News: Guest Posts
Latest Genetic Research about Dogs' Diet

“Where goeth the food, so goeth the dog.”  (old proverb)

The earliest archeological evidence dates dogs to about 14,000 years ago. Remains of small dogs in Israel go back 12,000 years. When people settled down in agricultural communities, they began to tinker with the natural environment, bringing about modification, intentionally or accidentally, in plants and animals. Of course dogs joined the party. They always do.

Not everyone agrees about why, where, when or how dogs evolved. But we all believe this:  Whether dog domestication was accidental or intentional, abrupt of slow, happened 10,000 years ago or 80,000, domestic dogs descended from wolves and evolved with people. Perhaps it’s no coincidence then that we ask the same questions about dogs that we do of ourselves: How are we unique? Where do we come from? And when did we get here?  

On Wednesday, January 23, canine geneticists announced they have identified key mutations in three genetic regions that allowed the wolf, a traditional carnivore to thrive on a carbohydrate diet. This adaptation was surely useful for opportunistic animals that were scavenging waste near ancient farming communities.

How they did it

Geneticists Erik Axelsson and his team at Sweden’s Uppsala University looked at DNA from gray wolves and domestic dogs, searching for small differences that might have shown up early in evolution as wolves transitioned to dogs. They zeroed in on specific mutations that dogs have and wolves don’t. In all, researchers found 36 genomic regions that reveal differences. Nineteen of those have to do with brain function, eight are related to the nervous system, and the rest are linked to starch digestion and fat metabolism, three of which carry instructions for making a protein that’s necessary for the digestion of starch. One is an enzyme that turns starch into sugar maltose. Another is an enzyme that turns maltose into glucose.  And the third makes a protein that moves glucose from the gut into the bloodstream.  

What does it mean?

If you think it answers the question as to why, where, and when dogs were domesticated, you’d be misinformed. It’s really more interesting than that.

1. Dogs eat more starch than wolves. The mutation explains why. Keep in mind that just because you have a mutation that lets you digest grain, it doesn’t mean, when given the opportunity, you wouldn’t rather have pork chops than cheerios. Just ask my dog, or my spouse for that matter. Wolves, dogs or proto-dogs (depending on your position) could have had the mutation long before humans planted grains. The study doesn’t suggest a time line.

2. Because all the breeds in the study have the mutation, the mutation occurred before these breeds radiated out from their direct ancestor. However, don’t assume that our modern breeds are representative of any dogs older than 500 years. There is a ginormous gap, at least 8 thousand years, between the ancient agrarian gang of dumpster diver dogs and the not-so-old proto dog that begat our modern breeds. Scientists don’t know if the missing link dog is extinct, and if she isn’t, they don’t know what living dogs would represent her. There’s plenty more work to be done.

3. The birth of agriculture impacted canids. But it did the same to humans, birds, insects, pigs, cows, and goats to name a few.

4. The study is a vindication for all the veterinarians who are treating dogs with kidney ailments as a consequence of the strange trend toward very expensive low-carb, raw meat diets. There’s a reason dog food is only 20- 30 % protein and 40 to 50% carbohydrates.  

What others are saying

“Dogs are not just ‘tame wolves’ but have clearly adapted in a host of different ways to a very novel niche over a relatively short evolutionary timescale," said Adam Boyko, an expert on canine genetics and assistant professor of biomedical science at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine and director of the Village Dog Diversity Project. “I think a lot of focus on dog domestication in the past centered on behavior and tameness. Clearly, they were important for domestication, but this paper also demonstrates genetic changes involved in diet adaptation.”

“The bigger question about the paper, said behavioral ecologist Ray Coppinger, is whether it sheds any light on the evolution of the dog -- whether they were domesticated "purposefully" by humans, or were they a result of humans creating a new niche which several species (including some Canis species) moved in and adapted to.” He added, “The researchers have done a great job showing that dogs and wolves genetically differ in their potential ability to digest starch. But it’s a fallacy to assume that the genes of the modern dogs included in the study are descended from original dogs. Thus the paper, sheds little light on the original dog, and does nothing to answer the question of artificial verses natural selection as the prime cause.”

