Wednesday, March 31, 2010

How Many Pups Should Yogi Bear?

Yes, that was the title in today's piece in the Sydney Herald-Sun.

Of course the article is quite good too, as it centers on the current Crufts winner and the problems that come from dominant sire selection.

Yogi, a Hungarian vizsla from Sydney, was last month crowned Best in Show at Crufts, the world's most prestigious dog show.

More virile than a coach load of Contiki tourists, Yogi has fathered 525 pups since emigrating to the UK almost five years ago, records show.

That translates to more than 10 per cent of vizsla pups registered in the same period - and his popularity is set to soar with his Crufts win.

Jemima Harrison, who prepared the documentary Pedigree Dogs Exposed and obtained the figures, is alarmed at Yogi's gene pool dominance.

"Yogi is an absolutely beautiful dog who deserved to win," Ms Harrison said. "However the concern is that this dog has been massively overused as a stud dog already.

"As far as the breed is concerned it's a genetic time bomb."

True too. Every dog carries within it negative recessive genes, and if those genes are doubled up on long enough and often enough, things can slide into the abyss for an entire breed.

Catching a Mexican Wolf With a Y Pole


A few weeks ago I posted a bit lifted from Dr. Mark Johnson's excellent Feral Dog blog about dominance in wolves. It turns out there is some!

In fact Mark is smart enough to understand exactly what Marian and Keller Breland were talking about when they said:

"[T]he behavior of any species cannot be adequately understood, predicted, or controlled without knowledge of its instinctive patterns, evolutionary history, and ecological niche."

So how do you control a wolf if you have to routinely handle them for vaccines and captive breeding programs?

Well, as I have noted in the past, if the animal is a wild wolf that you have to trap for the occasional distemper or rabies vaccine (yes, many of our wild wolves are vaccinated), you might have to employ an offset leghold trap or snare.

With captive wolves, however, Mark has discovered that you can use the natural dominance-and-submission behaviors of the wolf to some advantage, as the video clip, above, suggests.

There are some nice lines in here.

"Feel how tense you are. If you're tense, the animal can feel how tense you are. So calm yourself down, breathe well, bring your energy down to your belly. That will calm the wolf..."

"The focus is to greet the animal, and my energy should be a combination of dominance and compassion."

One of the things that is going on here, of course, is extinguishing behavior -- the pole works best when biting the pole produces no draw back from the pole holder. Or, as Mark puts it, biting the pole produces no affirmation.

Extra points here for taking the rectal temperature and doing the microchipping. It appears that with a Y pole on a wolf, this can be done as easily as with a dog. Amazing.

Mark says this video will become part of a longer Y pole training video currently being produced by Global Wildlife Resources, Inc.

Bend It Like Beckham

With music by Nina Simone.

Playing to Lose

Obama is going to get his ass kicked on this one.

Which is exactly the idea.

Sometimes you play to win, and sometimes you play to lose.

By losing on the supposed "policy," Obama will win the political gambit, which is the real game being played here. After all, does anyone seriously think any tree-hugger is ever going to vote for the party of Dick Cheney, George Bush, Sarah Palin or Mitt Romney? Not going to happen. Ever.

And so there is nothing to lose, but perhaps some "moderates" to gain.

By launching his own incompleted play to "drill, baby drill," Obama hopes to remove a GOP talking point from the table and gain some ground from the center.

Will that work?

No, but it's a play with very little downside for him since NEPA and and EIS requirements associated with coastal drilling, and the court challenges that these will spawn, will likely take longer to process than his administration will actually be in office.

Just in case, however, the Obama Administration is exempting California from drilling. Memories of the Santa Barbara Oilspill, more than 40 years ago, still stain the collective memory of too many voters in that state, and there are simply too many electoral college votes there to take the risk. A good political player always hedges his bets a little....

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Old Dogs That Have Now Gone to Heaven

I found this old picture in a box this morning. The Border Terrier is Haddie, the black dog is Barney (a terrier mutt) and the Welsh Terrier is the original Stuff, my folks' dogs. This must be around 1985 or so.

Barney was not the most useful dog I ever owned (that would be Sailor), but he was certainly the smartest. In fact, Barney was so smart, I think he could have done my taxes!

GOP Mayor Blasts Obama on Gun Control

Michael Bloomberg, the Republican mayor of the largest city in the United States, has come out to blasting Barack Obama for not doing more to support gun control.

Of course, as I have written in the past, gun control in and of itself, does nothing to stem violence; it is a false cure for deeper social problems.

And, as I have noted in the past, Barack Obama did not campaign on gun control; in fact he promised that his Administration would do nothing in that arena.

Of course the NRA bed-wetters cannot be placated by fact and observed history. Fear, after all, is the only thing they have left to sell.

How Much Is That Doggy in the Window?

A few days ago, I mentiond Edward Tufte's great book on the visual display of quantitative data. Tufte also has a web site that celebrates good data presentations, including these three produced by New York Times illustrator Megan Jaegerman.

Basenji's: A Classic Tale of Kennel Club Defect

Modern African Basenjis after a hunt.

In correspondence this weekend, a reader wrote to note that not all was darkness in the American Kennel Club.

For example, when Basenji's began to present with jaw-dropping rates of hemolytic anemia in the 1970s, a test for the disease was developed and affected animals were then culled.

Unfortunately, the now smaller gene pool came down with a new disorder, an eye problem called persistent pupillary membrane, which was quickly followed by a kidney disease called Fanconi syndrome, and IPSID (a fatal malabsorption syndrome).

To combat these three diseases, it was decided to open up the U.S. Basenji registry to increase genetic diversity within the breed.

That does sound like a positive thing, doesn't it?

Sadly, however, the tale does not survive scrutiny.

In fact, it underscores the real problem with Kennel Club thinking.

To start with, let's state the obvious: the Kennel Club did not create the Basenji.

