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Originally published in Creation 4, no 1 (March 1981): 5-8.
Next time you pat your dog on the head, look a bit closer. Is it a mutt or mutant?
Many breeds of dog are just that—mutant degenerate mutts—except we are so familiar with Pugs and Bassets we never really notice how deformed they are.
The word mutation means change. When we talk about a mutation in a dog, we mean a change in structure. It has a characteristic that its ancestors did not show. This change in the information it inherits is caused by a change either in the genes (those special factors in a cell which carry its body blueprint) or in the chromosomes (those parts of the cell which carry the genes in a specific order).
A degenerate mutation in a dog leaves the dog worse off than it used to be.
In this article we will consider some of the more obvious mutants in dogs to illustrate the nature and consequence of mutation.
Mutations can occur spontaneously (i.e. without our help) or some types can be made to occur (induced) by man adding radiation or chemicals such as colchicine. Regardless of how they occur, mutations do not appear to “naturally” aim at achieving any specific improvement in the animal.
A mutation can be one of two types—somatic or gametic. The somatic mutation is one which occurs in any cell of a body except the sex cells associated with reproduction, i.e. sperm or eggs. It can only be passed on to the direct offspring of the cell involved, e.g. skin or hair or tumor, and is not passed on to the next generation. Of greater importance is the gametic or sex cell mutation. Since it occurs in the sex cells it does not produce an effect in the parents, but can be passed on to the next generation to produce a mutant type. However, because of the elaborate in built control processes involved in an organisms growth most of these types of mutations will be “overruled” and will not show up.
In the examples which follow I have concentrated on mutations which are easily visible in dogs, and in particular, are very common in the dog family.
The pug face dog has been produced by man selecting for mutations and recombinations (juggled genes) which have resulted in its original head shape being changed. The long axis of the head has been vertically rotated so that the face points towards the ground. This has resulted in the snout and the eyes being moved up and back to point forward and the upper jaw shortened. The lower jaw, in order to be of any use is of course, upturned to match the top jaw.
Now while you may think this is a very clever thing to do to a dog, just think about it from the dog’s point of view. No great problems would occur from shortening the length of the upper jaw, except that to date we have not been able to get rid of the face skin its ancestor had. The extra skin the ancestor needed for his long nose must now fit a short nose. The result—more wrinkles and folds than the world’s most troubled woman, and, as a consequence, dermatitis and eczema.
Since his lower jaw must bend to fit the now shorter upper jaw, the front teeth now bend backwards and resultant stress often results in teeth abnormalities and malocclusions. This, of course, is why a bull dog hangs on when he bites—he has great difficulty letting go.
Pretend you are a pug for one moment—take one hand and push your lower jaw up at the front while you keep your head still, then take your other hand and push your lower jaw back. Now you’ve got that, push hard and try to breathe. See why your bull dog or pekinese puffs after a short run? The head structure which we have bred into the dog has produced a breathing difficulty due to partial obstruction of the throat region. So when you let your pug go in the wild, he cannot run far enough to escape, and if he does manage to run fast enough to catch anything he hasn’t got enough breath left to eat it.
The body of a hairy dog is covered with fairly long hair, so much so that the animals face may have disappeared from sight, and you have to wait for one end to wiggle before you know which end to pat. We may call it cute, but the extra hair is a real burden to the dog, that is, unless you want to spend a lot of extra time keeping it clean.
Clean—so that eye disease caused by the hair perpetually irritating the eyes, will be kept to a minimum. Even in the best cared for hairy dogs, blindness is a common end. Clean—so that parasites which hide in the hair, never worried by the dog’s mouth or scratching feet, do not massacre your dog.
The Fred Bassets of this world do look sort of silly because of a structural alteration to their ears. Their muscles cannot lift up their ears so they hang there, floppy before breakfast, and sloppy after it.