What’s important about the study is not that it indicates when or where dogs originated. Rather, it’s a new tool that will help us understand how dogs and wolves are different. The research is groundbreaking, but it represents analysis of only 10 of the 36 genomic regions that the team identified. That means more exciting news is just around the corner.

Scholarly study takes on issues that are controversial. The dog origin debate continues to be particularly provocative.  As for me, I just want to know who to thank.


Mark Derr, author of When the Dog Became the Dog has a very interesting post on this subject as well.

The genomic signature of dog domestication reveals adaptation to a starch-rich diet, Journal Nature, published on-line, January 23, 2013.







News: Guest Posts
CCI Dogs, handlers and volunteers march in Presidential Inaugural Parade:
Gratitude and honor prompt participation

WASHINGTON  —  The 2013 Presidential Inaugural Parade played host to another inaugural event.

Santa Rosa, Calif. based Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) made their inaugural debut in the parade, which also marked the first time a dog organization participated.

According to CCI National Director of Marketing Jeanine Konopelski the mother of a Skilled Companion Team from Virginia was the catalyst for the organization’s involvement.

Carina Elgin said her daughter Caroline’s Service Dog, Sajen changed her life and she wanted to show her gratitude to CCI and provide a platform for people to learn about the organization.

The Labrador - Golden Retriever mix black dog was partnered with Caroline 9 years ago.

The now 19 year old has grown up with her 11-year-old dog. Cerebral Palsy has limited Caroline Elgin’s mobility and impaired her speech.

And through the years, Sajen has opened more than just threshold doors for his partner.

He opened the door to a world of opportunity through his unconditional love that bridged barriers to socialization and resulted in building Caroline’s self confidence and independence.

As a young girl with a young Service Dog, Caroline joined a 4H Dog Club.

Despite her limited verbal ability and restricted hand motion, Caroline was able to command Sajen as she took him through Rally Obedience and Agility Trials.

She and Sajen earned a rainbow of ribbons each year in the annual Virginia Dog Show. Though she paced her dog through the rings from her joystick controlled wheelchair, she never asked for any special consideration and competed on equal ground with the other 4H dog handlers.

But Sajen’s ability to help open the door for CCI participation in the 2013 Inaugural Parade is perhaps his biggest achievement to date.

“I was so proud to be walking with Sajen. He has been my best friend and helper for nine years and will be retiring soon, but it was so special to walk with him down Pennsylvania Ave.,” said Caroline Elgin. “ He trotted along and wagged his tail the whole time like he knew this was something special.”

The inaugural parade includes representatives from all 50 states. Though CCI didn’t have a representative from each state, they had participants that stretched from the Atlantic to Pacific coast and included all five CCI Regions.

All four types of CCI Dogs were represented, including Skilled Companion Teams, Hearing Dogs, Facility Dogs, and a CCI Wounded Veteran Initiative Service Dog.

Puppy raisers from around the country also marched in the parade. The youngest puppy in the parade was 4-month old Shyla who is being raised by the Slater family in Upperville, Va. Sajen was the oldest dog in the parade.

“It was amazing how good all the dogs, even the little puppies were, but they are CCI dogs and just really know how to behave,” said Caroline Elgin.

The puppies were wearing their yellow training vests and the graduate dogs were wearing their blue CCI vests. However their human counterparts were all dressed in matching yellow hats and jackets with the organization logo on the back.

Caroline Elgin said some people commented that the outfits made them look like bananas, “but they were warm.”

CCI introduced their balloon dog mascot “Independence” who rode on the parade float with some of the participants. The large yellow dog wore a blue CCI vest and collar.

Caroline Elgin said, “I thought the float was "Labrador able"!

Event though the teams had a long day, she said it was great to be with all the other CCI participants.

She noted that it was already dark as they headed up the street, but when they turned the corner towards the White House reviewing stand the parade route was flooded with bright lights.

Caroline Elgin was on the side of the float closest to the President’s reviewing stand

“Vice-President Biden got really excited when he saw us,” said Carline Elgin. “He knows about CCI and his face really lit up when he saw us. He gave us the “thumbs up”.

She said President Barack Obama was busy having his picture taken, but turned around and got a huge smile on his face and waved when he saw them.

