogs, you had better think about this! Here are a few amusing links. Which dog breeds are closely related to wolves?” will remind you that Asian sighthounds are not greyhounds. Pedigree Dogs Exposed is a continuing expose of what limited gene pools do to animals. And “33 Healthiest dog breeds” was getting me angrier and angrier as it counted down, until I got to the last– and laughed aloud.

Some healthy dogs we know:

19 thoughts on “Healthy Dogs”

  1. Having recently been through the dog acquisition process with no less than three tries and no fewer than four rescue organizations…and either given up or failed outright, I think I can safely say why there are so many dogs living and dying in shelters. Firstly, getting a dog from one of them is a minor bureaucratic nightmare, requiring references from three sources, a home visit from the organization, sometimes a significant amount of money up front and possibly some costly equipment. Secondly, many if not most of the people with whom you are dealing, either directly or indirectly as in the case of administrators, are making their living by having a surplus of 'troubled' animals…cats, dogs, hamsters, rats, snakes, turtles, etc. Do I understand? Yes. Do I agree with the current approach? No…recent ad in Craig's list asking for barn cats for example…non-neutered critters to be left to their own devices while providing rodent control for someone's barn. These are hard to find and exist only outside the animal shelter/rescue venue.

    Best interface I've had so far was with a breeder of good quality hunting dogs, a man anxious to get me matched up with a pup that had been through the medical melee and was ready to go for a very reasonable price. This mans reputation and at least part of his livelihood rests squarely on his ability to get one litter per year ready and out the door. These dogs are birthed and raised in a home environment and bred by a known and successful pair. They are exemplary and raised to be your hunting buddy and household companion.

    I was hoping to be a knight in shining armor and rescue a pooch…I think I'll wait until next year and buy a pup from a breeder. It's easier, cheaper and in the long run more sensible…at least in my opinion.

    Finally, the idea that your chosen canine companion requires a lifelong commitment from you is a great idea, one to be kept to and honored 'till dearth do you part'. There's a moral and ethical issue here, the frequent absence of which seems to be symptomatic of much that is troubling our society and culture. As one who has had dogs since the age of 4 (I'm now 69). I've lost several to old age and am simply looking for another opportunity…now if I could just figure out how to convince the shelter folks. Naw, I think I'll stick with the breeder idea and suffer puppyhood.

  2. The more time I spend overseas and see how animal welfare is addressed in other countries, the more I am starting to think the animal rights movement is not as well-versed in the subject as they like to believe.

    I also begun to realize animal rights in other countries are not the same concept as we define it in North America, UK or Australia slash New Zealand.

    The answers are out there, and the solutions already exist. It's just that the bleeding hearts don't want to hear them because what there is to say is contrary to their ideology.

  3. Although I do not agree that all dogs should be spayed or neutered, I'd ask: What is the genetic value of the outcome of, say, a beagle and St. Bernard mix? Letting canine copulation thrive seems to me as mistaken as the selective breeding for show dog attributes. Working and hunting breeds are the product of "unnatural selection" over generations. They deserve our respect and admiration for what they can do. Spaying and neutering are ways to maintain and possibly to improve these breeds. Leaving a dog or bitch intact therefore should be a carefully considered choice.

  4. Be careful what you wish for, Gerry (;-)0

    Agreed, no reason for a St Bernard Chihuahua– to raise the stakes.Nor is anyone arguing for that– really, you must read the book. But I am probably even harder on CLOSED studbooks than Ted- not to make mutts, but to guard genetic diversity. As a biologist, I know they are pernicious; as a breeder of non- book "salukoids" I have suffered from them.

    No closed studbook, however tested, can avoid harmful mutations coming out as the
    number of close matings inevitably unmasks them. That is why the Dalmatian and the boxer have genetic problems– and the adherence to closed books was held to by the breed club in both cases, refusing to register good dogs specifically bred to avoid certain congenital defects. You can look it up, and it is in MY book; it is also dealt with all the time in one of my links, Pedigree Dogs Exposed.

    Of course one can breed selectively without closed populations– for centuries, the salukoid or Asian sighthound has been maintained that way. And there are other ways too- in Kurdistan, the females wear blankets tucked under their tails as "chastity belts". Anyway, I have always kept intact dogs of both sexes and have never had an accidental litter.

    What I am against is mandatory spay neuter, or mandatory for non AKC dogs, both of which were proposed by AR groups in New Mexico when they had their moment of fame (even when you had an AKC dog they wanted 200 a year fees for intact individual dog!)