This breed has been around since before recorded history, and is a landrace dog used for hunting in the tropical jungles and scrub brush regions of central subSaharan Africa.

Point two is as important as point one: this breed is not about to go extinct in its native lands.

Basenjis are still used as hunting dogs throughout central Africa, and it takes little or no effort to find excellent specimens in nearly every local village.

So exactly where is the dog in trouble, and why?

The short answer is that the Basenji is only in trouble in the western industrialized world, and it is only in trouble because of the kennel club's closed registry system.

The full story is told here in a paper from the July 2007 Bulletin of the Basenji Club of America, but suffice to say that in the U.K. the breed was founded with just 7 dogs, while in the U.S., the breed was founded with just 9 dogs.

A few more dogs were added in to the mix over the years but, as the paper notes:

"[T]he Basenji modern population was derived from 18 original progenitors, with varying degrees of gene representation."

Even this overstates the genetic variability found within the modern Basenji, however.

As the Basenji Club of America notes, much of the founding stock in both the U.K. and the U.S. did not contribute much in terms of get. In addition, due to the popular sire effect, the true male "founder" side of the breed is really no more than four or five dogs. In fact, just three dogs -- Bongo of Blean, Wau of the Congo, and Kindu -- are estimated to represent over 95% of the Y chromosomes in modern AKC dogs!

In response to the collapsing and inbred genetic mess that is the Kennel Club Basenji, the AKC has now decided to open up the registry to dogs imported from Africa provided they can pass a 10-step hurdle.

Of course, no one is asking the most obvious question: Why do we need Kennel Club Basenjis at all?

The answer, of course, is that Kennel Club Basenjis are needed so people can win ribbons showing these dogs, and perhaps make a little cash breeding them as well.

Is there any other reason to ever own a Kennel Club dog?

Of course, some folks are always looking for a "project" or a cause, and the Basenji serves them well in that regard.

If they tell the story right, they can convince themselves and others that they are trying to "save" a rare breed, and never mind that the dog is not rare and does not need "saving"!

And so the push is on, once again, to import a few more dogs from the Congo, Benin and Cameroon.

And what will this achieve in the end? Not much.

Yes, the rate of genetic collapse of the Basenji within the AKC may slow down a bit, but the numbers imported are going to be so low that they will only change the velocity, not the direction, of the curve.

And, of course, the registry is not going to stay open forever, is it?

Once it closes, dominant sire selection will again raise its ugly head, and the gene pool will once again choke down, and inbreeding will continue apace.

In the interim, a few dog dealers will have made a profit selling "outcross" dogs imported from Africa, but not much else will have been achieved.

The good news for the Basenji is that the survival of this breed does not depend on Kennel Club "saviors."

Darwin and the hand of God are still working, as they always have, to save and preserve the Basenji. As Susan Shott has noted:

The owners of African Basenjis do not provide veterinary care for their dogs, and they do not interfere with their dogs' breeding. This insures that African Basenjis are subjected to the rigors of natural selection. Dogs with genetic problems that reduce their fitness early will be much less likely to breed than healthy dogs. For this reason, African Basenjis are less likely than American Basenjis to have serious genetic health problems

Right. But there's more to it than that isn't there? You see, the working African Basenji was not created in a closed registry system, and today's healthy dogs are not maintained in a closed registry system.

Let's not forget that.

And let's not forget that today's unhealthy, non-working American and European Basenjis are a byproduct of a closed registry system that has resulted in nothing but genetic defect cropping up within this breed.

But thanks to God and Africa, we can say: No loss. The Basenji is still alive, well and thriving in its native land.

_ _ _ _

End Note:

Novus sends an email (thanks!) with some data (and links!) which I will summarize:

Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds

This is Lucy, my son's very young dog. She's a light-bodied Pit-cross who has terrific green eyes and a much redder coat than this picture suggests. I think she is going to end up looking quite a lot like a small Viszla. She loves Austin (who doesn't?) and curls up next to him to sleep.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Fly With A Peregrine Falcon And A Goshawk

The Goshawk footage is particularly good because, of course, all birds share this perspective as they zip through the trees.

Remember, as fast and nimble as a Goshawk is, there are birds that are a bit faster and a bit more nimble, otherwise none would ever escape!

Of course, few birds are as persistent as a Goshawk. Not for nothing did Attila the Hun wear an image of a Northern Goshawk on his helmet!

Along with the Northern Goshawk found in the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Asia, there is the Grey-bellied Goshawk, the Crested Goshawk, the Sulawesi Goshawk, the Red-chested Goshawk, the African Goshawk, the Chinese Goshawk, the Spot-tailed Goshawk, the Grey Goshawk, the Brown Goshawk, the Christmas Island Goshawk, the Black-mantled Goshawk, the Pied Goshawk, the Fiji Goshawk, the White-bellied Goshawk, the Moluccan Goshawk, the Grey-headed Goshawk, the New Britain Goshawk, the Black Goshawk, Henst's Goshawk, Meyer's Goshawk, Frances' Goshawk, the Gabar Goshawk, the Dark Chanting Goshawk, the Eastern Chanting Goshawk, the Pale Chanting Goshawk, the Red Goshawk, the Chestnut-shouldered Goshawk, and Doria's Goshawk.

Though the Northern Goshawk was mostly driven out of Maryland by logging around 100 years ago, there are a few pairs nesting in Garrett County in Western Maryland. I may be wrong, but I think I saw Steve Huy, a reader of this blog, on a TV show climbing a tree (a prusik knot and Jumar ascender rig) to weigh one year's batch of semi-fledged chicks.

More Goshawks are occasionally seen in Virginia and West Virginia, which serve as the southern terminus of their expected range.

Spring is Sprung

With deep, deep snow preventing access to farms, followed by soaked ground, a storm-shattered house and greenhouse, and then a period of bronchitis-like illness (just recovering from that), I have been out of the field for a few months. About to fix that. This picture is not from this year, but the fields are starting to look a little green again. Time to get out and get digging!

