Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Historians Bypass the Museum

This week I've been head-desking over one of the latest self-justifications of decorative dog-fanciers, their claim that they are "preservation breeders." Been a lot of argle-bargle about the important public service the ribbon-hoarders perform by perpetuating "pure" breeds of "heritage" dogs in the run-up to "National Purebred Dog Day," designated for May Day, because that's apparently not a calendar date that freights any meaning already, so why not?

Aside from describing the role that highly-inbred animals from artificially closed gene pools play as a model for tragic human genetic diseases as a god-damned feature -- like "oh yeah, we've been breeding these year-old bitch puppies to their own daddies for eight generations running because science and help humanity and not in any way to make sure that their ears stand up or flop over or whatever they are supposed to do in exactly the way that makes them crush the competition at the pageants" -- aside from that, the gormless website promoting this advanced codswallop describes the objects of their fancy hobby this way:

I'll just let yinz roll that around for a while. Really take it in. That designation was not presented as a pejorative, as snark, as criticism or satire. They said that about their own, um, let's call them dogs. I've screencapped it in case someone realizes what they've just said and takes it down. We are meant to admire these people for keeping and perpetuating museum pieces with a pulse.

Let's consider the external justifications for the "preservation," at some considerable expense and time and trouble, of inbred outlier populations of domestic animals and plants. Because there are some.

One good reason is preservation of specific, identified traits that might not be what a preponderance of users (farmers, pastoralists, working-animal handlers, pet owners, gardeners, orchardists, etc.) currently need or want, but that people in outlier circumstances do currently need, and/or that changing circumstances may require in the future.

Simple example, an apple cultivar that is resistant to a plant virus that is not currently a major problem in most apple-growing regions, but that in ten years may start sweeping orchards and wiping out crops because of an introduced insect vector, or, oh yeah, we broke the goddamned planet and now what?

We need the eccentric heritage orchardist who has preserved fifty varieties of eighteenth-century apples to unhoist our petards. And we have no way of knowing which bit of genetics is going to be crucial tomorrow, so save all the useful things.

And meanwhile, buy and eat them apples, so that eccentric apple guy can make a living or at least keep up his hobby.

Other circumstances can be social and economic changes that create demand for old genetics in and of themselves. People who reject the miserable lives of industrial pigs and want to eat pork from animals who lived on pasture as if they were real animals have an interest in livestock conservators who have maintained rare genetic lines of pigs that thrive on pasture -- whether those are inbred, "pure" lines of old breeds and landraces, or populations that mix those lines and breeds and continue to select for the traits that make a pasture pig happy, healthy, and productive.

But here's the rub when conserving the functional genetics of domestic animals and plants.

Use it or lose it.

With some plants, one can literally maintain germ plasm virtually unchanged via low-tech traditional cloning. A scion from a hundred-year-old apple tree, grafted onto suitable rootstock, will have functionally identical properties to the parent plant. So as long as the parent plant is alive, a century of neglect can be undone in a few years by a suitably educated and skilled conservator.

With some other plants and all animals, there is no "preservation." Genes gotta recombine to make babbies. In order to prevent genetic loss, the steward must make sound selection decisions every generation.

She must ask herself "What am I conserving?" and ensure that those traits are the ones she selects on. One cannot select for everything equally. There has to be a list of priorities. There has to be compromise on the frills.

Even with a uniformly smart, informed, diligent community of conservators, there will be drift over time. Hidden traits that the environment does not challenge -- say, resistance to an animal disease that was once widely troublesome but is now controlled by vaccination -- will fade away, unbeknownst to the conservators. The selection environment will change subtlely or dramatically, and the animals will change with it. And in isolated populations -- whether formally locked down in closed studbooks, geographically isolated, or just mostly closed to outside genetics, there will be genetic drift, the island effect. Some genes will be lost, some will come to predominate, and heterozygosity will decrease. Decreases in overall heterozygosity will inevitably decrease the overall fitness of the individuals in the population (of animals, not always with plants).

By decreasing overall fitness, I mean, the animals will start suffering from punkish immune systems, enzootic cancers at a young age, infertility, high infant mortality, and birth defects. Not to mention, though one should, specific genetic disorders associated with specific defective alleles widespread (or universal) in the population. In short, they live tenuously and die easy.

