Agility: Canine Game of Life

You have probably seen a Dog Agility competition on TV or at an agricultural show. Agility is the ultimate game for dogs and the most fun canine sport for spectators. During competition, the dog demonstrates its agile nature, its versatility, and its training by following cues from the owner that direct it through a complex timed obstacle course of jumps, tunnels, balancing walks, weave poles, and other objects.

Agility uses the built-in genetic tendencies of the dog to jump, run, and play. It’s a great sport to strengthen the bond of affection between dog and owner and provides fun and potent exercise for both. Most dogs love it from their first try.

Below is Lesley Colgan’s young competitor Whiskey Jack jumping effortlessly.  

Agility Training AlphaDog

The American Kennel Club


Training your dog for genius

The Alpha Dog Life


Where Did Your Dog Come From?

There are now near 400 breeds of domestic dog. Researchers at the National Human Genome Research Center in Bethesda MD have just released a 20-year research project, the largest ever, on genomic analysis of their origins. You can get a copy free from PUBMED (1).  

The oldest dog remains, called the Altai dog” are dated at 33,000 years ago. They were found in Razboinichya Cave in Siberia (2). About the same time, dogs were becoming a separate species from their grey wolf ancestors all across Europe. Domesticated by Paleolithic hunter-gatherers in many places during the same period, dogs started to be bred for hunting and guarding while we humans still lived in caves.  Over their many millennia of domestication (2), you may be surprised to see who your pets descended from, and what other breeds they are related to. I certainly was.



Surprise. The Borzoi and the Welsh Corgi are genetic cousins.

As you might expect from their shape and character, Cocker Spaniels and Golden Retrievers come from the same ancestor. And you can see some resemblances in Mastiffs to their close cousins, Miniature French Bulldogs. But I had no idea that Border Collies are genetic cousins of the Borzoi. Nor that both are closely related to the Welsh Corgi.

Also, the Tibetan Terrier is not a terrier at all, but a close relative of the Pekinese. The Toy Fox Terrier a not a terrier either. It is kissing cousin to the Chihuahua and the Chinese Crested. And both the latter first appeared in Central America, not in Asia.

The Giant Schnauzer is also not a terrier, and not at all related to the Standard or Miniature Schnauzers, which are not terriers either, but are strongly related to the Papillon and the Pomeranian.

Giant Schnauzers belong genetically with the Rottweiler and Doberman Pinscher. And the Doberman Pinscher itself has no connection to the Miniature Pinscher, who is genetically a terrier, a very close cousin to the Manchester Terrier.

You see claims on some dog breeding sites that their breeds have been around many hundreds of years, which supposedly makes them genetically superior, and certainly raises their prices. Now we know it’s mostly smoke and mirrors. The majority of modern breeds are not old at all. Even the American Kennel Club has now dropped its classification of the, “Nine Ancient Breeds”.

Genetic analysis shows that the majority of breeds, such as the German Shepard, did not exist before the mid-19th century. The Golden Retriever came into being about 1875, the Bull Mastiff not until the 20th century. Most modern dogs were created during the Victorian era or later (4).

Before methods of genomic analysis developed this century, estimating the age and origin of breeds was a pure guessing game, ripe for moneymaking. The Pharaoh Hound, for example, named from its depiction in wall paintings of Ancient Egypt, was considered thousands of years old. It was revered as the ancestor of many hound breeds. But most of the identical looking, and very expensive, Pharaoh Hounds of today are now shown to be a modern creation, deliberately achieved by mixing as many as five other modern breeds to produce a dog that looks like the ancient Pharaoh Hound.           

In contrast, despite claims of great age, the Norwegian Elkhound used to be grouped with recent European dog breeds by the American Kennel Club. Genomic analysis now shows that records from Scandinavia, that its origins date back 3,000-5,000 years, are correct (4,5). Great stuff! We will explore more of this fascinating research in coming articles.


  1. Parker HG et al. Genomic Analyses Reveal the Influence of Geographic Origin, Migration, and Hybridization on Modern Dog Breed Development. Cell Reports, April 25 2017;19:697–708.
  2. Ovodov ND, et al. A 33,000-year-old incipient dog from the Altai Mountains of Siberia: evidence of the earliest domestication disrupted by the Last Glacial Maximum.  PLoS One. 2011;6(7):e22821. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0022821. Epub 2011 Jul 28.
  3. Thalmann O, et al. Complete Mitochondrial Genomes of Ancient Canids Suggest a European Origin of Domestic Dogs. Science  15 Nov 2013: Vol. 342, Issue 6160, pp. 871-874 DOI: 10.1126/science.1243650entury.
  4. Wilcox B, Walkowicz C  Atlas of Dog Breeds of the World (Print) (5th ed.). Neptune City, NJ Lanham, MD: TFH Publications, 1995.
  5. Duleba, A, et al. Complete mitochondrial genome database and standardized classification system for Canis lupus familiaris. Forensic Science International: Genetics, 2015; 19: 123–129. doi:10.1016/j.fsigen.2015.06.014.