The Stanley Milgram Dog Show

From the BBC comes this article about how the French have recreated the Milgram Experiment and put it on national TV as a game show:

A disturbing French TV documentary has tried to demonstrate how well-meaning people can be manipulated into becoming torturers or even executioners.

The hugely controversial Game of Death was broadcast in prime-time on a major terrestrial channel, France 2, on Wednesday.

It showed 80 people taking part in what they thought was a game show pilot.

As it was only a trial, they were told they wouldn't win anything, but they were given a nominal 40 euro fee.

Before the show, they signed contracts agreeing to inflict electric shocks on other contestants.

One by one, they were put in a studio resembling the sets of popular game shows.

They were then asked to zap a man they believed was another contestant whenever he failed to answer a question correctly - with increasingly powerful shocks of up to 460 volts.

I have written about the Milgram Experiment before. In that earlier post I raised the question as to whether a different kind of "Milgram Experiment" might be going on with dog breeds and breed standards:

People know that breeding very large dogs and very small dogs results in a very high, and very predictable, amount of painful canine pathology, ranging from cancer and bloat to syringomyelia.

People know that breeding achondroplastic and brachycephalic dogs results in a very high, and very predictable, amount of long-term breathing problems, joint problems, and heart disease.

People know that breeding Bloodhounds results in dogs that will often be in pain due to bloat, gastric torsion and cancer, and that more than half of these dogs will be dead by age 7.

So why do people do it?

Simple: they are simply "following directions."

The directions are written down in a "breed standard" created by a nameless, faceless group of people who claim "history" as their guide even when the history is entirely invented.

The directions say that no dog can be bred outside of the Kennel Club's closed registry system.

The directions say that a pure breed dog is better than a "mongrel" gotten from the pound

The authority is the Kennel Club.

The pain administered to the dogs is minimized by "expert breeders" and Club potentates who spend considerable amounts of time and energy denying, rationalizing and explaining away defect, deformity and disease in their breeds, and who also routinely lie to potential puppy buyers about breed longevity.

Deaf dog? Never had one.

Uric acid stones? Not in my line.

Heart problems? Oh, that occurs sometimes among "backyard breeders" but never in the kennels of the board members of the breed club.

Cancer, skin conditions and eye problems? That just comes with the breed.

In fact, only the best Chihuahuas have moleras, and only the best Finnish Spitz's have epilepsy, and only the best herding dogs have the merle gene which is so often linked to deafness.

Defect is proof of quality!

In a world in which people will administer killing levels of electric shock to other people on voice command alone, it should come as no surprise to find many people are able to rationalize breeding dogs that will be in pain or discomfort for much of their lives.

After all, it's not like every dog in even a deeply troubled breed will have a painful defect.

And if it happens, it can easily be fobbed off as a "bad break" . . . for the owner of the dog.

And yes, that is how we say, isn't it?

Oh your [cancer prone breed] is dying of cancer? I'm, so sorry for the terrible expense.

Your dachshund has to be put down with a spinal cord injury? I'm so sorry for your loss.

Are you getting another one?

Oh good! It would be a shame if you let that one dog change your opinion of the breed!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Call of the Pileated Woodepecker

A Pileated Woodpecker calls while excavating a nest hole near Creston, B.C. The Pileated Woodpecker is the largest woodpecker in North America, with a wingspan of almost 3 feet. The woodpecker in the video is a male -- you can tell by the red stripe on the side his face (i.e. the "malar" region) and by the fact that the very front of his forehead and crest is red. In females, these regions are black.

Marines Say Enough is Enough

No more Semper Fido.

Nine months ago, Marine bases across the nation laid down the law: Marines owning full or mixed breeds of pitbulls, Rottweilers, wolf-dogs mixes or any breed with "dominant traits of aggression" would have to register their dogs by April 1, 2010 and apply for a waiver if they wanted to continue to live on base and get taxpayer-subsidized housing.

The order came from General James Conway, the Marine Commandant, and stated the reason for new rules:

"The rise in ownership of large dog breeds with a predisposition toward aggressive or dangerous behavior, coupled with the increased risk of tragic incidents involving these dogs, necessitates a uniform policy."

Now, with only a few days to go until the deadline, Camp Lejeune reports that only about a quarter of the 200 dogs in the "vicious breed" category known to live in base housing have been registered.

Meanwhile, at other bases, dog trainers report that some dogs that have come forward to be trained for a Canine Good Citizenship certificate have proven to be more vicious and more poorly socialized than the trainers expected.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Life and Death of a Plastic Bag


Struggling with its immortality, a discarded plastic bag (voiced by Werner Herzog) ventures through the environmentally barren remains of America as it searches for its maker.

Yeah, I know, a little long, but pretty good all the same. Plus, it's Werner Herzog as a plastic bag! It starts off looking for its maker, but ends up looking for the vortex. And in the end, the plastic bag wishes for just one thing ....

Hats off to Ramin Bahrani who wrote, directed and edited this little masterpiece.

Coffee and Provocation

Pitbull Eats Police Cruiser:
Winston, a "pitbull mix" has left four cars -- two of them Chattanooga police patrol vehicles -- with flat tires and at least one with a missing bumper because of his aggression. Rather that order the euthanization of the dog, the court has ordered the owner to take Winston home and taken him to court-ordered obedience training. Anyone want to guess how this ends up after reading that the owner thinks it's amusing that his dog went nuts, ripped through two fences, destroyed four cars, and was pepper sprayed and tasered by the police?

Dogs as Guinea Pigs and Mutant Messes:
Here's a post on ten ways dogs have helped advance medicine. The bad news is that the dogs have mostly helped advance medicine because so many breeds are mutant messes that they readily present with genetic diseases thanks to Kennel Club inbreeding. Of course, dogs have also helped advance medicine because they are so easily bred and abandoned, meaning that they are cheap guinea pigs. Therapy animals would seem to fall outside of either bin, but I am not sure they actually qualify as an advance in medicine. What does qualify (and is not mentioned) are seeing eye dogs and other assistance animals.

