Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Canine Genotypes and Phenotypes [Who Are You?]

Forgive the digression, here's something new and different from my usual fodder, something completely non-bird related. I'd like you to meet Barron and, if you care to venture a guess, drop a comment on what breed, or breeds, he represents.

Barron has been my best and most-consistent birding buddy since I met him in 1995. One July morning, while visiting the northwest Arkansas farm where my nest boxes were filled with bluebird families, a stray dog accompanied me on my loop. That was the first of thousands "walkies" we've shared.

From Barron Photos

And on every single walk where we meet someone on a trail or on the street we're greeted with, "Hey, is that a . . . ?" I always give the lame, "He's a Heinz 57, some mix of I-don't-know-what" answer. Through the years I've kept a mental tally of what strangers on the street guess so I have a breed-by-majority answer. But that doesn't really count, does it?

Shortly after I adopted Barron announcements started coming out about progress in the Human Genome Project, an undertaking to identify the genes in human DNA and determine all of its chemical base pairs. I longed for a Doggie Genome Project so I could find out who his parents were. Until then, his true genetic identity would remain unknown.

From Barron Photos

I can tell you this. In addition to rugged canine good looks, he qualifies as overly friendly and garners his unfair share of attention. Men, women, kids, other dogs, he's never met a stranger, and they all flock to him. He has a quality that encourages everyone he meets to unconsciously stroke his soft, thick coat. In turn, he's a bit aloof, not really caring about the attention (although I bet he secretly loves it).

He's the most gentle dog I've ever encountered. Oh, he bares his teeth on occasion, but only when the cat is too close to his food while he's eating. He's gotten a bit more forward "asking" for popcorn when we're sitting on the couch in his old age, but he's always been extremely patient and tolerant with kids.

From Barron Photos

He's a faithful companion, rarely straying more than 30 yards from where I would stop and sort through a warbler flock or scope a distant raft of waterfowl. Instead of meandering on his way, or pointedly taking off, he'd sit and patiently wait, eyes locked on me as I trotted back and forth trying to see that tree-top warbler, or as I stood motionless counting Aythya ducks. Then, when I caught up to him, he'd saunter a few yards ahead, periodically checking to see if I was keeping up. That never changed, other than adding new family members to the list of those in his charge.

From Barron Photos

He's slower now, going on 15 years old, but we still go on our daily loops around the yard. He's quit chasing the deer and squirrels, he's lost most of his hearing. His always too-straight hind legs give him problems when he gets up and lays down. He's been on arthritis meds since he was a puppy, hip dysplasia was a concern from those first months.

From Barron Photos

Recently, on our regularly-scheduled vet visits, we had blood drawn and sent off to a doggie DNA lab. The results should be on their way, and a 15 year old mystery may have a resolution. But before I open the envelope, I'd love to hear your thoughts, based on these images and the behavioral descriptions.

What do you think, who are his parents?



Paul said...

Looks like maybe some Akita or similar Asian breed in there??

Hilke Breder said...

German Shepherd, Australian Shepherd, Rottweiler?

noflickster said...

Interesting with the Rottweiler - no one has guessed that before, though the coloring is there. Shepard and Akita have been popular guesses over the years, perhaps that's telling.

It'll be interesting to see the test results. Thanks for posting your thoughts!


nishiki_85 said...

I passed this one on to my wife Jean. She has viewed many crosses in her career.

The up & down straight legs, wide set ears, curled over tail, square body and the described personality (traits in Spitz-type dogs) all point to an Akita cross.

A white chest is often seen in Akitas.

A very nice dog indeed.


Anil P said...

I wouldn't know of his breed but I enjoyed reading and relating to your characterisation of Barron.

He must know the birds well now.

noflickster said...

@Nishiki_85 - once again, Akita rises to the top! The top guesses thus far, from face-to-face discussions and posts here, twitter, and facebook, are Akita, Chow, and German Shepard Dog.

Results available shortly!

@AnilP - thank you! Barron has been an amazing companion, on and off the trails, and I like to think he knows his birds. Of course, part of his "aloofness" was that he was too cool to care.

Thanks for dropping by and commenting!

Hilke Breder said...

Did you ever get the results?? I am curious.

noflickster said...

Hi Hilke,

I did get the results, which are scheduled to post tomorrow morning. Feb 14th is a special day for him so I waited a few extra days for the post.

Thank you for your interest, I think you'll be surprised!


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