    You haven't had to deal with saluki club judges who want my dogs sterilized, either…

    Ted has statistics on all the matter above and adds a wrinkle; that IF you need to sterilize a dog it is much better– AND SIMPLER, and safer, to do tubal ligation or vasectomy

    I have emphasized this spay- neuter bit because it dovetails with my concerns, but he has a lot to say about diet, cancer, and many other things. You really should read his book, and you will get mine soon! I am tempted to send a ms; the only reason why not is that you would have to convince the editors to take your corrections. But maybe we could work on that too..

  5. I read Dr. Beckers review/interview regarding Kerasotes book…I considered my earlier comments…I reconsidered my ealier comments…I read an article on European animal control methods…I read an article on British animal control methods. The unspoken undercurrent in all cases…the germ of reason not surprisingly, is a lack of education and a sense of personal responsibility regarding pets of the rwo most common types; cars and dogs. At this point I will step into deep water…having a right or privelege also conveys the mandate for intelligent and responsible use of that right or privilege. In my humble opinion, the most responsible elements in the private sector are educated and caring pet owners. In the public sector, the British seem to have a good working method regarding stray dogs and I believe this is the issue underlying this discussion.

    As a nation we are capitulating to forces created on our behalf by those willing to take responsibility where they see its need. Their methods aren't always best but they are addressing a problem that is the result of a much greater problem, ignorance and lack of responsibility.

    I'll stop here.

  6. Actually, I have not only read Kerasote's book but reviewed it on my blog In addition to his research, I was impressed by his argument against neutering and spaying and for tubal ligation and vasectomies. I haven't yet had an opportunity to ask a vet to comment on this issue (and yes, I do recognize that such an opinion might be biased by what he or she was taught in vet school).

    What I am for, I suppose, is some kind of mean between extremes: no mandatory sterilization; no haphazard mating. I'm tempted to add, And no little yap-yap-yappy toy dogs, either–but I may be edging toward an extreme in saying that.

  7. Gawd, don't EVEN git me started on these subjects! I'll wear my right index finger down to a nub! First, yeah, don't worry about going through some !@#$%^&*()(*&^%$#@! anal controlling organization to rescue a dog–just keep yer eyes peeled and you'll find PLENTY that need rescuing! Especially if you get the reputation as a dog nut(sucker) like me–somebody's always calling me trying to find a home for some critter! I have actually been turned down by official rescue organizations because I admitted to free-running dogs off leash! Gasp!(How do these guys imagine working dogs work, if they cain't ever be off leash? And we don't all live in urban environments!) And I'm all for rescuing dogs, BUT, I'm ALSO ALL FOR purebreds(more or less–I'm for genetic diversity too! This from a former keeper of wolf hybrids! Talk about vigorous genetics!) utilized for specific reasons and with particular characteristics–the BEST way to acquire a dog to match your lifestyle! So do like I do, and accumulate some of both! As for spaying and neutering–I think spaying bitches sure makes everything a LOT easier, if one isn't planning on breeding. But no, it shouldn't be MANDATORY! I never neuter boys unless there is a particular reason–health or temperament, etc. Having worked at veterinaries off and on, I always found it interesting(and illuminating) how about half the people who had their male dogs castrated thought it was just the best thing they ever did, and the other half harangued us for RUINING their dogs! Seems like the ones who had dogs for other than casual pets/wardrobe accessories/lawn and house decorations(actual purposes, like hunting or guarding) were the ones who did NOT like the resultant slugs their dogs often became. There are certainly exceptions to this(I've had some of them myself!), where neutering didn't change character or drive particularly, but there is a good chance it will! So why bother unless you MUST? I haven't read Kerasote's 2nd dog book yet, but I will(especially after this reminder!)………L. B.

  8. Ditto to everything you said!

    And I just had the though; got your gift, the Gevaudan book, yesterday, and it is WONDERFUL. I hate underlines too, but there aren't enough to bother me. Thanks, and will report…

    Did I ever tell you of the Wolf chapel at Ste Marie- Loup in Provence?