Dogs are Not Pack Animals?
Dogs are not pack animals, we are told, and never mind the fox hound packs and packs of wild dogs seen all over the world. And this? Ceci n'est pas une pack!

Camera Trap Law Enforcement:
Camera traps are now being used as surveillance cameras to catch camp ground vandals, illegal dumpers, trespassers, pot growers, and poachers, and also to monitor deep-sea commercial fishing boats. Not only are camera traps a low-cost force multiplier, but they also provide evidence which is very hard to argue with in court.

David Allen Sibley Paints A Feruginous Hawk:
Check out this slide show to see how David Allen Sibley works. To order any of his books, click here.

My New Computer Desk Top?
Yes, I may switch to this one. The icons go on the shelf, with temporary save files on the bulletin board. Nice!

Napoleon's March into Russia:
Back when rocks were soft, I bought a first edition of Ed Tufte's book, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, which has some great stuff in it. One of those great things is a combined map, timeline and troop count story of Napoleon's march into Russia. It's now available as a stand-alone poster. And yes, I am a geek.

Appropriate T Shirts for Caffeine People Like Me:
I like this one quite a lot, but would never wear it. I would wear this one for sure.

A Tribeca Coyote That is Not Robert DeNiro:
Yes, another coyote has been found in Manhattan -- this one a young female in Tribeca, between Greenwich Village and the Battery (where the World Trade Center used to be). Previous posts on NYC coyotes here and here.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Virginia is For (Pollution) Lovers

Virginia Governor Bob McDonald says "drill baby drill."

And guess where he wants to drill the great state of Virginia?

Yeah, that's right. Right there.

Popes, Puppies and Pedophiles

A reader writes in to ask if I see any parallel between the Kennel Club's mess and the pedophilia scandals that continuously rock the Catholic Church.

My reply:

Very much the same, at least in response. Deny the problem forever... then admit there is some small problem... but limited to some situation somewhere... then offer up mild regret but take no action... make no admission of where the problem is actually seated... while suggesting the problem is probably happening all over, and it's simply discrimination that one player is being singled out and highlighted in this instance.

Of course, if you strike to the bone, both scandals are also about denying the laws of nature.

One side thinks you can put sex on a shelf; the other side thinks natural selection is a mistake man can fix.

And finally, both sides wrap themselves in the myopia of their own unexamined convictions.

Never mind that the Catholic Church used to allow priests to marry, and no one seems to think those early church leaders are roasting in hell. A married priest is wrong and impure; nothing but a fallen sinner like the rest of us!

Never mind that the best breeds were forged outside of the Kennel Club's closed registry system. A cross-bred dog is wrong and impure; nothing but a mutt, same as found at the pound.

And finally, they are similar in one more aspect. In both cases, we are supposed to trust the "priests" who got us into this mess to sort it out.

And never mind that these same priests are often participating in the evil themselves.

Never mind that these same priests have stood silent, hands in pocket, denying all for fifty years, and never mind that even now they move to minimize the problem and sweep it under the rug.

Now, we are told, they are going to lead the parade for change.

Right. It could happen. Past is not always prologue.

You will pardon me, however, if I keep my expectations low when it comes to pedophiles and puppy peddlers.

Caroline Kisko Continues to Damage the Brand

Kennel Club spokesperson Caroline Kisko really has to go. She is a proven liar; a small fact I have demonstrated in previous posts. It's hard to do press when you lie about core issues, and it's so easy to prove that you lie. A small problem!

Perhaps as serious as Ms. Kisko's casual relationship with the truth is the fact that she appears to be incompetent at her press job.

Only she could take a silly PeTA bus poster (put up at only two locations) and turn it into newspaper fodder on two continents (see here and here and here).

Now veterinarian and columnist Peter Wedderburn is shaking his head in amazement, noting that PeTA actually has a point, and going so far as to highlight it; Pedigree dogs really are not as healthy as cross-bred dogs!

Thanks Caroline Kisko! No one has done more to show the degree of entrenched inbred thinking going on at the Kennel Club than you have. How could anyone mishandle the press to this extent and still hold a press job? Amazing!

Of course the thing that makes this doubly comic is that it reminds us that the Kennel Club is not only built around eugenics theories, but that Caroline Kisko herself has a BNP member snuggling up next to her in the bedroom.

Perhaps the Kennel Club needs to "do a Costanza" and go in the opposite direction from whatever direction Caroline Kisko is headed, and see if they might achieve some messaging success that way?

Just a thought...

Of course, the real problem may be above Kisko. The buck has to stop with Ronnie Iriving, doesn't it? I have always thought the real litmus test for Kennel Club change is the departure of Caroline Kisko but, perhaps the change needs to start right at the top....


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Who Invented Animal Training?

Marian Breland and Keller Breland, March 15, 1955. Source

Who invented animal training?

The question is silly on its face. Animal training is older than the hills. For certain, it is as old as the dog.

That said, most of what we call animal training today is what the fancy talkers call "operant conditioning," a term first coined by psychologist B.F. Skinner in the early 1930s in an effort to dress up an even older concept -- learning from consequences.

B.F. Skinner did not invent operant conditioning any more than Newton invented gravity.

That said, Skinner DID codify the basic principals of operant conditioning, and he did invent mechanical-based operant conditioning, i.e. the "Skinner box" a mechanical device that awarded animals with food for pulling levers, pecking at spots, and doing other slightly more complicated learned behaviors.

Perhaps just as importantly, B.F. Skinner brought into the world of operant conditioning several people who helped shape the way we train animals today.

In fact, I do not think it is too much to say that two of his students -- Marian Ruth Kruse and Keller Breland -- invented modern animal training.

The story begins in the very early 1930s when B. F. Skinner was a researcher at Harvard working on something he called an "operant conditioning chamber" -- a device which measured the response of animals to stimulus. This later became the first "Skinner box" or animal teaching machine.