Part of conservation is always ensuring that there is enough gene transfer in to mitigate the deleterious effects of both drift and selection. It's not enough to try to slow down genetic loss by avoiding new genetic bottlenecks and selecting for basic biological fitness before distinct traits or fancy points; that can be, at most, a holding action until people get their shit together and rocket forward all the way to the mid-20th century.

Which is why the term and concept "purebred" is shear nineteenth-century hokum, the Feeji Mermaid of genetic selection. An idea that needs to die before it kills again.

So what of the new line that purebred dog fanciers are "preservationists" on par with museum curators, only their exhibits posses the bug feature of "a pulse?"

Is there a case to be made for maintaining many genetically isolated populations of morphologically diverse dogs? In other words, is there any overall, independent, externally-referenced, big-picture utility to producing great Danes and Dandie Dinmont terriers? In other words, should anyone other than the die-hard fancy hobbyist care?

Might we need the unique genetics of the Dane or the Dandie for some purpose in the future? (With "need" broadly defined to embrace many human desires and priorities, and "unique" granted for the purpose of discussion.)

Maybe? Let's be conservative and assume yes, without asking for evidence. Lots of people do weirder things, have weird hobbies and priorities, without having to justify them to the larger culture. We should as a culture care about maintaining diverse populations of domestic dogs, and not consider it purely a vanity project for weird hobbyists.

Then what happened to four core considerations of genetic conservation:

• Prevent genetic loss from new bottlenecks

• Maintain biological fitness through controlled genetic infusions

• Select in every generation for relevant, useful, traits

• Use it or lose it

The fancy breeding of "purebred" dogs violates all of these considerations in a congruence of stupid that may be unique in the animal world.

Popular (show-winning) sires, inbreed and purge practices, panic-discards of animals who carry identified deleterious recessives, and ever-narrower criteria for "type" (the confusion of extreme specificity for high standards) continue to bottleneck fancy populations. If anything, the diversity loss is accelerating with the advent of genetic testing for identified deleterious recessives. Instead of using the results of a DNA test for a deleterious allele to breed carriers more intelligently, the carrier, the whole damned dog, gets tossed out of the gene pool by those who feel shame over contamination.

DNA parentage verification gives self-styled museum curators a new tool to accelerate breed death. Some breeds have limped along for this long only because of the mongrel in the woodpile in past decades -- uncontrolled, sometimes unintentional, infusions of desperately-needed novel genetics. The kennel clubs' closed studbooks remain closed and, now, effectively policed. Fanciers clutch their pearls over the appearance of a novel color that may or may not indicate crossbreeding on the down-low some generations back, while wondering why their specials bitch won't conceive, their BIS dog is shooting blanks, and the typey sister of the above just barely managed to squeeze out two live, if fragile, puppies on the third attempt, and damn, one of them has a white spot where it's not allowed per the new "standard," so that one is going to be spayed. An inbreeding coefficient of .8 is just linebreeding for good type, right?  If fancy-dog breeders did literally nothing else wrong, they'd still be killing the breeds they profess to love via the enforcement of the Victorian closed studbook in the name of "purity."

Selection, each generation, is primarily for those traits that advance the owner's success at her hobby, which is entering dog pageants, but the justification for what they imagine to be "preservation" is couched in romantic stories about the historical function of the breed. Our museum exhibit is meant to represent boar hunting or bullbaiting or the lapwarmer of royalty. Sometimes the progenitors of the contemporary animal actually once did those things, sometimes, often, it's just so much fantasy hokum. Sometimes the ancestors' job is no more -- and often we have reason to be thankful for that -- and sometimes there are dogs still, or once again, performing that job, whether they are another branch of the same lineage (even, sometimes, sharing a breed name if not a recent genetic history or much resemblance) or an entirely different lineage.

But, we sez to the "preservation" breeder, your dog does not herd sheep, battle boars, guard the estate with lethal force, draft sledges, patrol the mountain pass, retrieve a hundred ducks a day from icy water ...

But he could if I wanted him to.

Yeah, no. That's not how this works. That's not how any of this works.

