Saturday, September 25, 2010

Also, "puggles" will ruin your literacy skills

My last post about the "designer dog" fraud drew many angry, rude comments from "puggle" fanciers, which all had this in common: they had nothing to do with what I wrote.

Hmmmmmm... Well that's amusing. Who would have thought that 100% of a self-selected sample of "designer dog" owners would have lousy reading skills and no ability to think rationally?

Ok, actually, it's very likely that I would have thought that. If you're buying into the "designer dog" thing, I'm not gonna have high expectations for you.

For those who can actually read, let me explain what's wrong with "designer dogs."

First of all, I've said this before, but there is nothing "designed" about them. The only design is to part fools from their money. Large amounts of money. A breed is designed and created over generations by selecting stock for desired traits, so that the end result consistently produces those same desired traits over and over when bred to the same breed. Beagles and other scenthounds, for example, are designed to have very keen noses, lots of endurance, and a one-track mind. Terriers are designed to be small enough to go down a burrow, tenacious enough to want to do it, and brave enough to face down the creature that lives in the burrow. Sheep dogs are designed to herd. Retrievers are designed to find the ducks you shoot and bring them back to you.

Are you following this? Breeds are designed, that is, they have a purpose. And they're bred selectively over generations to isolate the traits that fulfill that purpose. Most of the time the traits are either recessive, dominant but uncommon, or partially inheritable, so you have to make sure you bring together the individuals who best display those traits, in order that the offspring show the trait as well or even better than the parents.

In some breeds, particularly pugs, the desired traits are grotesque morphology and below-average intelligence. Whoever designed the pug should have been beaten bloody for the evil scum of the earth s/he was, because who would do that to a dog? It can't hunt for itself, it can't burrow in the snow, it can barely breathe or drink without choking. All it does it entertain people by its grotesquerie. It's the politically-correct twentieth-century version of the medieval fool: a stunted, misshapen human kept as a pet to entertain other humans.

Anyway. Let's consider now the "designer dog" fallacy. "Designer dogs" are not bred from two carefully selected specimens to enhance a desired trait. They're also not bred with a consistency of purpose. If someone was trying to create a new breed, the offspring that best displayed the desired traits would be bred to offspring of a like crossing that also displayed the desired traits, and on and on until the new breed was stabilized. That's not what "designer dog" breeders do, though. They just breed the same cross over and over and send forth the offspring into the world for $600 a head and don't care what happens next.

The original "designer dog" was actually bred for a purpose, which was to create a hypo-allergenic service dog by crossing Labrador retrievers with poodles. The offspring, predictably, was unpredictable in both its hypo-allergenic aspect and its ability to train as a service dog. It was also discovered that this was completely unnecessary, because well-bred poodles are very smart and perfectly able to train as service dogs.

The average "designer dog", however, is bred for the sole purpose of selling the puppies. The "puggle" is a particularly good example of the failure of that ill-thought-out cross as a "breed". If you look at photos, they're losing almost all of the pug phenotype, and no data is available on their success as hunting dogs. So the desired qualities of both breeds are lost. This is predictable if you care to remember that breeds are mostly from traits that are recessive, dominant but rare, or partially inheritable. Obviously the recessive traits of both breeds will be lost; dominant traits never breed true unless the recessive alleles can be culled; and partially inheritable traits are diluted by breeding to individuals that don't have them. So, you get something that has no specific traits by which you could write a breed standard, and that will not breed true.

Why is that important? It wouldn't be, if you don't care about predicting a dog's likely aptitudes, size and personality. But most people do care about that, and what's more, "designer dog" fanciers will actually tell you that their "breed" is such and such way. They're lying. There is no predicting what traits each parent will pass on, or how the various traits will work together. I know a dog who is allegedly a Labrador retriever x Belgian shepherd cross. It looks exactly like a lab... and is very aggressive like a badly-handled Belgian shepherd. I think it's a remarkably stupid cross because most people expect a retriever to have a mild, friendly personality. Breeding a dog who looks exactly like that but has an aggressive personality common in a completely different breed means people will approach your large, aggressive dog as if it was a nice friendly black lab.