In 1936, Skinner left Harvard to teach at the University of Minnesota, where he began expanding on his earlier work.

In 1938, he took on his second student assistant, a young 18-year old girl by the name of Marian Ruth Kruse.

In 1940, Skinner added Keller Breland to his team of graduate student assistants.

Keller Breland and Marian Rught Kruse fell in love, and in 1941 they were married.

Marian and Keller Breland learned the basics of operant conditioning from B.F. Skinner, and helped him to train thousands of rats and pigeons used in various experiments and projects.

Once particularly important project began in 1941, when Skinner and his assistants were hired by the U.S. Navy to see if pigeons could be trained to guide bombs to their targets.

While pigeon-guided bombs never made it to the battle field, the operant conditioning techniques learned during this period of stable Navy funding suggested to Mariann and Keller Breland a possible business opportunity.

Was there a market for trained animals? They thought there might be.

When, in 1945, B.F. Skinner was lured away from Minnesota to teach at the University of Indiana, they Brelands decided to see if they could make a go of it on their own as commercial animal trainers and contract researchers and consultants.

It seemed an unlikely way to make a fortune.

Skinner had mostly trained rats and pigeons. If the Brelands were to support themselves as animal trainers, however, they would have to train higher animals than that!

Yes, the basic elements of operant conditioning had been used, off and on, and in a largely chaotic way, to train many species around the world over a thousand years. But most of this real-world experience was now lost to time and was little more than rumor or anecdote.

Could the basics of rat and pigeon training be scaled up and used across a wide variety of species? And if it could, would there be a market for such a thing? Would it be a large enough market to put food on the table, and gas in the car?

No one knew, least of all the Brelands. They took the plunge, nonetheless, buying a small farm in Mound, Minnesota and forming a company they called Animal Behavior Enterprises (ABE).

ABE's goals were three-fold and reflected their slightly tenuous business plan: to produce trained animals in profusion for an unknown commercial market, to engage in contract research if they could find anyone willing to underwrite that, and to consult on operant conditioning if they could find anyone willing to pay for their advice.

To say bravery was involved in this economic venture is an understatement. To those on the outside, including family and friends, it seemed sheer madness.

The Brelands had a secret, however: they were pretty good animal trainers, and they also had a growing body of evidence that suggested operant conditioning was a very robust training methodology.

In 1943, the Brelands, working with B.F. Skinner, had discovered the power of shaping behaviors by using a simple hand-held food-delivery switch. Now, instead of being rewarded for actually completeting the task, an animal could be rewarding for "approximating" the task -- a behavior that could be "shaped," by degrees, to the actual desired behavior.

A simple hand-held food delivery switch was, in effect, the first massive leap forward beyond the Skinner Box.

By 1945, the Brelands had gone even further. The mechanical construction of Skinner boxes had led the Brelands to a new idea; that small noises, such as those produced by the mechanical apparatus inside a Skinner box, or the noise made by a hand-held switch, might be an important part of the training process itself.

Experimenting with this idea, Keller and Marian Breland discovered that an acoustic secondary enforcer, such as a click or whistle, could communicate to an animal what precise action was being done that was actually resulting in a food reward.

Keller and Marian called this a "bridging stimulus," and found it dramatically sped up animal training by increasing the amount of information going to an animal. Most importantly of all, it seemed to work well with all animals. Important stuff!

In 1946, Animal Behavior Enterprise's got its first animal training contract with General Mills. The assignment was to train farm animals to appear in feed advertisements.

This first successful contract led to more contracts, first for in-store promotional animals, and then for animals to be used in movies, circuses, museums, and zoos.

In addition to providing trained animals, the Brelands were also asked to train workers and producers in how to work with those animals when they were sent on location.

From the beginning, "training the trainers" became an adjunct business to providing the trained animals themselves.

While the Brelands had worked almost exclusively with rats, pigeons and chickens when employed by Skinner, they now found themselves training everything: dogs, cats, pigs, cattle, chickens, goats, sheep, raccoons, rabbits, ducks, parrots, ravens, deer, and monkeys.

At one point, the Brelands had more than 1,000 animals under training at a single time. Over the course of a lifetime, scores of thousands of animals, representing more than 140 species, were trained by the Brelands.

Of course, it did not take too long for the Brelands to outgrow their small Minnesota farm, and it took even less time for them to realize that long, cold Minnesota winters were not too conducive to animal training outside of a laboratory setting.

In 1951 the Brelands moved to Hot Springs, Arkansas, a central location well-served by the railroads, where land was cheap and the weather was not too bad.

There they continued to train animals and animal trainers, and they also started a cash-concern they called the "IQ Zoo" which featured various animals doing amusing tricks, from basketball-playing raccoons and drum-playing ducks, to a printing press operated by reindeer and a chicken that would take on all comers in games of tick-tack-toe.

Though Keller and Marian Breland were equals at ABE, their division of labor suited their personalities and the flavor of the times.

Keller was the public face who traveled and did most of the show presentations and who promoted and expanded on the theory, while Marian was the engineer who made sure everything ran like a clock and actually operationalized everything at the level of fur, fin and feather.

Throughout the 1950s and 60's business was booming, with the Brelands signing contracts with Marineland of Florida, Parrot Jungle, and Six Flags.

In 1955, the Brelands produced the first trained dolphin show at Marine Studios in St. Augustine, Florida, and in 1957 they produced the first trained-whale shows at Marine Studios in Florida, and Marineland of the Pacific in Palos Verdes, California.

The work of the Brelands did not go unnoticed. Not only did the Brelands train other animal trainers who went on to places like Busch Gardens and Disney World, and Sea World, but they were also contracted with by the U.S. Navy to see if dolphins could be trained to do surveillance and salvage work.

It was during this time, that Keller and Marian Breland met Bob Bailey, who was the first Director of Training for the U. S. Navy Marine Mammal Program.

