Sunday, September 20, 2009

Spontaneous genetic leakage combustion!

From Dog bylaws are not simple
Until I watched the Mexican film Amorres Perros I was naive about people breeding dogs for maximum aggression for dog fights
The author has been working for this newspaper since 1993 and attained a college degree in 1991. But it wasn't until a fictionalized movie came out in 2000 that he "got" what maximum aggression for dog fights meant?

If you haven't seen the movie, I'd reccommend it. It's disturbing on many levels but does offer some fascinating insight on the quirks of human behavior. The only pit bull in the movie is soundly beaten by a Rottweiler in a dog fight. The Rottie, by the way, was not bred or raised for "maximum aggression" but was a companion animal to a guy wanting money. Instead of getting a job, he turns to the seedy world of illicit blood sports. To claim that this movie is an educational tool on breeding, dog fighting or canine aggression is a bit like claiming G-Force provides excellent insight on guinea pig behavior (THEY CAN TALK AND SHOOT GUNS, PEOPLE!)

Over enough time, dog breeds can have spontaneous aggression bred in or out of them.

This is supposedly according to Stanley Coren, which is scary considering he's a dog trainer and "noted dog expert". Perhaps the author misunderstood something Coren said or perhaps Coren really did claim that dog breeds can a) exhibit spontaneous aggression or b) have it randomly bred in or out of them. There just isn't a magic spontaneous aggression switch that can be flipped on or off at the drop of a hat within all individuals in a breed. There isn't spontaneous aggression. I mean, I think this is pretty common knowledge amongst behaviorists, particularly those individuals who have spent extensive time studying agonism in canines. Dogs do not magically turn on people or other animals, let alone entire breeds exhibiting such wayward behavior. Logically this is patently untrue and realistically has shown to be untrue.
The result, he said, is that there is genetic "leakage" in lines bred for fighting with other lines within the breed.

For this to be true, you would have to know the genes that are "leaking" into these other lines. It would mean pinpointing the allele responsible for "spontaneous aggression" and knowing whether it's dominant, recessive, or if it requires an interaction with the environment to be "set off". Right now, scientists have been unable to pinpoint such a gene or enzyme or hormone that causes "spontaneous aggression" in dog breeds.

The things we know about aggression is that it's a multifaceted behavior, that it can be complex or simple, it can be caused by medical problems, that it is not so easily defined. There's all these general forms of aggression that can be further winnowed to specific types of aggression. Read Aggression in Dogs by Brenda Aloff - you'll be amazed by the variety and scope of aggressive behavior in dogs. You'll be further amazed by how much self-restraint dogs have managed to exhibit while interacting with humans and other animals.

I like Coren's suggestion for a dual dog-licensing system. Owners who can prove they've brought their dog to obedience classes get one sort of tag. Owners who don't get another tag indicating their dog must be muzzled and leashed whenever off their property. We all know what that boils down to: Either pay a little for dog training or a lot to the city to keep a dog that may be more predisposed to biting.

This only makes sense if Coren and the author are arguing that aggression is not a spontaneous behavior, that it is not unique to particular breeds, that it IS conceivably modifiable with obedience training. That is not the argument being made, though. The fundamental premise is that there are breeds and, even further, lines within those breeds, with a genetic predisposition toward random acts of aggression.

You cannot argue that some types of dogs are prone to a sudden onset of aggression and then turn around and claim that a few training classes will provide that magic pill to stop the genetic "I WILL EAT YOU" marker from activating.

No matter how I personally feel about this issue, both Coren and the author are working from a fallacious premise, which makes the resulting argument that breed bans are effective a little disingenuous, at best.


Ashley (the mom) and Dixie (the Catahoula) said...

I'm pretty sure I would have failed my college genetics class if I talked about leaking genes. Or spontaneous genetic creation.

Laura said...

i fear the dual licensing system may create a demand for cheap useless training classes/fake certification just so people can claim they trained their dogs and get the first kind of license rather than have to muzzle their dogs.

in theory the dual licensing is a good idea. but would the people have to show proof of 'graduating' or 'passing' such classes or just proof of payment or something. and how would that proof be, well, proven real? puppys certificate of passing his obedience classes is a simple heavily copied award with his name written on it. i could make one on my own printer.

or maybe i just expect the worst in people, in that they'd rather go thru the trouble to fake training than actually put the effort into doing it.

and then theres molly. i went thru obedience with lilbit, obedience with sugar, and two obedience classes with puppy. by the time i got molly i already knew how to teach her sit, down, stay, come, and walking nice on a leash. should i have to pay for training classes when she can already do all that?

Rinalia said...

@Ashley: I couldn't find much info on "genetic leakage", though I'm guessing they just meant that whatever "spontaneous aggression gene" Line A had could pass it on to the less aggressive Line B through mating. But since there isn't a known "spontaneous aggression" gene, it's a bit of a silly argument. And yes, definitely something your college professor would have laughed at.

@Laura: I hear you. It also doesn't take into account behavioral issues that go beyond your traditional 6-week-training class. Aggression is just way more complex than that.

Anonymous said...

do these people EVER define what exactly they mean by "aggression"????

As for dogfighting, I wish they would actually get half a clue about how difficult it really is to breed dogs that will fight another dog in the organized way pitfighting is (as opposed to the generic scrapping that almost ANY dog might engage in). The oldtime dogmen considered theselves lucky if ONE dog out of a litter made a good fighter (as they judged such things). And as we know from recent experience, many of these dogs will become perfectly content NOT to fight another dog when reconditioned to understand that behavior is no longer desired.. Can dogs leak genes AWAY from aggression???


Rinalia said...

@Emily: That bugs me immensely too. Every time I pop open Aloff's book, I'm amazed by the myriad forms of aggression dogs and other mammals can exhibit. It's so important to define aggression, especially if you're going to argue silly things like it all being "genetic" or "spontaneous" or found in all individuals in a breed.

Thanks for bringing up the fact that getting a really hot, "game" dog is/was easier said than done and that many of these dogs seem to have a natural inclination (with some behavior modification) to be tolerant around other dogs. I guess those genes can just leak out, like via osmosis maybe. :)