To whit, Great Danes do not hunt boars anywhere in the world of which I am aware, but curs and bandogs and other kinds of badass dogs do, and are selected rather harshly for their ability to do so. The hyena-backed show shepherd doesn't patrol with the soldier, but his working-bred distant cousin -- whether called a "German shepherd" or a "Malinois" -- does. I am aware of no Scottie that goes to ground after ill-natured burrowing prey, but plenty of muttly Jack Russells do it.

Barn hunt doesn't qualify, guys. If a pet golden retriever wins the same merit badge, it's not a breed selection test for a professional ratting terrier. Your carting title is cute, but it does not make your Bernese mountain dog a working draft animal. A working draft animal shouldn't drop dead from cardiomyopathy on a brisk unburdened walk at the age of four.

While looking different from the functional ancestors -- being much larger, much smaller, much fluffier, much shorter in the leg or longer in the back, possessing a convex face and painfully dwarfed body, a banana-back, a needle-nose and vestigial-appearing eyes -- is not the only measure of divergence from the functional ancestors that we could apply to a fancy breed, it is a pretty easily appreciated neon sign. A sign that nothing has been "preserved" over prior decades except folklore and self-deception, and even those have been bred up larger.

To be sure, a dog can look just like a functional ancestor and fail the test of actual function. Because the drive and instinct and heart and desire, the difficulties and opinions of a motivated being, were bred out in the successful quest for a compliant show dog who would sit quietly in a crate in a hired handler's Winnebago until his performance in the circle-jerk was required. Or because the bones and heart are no longer strong, the spine does not flex and surge, the cancer comes at six and the job takes seven years to master; the spirit is sometimes willing while the flesh is weak, and that's the worst. The worst.

But a visually obvious transformation (and usually exaggeration) of body hardly ever belies the persistence of the brain and drive and heart and desire. One cannot select for "everything," and hard selection that changes the appearance of the body according to fad and fashion is wedded to null selection for the traits of function.

The trait is not used. It is lost. Nothing historically used or useful has been preserved, conserved, stewarded or adapted to new demands. There may be diversity in the sense of alleles that don't exist, or exist widely, in the larger canine population, but are prevalent or universal in these isolated gene pools -- alleles for tiny eyes, color dilution, short limbs, a coat that can grow 3' long if kept wrapped in tissue and off the dirty floor, giant or miniature stature, dime-sized round spots and ears that drag the ground. Alleles for kidney stones or seizures or various flavors of vision defects, flabby hearts, constricted airways, Hapsburg-bleedouts, predictable cancer-bombs or explosions of unreasoned rage. Those useful genetic models for medical tragedy that are a feature to the brain trust behind "National Purebred Dog Day."

So, I bet you already know, although I breed a "rare" kind of dog, I am not a "preservation" breeder. Like most English shepherd breeders who put any thought at all into the matter, I identify with many (not all) of the goals and values of livestock conservation breeders, and am informed by the science behind that conservation and the practical techniques used to perform it. I want to practice the right kind of selection, keep the gene pool large and diverse, value healthy variation even when I am not enamored of the specific variant, welcome new genetics into the pool.

I try to be skeptical and rigorous about how much, and how, our muttly, practical farm collies have been conserved from the diverse genetic foundation of their humble and ubiquitous ancestors on colonial American farms, and before that, mostly British crofters. I try not to be too impressed by photographs of Victorian-era dogs who look exactly like modern ES, right down to their tolerant or bemused or dutiful expressions as they stand beside owners who clearly worked hard and valued them very much -- other than to smirk a little about how it is that the "look" has actually been "preserved" unaltered for centuries without any formal systems in place to attempt to do that.

But when I read some seemingly fanciful account of some Ohio farm dog's sagacity in 1911 and see the exact same quality of mind in one of my own canine partners, watch them perform some task or reach some insight that Official Dog proclaims Not Possible, empiricism wins over skepticism, and I just say fuckit and go with my lyin' eyes. And cultivate an attitude of humble gratitude for what prior generations passed down to me, a determination to convey it forward in my turn.

Why conserve traditional multipurpose farm shepherds? It only makes sense if your values drive you to want to conserve traditional small agriculture and pastoral practices; if you think agriculture practice and policy reached its apex with the odious Earl Butz, you won't give a good god-damn. Enjoy your antibiotic chicken and e.coli-beef.  Well, it might make sense if you acknowledge that there are "modern" jobs for which those traits once selected on the homestead especially suit a practical collie-dog. Those will fade out, though, once the selection environment ceases to be at least partly the small diversified farm. We have to keep going back to that well. Preserving the well and drinking the water are the same task.

