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The unnatural purebred dog

Dalmations are a beautiful but unpredictable product of generations of selective breeding.

Purebred dogs are celebrated in our culture. They win awards, they reap huge stud and puppy fees, they start in commercials and television. Sadly, our love of pure breeds is leading to their demise. Organizations like the American Kennel Club reward animals that are visually perfect but in genetics, when you selecting for one characteristic, can make totally unrelated changes in a breed that were never anticipated. In other words, if you attempt to breed purebred Huskies with blue eyes, you may inadvertently create a more nervous and fearful animal.

The classic example of this cause-and-effect breeding selection comes from a geneticist named Dmitry Belyaev. In 1959 he began an experiment with wild silver foxes in Russia. Dr. Belyaev wanted to see if he could domesticate the silver fox to make it tame. In each generation of foxes, he selected the most tame individuals and then bred them; this continued through thirty generations. By the experiment’s end, the silver foxes were super tame (though not as tame as dogs). But what’s more interesting is that even though Dr. Belyaev was only selecting for tameness, the foxes changed physically, too: their coats changed from silver to a patchy black and white (like a Border Collie), their tails started to curl up, and their ears flopped down. The foxes also developed smaller heads  and the skulls of the male foxes became more feminine. Sadly, all this selective breeding also created neurological problems like epilepsy. They had lower levels of stress and higher levels of serotonin, which inhibits aggression, which is good in a domestic context, but would get them killed in the wild. Some of the fox mothers even started eating their babies.

The same kind of thing is happening with the most popular dog breeds in the U.S. Golden Retrievers are bred for their calm temperaments but lately they are also starting to develop unusual aggression problems that were never present in the breed before. This is because fear is a “check” on aggression; fear keeps a dog from being too aggressive. A calm dog is a low-fear dog meaning he is also potentially a high aggression dog.

The pool of purebred, breedable dogs is relatively small so inbreeding is also standard in the world of pure breeds. All this inbreeding, combined with selectivity, has also created a number of common illnesses and physical conditions that were previously uncommon to the breed such as seizures, hip dysplasia, heart disease, eye problems, and more.

This does not mean that all purebred dogs are genetic monsters; they’re not. But it is important to choose carefully when looking for a purebred puppy or dog. Sadly, even purebreds end up homeless so, rather than buying a dog from a breeder, consider adopting a dog from a breed rescue group. These organizations exist for nearly every breed out there and do the tireless work of protecting the designer dogs that get lost in the shuffle. For breed rescue groups in your area, visit


*Modern Hound can help you find the perfect purebred dog for your family. Visit for more information!

What to look for in a dog walker

Buddy* on an off-leash walk in San Francisco's Glen Canyon.

Our dogs are a major part of our lives. Unfortunately, so is work. And it’s not just us that are caught up in the drudgery of an 8+ hour work day, it’s our fur babies. There’s only so much a dog can do in a day without the stimulation of his people – lay around, drink some water, maybe play with a toy; if he’s really bored, he may also work getting in to the garbage, digging up the backyard and chewing on shoes in to his daily schedule.

We know that lots of exercise goes a long way towards curbing destructive behavior; a daily outing with a dog walker will help to provide this. Your dog will also benefit mentally and emotionally from a mid-day walk through human attention, dog-to-dog socialization, and just the simple break-up of a long day alone. Plus he gets a chance to do his business (can you imagine holding it all day when you really have to go?)

There are two kinds of dog walkers out there: those that see dog walking as an easy way to make a living and those that are genuinely concerned with the health and well-being of dogs. And in this second group is a special sub-section of individuals who have sought to educate themselves about canine behavior, to volunteer their time for local shelters and rescue groups and to assist (or lead) dog-training classes for the general public. These are the dog walkers you should seek out.

A truly responsible and prepared dog walker should also be pet first aid and CPR certified, as well as bonded and insured. With any luck your dog will never be involved in a situation in which first aid or insurance are required, but better safe than sorry!

