Opal’s puppies are 1 week old

The pups and Mum are doing well. Birth weights were 9-11.5 ounces and they are now up to 12.5-20 ounces. There’s a big boy who spends all his time drinking and a small bitch. Their weight gain is between 40 and 70% in a week which is quite a surprising range but shows just how pushy the big boy is.

Opal has decided she wants to go on walks again, just like Gøril did with her litter. Clearly, these Norwegians don’t want to miss the opportunity to chase squirrels in the woods!

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Say hello to Opal’s puppies – photos and video

Opal (Ch. Hella’s Øzlem at Sunsong) whelped 5 puppies yesterday; 3 bitches and 2 dogs. Father is Mr Foxy (Ch. Zlowfox Av Larhjelm at Sunsong). Both parents were bred in Norway, so it will be an interesting litter to watch develop.

Mum and pups are doing well. Now we have to think of some names (probably with a Christmassy and Norwegian theme) to register them.

Puppy number 1
Waiting for the fifth puppy to arrive

Season’s Greetings from Ian, Sue and the Sunsongs

Behavioural traits of dogs – some surprising clusters – “Best of Health” December 2018

Best of HealthLast month, an Open Access paperPrevailing Clusters of Canine Behavioural Traits in Historical US Demand for Dog Breeds (1926–2005)” was published. The authors are Bethany Wilson, James Serpell, Harold Herzog and Paul McGreevy. It presents an interesting statistical analysis to create clusters of breeds with similar behavioural traits. It caught my attention because the breeds in each cluster are not what you might expect, at first glance. The paper also reviews breed popularity trends, as measured by AKC Registrations, over an 80 year period (1926-2005).

The researchers took AKC registration data for 82 pedigree breeds and combined them with behavioural reports submitted by owners. The owners’ assessments were from the well-known C-BARQ questionnaire and included responses from over 32,000 people worldwide. There is, therefore, a potential discrepancy between the US-focused breed registration trend data and the international-originated behavioural assessments. However, the authors feel that the breadth of the international data mitigated this potential limitation. I tend to agree that the international variations in behavioural traits in individual breeds is likely to be relatively small, for the purposes of this study.

The C-BARQ assessment identifies 14 behavioural subscales such as Trainability, Stranger/Owner/Dog-directed aggression, Stranger/Dog-directed fear, Separation-related behaviour, Excitability, Chasing. It also includes 22 other traits such as coprophagia, rolling (in poo), chewing, urine marking and barking.

Trends in popularity

Overall, AKC registration data over nearly 80 years fell into 5 main periods: an Early period (1926–1944, during which total registration numbers were very low); a Mid-Century Period (1945–1971, during which total registration numbers tended to rise from year to year); a First Decline (1972–1979, a brief period during which registration numbers experienced a trend of more gradual decline); a Recovery (1980–1992, where registration numbers began to rise gradually again); and a Second Decline (1993–2005, a second sustained period of falling registration numbers, more dramatic than the first decline). It is not clear from the paper what the causes of the most recent period of decline are. No doubt it is a combination of factors (as we have seen in the UK), such as economic pressures, the rising popularity of so-called designer dogs, the emergence of alternative registries and anti-pedigree campaigns.

The variations in popularity of different breeds is also summarised in the paper and the authors state that, like baby names, many shifts in breed popularity can be explained by a random drift model of cultural evolution. They also note that breed preferences conform to the logic of fashion cycles and we have certainly seen that in the UK with breeds such as French Bulldogs, Pugs and Miniature Dachshunds. The impact of dogs appearing in films or on social media with celebrities is part of that fashion cycle. Fashion cycles suggest that breeds that rapidly increase in popularity subsequently experience rapid decreases in popularity.

There is other recent research that identifies why certain breeds become popular; for example, a Danish study showed owners chose Cavaliers and French Bulldogs because of their reputations for being easy to live with. However, for inexperienced dog owners jumping on the latest popular-breed bandwagon, strong behavioural breed-specific traits can prove to be challenging. Dachshund Facebook Groups are full of people asking for help with excessive barking, house-training and dog-directed aggression, to name just 3 issues.

Cluster Analysis

82 breeds where there were at least 50 owner C-BARQ responses were included in the statistical analysis, calculating the average scores for each of the behavioural sub-scales and individual traits. The researchers also used average height of each breed (from AKC Breed Standards) as an indicator of the size of each breed.