In 1965, Keller Breland died of a heart attack, leaving Marian with three semi-grown children, and Bob Bailey stepped up as as General Manager of ABE.

Marian and Bob continued on with ABE, signing a contract with the U.S. Navy to manage their Marine Mammal Facility in Key West, Florida from 1967 to 1969.

Along the way love blossomed between Bob Bailey and Marian Breland, and they married in 1976, adding Bob's six young children (three sets of twins!) to the now rapidly growing family.

In the 1980s, the Baileys began to phase out the commercial subdivisions of Animal Behavior Enterprises in order to simplify their life and devote more time to teaching. After a 1989 fire destroyed a lifetime of research, including thousands of hours of historical film, the Baileys decided to close ABE for good.

Marian Breland Bailey died on September 25, 2001, in Hot Springs Arkansas, and her ashes were taken to Bush Key, seventy miles west of Key West, Florida, where she had spent so much time training dolphins.

Bob Bailey continues to train teachers in the basics of operant conditioning, and his own contribution to animal and human training will be featured in a later post.

Suffice it to say that if you have heard of clicker training, it's due in no small part to Bob Bailey, whether you know that or not!

And if you have ever trained an animal in the last 40 years, you have stood on the shoulders of Marian and Keller Breland and Bob Bailey, whether you know that or not.

When the history of animal training is written let it be said that these three remarkable individuals invented or perfected so much of what we take for granted today.

Tea Party Circa 1959

The signs change, the idiots don't.

In a similar vein, the bit below was sent to me by a friend who culled it off a list-serv:

This morning I was awoken by my alarm clock, powered by electricity generated by the public power monopoly regulated by the US Department of Energy.

I then took a shower in the clean water provided by the municipal water utility.

After that, I turned on the TV to one of the FCC regulated channels to see what the National Weather Service (of NOAA - the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration) determined the weather was going to be like, using satellites designed, built, and launched by NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

I watched this while eating a breakfast of US Department of Agriculture inspected food.

At the appropriate time (as regulated by the US Congress and kept accurate by NIST - the National Institute of Standards and Technology - and the US Naval Observatory), I get into my National Highway Traffic Safety Administration-approved automobile and set out to work on the roads built by the local, state, and federal Departments of Transportation, possibly stopping to purchase additional fuel of a quality level determined by the Environmental Protection Agency, using legal tender issued by the Federal Reserve bank.

On the way out the door, I deposit any mail I have to send via the US Postal Service and drop the kids off at public school.

After work, I drive my NHTSA car back home on the DOT roads, to a house which has not burned down in my absence because of the state and local building codes and fire marshal's inspection, and which has not been plundered of all its valuables thanks to the local police department.

I then log on to the Internet (which was developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Administration) and post on FreeRepublic.COM and Fox News forums about how SOCIALISM in medicine is BAD because the Government can't do anything right.


Monday, March 22, 2010

This Is What Change Looks Like

Rep. John Larson (CT) details 10 immediate benefits of health care reform:

  1. Prohibit pre-existing condition exclusions for children in all new plans;

  2. Provide immediate access to insurance for uninsured Americans who are uninsured because of a pre-existing condition through a temporary high-risk pool;
  3. Prohibit dropping people from coverage when they get sick in all individual plans;

  4. Lower seniors' prescription drug prices by beginning to close the donut hole;

  5. Offer tax credits to small businesses to purchase coverage;

  6. Eliminate lifetime limits and restrictive annual limits on benefits in all plans;

  7. Require plans to cover an enrollee's dependent children until age 26;

  8. Require new plans to cover preventive services and immunizations without cost-sharing;

  9. Ensure consumers have access to an effective internal and external appeals process to appeal new insurance plan decisions;

  10. Require premium rebates to enrollees from insurers with high administrative expenditures and require public disclosure of the percent of premiums applied to overhead costs.

David Frum, former speechwriter to President George W. Bush:

Conservatives and Republicans today suffered their most crushing legislative defeat since the 1960s.

It’s hard to exaggerate the magnitude of the disaster....

.... No illusions please: This bill will not be repealed. Even if Republicans scored a 1994 style landslide in November, how many votes could we muster to re-open the “doughnut hole” and charge seniors more for prescription drugs? How many votes to re-allow insurers to rescind policies when they discover a pre-existing condition? How many votes to banish 25 year olds from their parents’ insurance coverage? And even if the votes were there – would President Obama sign such a repeal?

We followed the most radical voices in the party and the movement, and they led us to abject and irreversible defeat....

Douglas Adams on Evolution, Parrots & Predators


"Douglas Adams was the best-selling British author and satirist who created The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. In this talk at UCSB recorded shortly before his death, Adams shares hilarious accounts of some of the apparently absurd lifestyles of the world's creatures, and gleans from them extraordinary perceptions about the future of humanity."

This is a long video, but very good.

Virtual Church

For Druids

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Last Dog Has Crossed the Line

The last dog has crossed the Iditarod finish line with no canine or human deaths during the 1,1610-mile race run by more than 1,100 dogs.

Jamaican dog sled team rookie Newton Marshall finished in 47th place, covering the distance in 12 days, 4 hours and 27 minutes.

I am So Tired of Coughing...

I am so tired of coughing. I have been sick for 10 days now -- a chest cold that may now be bronchitis or pneumonia or something for all I know. I have doused myself with every over the counter thing I have in the cabinet, and I seem to be getting the stuff out of my lungs, but it seems to be never-ending and has left me exhausted with a raw throat and a headache.

There; I just wanted to say it. Now, maybe by saying the problem out loud, and writing it down too, it will go away.

Isn't incantation an ancient form of medicine? Sure it is -- and I am pretty sure it works as well against the common cold as anything modern medicine has to offer.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

How Vets Become Instant Dog Training Experts

Over at Veterinary Practice News, they are touting a one-day course that a vet can take to increase his or her revenue stream by $75,000 to $200,000 a year.