  9. …..and I went and ordered Kerasote's Pukka book–the latest as mentioned here(I guess I shoulda said "Kerasote's 3rd dog book" above!) So wickedly easy to do on Amazon!…..Glad the "Monsters Of Gevaudan" arrived safely–I'm actually rereading MY copy now again too; food stains and all! Adding MORE food stains to the pages, actually! It IS the most thorough, sensible book on the subject I've read so far, recording IN DETAIL just how human politics/religion/imagination can really influence historical perspectives! Perhaps after reading this account, it'll inspire you to watch "Le Pactes Les Loups"("Brotherhood Of The Wolf") DVD I happen to know you have in your collection–still unwatched? Remember, it is not JUST the movie on the DVD, but also those beloved "Special Features", including an interview with another French author(Michael Louis) who studied and wrote a book on the subject. I've tried to get his book too(even if I think his premise is a bit far-fetched, that the Beast was actually a wolf X dog hybrid PURPOSEFULLY trained by a sadist to attack people! Intriguing, and what they sorta based the movie on, although the movie "beast" was more like a LION wearing ARMOR!….)–but can only find it in French so far(which I AM NOT fluent in, despite some of my ancestry and forced civilized schooling!)—AND LOTS of "behind-the-scenes" stuff of how they filmed the movie, which goes into the legends about the creature(s) a good bit. All with English dubbing and/or subtitles(unlike another French wolf-oriented movie I just got! Good animal action and scenery, even if I can't understand what the heck the humans in it are saying!) All this Gevaudan stuff would make a very interesting blog entry/discussion, I'd think(ahem!)……Nope, never heard the Wolf Chapel at Ste Marie-Loup in Provence story, but now I want to hear it!(yet another blog entry?)……L.B.

  10. …..and continuing to hijack this post with a divergent subject, I always wondered IF Arty Doyle mighta been influenced to write his "Hound Of The Baskervilles" by this pervasive theory regarding the Beast of Gevaudan, in that it was a monstrous canine trained by someone to murder people. Well, heck, you can look up ANYTHING on the internet now, and so I dinkered around with this thought, and OF COURSE there was stuff on the internet along these lines! Nothing definitive, however. And no doubt more modern historians(and a certain filmmaker!) on the subject WERE influenced by the story of the hound of the Baskervilles! Intriguing a theory as this is(and certain aspects of the legend could certainly be interpreted this way), I am still inclined to think it was just a typical case of untypical wolves eating people. Plenty of modern examples of just such incidents being blown all out of realistic proportion by hysterical and imaginative people…..L.B.

  11. …..BUT; to get this back on track with the subject of this post(il est possible!)–you can BET whomever crossbred a wolf to a dog to murder people, they utilized WORKING bloodlines on the dog side, and avoided inbred, functionless show genetics like the plague! Any efforts of King Louis the 15th to prevent people from breeding what they wanted would have likely sparked a revolution!…..L.B.

  12. …..and on and on–I warned you I'd wear my right index finger to a nub on this post! I got about half-a-inch left…..So, why were you getting angry about the choices of the "33 healthiest dogs"–because of the list of potential genetic problems given with most of them? Hard to know HOW healthy they were unless they had given some kind of PERCENTAGE of diseases for each breed mentioned. I was irritated by the use of the Black-And-Tan "Coon"hound, the Redbone "Coon"hound and the Plott hound(the photo shown WAS NOT a Plott Hound, by the way!)–the only reason these breeds are still fairly healthy is because they are still bred by people that WORK them, and the emphasis IS NOT on a narrow-arse, inbred induced, physical-appearance "standard"! Give these breeds some time in the show ring, and you'll see two separate bloodlines evolve:(like SO MANY breeds anymore!)–WORKING lines(Healthy!), and inbred showlines(NOT!). Some of the healthiest canines I've ever had were those wolf-hybrids I ran with all those moons ago–EXCEPT FOR ONE OF THEM–a product of a SEVERELY INBRED boo-boo litter I took on as a rescue(because I am a sucker!).A product of a Brother X Sister mating, PLUS years of severe inbreeding prior to that incompetent accidental breeding! The pup I "rescued"(he DID at least get to have a great, wolfish life the short span he survived…) died at 2 years old of genetic heart and liver failure–AS DID ALL HIS LITTERMATES AND HIS DAM, I eventually found out! Yeah, not even wild wolf blood can trump TOO MUCH INBREEDING(even if you decide to call it "Line-Breeding" for respectability!)–and selecting JUST for some FEW narrow, exaggerated physical characteristics is NO WAY to breed dogs–or ANYTHING! Yet these are the folks trying to outlaw everyone else breeding sensibly! It would be hilarious if it wasn't so tragically STOOPID!……L.B.