Do some research on the internet before settling with a dog walker. The presence of a website can mean the difference between a serious business person or someone who is potentially flaky. Other things to look for? A Facebook page, a blog and/or a Twitter account. Your should also be able to find your walker on Yelp; reviews posted by others will give you a good sense of who the dog walker is and how they treat their human and canine clients.

There are probably lots of dog walkers in your area but remember that the cheapest walker probably isn’t the right choice. Typically, rates differ only by a few dollars and slightly higher prices reflect a walker’s experience, education, and level of commitment. Your dog may be furry but he probably means as much to you as any family member; make sure he is in the hands of someone you trust.

Dog professionals often offer two walking options: personalized or group walks. Personalized walks are private and often cost more than group walks. Personalized walks are a good option for dogs that need a little more attention or that aren’t always the best with other dogs. Private walks are also good for young puppies that may not be ready to join an energetic adult group. Group walks often have anywhere from 4-10 dogs (although San Francisco is considering a law that would cap the number of dogs in a group walk at 6). Depending on the area in which you live, group walks may take place in off-leash areas or on leash in the neighborhood or local parks. Make sure you know your walker’s basic routine, how many dogs are in each group, and whether your dog will fit in with the others in the pack.

And now for a bit of shameless self-promotion…

Looking for a dog walker or trainer in San Francisco? I’d love to meet you and your furry friend! Learn more about the services I offer at

When it clicks…

My new clicker!

A great aspect of the Marin Humane Society’s Canine Behavior and Training Academy is the recommended reading list. I’d heard a lot about “clicker training” but it wasn’t until the CBA that I learned how useful it can truly be.

So, clickers are simple little mechanical wonders that, not surprisingly, make a clicking noise when you press them. The click is clear and loud and unlike other sounds in the natural environment. The great thing about a clicker is that you can tell your dog that you like something he is doing even when he is too far away for a treat or petting. So, for example, if Franny is off sniffing something gross (for the sake of argument, lets say her favorite thing, human feces…which she constantly finds in the Panhandle), and I call her name and she actually looks UP from the poop, I can give her a click and she knows she has done well. Over time, we can advance that look to her actually coming towards me and leaving the poop behind. Genius!

For more on clicker training, check out clicker guru Karen Pryor’s website aptly named

Are you interested in teaching your dog some new tricks? Contact me at for clicker training for your dog!

Twenty tips for a better citizen canine

Modern Hound is officially six weeks old! In honor of our anniversary, I’ve pulled together the first twenty tips for a better citizen canine from our Facebook page:

Tip #1: Does your dog get upset when you leave the house? Next time, instead of showing your dog how much you love him right before leaving, slip out the door without a word. By decreasing the contrast between when you are home, giving your dog all your attention, and when you are away, your absence will be less alarming.

Tip #2: It is not cheating to use treats to reinforce things your dog has already learned! Go ahead, put a few in your pocket before you go out for a walk, and see how your dog puts on their best behavior.

Tip #3: Does your dog get destructive when you leave him alone for long periods of time? Try planting hollow Kong-type toys filled with dog treats around the house before you leave. Not only will he sniff them out and keep himself busy, he will give his doggy brain a great workout by using one of his most important senses!

Tip #4: If your dog barks at you for treats, to open the door or for attention, IGNORE HIM! If you respond, you are teaching him that barking is a good way to get what he wants.

Tip #5: If your dog has an itchy spot, or mange, try fish oil. It’s super hydrating and will help him develop important essential oils to keep the itching down. Buy a bottle of fish oil liquid gel vitamins from the drug or grocery store, cut one open, and put the liquid directly on the spot or brush it through his coat. Fish oil is also sometimes sold in liquid form.

Tip #6: Growling and barking are natural forms of canine communication. When a dog is punished for these behaviors, they may think they have to work harder to get their point across – whether it’s “Back off!” or “Pay attention to me!!”. For more info on barking check out

Tip #7: Never punish your dog for something they have done when you were out. Shoving your dog’s nose into the poo he left on the rug only teaches him to fear you when you return home. It does NOT teach him that pooing in the house is wrong.