As I contemplated the little beans who compose our fifth litter of English shepherds, and my reasons for making more like this, I thought a lot about that history, the mandate to be realistic, and skeptical, and rigorous about the past that we are bringing forward into the future, not as museum objects, but as full participants in a worthwhile community. These babies would each be, not an exhibit, but a historian.

The historians I envy are not the worthy Hank Commagers and Barbara Tuchmans, but the fictional ones who move between past and present, who participate in both worlds as acting beings, who become of both times through technology in much the way these tiny creatures piled among my feet do automatically through their persistent, lovingly-conserved genetics.

Also, Connie Willis is just a god-damned spectacular writer, and merits the homage. If you haven't read her Oxford time-travel novels yet, you need to go do that.*

So, introducing The Historians. May they take the past bestowed on them by their genes and carry it forward into a future that is humane and sustainable and scaled for Nature, and for human beings and their best friends and partners.

The girls:

You can call her Catherine, that's okay too. Her devotion may make you mistake her for a Saint, and who is to say that it is really a mistake?

Kivrin field marks: I am black. My blaze does not meet my wide collar.
Her instinct is to do the right thing, even though it's impossible. It all turns out better than you could have ever expected.

Verity field marks: I am seal. My narrow blaze meets my broken collar over the top of my head.
She'll sacrifice everything to take care of you, even if you are impossible to love. You will become good as a result.

Merope field marks: I am seal. My wide blaze meets my broken collar over the top of my head.

The boys:

Is he American Mike or British Michael? This historian contains both personae. He'll do big things because the circumstances demand it.

Mike field marks: I am tricolor like my Daddy.
Will never, ever, abandon his charges. If only everyone could be watched over by a Dunworthy.

Dunworthy field marks: I am black. I have a mostly dark face and look a lot like Badri, but I still have a little spit-splash of white on my forehead. This will probably disappear shortly. I have a black on my left front leg where Badri does not.

Despite a rather formal veneer, Finch lives to serve, and finds surprising and spectacular ways to do so.

I am sable like my Ebil Gramma Rosie
Colin does not respect walls, boundaries, quarantines prohibitions or impediments of any kind. He's got stuff to do, mostly involving saving your ass. Best get out of his way, he's gonna do it. You are welcome.

I am seal. I have a wide blaze and a neck spot instead of a collar, and I am built like a bear cub, like my great-uncle Moe.

Badri will get you there and bring you back. You want Badri on your team.

Badri field marks: I am black.  I have a no blaze. I look a lot like Dunworthy, but my left arm is all white.


* To Say Nothing of the Dog for lighthearted farce, mostly, a silly fun romp. Blackout and All Clear (must read in that order and together) for existential suspense. The Doomsday Book for when you are up for having your heart probed and prodded and then deftly ripped from your thorax by the author's crochet hook. I'm not crying, you're crying.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Necessity of Naughty

Nice cavaletti you got there. Be a shame if somethin' were to happen to it.

I had briefly met Maryna's two Arabian geldings when Pip and I arrived to help set up the seminar at her Arizona ranch.

That night, as we took all the dogs for a walk in the desert darkness, both horses tagged along unbidden, a companionable three-species packwalk.

As I followed along in one narrow spot, I was surprised by a firm Vulcan nerve-pinch on my right shoulder.


Who me?

If Majyk could have stuck his hands in his pockets and whistled, he'd have done so.

"What did he do?"

"Grabbed my shoulder. Not hard. I bopped his nose. Punk."

"This may sound weird, but I'm glad. That's the first really extroverted thing he's done."

What I didn't know about little Majyk when he impishly mouthed me was that he was not -- yet -- a normal horse.

You've seen the cable animal pain porn shows, of course. Every other episode, you'll be treated to the sight of a dog who kept growing while his never-changed puppy collar didn't. Embedded collar -- bloody dog-girdling. How do they live when that happens?!

Now make the puppy a foal.

And make the collar a little nylon foal halter.

And turn that foal out into the open range and leave him there for a year while his skull and face grow and grow, and the halter doesn't.