The mind of your dog

The Alpha Dog Life



How well does your dog smell?

Bloodhounds are celebrated for their ability to track the scent of individual humans. even in high-traffic areas with trails up to 48 hours old (1). But much dog selection for scent training is based on tradition. There is no standard method to measure canine olfactory capacity, and most efforts to do it have been very poor. Labradors, German Shepherds, Beagles and many other breeds are adopted for scent training without any idea of their power of their sniffers.

It’s an important question because the demand for sniffer dogs is soaring. But it costs up to $250,000 to train just one dog for tracking, or drug detection, or disease monitoring, or other scenting tasks. So, a failed choice of pup is an expensive error. Right now, as many as half the dogs selected for scent training fail to pass certification (2,3).

Only recently have scientists developed an experimental method to accurately assess olfactory capacities of different breeds. The latest study, done at the dog and wolf specialist facility at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, compared three groups of family dogs aged 5-7 years: dog breeds used traditionally for scenting; dog breeds used for other purposes; dog breeds with short-nosed features; plus 12 hand-reared grey wolves.

The task is to find raw meat in plastic tubs placed under identical clay flower pots, most of which are empty. There are five carefully graded levels of difficulty, from an open meat tub through tubs with fewer and fewer holes in the lid, to a completely sealed tub. Of course, researchers must be careful not to contaminate the outsides of the tubs with the meat scent.

Unfortunately, Labradors and German Shepherds were not available for testing. The 14 scent dogs tested included Basset, Beagle, Pointer, and Vizsla. The 15 non-scent dogs included Bichon, Chinese Crested, Greyhound, Whippet, Miniature Pincher and Husky. The 12 short-nosed dogs included King Charles Spaniel, Boston Terrier, Boxer, Bulldog/Boxer Cross, Bull Mastiff, English Bulldog, and Pug. The wolves were predicted to win, because their keen noses have consistently tested better than dog noses in previous research (4,5).

At Levels of Difficulty 1-4, there was not a lot of difference in performance between the dog groups or the wolves. At the most difficult Level 5, however, with completely sealed meat tubs, the non-scent and the short-nosed dogs could not find the meat. The scent dogs could and scored well. The wolves scored best of all (6).

So, if you want top results from scent training, Bassett, Beagle, Pointer and Visla are likely to prove the best breeds.  And if a rabbit hops by your dozing Boxer or Mastiff without rousing them, it’s not that they’re dumb, they just can’t smell it.

The Vizsla is a proven good bet for training as a scent dog.


  1. Harvey LM, Harvey JW (2003) Reliability of bloodhounds in criminal investigations. J Forensic Sci 48: 811–816. [PubMed]
  2. Hall NJ, Smith DW, Wynne CDL (2013) Training domestic dogs (Canis lupus familiaris) on a novel discrete trials odor-detection task. Learn Motiv 44: 1–11.
  3. Maejima M, Inoue-Murayama M, Tonosaki K, Matsuura N, Kato S, Saito Y, et al. (2007) Traits and genotypes may predict the successful training of drug detection dogs. Appl Anim Behav Sci 107: 287–298. doi: 10.1016/j.applanim.2006.10.005
  4. Mech LD (1970) The wolf: the ecology and behavior of an endangered species. 1st ed New York, NY: Natural History Press; 384 p.
  5. Lord K (2013) A Comparison of the Sensory Development of Wolves (Canis lupus lupus) and Dogs (Canis lupus familiaris). Ethology 119: 110–120. doi: 10.1111/eth.12044.
  6. Polgar Z, et al. A Test of Canine Olfactory Capacity: Comparing Various Dog Breeds and Wolves in a Natural Detection Task PLoS One. 2016; 11(5): e0154087. doi:  10.1371/journal.pone.0154087 PMCID: PMC4859551.



Your dog’s muscles and bones

The Alpha Dog Life

How your dog sees color

Many folk believe that dogs see only in black, white, and grey, because about 80% of their retinas are seeded with rod receptors for night vision, which explains why dogs see much better in dim light than we do.

Recent molecular research, however, shows that up to 20% of canine retinas are seeded with two types of color cones, which enable dogs to see many shades of yellow, and shades of blue to purple. Humans have three types of color cones which allow us to also see the reds and greens. The color spectrum below compares us with dogs.