With Sajen by her side, Caroline Elgin matured from a young girl into a young woman. She is a currently a second year Graphic and Web Design student at the Art Institute of Virginia-Dulles and designer at www.labradorabledesigns.com. Her company makes a donation to CCI for each item sold.

Though Sajen’s paws help in many ways, she used modern technology to provide her first hand account of their participation in the 57th Inaugural Parade.

The day after the parade Caroline Elgin and Sajen were both pretty tired, but she said, “It was so exciting to represent CCI and people with disabilities. It was history.”

CCI was one of about 60 applicants chosen from nearly 3,000 parade applicants. Even though CCI made history marching in the 57th Presidential Inaugural Parade, the dogs trained by CCI to assist persons with disabilities make history on an individual basis every day.

“We’re so grateful for this chance for the world to know about Canine Companions for Independence,” said Carina Elgin. “The volunteers are thrilled to show everyone that this opportunity is out there to help enrich the lives of people with disabilities. I want more people like my daughter Caroline to be able to have a dog change their lives.”

CCI was founded in 1975 by Dr. Bonita Bergin and is the largest non-profit provider of trained Service Dogs. They have five regional training centers in the United States and are recognized worldwide for the excellence of their dogs and programs.

CCI provides Service, Hearing, Facility, and Skilled Companion Team dogs free of charge to approved applicants.

For more information, visit cci.org or call 1-800-572-BARK.



Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Update on Missy
Happy ending for dog left on a mountain

Last summer I wrote about Missy, a German Shepherd who got caught up in a custody battle between Anthony Ortolani, the man who left her to die 13,500 feet up on a mountain, and her rescuers.

In the end Anthony entered a guilty plea for cruelty to animals and was recently sentenced to a year of probation and 30 hours of community service. In addition, John Steed, one of the rescuers, was allowed to adopt Missy as part of the plea deal.

Missy now goes by Lucky and has two canine siblings at home with John. The German Shepherd even received a lifetime membership to 14ers.com, the climbing group that organized her rescue.

The men who saved Lucky were so inspired by the experience that they created The Brothers of Lucky Search and Rescue (BOLSAR) dedicated to high alpine search and rescue in the Colorado Rocky Mountain region. It took two days for them to organize Lucky's rescue effort. BOLSAR will allow for faster coordination of volunteers, which means quicker rescues. Since park forest rangers aren't allowed to send search parties for animals, BOLSAR is necessary for the safety of dogs who love to hike.

In addition to the rescue work, BOLSAR plans to conduct community outreach programs to raise awareness on how to safely hike with pets.

What a happy ending to Missy's story!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
One Million Likes for a Puppy
Kids launch a Facebook campaign to convince their parents

When I was a kid, I desperately tried to convince my parents to get a puppy by creating presentations on how responsible I was and assembling mock schedules showing how all the chores would be completed.  Unfortunately I was never successful and ended up having to wait until after college to get my first dog.

Now children these days have technology on their side.  When the Cordell family in Massachusetts lost their dog of ten years last August, the five kids instantly started begging for a new puppy to fill the void.  However, their parents, Ryan and Evie, were reluctant to get a new pet so soon.

Then their two daughters, Cadence and Emerson, came up with a plan.  After reading about two kids who convinced their parents to get a cat after their Facebook photo got 1,000 likes, Cadence and Emerson proposed a similar deal with their dad.  Not believing it was possible, Ryan agreed to get a new puppy if their photo got one million Facebook likes.

The kids quickly posted a photo holding a sign that read, "Hi World, We want a puppy. Our dad said we can get one if we get 1 million Likes! So LIKE this! He doesn't think we can do it!" 

After three hours they had 10,000 likes and then by the seven hour mark they reached their goal.  Never underestimate the power of social media!

Adding to the good news is that the Cordells are planning to adopt their new pup from a rescue group or shelter.  They’ve already started searching Petfinder.com and are hoping to have their new addition soon. Like their Facebook page for updates on their journey.

News: Editors
Mavericks: The Big Wave That is Named for a Dog

There is a buzz of excitement radiating through the San Francisco Bay Area—the annual Mavericks Invitational, a big wave surf contest held 20 miles south of the city, is a go! And it's happening this weekend!