And what does this one-day course, that costs a $1,000 per-person, actually teach?

"Dog behaviorism" as taught by someone who seems to have no credentials other than being a self-described "canine trainer and behavior modification specialist" who has "trained and shown dogs and horses all of her life."


No wonder everyone in the veterinary profession has suddenly decided to jump on the "doggy behaviorist" bandwagon.

Don’t send your clients away for dog training. Now, you can provide those desired results with one of your own staff members. Donna has helped hundreds of veterinary technicians and veterinary assistants work in harmony with their veterinary employer utilizing drug therapy coupled with behavior modification. Not only will your office be able to provide clients with this invaluable service, you will have a money making opportunity inside your doors. In just one day, veterinarian assistants and technicians will have the accreditation that will bring in additional income for your office. Donna will provide you with all the information you need to create an immediately profitable Good Dog! business in your practice today.

Right. No need to send your clients to a dog trainer, when you can prescribe "drug therapy" and pocket that money yourself while getting 8 "continuing education" credits for your vet techs at the same time.

And if anyone asks, you can tell them your vet techs are "accredited" by a program certified by the American Association of Veterinary State Boards for veterinary technicians and veterinary assistants. Yes sir! That is indeed impressive.

Just don't tell them that you and your vet tech got all that education in one day, or that it's all based on a book that anyone can buy brand new for $1.74 (or used for as little as $0.01).

Shhhhhhh. Mum's the word. Wink-wink, nudge-nudge. Remember, you're not just a veterinarian now; you're an accredited animal behaviorist.


Getting the Public to Subsidize Your Terrier Work

Mike Hotard, of Hotard Wildlife Control has a nice little thing going on. He's apparently charging the Bayou St. John Neighborhood Association in Louisiana a $1,000 for three hunts to get rid of nutria in their levee.

The problem is that, due the flatness of the land, the nutria cannot be shot with a bullet for fear a bullet will travel into a home, while regular kill traps present a danger to pets and pedestrians. And so, Mr. Hotard decided to call up the Neighborhood Association and offer his services and those of his patterdale terriers -- for a fee, of course.

I have to say I am a bit amused. You see, there's a very simple way to kill Nurtia that involves neither wild shooting, nor land traps, nor poison. As a professional wildlife control man, surely Mr. Hotard knows this. But why tell anyone when you can can get someone to subsidize your terrier work? Got it!

For those who want to get it done quickly and on the cheap, however, see this USDA handout on how to construct a simple bait raft which can be used to concentrate nutria for shooting (the bullets or shot goes into the water) or for trapping or snaring (drown traps and drown snare sets can be placed in holes in the middle of the raft). In addition, floating log drown traps (with or without an exclusion cage) work very well.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Wolf Experts on Dominance and Submission

Mark Johnson, DVM, is Executive Director of Global Wildlife Resources, Inc. and the senior wildlife veterinarian for the Yellowstone Wolf Recovery Project.

Over on his Feral Dog blog he asks, "Is Dominance Always Bad?

And, of course the answer is NO. He writes:

I am seeing a lot of blogs about how how horrible dominance is and how there is no need for dominance when working with domestic dogs. They say the use of dominance is now considered ineffective and, worse, it is unethical and inhumane. Those critical of using any forms of dominance are describing what wolves and feral dogs do and do not do and I am seeing so many incorrect statements.

I work with wild and captive wolves, and have handled over 2,000 feral dogs. I was also the Project Veterinarian for the 1995-96 Yellowstone Wolf Reintroduction program and had the privilege of working with Dr. Dave Mech, one of the founders of wolf research, when we captured wolves in Canada and brought them into the US. Many people condemning dominance are referring to Dave’s comments.

This discussion of dominance relates to my work, not only because I work with wolves and feral dogs, but also because I am dedicated to teach animal control officers and disaster responders how to handle frightened dogs without creating a fight with the animal. That is why I write in this blog and website about the Energy of Conflict.

I would prefer to set aside the claims of wolf and feral dog behavior and explore more deeply the concept of “dominance”. But the statements about wolves and feral dogs have been so inherently wrong that I have to offer my viewpoint and then below I will explore what is driving these discussions which is our concept of “dominance.”

Dr. Johnson then goes on to note that

Over and over again there is a deeply seated concept of dominance that is really limiting our ability to objectively study what animal handlers are doing and is, at times, limiting our ability to create a harmonious relationship with the dogs. Many people want to rid themselves of dominance so much that scientific studies are being interpreted to support their beliefs (which is always the weakness of science) and people are coming up with new interpretations of what wolves have always been doing. Any mention of dominance is taboo in these circles.

.... Punishing a dog into submission is obviously an unhealthy relationship. Strictly giving a dog rewards addresses our warm fuzzy desires, but does not always build the healthiest relationship either. The middle ground can still be compassionate and loving.

.... But dominance does not have to be mean and is an integral part of the social hierarchy of many animals including dogs, wolves and horses. Listen carefully to Dave Mech’s video. He says wolves do not fight to get to the top of the pack, but they still get “there”. I agree. Wolves do not continuously fight to get to the top of the pack, there is no argument. Fighting is not in their best interests. But everyone who knows wolves knows there is posturing, tail position, facial expressions, and ear positioning to create that hierarchy without fighting. It is a healthy form of dominance. I once watched a pair of wolves in Yellowstone Park kill an elk calf and one wolf asked for permission from the other wolf before it could feed. It is a reflex for the wolf to define where it is in that hierarchy. But there does not have to be violence to create the hierarchy. It is not demeaning or punitive and they flourish in the pack knowing how they relate to their pack mates.

Needless to say, read the whole thing. Dr. Johnson goes on to talk about feral dogs too -- apparently feral dog packs exist (who knew!?)

Read also L. David Mech's comments to the post cited above -- he agrees with it!