  13. …..still…got…a…quarter….inch….left! The fact that they had an Airedale in that list aggravated me, too, as an Airedale is a dog I wish to experience before my time is up! Yet if and when the time comes, I WILL NOT seek out severely inbred, profusely and non-functionally coated AKC bloodlines! But find someone(horrors! A "BACKYARD BREEDER"!) that actually HUNTS their Airedales(and/or utilizes them for other purposes–they ARE extremely versatile dogs!), and get a pup not inclined to be a grooming-pain-in-the-arse woolly–even a smooth one would be fine with me–I've seen a "smooth" Airedale or two, and think they are great-looking! Guaranteed to have better health from such lines, and usually MUCH, MUCH cheaper! This is EXACTLY what I did when I was looking for a superb "Trespassing Dog" when I moved to a more anally controlling civilized area, but still wanted a good all around "woods dog" to accompany me–and decided on a Weimaraner. I found a longtime "backyard breeder" vilified by the local Weimaraner show folk, who raised and bred his dogs for almost exactly why I wanted one, and I couldn't have lucked out better! My Weimar-weiner has been one of the BEST all-around woods dogs I've ever had(quiet, close-ranging, well-camoflouged, distrustful of strangers, protective, excellent nose, superb stamina, retrieving instinct, good in the water, and quite tractable and cooperative no matter what I ask!)–but he is somewhat undersized(65lbs.–hence his excellent stamina!), and they'd throw him outta a show ring, no doubt. But he is BEAUTIFUL TO ME!!! And not a single health issue in 9 years(so far…) THAT'S how you get a good, healthy, purebred dog!…..L.B.

  14. I don't know why it's such a crime to cross breeds, especially if the two breeds have the same purpose, are out of the same root stock, and were historically part of the same breed.

    The ancestors of golden, Labrador, and flat-coated retrievers were all part of what was called the wavy-coated retriever, which was often crossed with the curly-coated retriever. If you look at any pedigree of any of these breeds– except the curly, which have lots of gaps– there is a lot of interbreeding among them. None of these breeds is older than 150 years old, and none were totally closed off as breeds until very recently.

    But then you have the picayune breeds, like Norwich and Norfolk terriers, which differ solely by the type of ear carriage they have.

    I think people get so worked up into the metaphysical aspect of a breed that they can't see exactly what's wrong with the concept. You can show them dataset after dataset, and you still get red herrings and non sequiturs about how allowing crosses will ruin the integrity of the breed or introduce new genetic disorders. Meanwhile, the current breeding system squanders genetic diversity left and right, and disorders continue to pop up. Some breeds wind up losing really important genes across the entire population, like we've seen with Dalmatians before the LUA crossbreeding.

    It's very depressing what we have done dogs and continue to do, even though the science is pretty clear on what we have to do to correct many of these problems.

  15. Highly interesting! This goes along with my observations as a life long "Dog Nut"! I've had tons of dogs, starting so early that I can't remember not having them! Like "Anon" above I've gravitated to quiet all around dogs that do many things well, conforming to someone's idea of breed standard not being one of them! Most of the AKC dogs I've had have turned out to be worthless, I'll stick to my JRTs, Fiests and Curs. I must admit to a desire to cross a more "Birdy" dog with my fur seeking friends though. Perhaps one of the "Straight Leg" hunting Cockers that a good friend's Grandfather still raises. He can't hunt anymore but refuses to give up the friends that served him well for 50+ years. Bully for him! BTW there is a felllow in Texas cross breeding hog dogs for fun as his day job is training and maintaining pointers for birds. Google hybrid vigor and all sorts of good stuff will appear!

  16. So…October 3rd as we were leaving to run errands, our dog-to-be showed up. I stopped our car, got out and was greeted by a yellow lab cross bearing the tag name Lobo. He was friendly and curious and came when called…he was also a little thin and clearly on the loose. A few phone calls later…one to his current owner…revealed that due to peculiar circumstances, he had been let go and he could no longer be kept where he had grown up. He was six years old and appeared healthy. His owner told me that if I'd give him a good home, he was mine to keep. By October 5th, he had been Vetted and licensed and had fresh tags and a new leather collar. Our old dog bed that I'd cleaned up in 2013 after our Corgi succumbed to old age, was ready and waiting. I had a new dog, Lobo had a new home…we were both happy. Two months later, he's turned out to be quite a find. He's well mannered, well trained, learns quickly and is a great walking companion that is almost fast enough to chase down a jack rabbit. He has most of the characteristics of a yellow lab (enough to convince the Vet). He's got enough of something else to be considered a lab cross with maybe a hound. He's up from his as found weight of 61 pounds to about 70…not enough to do more than cover the rib outlines. As he shed his summer coat, he darkened somewhat and has the glossy oily coat that is typical of a lab. No adoption agencies, no breed rescue groups, no shelters needed here, just a bit of old knowledge and some love from each of us…funny how that sort of thing happens.


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