You might be asking yourself, "How, exactly, does this relate to dogs?" Well, you see, it's a rare event to visit a surf break that doesn't have a dog or two hanging on the beach waiting for her person to paddle in, and sometimes you'll come across a dog who is bold enough to paddle out to join the fun. In early March 1961, this is exactly what happened when surfers Alex Matienzo, Jim Thompson, and Dick Notmeyer decided to explore the big waves breaking about a 1/2-mile off the shore of Pillar Point, CA.

Alex Matienzo often brought his roommate's white German Shepherd, Maverick, to the beach, and Maverick was used to swimming with Matienzo when he was out surfing. On this particular day, Alex, Jim and Dick started to paddle out, leaving Maverick on shore, but the dog decided he wanted to be part of the crew and swam out to catch them. Matienzo (a wise man) was concerned for Maverick's safety and took the dog back to shore, leaving him tied to the car bumper in order to keep him from swimming out again into the dangerous surf.

The three young men had limited success that day, spending the morning surfing unremarkable overhead peaks about a 1/4-mile out. The conditions for surfing the much larger outside waves were simply too dangerous. The trio decided to name the wave break "Maverick" after the creature who seemed to have the most fun that day… before being tied to the bumper, of course.

The Mavericks Invitational has been held on those outside waves since 1999 (conditions permitting). This year, the contest is taking place on Sunday, January 20. You can watch a live feed of surfers battling Maverick's giant wave at MavericksInvitational.com.



Wellness: Health Care
A bacterial disease that's spreading

Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease of great importance as it can affect both humans and animals, and can readily be spread from one species to another (i.e., from our dogs to us). For many years the occurrence in pets was rare, however, in the past few years, the disease has become diagnosed more frequently-I myself have treated four dogs suspected of having Leptospirosis just this past year. The disease is caused by a bacteria that is spread through the urine of infected animals into the soil and water where it can survive for up to 180 days, given the right conditions. Then, as other animals come in contact with this contaminated area, the bacteria can then be taken up through their skin and mucus membranes (gums, nose, eyes) or through drinking the contaminated water (another reason to stay clear of puddles!).  

There are several environmental factors conducive to letting this bacteria flourish and increase risk of exposure. Warm, moist environments favor this bacteria, and they especially love stagnant water. With that being said, Leptospira do need water or damp soils to survive, and they will rapidly die on dry surfaces. The density of animal population, such as kennels and urban settings, also increases urine contamination and thus exposure. Also, areas that are heavy populated with rodents or wildlife also increases risk; they serve as “innocent hosts” meaning they are not affected by disease, but they continue to spread it to the environment through urination.    

The clinical signs of disease can be vague and mimic many other disease processes.  Signs can include fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, muscle stiffness or soreness, or vomiting and diarrhea to name a few. If the liver is involved, a yellowish discoloration of the gums or whites of the eyes can also be observed. Because Leptospirosis can look like any other disease, confirming the infection is generally not an “ah ha!” diagnosis when your pet walks into the exam room. This is something I tend to diagnosis by a “second round of tests” when the initial blood work and urinalysis look suspicious for disease. What can raise a suspicion of a Leptospira infection is an elevation in both kidney and liver values and sometimes the white blood cell count. If this is observed, your veterinarian will then recommend a special blood and urine test be sent to an outside laboratory. These results can take several days, and so antibiotic treatment is often started prophylactically pending the confirming results.

Most infections are subclinical, which means no signs of disease will ever develop and your pet will never experience illness. However, if your pet does develop sudden signs of disease, and those signs appear severe, we generally give a guarded prognosis (50/50 chance of survival). If your pet becomes ill, the extent of care needed depends on the severity of disease, but in my personal experience, the treatment generally requires a hospital stay with extensive supportive therapy. Without treatment, Leptospirosis can lead to kidney failure, liver failure, and even death. Blood or plasma transfusions are sometimes needed if the body losses its ability to clot due to liver compromise. Yes: this can be one bad bug.  