Their analysis identified 6 clusters of breeds, each of which had behavioural traits in common. They used the breed whose average behavioural score most closely matched the cluster average as the title for the cluster. The clusters were:

  • Maltese (12 small breeds including Peke, Lhasa Apso, Pug, Min. Pin., Dachshund)
  • Weimaraner (16 breeds including Cairn, WHWT, Brittany, Beagle)
  • American Staffordshire Terrier (9 breeds including Dalmatian, French Bulldog, SBT)
  • Akita (8 breeds including Borzoi, Shiba Inu, Whippet, Chow Chow)
  • Australian Shepherd (20 breeds including Cavalier, BSD, PWD, Labrador, Papillon)
  • Great Dane (15 breeds including BMD, Rottweiler, Collie, English Setter)

You will probably be surprised to see such a range of breeds from different Groups in these 6 clusters. The clustering of breeds from this behavioural analysis also appears to be quite different to Elaine Ostrander’s genomic analysis of 161 breeds in 2017 which identified 23 “clades”. Although genetically defined, these clades tended to bring together dogs with similar traits (e.g. sheepdogs, corgis and collies – all bred for herding – fall into one clade). The genetic grouping of breeds that share particular jobs suggests that early breeders bred dogs for specific purposes.

The traits of the breeds in the 6 behavioural clusters were summarised as follows:

  • Maltese cluster – score high on aggression, fear, separation, excitability and motivated by owner attention
  • Weimaraner cluster – moderate scores for aggression and fear but high for olfactory behaviours such as rolling (in poo) and coprophagia
  • American Staffordshire Terrier cluster – high scores for visual behaviours such as staring and shadow-chasing, as well as being hyperactive
  • Akita cluster – score moderately on aggression and fear, less amenable to training, low on attachment and attention-seeking, but prone to chasing and escaping
  • Australian Shepherd cluster – energetic, very trainable and low aggression towards owners and other dogs, but a propensity for barking
  • Great Dane cluster – low scores for aggression, fear or other problem behaviours, plus high scores for trainability

Draw your own conclusions!

The authors state that there is no compelling evidence that the shifts in popularity of breeds within and between clusters are caused by people’s preferences for particular dog behaviours. I suspect many (too many?) buying decisions are made on the basis of generalisations about a breed’s behaviour, particularly in the case of first-time buyers. Assuming a breed is “easy to live with” because it is popular seems like a recipe for all sorts of problems. Unsuitable breeders will jump on the commercial bandwagon and more dogs will end up in rescue. It would be really helpful if large-scale data from C-BARQ surveys was more widely available in an accessible format for potential buyers.

I expect readers will have their own views on how well their breed fits into the behavioural clusters identified and I would encourage you to read the full paper to see exactly what the authors have said. The paper is available at: https://goo.gl/6QbNtg

You will have to draw your own conclusions! Happy New Year.

 

Blue is the colour; CNR is the name – my November 2018 “Best of Health” article

Best of HealthBlue is the colour; CNR is the name…

Recently, we had the misfortune to discover that Johanna Konta (Tennis player) has bought a Blue Dachshund and was proudly sharing pictures on her Instagram page. The picture received over 4000 “Likes” and generated lots of discussion among Dachshund Facebook Group members.

Blue is a colour that occurs legitimately in the genetics of Dachshunds but is a “Colour Not Recognised” (CNR) as far as Kennel Club registration is concerned. Our survey data suggests that between a third and half of Blue Dachshunds can suffer a skin condition – Colour Dilution Alopecia (CDA – and there is no DNA test for this condition). Hence, we have been working hard on social media to educate potential owners not to buy dilute coloured Dachshunds (we also have Isabella – sometimes referred to as “Lilac”). We also encourage owners of these dogs not to breed from them.Blue

In the past year there has been a significant increase in the number of dilute coloured Dachshunds being sold in the UK. The majority are being bred by French Bulldog and English Bulldog extreme-colour breeders; many using dogs imported from the USA or Eastern Europe, presumably as they see an opportunity to make significant money from “rare-coloured” Dachshunds.

I suppose we can be thankful that, unlike in some other breeds, blue hasn’t been introduced recently by cross-breeding from another breed.

The KC created a CNR Working Group to look at this issue because it has caused much concern among other breeds. I understand they are due to report soon. We raised the CDA and CNR issue with the KC when we met to discuss our Breed Health and Conservation Plan.

No simple solutions

The CNR issue is a classic example of what’s known as a “Wicked Problem”. Lots of people have lots of different views on, and interests in, the problem; it’s not the same problem in every breed; there is no single, simple solution and any actions have the potential to result in unintended consequences. This is the realm of Systems Thinking where lots of factors are interconnected. Logical, cause and effect (reductionist) thinking is unlikely to help us understand how the “CNR system” works nor how to intervene to improve things.