Of particular interest to some readers of this blog will be Dr. Johnson's notes on the use of the Y pole which works, in large part, because dogs recognize dominance and readily submit to it.

It is the nature of canids to submit to this gentle restraint device when properly used. Proper use requires a combination of dominance with kind and calm movements. The dominance motivates the dog to submit. Kindness and compassion will make the animal feel safer and more will to do what you request. The Y pole will not work with physical force alone.

Again, read the whole thing.

There's No Such Thing As a Pack of Wild Dogs

There's no such thing as a pack of wild dogs.

I am assured of this by people who (apparently) have never been to Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, or America's own rural South where packs of wild dogs are to be seen without too much trouble.

Never mind the pack of dogs that ripped apart a person just a few months back right here in the USA.

Never mind that the National Geographic has done a special on packs of feral dogs roaming Detroit and St. Louis.

And never mind the real carnage that packs of wild dogs do all over the world, and not just to livestock, but also to humans. The story below is very recent one from South Africa (warning, it is not for the faint of heart).

A newborn's body has been ripped to shreds by hungry dogs.

Yesterday, Gugulethu residents woke up to the gruesome sight of dogs fighting over the tiny body parts, which were strewn all over their neighbourhood.

The mangled baby girl was discovered just a few metres from the KTC Day Hospital in Tambo Square Informal Settlement yesterday morning.

Residents were too late to find the intestines and it is believed the dogs ate them before they were chased off.

The baby's arm and head, initially thought to be missing, were later found between shacks some distance away.

Of course, some people cannot be persuaded by statistics or newspaper story, so for them let's see what happens to wild dogs in Australia where they predate on livestock. Again, this video is not for the faint of heart.

So cleary, there's no such thing as wild dog packs anywhere in the world. Case made!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Health Care On Sunday

The latest news is that the Congressional Budget Office says that the comprehensive health care reform package now in the House of Representatives will lead to a reduction of $138 billion in the federal deficit over the next 10 years, and will cut the deficit by $1.2 trillion over the next ten year period.

CBO is also saying the House package will extend Medicare's solvency by at least nine years and reduces the rate of its growth by 1.4 percent, while closing the doughnut hole for seniors, meaning there will no longer be a gap in coverage of medication.

The CBO also estimates the House health care bill will extend coverage to 32 million additional people.

Bottom line: Anyone opposing this is voting:

  • To increase the deficit

  • To reduce Medicare's solvency

  • To keep more Americans poorer and sicker longer.

Expect a vote Sunday.

In the interim, you will hear a lot of Republicans saying there will be no vote. Not true. The vote is Sunday and it's the same kind of vote the Republicans used 35 times between 2005 and 2006, the last time they controlled Congress. Norm Ornstein has the story.

Dog Origins? "We Have No Idea" Say Scientists

September 2, 2009, Science Daily:
Previous studies in the field have indicated that East Asia is where the wolf was tamed and became the dog. It was not possible to be more precise than that. But now researchers at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm have managed to zero in on man’s best friend.....

“For the first time ... it is possible to provide a detailed picture of the dog, with its birthplace, point in time, and how many wolves were tamed,” says Peter Savolainen, a biology researcher at KTH.

Together with Swedish colleagues and a Chinese research team, he has made a number of new discoveries about the history of the dog.

These discoveries are presented in an article in the scientific journal Molecular Biology and Evolution, where it is claimed that the dog appeared 16,000 years ago, in Asia, south of the Yangtze River in China.

March 18, 2010, Science Daily:

Dogs likely originated in the Middle East, not Asia or Europe, according to a new genetic analysis by an international team of scientists led by UCLA biologists.The research appears March 17 in the advance online edition of the journal Nature.

"Dogs seem to share more genetic similarity with Middle Eastern gray wolves than with any other wolf population worldwide," said Robert Wayne, UCLA professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and senior author of the Nature paper. "Genome-wide analysis now directly suggests a Middle East origin for modern dogs. We have found that a dominant proportion of modern dogs' ancestry derives from Middle Eastern wolves, and this finding is consistent with the hypothesis that dogs originated in the Middle East.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Lance Mackey Wins Fourth Straight Iditarod

Lance Mackey arrived in Nome Alaska at 2:59 pm Alaska Time yesterday, with 11 dogs, and is the first musher in Iditarod Race history to win four back to back Iditarod Championships. His time: eight days, 23 hours and 59 minutes. Mackey gave all the credit to his dog team and especially his three year old female lead dog, Maple.

Lance's father, Dick, was won of the founders of the modern Iditarod, and won the race in 1978. Lance's brother, Rick, won the race in 1983.


Things You Can’t Do When You’re Not a Dog


Monday, March 15, 2010

Coffee and Provocation

PeTA's Slaughter House Continues Unabated:
PeTA had a 97.3 percent kill rate at their Norfolk, Virginia "shelter" last year, with just 8 adoptions and 31 transfers out of 2,366 animals taken in. Yes, they killed all the rest.

A Clash of Feathers:
The crisis over finch fighting continues unabated.

The Great Sperm Race:
The Great Sperm Race was on National Geographic Channel yesterday and will be repeated, I have no doubt. Check out the great pictures from this "greatest race"-type show (totally safe for work).

Messing With Mother Nature:
If you like bully whippets with freakish amounts of muscle, and Belgian Blue cattle with more of the same, check out the new recombinant salmon being made. Ugh!

The Most Beautiful Book Store in the World:
Argentina has the most beautiful book store in the world. It's located in an old 1920s-era movie house.

A Few Cracks Appear in the Market for Eggs:
Over 100 million eggs sold in the U.K. as "free-range" or organic were, in fact, the same battery-cage non-organic eggs that could have been bought anywhere for a third of the price. In fact, some of the eggs sold as free-range and organic were actually eggs that had been rejected by other companies, and were destined for industrial use. Consumers, of course, could not tell the difference. Think that bit of chicanery is only happening in the U.K.? Guess again!