So, how can you keep you and your pets safe? In addition to good sanitation practices and limiting your pets access to areas with standing water, there is a vaccine available. Vaccines contain what are known as “serovars,” which are “components” of the bacteria used to stimulate protection from disease. However, there is a catch. There are at least nine serovars, or strains, that can cause disease, yet the vaccine contains only a fraction of these, offering incomplete protection. Often people think their dog is safe from disease because it has been vaccinated, but sadly, this is not the case.  Additionally, immunity may only last 6-8 months, and some veterinarians recommended that you should vaccinate high-risk dogs (such as dogs who hunt, show dogs, dogs with access to lakes and ponds, and endemic areas) every 4-6 months. Vaccines do not come without risk, and the use of this vaccine with regards to risk vs. benefit is definitely a conversation to have with your veterinarian. Your veterinarian can assess your dog's risk of exposure, discuss the most common “local” serovars found in your specific area and can recommend a vaccine protocol that makes sense for your pet.


Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Crowdfunding a Canine Film
Student makes a documentary about a special town dog

From the outside, Rockford, Alabama is just another symbol of the bad economy, a community of just 400 people on the verge of becoming a ghost town. The recession hit Rockford hard, forcing many of the town's shops to close and many people to move away in search of jobs.

But those who know Rockford, know that it's a special town with a rich history and character. Ava Lowrey, a film student at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, grew up 30 minutes from Rockford and set out to share the story of how the small Alabama community embraced a homeless pup who in turn gave them hope.

Back in 1993, the town found a dirty and disheveled mutt wandering the streets. A few people decided to name the pup Fred and nurse him back to health. Soon enough Fred became the official “town dog.” Rockford may have saved Fred, but Fred brought out the best in the town. The pup had a weekly column in the local newspaper, a bank account, and even led parades--something they stopped doing after his death in 2002.

Although Fred is gone, his tombstone and the stories left behind show how much he meant to the community. Ava's film explores the town's narrative and the relationships Fred had with the people of Rockford.

Filming was finished in December, but Ava needs financial support to complete the documentary. Ava is appealing to dog and film lovers on Indiegogo, a crowdfunding platform, to raise money. Perks for donations vary from a shout out on their blog and Twitter feed ($25 donation) to an executive producer credit ($700).

Check out the trailer and donate if you'd like to see this heartwarming canine tale to completion.


Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Sniffing Out Superbugs
A Beagle is trained to detect Clostridium Difficile

With the recent flu outbreak, controlling contagious diseases has been a hot topic lately.  While the flu is mostly a seasonal challenge, hospitals and nursing homes battle "superbugs," or antibiotic resistant bacteria, year round.

Illnesses related to superbugs can be difficult to control in health care facilities and pose a serious health threat.  Transmission can be prevented with early detection, but diagnostic tests can be expensive and slow.

Researchers in the Netherlands decided to investigate whether dogs could be trained to detect superbugs.  Animals have been trained to sniff out cancer and detect low blood sugar levels, so why not bacteria.  In their first study, the researchers decided to focus on Clostridium Difficile, which can cause diarrhea, colitis, or even life threatening toxic megacolon.  The bacteria is on pace to surpass severe staph infections and MRSA in frequency and severity.  Past hospital outbreaks have claimed hundreds of lives.

The scientists began the study by training Cliff, a two year old Beagle, to identify c. difficile in stool samples and in infected patients.  Cliff indicates finding the bacteria by sitting or lying down.

After two months of training, Cliff proved to be quite reliable.  In the first part of the study, he was shown 100 stool samples (half with C. Difficile and half negative control samples).  Cliff correctly identified all 50 positive stool samples (100 percent) and 47 out of 50 negative samples (94 percent).

For the second part of the study, Cliff was taken to two different hospital wards to test his detection abilities on 300 patients.  The Cliff correctly identified 25 out of 30 people with C. Difficile (83 percent) and 265 out of 270 negative controls (98 percent).  Cliff works quickly and has the potential to check out an entire hospital ward for C. Difficile in under ten minutes.

I was impressed not only by Cliff’s detection abilities, but by the fact he was trained in only two months.  And this was Cliff’s first exposure to scent work!  Simply amazing!