Tests show that the best signal for your dog at a distance is something bright yellow. And if you want your pets to maintain their sight as they age, the latest evidence shows that strong antioxidant supplementation, such as that found in ALPHADOG ON! is just the ticket (2).

  1. Kasparson AA1, Badridze J, Maximov VV. Colour cues proved to be more informative for dogs than brightness. Proc Biol Sci. 2013 Jul 17;280(1766):20131356. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2013.1356.
  2. Wang W1, Hernandez J2, Moore C3, Jackson J1, Narfström K4. Antioxidant supplementation increases retinal responses and decreases refractive error changes in dogs. J Nutr Sci. 2016 May 10;5:e18. doi: 10.1017/jns.2016.5.



Protect your dog’s eyes

The Alpha Dog Life

Dog breeds for the first time owner

Judging from the massive numbers of dogs who end up in rescue facilities, often rejected because they were deemed unsuitable, choosing your first family dog is very difficult.  It’s usually a one-time choice, with zero experience of the pup, based on looks and hearsay. We put selecting your pet up there with selecting your spouse. At least we get the chance to try them out first. Nevertheless, remember that in the US,  the spouse rejection rate runs at about 50%.

Judging from the number of dogs that come to us with behavior problems, training a pup to be obedient, sociable and happy, is also up there with training your spouse. So, this article is a plea to choose your pup with great care to perfectly match your lifestyle and interests, because our dogs deserve a happy and contented life just as much as we do.

We always advise getting your pup from a registered breeder, and choosing it direct from the mother. Pups in pet shops may look cute, but mostly they should not be there. And there is great sentimental pressure to adopt a rescue, but unless you know for certain the true reason it became a rescue, such as death of the owner, you may be taking on a whole lot of trouble from a psychologically damaged dog.

Here are six of my favorites; breeds that suit a wide range of different lifestyles and are easily trained and laid-back (especially important with children). Their even temperaments also leave some wiggle room for the training mistakes of many owners.

If you want a family buddy, the Springer Spaniel has the right affectionate, stick-to-the-owner temperament. Easily trained, beautiful, yet tough enough for roughhousing with the children, it is medium energy and small enough to be an unobtrusive house pet. Long walks together, play fighting, fetch, swimming, and a little attention to brushing and trimming that long coat, is all it needs for a happy life.

Say you are more active, and jog a lot. Then a high energy Collie may suit you better. But do not get a Collie unless you are happy to spend hours exercising with your pet every day. Unused, that high energy can produce a frustrated dog which turns its attention to behavior you do not want. Huge coat, but it doesn’t need constant brushing. Nor does it shed a lot. A contented Collie makes a happy, odor-free, obedient, house pet.

If you tend to suffer allergies, the hypo-allergenic Miniature Poodle, which hardly sheds at all, is a good choice. Among the smartest of all dogs, miniature poodles make great house pets, especially if you like daily grooming as a buddy activity. Poodles are medium energy but excel at many sports activities, and will be happiest sharing their abilities in daily outdoor games with you.

Another non-shedding, delightful, family dog is the Miniature Schnauzer. Extremely affectionate once they get to know you, they are easily trained. But Mini Schnauzers need outdoor exercise every day. A lovely, spirited, and faithful companion for walks and play. At 20 lbs of muscle, Miniature Schnauzers make excellent watchdogs and controllers of vermin. But don’t let them eat the rats, mice, shrews, rabbits, and birds which they catch continually, to protect them from infections and worms.

If you want a family guard dog, my personal choice is the elegant and fearless Airedale Terrier. As a breeder of these wonderful dogs, I know they are super-alert and super-fast as guards, and will act independently to protect you and your family. At 60lbs full grown, they are formidable opponents. Easily trained, but they need strong leadership. They also need daily, vigorous, outdoor exercise, and constant. intellectual stimulation. Because of their thick undercoat, which needs regular pulling, Airedales have a doggie odor. As with all large guard dogs, the secret is to get your Airedale as a pup direct from the mother, and socialize them well with your children. Then the pup grows to adopt the children lovingly as its own, and is super tolerant, and indestructible to their roughhousing.

If you are not very active and just want a delightful house-friendly, loving companion, the bright and alert Papillion with the butterfly ears is a great choice. They are naturally friendly and sociable. Although they love walks and outside play, they live just as well in an apartment. Easily trained and entertained indoors the little Papillion is sociable with everyone.

In future articles, I will recommend a few more breeds we know well. The six above give a good range of choice to fill that space in your heart and your home with a pet that returns in multiples your every kind act.


How long will your dog live?