When Maryna agreed to take him on as a rehab case, the bones of his head had grown around the halter. The nylon fiber had been incorporated into his skeleton.  His short life after being rescued from the range had been surgeries and wound irrigation, antibiotic lavage and manipulation. Pain beyond the telling of it.

So the woman whose dogs and horses were flawlessly well-mannered was thrilled when her young horse did something terribly naughty. He was telling us that he wasn't a victim or an object of pity; Majyk had something to say. (Also, he liked me, and soon I adored him. He wasn't quite compact enough to fit into the overhead compartment, but I was tempted.)

✦   ✦   ✦

Most of the time, my criteria for offering a foster dog for adoption is "Has this guy learned enough manners here?"

They come in with all sorts of behavior deficits and flavors of pig-ignorance, and we whip them into shape.

Failed pets who have been cooed over by indulgent, anxious doggie-mommies develop self-control, and as they do they shed insecurity-based rudeness and entitlement and become the good citizens they were meant to be.

Wild, neglected youngsters sprung from the pound learn that there are these things called rules, and that there are previously unimagined privileges that derive from mastering and following them.

There are other things that happen during their time as foster dogs, but some version of learning self-control is usually the biggest part of it.

And then there are the others, the ones who have nothing but self-control, whose approach to everything is "Why try? It could be dangerous. I could fail. I better not."

The Operation New Beginnings dogs had various behavioral needs, depending on how old they were at the time they were all seized from their abuser. In general, the older they were, the less the program was about self-control, and the more it was about self-confidence, trust, and resilience.

Foster puppy Spike came from the same shithole as his relatives, but was removed just prior to the raid and confiscation. He was spared eight months of confinement as criminal evidence, but still had a lot of deficits from his first couple months of life. His first adopters were not prepared to build him up in the no-nonsense way that he needed, and got quite overwrought at his experiments in reactive behavior. So he came to me to foster, appearing to be shy, but really a pup with some genetic boldness and drive who was in conflict with himself. One favorite way of expressing that conflict was by retreating under the table and barking maniacally at whatever person he decided was a "threat."

So Spike needed to learn self-control, but also confidence so that he didn't experience the conflict between his desire to express himself inappropriately and his conviction that doing so was maybe dangerous. Neither idea was reality-based.

On the other end of the severity spectrum in the Linda Kapsa canine shitstorm was Mr. Barry White.

Everything I did with Barry White was aimed at convincing him that the world and the humans in it were safe, and could even be pleasant.

I'd have no more told him "no" than chew off my left thumb.

Our normal rules for foster dogs include no furniture privileges. We can't know whether each dog's new owners will approve of dogs on the sofa, so why set him up for conflict when he is starting his new life? If they do approve, they get to be the heroes who invite him up for a snuggle, and he can tell the cat the heartbreaking story of the mean foster humans who made him lie on a dog bed on the floor.

But one of the first extroverted things that Barry White did once I'd convinced him that the house would not swallow him whole was hop up on the end of the couch while Perfesser Chaos was lying there watching television. He looked shocked with himself and sort of froze in place there.

One slightly disapproving grunt would have sent him skittering out to the foster kennel in horror.

So the couch became part of his rehab program. He liked it up there. It was a soft, comfortable place after a hard, spartan life. He'd hold his position even when horrified by the company of human creatures on the same cushions. Eventually, couch surfing became companionable.

Seven years later, enter Morty.

Morty came into rescue with his littermate, Rick, right around his four-month birthday.

Both boys, and another sibling, and who knows how many others, had been born to a dog and a bitch owned by a dirtbag. I won't dignify him with the label breeder. When the dirtbag couldn't sell the last pups, he gave them to a Craigslist dog-flipper who pretends to be a "rescue." When the dog-flipper couldn't sell adopt them because no one wants to pay money for puppies who run from all humans and pile up in the back of a filthy pen shivering and cowering, she advertised them for free. A nice lady and her boyfriend took them all, and had the good judgement to get two of them to breed rescue immediately.

When I met them to take in the two boys, all three were in a shaking heap on the rear footwell of a sedan. They'd ridden a couple hours that way without moving around or making a peep.

Mull that. Three four-month-old puppies loose in a car and they never moved.