News: Editors
NFL Linebacker Patrick Willis Loves His Dog

As we watch The San Francisco 49ers go deeper into the post-season playoffs, we are rooting for linebacker Patrick Willis to do well. Willis is widely considered to be one of the best defensive players in the NFL. Known for his fearless, physical style of play on the field, Willis has a gentle persona off the field and a soft spot for dogs. The Bark spoke with Patrick last year about his new (then) housemate, a young Pit Bull named Zeus.

The Bark: Tell us about your dog.
Patrick Willis: My little man Zeus, he’s not so little anymore, he’s only 10-months-old and over 80 lbs. I’ve been wanting a dog for sometime, and with all my family  back in Tennessee, you come back to a empty house all the time, it gets kind of lonely. I need to add a little life to the mix—so, I adopted Zeus, an 8-week-old Pit Bull.

B: What’s he like?
PW: He listens well, and is great with people, particularly my little brother and sister. He can be a stubborn at times like all kids when they are young. The one thing he does is tear up his bed, we’re working on that. He’s just an amazing dog, I love him.

B: During the season you must travel a lot …
PW: When I’m on the road, I really miss him, I have a great dogsitter who cares for him while I’m away—she takes him to the beach, to playdates with his BFF. I know he’s in good hands til I get home. It makes it easier on my heart.

B: How did you name him?
PW: I’ve always liked the Greek gods, and Zeus was the most powerful of them all—so I named him Zeus.

B: You are involved with a scholarship program sponsored by Duracell that provides tuition and transportation to attend ProCamps run by professional athletes like yourself. To underscore their mission, they’ve produced a short video on your young life, and it is quite inspiring. Tell us about it.
PW: The program is called “Trusting Your Power” and Duracell is donating $1 to Procamps for every #TrustYourPower tweet we generate with these interviews. The donations will be placed into a scholarship fund to help underprivileged kids attend the camps. I feel blessed to be a part of the program—I was once that kid and know how much attending a camp would have meant to me, so I am fortunate to be involved. Duracell hopes to send 1,000 underprivileged kids across the country to one of the approximate 40 different ProCamps.

B: Watching the video depiction of your childhood and all that you’ve overcome, do you feel a special affinity to Pit Bulls, a breed who are often misunderstood, and in a way the classic underdog?
PW: When you are young, you tend to be influenced by those around you—parents, adults, and for dogs, their owners—if you can surround them with love, show them that you care and you’ll be there for them, well, love is a powerful thing, the most powerful thing in the world. The love you give, you will get in return. It shows with Zeus.

B: What is the biggest thing you’ve learned with Zeus?
PW: The responsibility. Sometimes I’ve asked myself, what I have I got myself into … coming home after practice, making sure I attend to all of his needs, it’s a lot of responsibility—but I’m all he’s got, and he’s all I’ve got. It means a lot to me, and keeps me on my toes. I may be tired, but there’s no sleeping in, have to get up and take Zeus out for his walk. I want to make sure he’s not in need of anything. Sometimes I wish I had that growing up. Zeus and I, we take care of each other.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Mistaken Identity
Labradoodle masquerading as a lion results in a 911 call

It was a case of mistaken identity. Earlier this week, a 911 call came in reporting a baby lion walking down Colley Avenue in Norfolk, Va. The police immediately called the Virginia Zoo, but all lions were accounted for. It turns out that the big cat in question was a 3-year old Labradoodle named Charles and the caller wasn't crazy. Charles really did look like a lion.

Daniel Painter has his dog regularly groomed to look like a lion, the mascot for Norfolk's Old Dominion University. Charles is popular among the school's sports fans and the Labradoodle even has his own Facebook page. Daniel says that when he takes Charles to a park near the zoo, people sometimes run to their cars thinking the pup is a big cat.

Charles does look a little crazy and kind of reminds me of the dogs dyed to look like wild animals in grooming contests. But while some people might think it's unfair to subject the poor dog to such humiliation, I doubt Charles realizes how silly he looks. I think that pet clothing and costumes are a lot more uncomfortable for animals.

For now Charles is bringing much joy to Old Dominion fans, but perhaps wearing a simple neck bandana with the school logo will assure people that he's not a lion!