Tip #8: When you meet an unfamiliar dog, let him sniff the top of your hand, then pet in under the chin INSTEAD of on top of the head. In dog language, a pet on top of the head by a stranger could be misinterpreted as an agressive act.

Tip #9: It happens to all pups at some time, dreaded diarrhea – hard to look at, even harder to clean up. If your dog’s having a bout, try feeding him a combination of white rice, cottage cheese, and boiled chicken for three to four days to ease digestion and make things solid once again!

Tip #10: When you bring a new dog home, don’t leave him alone with your other pets for at least 72 hours. Put your other animals in a safe room or separate them with a baby gate until you get home. For more tips on new pet introductions, take a look at today’s blog!

Tip #11: Does your dog get overly excited when you or a guest walks in the front door? Teach your pup not to jump all over you by turning your back and refusing to engage with him until he’s got all four paws on the floor!

Tip #12: Dogs can become senile just like humans so it is important to keep their minds working as they age. Try varying your walking route or visiting different parks. The new scents and change of scenery will force your dog to think instead of just walk or play in automatic mode.

Tip #13: If your dogs get into a fight at home, do not put them in seperate areas and run back to check on the weaker dog after the fight is over. This shows the dog struggling for dominance that they have failed to establish their position in the pack and makes another fight inevitable.

Tip #14: Chocolate isn’t the only delicious treat that is poisonous for dogs. Grapes, macadamia nuts, and onions are all dangerous culprits. For a full list, check out !

Tip #15: If your dog compulsively licks his paws, try lowering his stress, increasing his activity level, and changing his diet to a higher quality product.

Tip #16: Having trouble getting your dog to come when he’s off leash? Instead of threatening him by yelling his name or a command, try calling to him with happy tones and using a short, sharp, tone – like a kissing sound – to call him back to you. When he returns, immediately offer him a treat. Make the action of coming to you more fun than whatever he was doing before!

Tip #17: Has your dog ever peed on a guest? It’s not because he doesn’t like him or that he is angry – your dog is just saying, “I’m the boss here.”

Tip #18: If your dog pulls too much on the leash, try red-light-green-light:
Stop each time he pulls and don’t move forward until he has relaxed and stopped straining against the lead. When he learns you won’t move forward unless he is relaxed, the pulling will decrease!

Tip #19: If you are in a stressful situation (like at the vet’s office), don’t pat your dog, give him long gentle strokes to calm him down. Patting is a jarring movement but stroking mimics the action of a mother’s tongue on a puppy.

Tip #20: Having trouble getting your dog to heel? Try ditching that retractable leash. With such a long lead, the dog will naturally pull all the way to the end. On a shorter, single length leash, your pup’s got no choice but to stay close.

For more tips and facts on dogs, dog training, and animal resuce, “like” us at!

Art by Carin Steen. Commission a portrait of your pet at ModernHound on Etsy!

The plight of the pit bull

My next door neighbors have two gorgeous dogs – Monkey, a calm and gentle Great Pyrenees, and Nash, a Blue Nose Pit Bull puppy. All puppies are exuberant but Nash is a special boy. At four months he was a bounding bundle of energy; at 7 months he is now a BIG bundle of energy. Franny hates Nash. She hates pretty much any dog that isn’t dignified and calm. So on the days I let Nash and Monkey out for a potty break in my back yard, I know I’m in for a grumpy Fran.

I love pitbulls and have for years but, like Franny, many people are not fans. Sadly, it is the pit’s reputation and the humans that have shaped them that are the problem, not the dogs themselves. But what is a pit bull, really?

Pits are a cross between terriers and bulldogs first bred to create a dog with a terrier’s tenaciousness and a bulldog’s athleticism. Pit bull is not a breed, it is a group of several different types of dogs with similar characteristics. Pits are intelligent dogs and are used as companion animals, police dogs, and therapy dogs; in the early 20th century, they were as popular as labs are today!

