Monday, January 25, 2010

"Survival of the Cutest"

That was the name of a recent article in Bioscience Technology. It referenced a study published in The American Naturalist comparing the skull shapes of domestic dogs to each other as well as across the order Carnivora. They made some odd statements about variation in skull shape in dogs supporting the Darwinian theory of natural selection. As the dogs they were studying were purebreds, and hence artificially selected by human breeders, their research actually has no relation whatsoever to Darwin's theory or natural selection.
But even overlooking that, the title of this article, and the statement by one of the study authors, Chris Klingenberg that "Domestic dogs don't live in the wild so they don't have to run after things and kill them -- their food comes out of a tin and the toughest thing they'll ever have to chew is their owner's slippers. So they can get away with a lot of variation that would affect functions such as breathing and chewing" is offensive. Again, the authors seem to gloss over the fact that the dogs are not making these selection choices. And they also seem to ignore the many fine working and herding dogs who do a lot more than chew their owner's slippers.
Yes, there are undoubtedly a lot of people who get a dog just because it's cute. But there are certainly also plenty of people who put a lot of thought into what a breed was bred for and whether that will fit with their family or not, or people who adopt mixed breeds and then work to understand them and fit them into society.
Humans have done many dogs a great disservice by breeding to extremes, so that the dogs have breathing difficulties or can't reproduce naturally or have joint disorders. Disreputable backyard breeders cross toy breeds to create "cute" "designer" "breeds." (Sorry for all the quotes, but all of those words have incredible baggage.) Articles such as this, with a combination of bad science and a look-down-their-noses attitude toward dogs and their owners certainly aren't needed.

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