The first step in identifying how to change the system is to understand the forces at play. Wicked problems benefit from being examined in a more holistic way and one of the tools to do that is a Causal Loop Diagram (CLD). It’s a pictorial way to link variables (e.g. Demand for “rare” colours, Registration income) and to tell the story of what’s happening in the system. The example CLD tells the story of what might be happening in Dachshunds (it may be different in other breeds). CNR System Causal Loop Diagram PDF

cnr sd model

In the model, if 2 variables are linked with a “plus” arrow, it means they increase together (e.g. the more demand there is, the more dogs are bred). A “minus” arrow means that, as one variable increases, the other decreases (e.g. the better educated buyers are, the lower the demand for rare colours). This Causal Loop Diagram also shows us that there are 4 distinct perspectives on the CNR problem in Dachshunds:

  • Demand
  • Supply
  • KC Registration Policy
  • The health and welfare of Dachshunds

These perspectives help us to see that, if we want to change what happens as a result of the system, multiple actions will be needed.  

How to change the system

Once you can see the systemic forces at play, you can then consider the conditions that either enable or hinder change. That way, you can reduce the chances of cherry-picking “simple but wrong” solutions. We need to look for “leverage points” but it’s important to understand that some of these will have minimal impact or might actually make things worse.

There are plenty of models describing how to change systems and, generally, they highlight 3 levels at which interventions can be made. Of course, being a system, the interventions and the levels are interdependent.

The biggest leverage and impact usually results from challenging the system by understanding its goals, the mindsets that created it and the current narratives. For CNR Dachshunds, these could include:

  • Only register Breed Standard colours of dogs with a known pedigree vs. Register any dog that looks like a Dachshund, whatever its colour/pattern
  • Keep the breed “pure” vs. Recognise that cross-breeding has always happened
  • KC registration is “exclusive” vs. KC registration is “inclusive”
  • “Greeders” vs “Breeders”

The next most effective areas to look for leverage points are the relationships and the power dynamics in the system. These could include:

  • Groups working in isolation vs. Engaging with campaigners (e.g. RSPCA, DBRG, CRUFFA, CARIAD)
  • One-size fits all solutions vs. Open source, marginal gains solutions
  • Individual communication & education campaigns vs. Joined-up campaigns
  • The KC sets the registration rules vs. Collaborative rule-setting
  • The show community shapes the rules vs. Breeders, owners & others shape the rules

People who don’t think about the system tend to start by looking for actions which, typically, have the lowest leverage and impact. Often, these relate to the policies, practices and resources that exist in the system, such as:

  • Registration rules & “acceptable” colour lists
  • Registration pricing policies
  • Data sharing on numbers of CNR dogs and how many have health issues (vs. non-CNR)
  • Legislation on imports & enforcement of this
  • Licencing regulations
  • ABS rules & guidance
  • Breed Club Codes of Ethics
  • Availability of alternative registries
  • Colour/pattern clauses in Breed Standards
  • Breed Club resources for communication & education

Some, or many, will need to be changed, but only after addressing the higher-leverage issues. Starting with these is like looking through the wrong end of a telescope!

Light at the end of the tunnel?

One of the other useful features of the Causal Loop Diagram is that we can identify 2 types of feedback loop. Reinforcing loops occur when an initial action is reinvested to create more of the same type of change. For example, the more a celebrity’s Instagram picture of a blue Dachshund is liked and shared, the more people see it and the more demand it creates for blue Dachshunds. Growth can’t continue forever so, wherever there is a reinforcing loop, there is typically a balancing loop to stabilise the system. However, this might not be as strong as the reinforcing loop or it might take time to kick-in. In our case, a balancing loop is owners finding their blue Dachshunds have health issues, which more people become aware of and which then reduces demand. Another balancing loop might be that unsuitable owners discover that Dachshunds were bred to work and aren’t suitable to live life as “fur-babies” or fashion accessories, and when they share their problems on social media other people become less likely to want one.

Behind every growth in demand is at least one reinforcing loop but there are also, invariably, balancing loops which come into play to resist further increases in demand. In the case of dog health and welfare, the question is whether those balancing loops kick-in soon enough to avoid a crisis for the dogs and their owners.

In a way, we’re lucky that the demand for, and supply of, blue and other “rare”coloured Dachshunds is still quite low compared with the CNR (and other colour) challenges facing the French Bulldogs, Bulldogs, Pugs and Staffordshire Bull Terriers (to name just 4 breeds). We have time to look at our particular CNR system and identify workable solutions. What works for us may well not work in other breeds and vice versa. However, we can and should all learn from each other.

For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong”.
L. Mencken

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