Pit bulls have a higher tendency towards agression than many other breeds. This is what has created a culture of fear around pit bulls in the US. Of the 238 humans killed by dogs between 1979 and 1998, 32% have been pit bull attacks.

Sadly, this is truly a case of a few bad eggs ruining a whole cake. The vast majority of pit bulls are sweet, amazing dogs. But their reputation has led to various forms of legislation banning their ownership, requiring that all pits wear muzzles, and more. Pit bulls are the hardest dogs for shelters to adopt out, in part because they have special requirements for their ownership. At the SF SPCA, for example, an adopter needs to bring all members of the household (including other dogs) to meet the dog and a note from the landlord approving the ownership of a pit bull by their tenants. Not many landlords out there are willing to take the liability risk. The situation was/is so bad that in 1996 the SF SPCA renamed pits as “St. Francis Terriers” in the hope that they would be more readily adopted.

Luckily, many residents of San Francisco have discovered how great pits are. With a pit, early socialization and training is key, but with a little effort, they are amazing companions!

If you are interested in adopting a pit, please visit a shelter or rescue organization and not a breeder. Even if you are searching for a puppy, rescues have plenty. Breeders are not only putting more dogs out there to eventually end up in shelters (over 50% of all puppies will end up in a shelter by age 2) but they often select for physical traits, not behavioral ones, and whenever a breed is shaped according to physical characteristics, it will automatically become more agressive.

Check out some of these pit-bull specific rescue organizations!

Bad Rap

Reunion Rescue

Our Pack Pit Bull Rescue

If you are looking for a pit bull but want to make sure you adopt the right one, contact me at!

An alternative education

Franny attends class with me at the Marin Humane Society!

In June I decided to take the plunge. Those of you who know me (or who have read posts from the beginning of this blog) know that I have been considering a career change for a while now, but it took a trip to Turkey with my girlfriends to change my life. At some point – maybe while drinking Turkish tea in Istanbul or relaxing on a boat in the middle of the Mediterranean – I realized that life should be enjoyable; that I should really love what I do. When we returned to San Francisco, my decision was made: goodbye anthropology, hello dogs!

What does it take to make such a drastic change? Well, first I had to figure out exactly what to do. In a perfect world I would study animal ethology and behavior. But…because I have no background in biology, I would have to start from the bottom, working my way through another 5-10 years of school for a Master’s Degree or Doctorate. To complete the degree, I would have to move north to attend UC Davis (not exactly my idea of an enjoyable place to live) and sell my soul to student loan officers. Not to mention the fact I already HAVE a Ph.D.! Clearly, this was not the best option.

I considered being trained as a Veterinary Technician. I worked as a vet tech in college and found it to be satisfying and interesting work. I could complete that certificate far more quickly and wouldn’t have to move out of San Francisco to do it (it is offered at Foothill College in the Bay Area). But, the state of our economy being as it is, the program has had so many applicants that it is only accepting those without a prior degree…that kind of puts me at the bottom of the acceptance list.

But I was in luck. Even though the highly reputable Dog Training Academy at the San Francisco SPCA is no longer in session, I discovered a wonderful alternative just across the Golden Gate Bridge: the Canine Behavior and Training course at the Marin Humane Society. Taught by renowned behavioral specialist, Trish King, the program had all the elements I was looking for – Saturday classes, a relatively low-cost, and a universal acceptance policy. Plus, it would give me a great education in dog ethology, dog training, and all other things canine.

With the help of Marin Humane, I will have the training and skills that will keep me from wondering if I made the wrong choice by leaving my old life to start anew.

For the juiciest tidbits I learn in class, check out my tips and facts on Modern Hound’s Facebook page. “Like” Modern Hound at

And for more on how I hope to put my alternative education to use, visit me and Franny at

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