Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Animated collies

Jack, Mametarou, and Hanako

Massugu ni ikou is an animated series from Japan.  Adorable!   It involves the daily life of Mametarou, a little mix breed dog, and his friends - Hanako (Kishu, a breed native to and quite popular in Japan, but virtually unknown in the US), Sebastian (yorkie), and Sora (dachshund).   Mame is the beloved pet of a teenage girl, Ikuko, and he secretly has a crush on Hanako.

The collie "Jack" appears in season two, episode four.  He's an imported British collie, an international stud dog, who has come to Japan to meet a "white lady" - which Mame takes to mean that Jack and Hanako will be mated.   Jack is a handsome guy, and whoever designed the character did a good job using real collies for reference.  He actually has a bit of a British look to him (as opposed to American).   Jack is and objectified by his owner: she refers to him as "it" and sees value only in his breeding capabilities and fine pedigree.   He's self-confident - even egotistical - but has never had a friend. 

Jack slips away from his owner to duel with Mame (swimming, racing, escaping from a collar - each contest easily won).  His owner is furious to find out that her dog has run away.  She threatens to hit Jack, but Mame and Hanako bravely step between the collie and his owner, growling.  Jack decides that having friends is a good thing after all.

This is a cute, cute show.  Some of the episodes have positive messages about responsible ownership - Mame tries to find a home for an abandoned puppy, meets a bad-mannered dog who thinks he's a human, and says goodbye to a neighborhood Husky when the dog's owner gives him away.  The show ran for two seasons (2003/2004), a total of nine episodes.

Link to the episode (it's in 3 parts):

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Defining a "Quality Dog"


What makes a good dog?  That is a very personal question, and entirely up to you.  There are as many good ways to breed dogs as there are opinions - and there are a lot of opinions out there.  Dog breeding methods did not come down from Mount Sinai written in stone; they've evolved over the centuries that these wonderful animals have been with us.  There are more and more people realizing the potential of crossbreeds, which in my opinion is a Good Thing.  Inbreeding has its uses, but when you've had no new blood infused into a population over the last 100 years, you realize that the closed gene pool can't go on forever. 

Right now, a Championship is the goal for many breeders.  Preferably, many wins and many winning offspring of the winners.  Has that time passed?  Watching Pedigree Dogs Exposed (parts 1 and 2), one senses a shift in the bedrock.   Breeding for purity and conformation isn't that old, actually.  For generations, the goal was performance.   Performance today doesn't have quite the same meaning: I don't depend on my dogs' agility or obedience scores to put food on the table.   But it still is a valuable way to assess the dog's trainability, soundness, and willingness to please that are important hallmarks of a good collie.

Showing can be fun, but I am not a conformation person for a few reasons. For one, it's sort of dull - I'd rather put the time and effort into bringing out my dog's intelligence, endurance, and skills in the performance ring. Also, it's objective: in the show ring, the judge might simply not like your dog that much on that particular day, but might like it more the next day. I like obedience because there are rules, and you generally have a good idea of whether or not you qualify. Also, my favorite dogs have tended toward the broader-headed, low-eared "old fashioned" type. Great temperament, sound, sweet, but not welcome in the conformation ring. One of these days, maybe.
I like to be objective.  I like charts, lists, and graphs   I wrote up a schematic several years ago that serves as a shorthand for evaluating a dog objectively, to identify its standout traits shortcomings.  It can be applied to purebred or crossbred dogs, too - there are plenty of performance venues and health tests that are open to all dogs.

The Rainbow of Traits 

Red: Conformation. This is conformation in the show sense - good angulation? Good head? Do you look at the dog and say "Wow, now *that* is a collie!" Earning a championship is one goal, but a dog can be a good example of its breed and not be an AKC Champion. A dog with good conformation has "everything where it should be", he will have endurance and be an excellent mover. 

Orange: Trainability. Does the dog learn quickly? Does he have a sparkle in his eye when he masters a new task? Does he get a kick out of learning? Ideally, a dog should have depth and breadth - able to accomplish a wide variety of tasks to a high level.  One of the most important words used to describe a good collie is "biddable".

Yellow: Temperament: rock-solid. This is a must for collies. Collies are big dogs, they must be safe with children - most of them have a natural love of people, and this is one thing I look for in a young puppy: the one who focuses on, and wants to be with, people as opposed to his littermates. The adult dog should be adaptable, calm, well bonded to his family. A good dog is reliable and predictable in a variety of situations.  Collies should also be protective of those they hold dear.

Green: Instinct. Collies are historically a herding breed, and they should be able to herd.  Surprisingly, many show-bred collies do have a natural herding instinct. The protectiveness also comes in under this, collies should have a strong sense of territory. The "green" is different for every breed: it is also part of conformation.

Blue: Soundness. Hips, eyes, thyroid, elbows, skin - as well as good overall structure. This includes the things you can test for and those you can't. The "testables" include DNA testing for PRA and CEA, Gray Collie syndrome (cyclic neutropenia), and MDR-1. The things you can't test for may be more difficult - you have to do some research. Did any of the relatives have "puppy mange"? Bloat?  Epilepsy?  Hopefully in the future, more tests will be developed. 

Violet: Family. Does the dog come from sound, healthy, good tempered lines? You don't want a dog who is the only healthy one in a litter plagued with PRA or DM. The more you can find out about his relatives, the better. Are the dog's relatives known for being easy whelpers, good mothers? Not just the parents - half siblings, siblings, parents' siblings too - as many as you can dig up.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Landseer and the Impossible Thing


"White Collie in a Landscape", by Sir Edwin Landseer, 1829.
(image source:

Landseer was a noted artist who is probably best known for his dog paintings - the black and white newfoundland is named Landseer in his honor.  His collie paintings are wonderful, and show what the original shepherd's dog looked like.  They contrast with some later artists such as Elsley and Barber, whose dogs are plush, well-groomed Victorian gentlemen, not workmanlike shepherd dogs.

I'd like to know more about this little guy.  Is he "white", or is he homozygous merle?  His eyes appear pale, and his nose has a pinkish hue.  He has one spot of color on the base of his tail.  The dog also appears to be uncomfortable in this situation - in spite of the sheep in the distance, he looks like he'd rather be somewhere else.  Landseer was an expert in portraying the subtleties of dog body language.  Something about this white canine seems to be amiss - he's leaning back slightly, one paw is raised, his lip line is tense, and his gaze is avoiding the viewer.  Perhaps his vision is impaired, or perhaps he's deaf. 

"Merle" has a unique etymology.  In Scotland, it   It means blackbird in French, as in the idiom "le merle blanc", or the white blackbird.  The phrase means "the impossible thing" or "the thing which should not be".  An English equivalent would be to call something "as rare as hens' teeth". 

White blackbirds do exist, though, just like homozygous merle (and unlike hens' teeth), although the color isn't connected with any impairment aside from making the bird more visible to predators.   It's leucistic, not albinistic; the bird has black eyes and some pigment.  The color may be vareigated, resembling a merle dog, or solid white.   Early merle collies were also referred to as "marled", "marbled", "calico", and "tortoiseshell".  

Is the blackbird connection the reason why merle became associated with dogs?  Perhaps early shepherds, not fully understanding merle genetics, saw the resemblance between the birds and the dogs.  The birds could be black, varicolored, or solid white.  So could the dogs.  The multicolored and white dogs were much rarer than the black (at one time, the most common color for collies).   Or maybe the use of merle is related to the French "merle blanc".  A white dog, especially one who wasn't able to work effectively, would indeed be The Thing Which Should Not Be.