Friday, February 07, 2020

Occam's Razor and Peter Paul Rubens

Look at the dogs on top of the boar in the two paintings, below.

The paintings are by Peter Paul Rubens, and were done 400 years ago.

Writing in the December 2010 edition of “The Sporting Dog Journal,” pit bull expert Richard F. Stratton notes of these two pictures that:

Locked fast on the back of a large wild boar is a dog that could win a modern ADBA show!

Yes indeed.

Stratton asks:

Why did depictions of dogs doing the same type of thing for which our dogs are so renowned look just like our modern-day dogs?

And how could that be when there were no terriers breeds at all 400 years ago?

Stratton notes that in Elizabethan England “terriers” were not a canine taxonomic category, but a canine TAX category:

It is important to understand that the term terriers was not well defined in the writings about dogs of the 19th century. In general, the dogs that went after vermin in the ground were called terriers. These were generally the dogs of the lower classes. In Elizabethan times, there was something of a caste system. Generally, it was the people of royalty who owned land, and they were the only ones. Other people lived on the land, but as game became more scarce with the increase in human population, desirable game, such as deer and wild boar, were not supposed to be hunted by the general population, as these animals belonged to the king (or some other royal person), and the peasants were forbidden to hunt them. Often, they were even forbidden to own hunting dogs. However, they could own terriers, as these dogs were useful in keeping the rat population down or in hunting less desirable game.

But what were terriers? Normally, they were just small dogs with a strong prey drive.

Stratton notes that because bulldogs were taxed and regulated as hounds (and prohibited from ownership by commoners), calling a smaller bulldog a terrier was a common dodge.

But were the pre-1835 pit and catch dogs terriers in any way, shape, or form?

Not apparently.

The mDNA experts point to some mixing after the era of dog shows began in 1860, but pit bulls were not made in dog shows, were they?

So where did the dogs in these 400-year old Peter Paul Rubens paintings come from?

The answer is a simple cross between common and ancient molossers such as English Mastiffs and Greyhounds.

English mastiffs were imported to Italy for spectacle fights in Roman times, and Greyhounds are the oldest and fastest breed of hunting dog the world over. The cross of these canine building blocks, which come in various sizes, is not new.

And is this cross still being done today?

It is. An F1 mastiff and greyhound (molosser X running dog) produces a dog that is very similar in appearance to Colby’s Primo. There is no magic here, and apparently no terrier is needed at all, as Stratton suggests.

You want to recreate the Pit Bull? You wouldn’t start with a Yorkshire Terrier or a Jack Russell or a Welsh Terrier, would you? Go down that road and it’s going to be a sad comedy show.

But cross a mastiff with a greyhound? You’re nearly there on Day One.

Don’t believe me?

Google the cross and compare the results to Colby’s Primo — a dog put up as an exemplar of both the UKC and AKC breed standards.

You see? No magic.

It’s a simple thing and an obvious point made famous by Occam: When explaining how things happen, one should select the solution with the fewest assumptions.

With pit bulls, that means you cannot base the dog’s creation on a breed or type (terriers) that did even exist when the dogs were already 1,000 years old.

Want more art examples?  The pictures below were painted by Frans Snyders and are from the same period as Peter Paul Rubens.  

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