This is convenient in the moment, but Not Good.

I trundled the two I was taking into a crate in my van and drove home. Several hours, with two stops. Not a peep. They plastered against the back wall of the crate and stared out in round-eyed horror.

You've seen the awful pictures of meat dogs in some east Asian market, crammed into wire and wood crates? I'm not going to put one here; you can google it if you have a masochistic bent.

Well, those dogs look more outgoing and relaxed than these pups did.

You know the videos of puppymill raids, the rows and rows of filthy wire hutches full of little fluffy puppy factories that jump at the cage and beg for the attention and touch that they so crave?

Yeah, guess what, those dogs have actually been handled enough that that the prospect of it doesn't send them catatonic. They get picked up by a total stranger, a lot of them shower him with kisses. Years -- whole lifetimes -- of hutch-life have left them with that much dogness.

Not these guys.†

Well, catatonic puppies are easy to manage. On their first day I bathed them both, trimmed their nails, and took them to the vet*, and I may as well have been sprucing up a couple of Gund stuffies. Pancake puppies. Set them on the ground and they try to become part of it.

We had both pups for ten days, while I got an initial handle on their relative characters.

Every morsel of food they got came from my hand. They had to approach me to get it; these were pups who, gated into my office, would run away from the gate when a person entered the adjoining room. They went from crate -- later crates, when I separated them over voluble objections -- to outdoors on a leash for potty breaks, exercise, and some hand-feeding, to a period of liberty in the office, which would usually find them diving back into the refuge of a crate. After a few days we started pack walks in the south pasture, first on long lines, then dragging the lines as they modeled their movement on the other dogs.

Rick was always first. The boys came running because I hadn't tried to kill them yet, and that's the only way they got fed -- not because they were normal English shepherd pups who want to know what they can do for me today, ma'am.

A perfect illustration of the fake it 'til you make it principle. Just remember that Stockholm Syndrome is a temporary tool of desperation for a creature in dire circumstances, not a proper training regimen. Move on as soon as possible.

It's crucial that well-reared pups be separated from their littermates by about 11 weeks, if they are to develop normally and bond primarily to humans. It is mandatory that co-dependent, terrified feral puppies be pried apart. So Rick, the stronger and more resilient of the brothers, moved on to a new foster home, one with confident dogs to show him the ropes and humans who adore him and are committed to converting his "old man eyes" to the open, innocent expression that is proper to a baby.

And Morty didn't come out of the crate without physical compulsion for the next two days. He mourned the latest loss in his life, and he had no interest in the people and animals who populated this space. The fact of his depression was the strongest evidence that dependency on Rick had been holding him back.

Bringing Morty towards normalcy, sifting out insight about who Morty really is vs. the transient presentation of a puppy demonstrating the wages of neglect, is a slow and uneven process. He's young enough that we can still work on him developmentally; the window for socialization is still open a crack, and we can slide it a little further and prune his young synapses into a healthier pattern, one that doesn't rely on flight and evasion, isn't dominated by fear and suspicion. But I think his core temperament is a bit tender, prone to bruising, and requires ample time for rest and cogitation after a new achievement or any time he must stand up to an uncomfortable amount of pressure. He takes many repetitions to learn a new fragment of courage, not because he is a dumb puppy -- he's typical ES bright -- but because we are still building the frame for boldness, self-confidence, and security that a normal puppy has constructed by the time his eyes open.

One month in, Morty has the freedom of the farm while I'm out working, albeit with a trailing drag line just in case. He's got the freedom of the house and dog yard most of the time; he has housebroken himself, conquered the dog door, mastered stairs, cataloged the foibles of the other animals.  He doesn't chew or steal stuff or get into trouble.

And that's why he's not ready for adoption just yet.

Because Morty will now cuddle on the sofa and bed with me, wiggle and give puppy kisses, because we've applied Barry White Rules to furniture access, and his adopters are going to have to be down with that. He'll come roaring in with his stub-tail whirring like a rotor when he's called, even though I no longer reliably carry a pocketful of kibble. He's mostly mastered that bogey of feral dogs, the doorways into and out of the house. He walks nicely on a leash. The typical feral issue with a human approaching him "the last ten feet" is almost gone. He will sleep stretched out in the open, puppy-belly and puppy-junk exposed to the breezes, rather than always huddled in a ball.

