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Posted by on May 19, 2017 in Other Stuff

 

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What are we up to these days?

We’ve actually been doing stuff, but I’ve been too busy/tired to write about it!

Ava’s last class at Ahimsa came to a close in April, which is sad since we all love Ahimsa and the trainers there. Ava melts for any one of them, even if she hasn’t met them. Somehow she knows which people there are the trainers. Wally still has a class starting this weekend but it’s offsite so we may not see our usual trainers. After that we’ll have to see what new classes they come up with! Admittedly, I’m looking forward to not going to Ballard (Seattle) every weekend. It gets exhausting after 9 months.

Wally was going to start agility this month but he unexpectedly injured his back on April 1 (too bad it wasn’t actually a practical joke!). We came home from dog training to find him hunched over, trembling, and desperate for relief; he was fine when we left so we have no idea what happened. We visited our local emergency clinic twice and they claimed he just had bad gas. I, of course, was unsatisfied with this explanation. Admittedly Wally was being pretty stoic about it whenever he was in the clinic, but still. Farts are causing this?!

At the suggestion of our vet (who unfortunately wasn’t available due to travel) we went to Summit Referral in Tacoma and within 30min they had diagnosed a back injury. We don’t know specifically what was injured since that requires an $1800 MRI, but it was likely either a disc or a muscle. He was on meds for a few weeks and now (med-free) is getting some bodywork done once a month by our local alternative vet (he gazes at her adoringly and then he’s relaxed the entire evening). Since he recovered quickly and completely it’s most likely a muscle, but to be on the safe side Wally is now barred from all impact sports.

This was disappointing but not world-ending; Wally will love doing Nosework and Ava can do agility. Which, it turns out, she LOVES. She has so much fun on the equipment and isn’t afraid of anything. The first time she met a real teeter (on the lowest height setting) within minutes she was standing up to put her paws on the elevated end to pull it down. We make an amazing team; I get to finally see all of our work pay off. We’ve started lessons with Susan Perry and we love this game. It’s such an amazing feeling to truly play with your dog and experience the depth of your relationship; all of that happens for us with agility.

Other than that, Ava’s (and her siblings’) first birthday is coming up on June 3 — time really does fly! I can’t believe they’ll be one, they’re all still little puppies to me.

 
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Posted by on May 12, 2017 in Other Stuff, Training

 

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Posted by on April 21, 2017 in Other Stuff

 

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Posted by on April 7, 2017 in Other Stuff

 

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Interaction of phenotype and genotype: nature and nurture go hand-in-hand for life

“[…] When a sperm and an ovum combine into a zygote, they establish the genotype: all the genes that the developing person has. Creation of a person from one cell involves several complex processes to form the phenotype – the person’s appearance, behavior, and brain and body functions. Nothing is totally genetic, not even such obvious traits as height or hair color, but nothing is untouched by genes, not even behavior such as voting Republican or Democrat, working overtime or not at all, wanting or refusing a divorce (Plomin et al, 2013).

The genotype instigates body and brain formation, but the phenotype depends on many genes and on the environment, influenced from the moment of conception until the moment of death through “the organism’s encounters with its prenatal and postnatal environments” (Gilbert, 2010, p26). Most traits are polygenic (affected by many genes) and multifactorial (influenced by many factors).”
The Developing Person Through the Lifespan, 9th Ed., Berger

 

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ABT puppy from our 2016 litter (might be Rory?)

 

This passage came from the textbook for the Lifespan Psychology course I’m taking at the local community college. It got me thinking about the relationship between nature and nurture: gene expression is affected by the environment and the dog’s response to their environment is affected by their genes. You can’t have one without the other and you can’t change one without changing the other.

This is was a reminder for me to think globally in terms of both behavior and physical development on a lifetime scale. As a breeder I choose the genes to some extent and I also have a lot of influence over phenotype (behavioral and physical development) during the first 8-9 weeks of my puppies’ lives. Puppy owners have even more control over phenotype since they have the puppy from 8 weeks until death and as a result can influence gene expression over the lifetime. Interesting thought, isn’t it?

Epigenetics (changes in organisms caused by modification of gene expression rather than alteration of the genetic code itself) is a fascinating topic and I suspect it’s going to have a large influence on both dog breeding and dog training in the future. There is evidence that a learned response may alter gene expression and that those altered genes may in turn be inherited by offspring who will exhibit a similar response. Another study showed that something as simple as a diet change in the pregnant mother could alter gene expression in offspring to eliminate the deleterious effects of a gene. You may not be able to change the gene itself but you can change its expression – which is just as good.

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Tig, from ABT’s 2016 litter

 

What does this mean to me? There is a great deal more plasticity in both the brain and in our genetics than we have traditionally thought. As a breeder this encourages the application of genetic preservation principles. Over the decades there’s been a trend toward breeding very few and very specific individuals but as Dr. Carol Beuchat points out this leads to inevitable inbreeding and loss of genetic diversity. Some breeds, terriers in particular, are in danger of going extinct due to miniscule breeding populations with very little genetic diversity. Would our breeds benefit from broadening the gene pool? How can we avoid extinction and improve the genetic diversity of our breeding population? These questions will need to be addressed at some point in the near future and I don’t think the answers will be popular or easy.

It also leads me to reconsider the idea that “you’re stuck with what you got” when it comes to the genetics of a puppy. The power of epigenetics means that phenotype has the potential to change as the effects of the environment alter gene expression (i.e. training, care, chronic stress). This has limited applied use since we don’t know which genes will be altered but it can be a powerful boost for folks working with difficult dogs. Rehabilitation is often primarily about behavior (phenotype), but it could have an effect on gene expression which in turn will effect behavior. It also highlights the importance of thinking holistically about the care and keeping of your dog for their mental and physiological health.

In the end breeders, owners, and trainers are in the same fluid relationship with gene expression as the organism is with nature-nurture. We can influence behavior and gene expression through breeding and training knowing the consequences can be multi-generational genetically and global phenotypically. There is a sense of freedom and exploration here that pushes the boundaries of what we think we know.

 
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Posted by on March 31, 2017 in Other Stuff

 

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Posted by on March 27, 2017 in Other Stuff

 

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