Another problem, along the same lines, is when people decide after the fact, without any knowledge of a dog's breeding, that it's such or such "designer dog", and in addition, buy into the lies the "breed" fanciers have come up with about that cross's traits. Guessing a purebred dog's breed is one thing, and most people get it wrong a lot. A friend of mine once lost a Gordon setter and found it at the pound labelled as a "Rottweiler x spaniel." Guessing the parents of a mutt, even assuming both parents were typey purebreds, is an exercise in futility. Like the puppy in my previous post. It looks exactly like a bloodhound puppy, but that's not a breed most people have ever seen in person, because it's very hard to keep, so that's not somebody's first thought on looking at that puppy. Well, it was my first thought, but of course I spend tons of time looking at breed standards.

If you're going to assume it's a mutt, then there are many possible crosses. Clearly, it looks like a scenthound, though not particularly much like a beagle as they're never self-coloured. Other hounds that have the same body shape as the beagle include the foxhound and harrier, and I'm not sure how anyone pretends to know by looking at a mutt whether its ancestors were beagles, foxhounds or harriers, seeing as they all look practically identical except for height. The most you can say is that based on probabilities, there are probably way more beagle owners willing to breed them to anything that pisses on fire hydrants than foxhound or harrier owners.

Then again, why would it be a pug x beagle if the colouring occurs in neither pug nor beagle? One could assume that both colours are recessive and that the offspring are getting the brown colour from the beagles and the self-colour from the pugs, but that the tricolour or bicolour or gray coats are all recessive to self-brown. But then if we're going to say that, we're admitting that this cross is losing the most visible trait of each breed, and then how can we pretend that we're going to predict any of its traits?

Back to guessing the parents' breeds, again, why are we guessing "beagle" when it looks like a bloodhound? Bloodhounds are not bred by crossing pugs and beagles, so where do we get the idea that if it looks like a bloodhound, the most likely ancestry is pug x beagle? If it has pug in it at all, which there is absolutely no reason to believe given the absence of any pug-like traits, it would still make more sense to assume the other half was a bloodhound rather than a beagle. Because at least it looks like a bloodhound.

The whole thing is clearly futile. If you're getting a mutt from a rescue, it's a mutt. It's not a maltipoo, yorkipoo, cockapoo, labradoodle, puggle, boggle, borkie, pomchi, shichon, zuchon, glechon, porkie, shorkie, snorkie, or anything else of the kind. It's a mutt. M-U-T-T mutt. It might be a wonderful dog or a retarded creature who can't even housetrain, or anything in between, but you'll never know until after you bring it home, because as a mutt of unknown breeding, it doesn't have any predictable traits. Except that being a dog, it will probably eat, shit, sleep, and want to go for walks and chase living creatures.

On the other hand, if you're buying your "designer dog" from a breeder or a pet store, you're just being had. You're paying hundreds of dollars for something you could get for free from the shelter, and you're encouraging the unscrupulous individual who's selling it to you to continue adding to the dog overpopulation problem.

And that, more than anything, is what's wrong with "designer dogs." The very concept of "designer dog" exists strictly for the purpose of selling random mutts to gullible people who don't care about dog overpopulation. Then, they get a dog who's not what they expected, and it ends up in rescue.

If you want a dog, either get a mutt for free from the shelter and call it a mutt, or buy a purebred from a responsible breeder and call it a breed. Never buy a dog who's advertised under a portmanteau name, because they're ipso facto lying to you. Don't buy a dog from a pet store or a backyard breeder. In fact, don't buy a dog at all unless you have a very specific set of criteria and you've found the purebred that will match them. If you just want "a dog", get a free one from a shelter and call it a mutt.

And don't comment on people's blogs if you don't know how to read.

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