This weekend I brought him to a class where boring humans sat at boring tables and talked and moved papers around, and sometimes had to step over him. Where boring humans ate fascinating lunches right there in range. Where nice juicy wires and computer cables were free for the nomming.

And this is what he did for the entire day, less potty breaks:

No, he's not tied to anything.

For the record, that is not okay.

Because Morty is not a precociously well-trained puppy. He's not our Lilly, presiding over sophomore tutorials at five months of age courtesy of great obedience and natural self-assurance. Morty stayed put because he could not for the life of him think of what else to do. The option of raising some hell was not on the table.

My house is not puppy-proofed. There are shoes and gloves and all manner of great stuff in puppy range everywhere. Unmolested. And he's teething now, and clearly in a lot of discomfort sometimes.

He doesn't feel safe enough to be naughty. Not even at home, where his comfort bubble is largest, though there are hopeful signs here.

Naughty means that the little critter knows what is permitted and what is forbidden.

Has figured out that what is forbidden is more fun than what is permitted.

Is aware that there are likely consequences for indulging in the forbidden.

And also knows for sure that those consequences, while possibly unpleasant, are in no way a genuine danger to him.

Foster Mommy might chase him down, grab him by the scruff, and pry what's left of her sammitch out of his mouth, but there is no prospect of her eating him instead.

The adrenaline surge when one is making off with the goods or nomming the leg of the chair or sparking the livestock is a little giddy belly thrill, rather than earnest fuel for a panic terror.

Sure, I'm locked in my crate (aka protective custody) now, but it was so worth it.

Naughty is high spirits, testing boundaries, angling for attention from a mostly innocent dependent critter who trusts his world.

Morty is occasionally testing Charlie's patience lately, and she has lightly thumped him for chomping too hard in play. He has nommed a bit too hard on my arm, as teething babies are wont to do, and responds immediately to a mild, nope, that's me. He is finally brave enough to pick up a toy and carry it around a little bit -- but fetch or tug are just out of the question so far. He's fearless with other animals, and kind of teased Jake the bloodhound about how semi-wild ES puppehs are allowed to run free with a drag line while great big hounddogs aren't. He's flirting with normalcy on a few fronts this way.

But I won't be satisfied that he's ready to go to his permanent home and grow into the dog he's meant to be until I'm chasing him around our circular floor plan while he prances off with my underwear, tiny stub wagging and a gleam in his eye. I want to see him bomb through a bunch of chickens and laugh while they scatter outwards and upwards in a flutter of indignation. He should, once in a great while, bite Charlie in the ass and run off. (This flavor of naughtiness not compatible with Rosie. Don't try this at home, kids. Some beetches will keel you.) He should sass me when his dinner is slow in coming. He should find my irritation a little bit scary, but more funny, because no one in his life is genuinely dangerous.

Come on Morty. Be a little shit.

Who, me?


† Why I don't believe all the hype around Belyaev's "domesticated" foxes. Reports allege that the fox kits will automatically approach a human and make "friendly" gestures after weaning age even if they have never been handled.


And I can show you  several score domestic dog puppies that were never touched, or never touched kindly, as babies, who ran screaming and cowered in terror when facing a human at twelve weeks to demonstrate what actually happens with that kind of neglect.

* If you have a truly feral, unsocialized animal that you've just gotten physical control of, you should do all the things to him right away -- bathe, worm, vaccinate, trim nails, pull blood, shave down, even neuter surgery if feasible. Don't dick around letting him "settle in," much less do things he's gonna hate in dribs and drabs, because all that's going to do is reverse the progress you make in gaining his trust and building him up. He's freaked-out catatonic today and it ain't gonna get worse. In fact, he may not even remember half the ordeal if it happens while he's clocked out.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Snapshots Sunday: Sorting

Before I put the new buck goat in with the does, I needed to sort out some doelings who are too small to breed and transfer them to the getting swole pen with Ameera to babysit. My go-to guy for this kind of thing is Cole.

Goats. They don't get with the program.

There's always mopping up with so many individualistic contrarians.

Eight years and two days ago, my Little Dude was shivering in the shit of a felon's insane puppy-production plant, waiting to be rescued.

So much for that bullshit.