Because the dog uses his ears to locate a source of sound, he needs ears which can receive sound and focus on it. Floppy ears can do neither of these things. This makes floppy eared dogs inferior to other breeds in detecting prey or predators by their sound. Parasites can also hide under those dark warm curtains it has for ears, and when the floppy eared dog tries to scratch them out, he only hurts himself. Deafness is a common result.
Want a dog that will not trouble your neighbors because it cannot jump fences: then a shortlegged mutant such as a Corgi or Dachshund is for you.
This mutation has been selected for in many breeds because of its usefulness in hunting animals that live in burrows, or for tracking animals by scent through dense undergrowth. After all, if you cannot go over it or through it, get a dog that can go under it.
But in the wild, such an animal is slowed by its short legs and is usually forced to go around obstacles rather than over them. Therefore it tires more quickly than a long legged dog. In order to catch anything, the short leg must utilize surprise and a short sprint. Consequently, short legged dogs cannot usually fend well for themselves.
In this mutant, the entire backbone of the dog is shortened, but the legs and skull are normal. Such mutations kill most dogs, with an interesting exception being the female Baboon dog. The male Baboon dog dies before reaching maturity, so it should be obvious that this breed has not got much going for it.
Sick and tired of all those fleas or that hair on the carpet? Then this dog is for you. It doesn’t have any hair at all, except for a small patch between the ears. Their skin is hot to touch.
If you do have a passion to own one of these baldies, then don’t be put off when after you pat it all you usually get is a toothless grin. Its footprints are also different since its toe nails often fall out (especially if they get caught in the carpet). The gene for hairless is linked to the gene for toothless and toenailless. Since they also suffer from death if they possess two genes for hairless they cannot be pure bred. Without hair, they don’t like the cold either. All of this should explain why you haven’t seen too many hairless dogs around lately, and with the breed name Xololtzcuintli, it’s probably just as well.
There are many other abnormalities which are less common or less spectacular, such as the out-turned eyelids of the bloodhound (remember its red soulful eyes) or the ingrown eyelashes of the Pekinese.
The only dog mutant which comes anywhere near qualifying as useful (from the dog’s point of view) is found in that big lovable St. Bernard.
It suffers from hyperthyroidism, which means that its overactive thyroid gland enables it to turn food into body heat at an incredible rate, not by choice, but by compulsion. His feet can sometimes be so hot they can melt the snow around him. This makes it easy for him to live in the snowy cold conditions and to play his part in rescuing and or inebriating lost mountaineers. But it has bad points too. He cannot tolerate the heat since he makes so much of his own. It is anything but kind to bring a St. Bernard to a tropical climate. Secondly, he must eat huge quantities of food to survive because he uses it so rapidly and this creates his dilemma. A St. Bernard is best suited to live in the snow and cold, but in such conditions he would normally find nothing to eat and would starve. If man did not artificially maintain the breed, it would soon die out.
Dog breeders have used mutations to change the dog for hunting man’s way. They have made many grotesque forms and are still trying to make the “best” domestic dog. But all results considered, man has still not made a dog into a non-dog or a more doggish dog (every postman can verify this).
Now this means, of course, that your Great Dane or your Dachshund and such like did not get off Noah’s ark, since they did not exist then. They are products of modern resourcefulness (?). All of which explains why the bloodhound and its friends are not found in the fossil record (you cannot become extinct when you’re not even existant). What son of a dog did Noah take on board the ark? Well, it had to be one which through the effect of degenerate mutation, or by having its genetic pattern juggled by recombination (lovingly selected by man), could produce all of the modern varieties of dog. Not that I wish to be parochial, but I suspect it was probably something like the good old Australian dingo. Of course it would take a government grant of several million dollars to turn a dingo into a daschund through breeding experiments.
In a more serious vein however, all the research results from dog breeding confirm the statement in Genesis that God commanded each type of organism, dogs included, to “reproduce after its kind.” Your dog may only be some kind of degenerate mutant, but the point to be made over and over is, that he is a degenerate mutant from some created kind.