Best From Us
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The purpose of the Letters website is political satire. But, the fact that dogs voice our political positions is not merely happenstance. Animals are a passion we share with many people today. For reasons that are not completely clear, humans have a deep emotional tie to domesticated dogs and cats in particular, although all animals are important. Protecting them from harm almost goes without saying.
In support of animal protection, Letters From Us encourages our readers to support their local shelters and rescue organizations. For information on facilities near you, please visit these, and other, websites:
If you’re interested in the relationship between humans and dogs throughout our history, please read on. If you’d like to know about the Shiba Inu breed, of which Sidney and Riley are proud members, just scroll farther down the page.
Chief among the animals that enrich our lives is canis familiaris. After at least 15,000 years of domestication1, the dog is today the quintessential companion, wedded, for better or for worse, to humanity. So, it seems only fitting, on a page about animal protection, to feature our loyal friend.
The Dog and History
Through selective breeding, there are today over 400 breeds of dog, each with specialized physical features and behavior characteristics that serve distinct purposes2. Down the ages, dogs have performed many roles, side-by-side with their human companions, in furthering human objectives. These roles have changed over time as human circumstances have changed. Early in the canine-human association, dogs performed tasks that served the needs of developing civilizations. Today, their tasks are defined by society’s relative sophistication.
For example, in past centuries, dogs hunted with humans for survival. They pulled wagons and sleds in transitory cultures. They provided life-preserving assistance in exploration and intercontinental migrations. Now days, dogs labor in more varied occupations, such as assistance, therapy, search and rescue, herding, guarding, tracking, detection and law enforcement.3
The process of selective breeding is rooted in notions of utility and service: “How can the dog be made to work better for humans?” But, in toiling co-operatively with humans, dogs maintain an independence that preserves their unique nobility. And, while specific breeds are tailored for specific functions, millions upon millions of mixed breed dogs grace our existence. These dogs randomly combine features and behaviors of their forebears, each one a unique creation.
Perhaps the most challenging job of all dogs today is living their lives in human households, surviving our best intentions on a daily basis.
The Dog and Science
In recent years, dogs have come under closer scientific inquiry. Research has been conducted on topics such as whether dogs use humans as tools4, the extent to which dogs have acquired human social skills5, their uncommon ability to understand human communicative gestures6 and the degree of their cognitive adeptness and other intellectual capabilities7. These studies are elevating the stature of dogs in the scientific community as their previously undocumented aptitudes and competencies are verified.
In an interview, a lead researcher was asked whether people living with dogs would think scientific study results obvious. His response, “Of course… But it’s one thing to [assert a capability in dogs] and another to go and demonstrate it. The people who were surprised were the scientists, not the lay people.”8
The Dog and Us
In studying dogs, scientists merely verify what anyone who has lived with a dog already knows. And so it should be. Living with dogs allows us lay people to understand on a much deeper, truer level that our dogs are clever and attentive, loyal and affectionate. They bring joy and contentment. They teach patience and offer comfort. They defend selflessly.
And like us, they have memories and desires. They dream (or their feet wouldn’t twitch when they sleep!). They can be living ties of remembrance to friends and family members who have passed away. Yet, they make no demands. Theirs is not a do-for-me-and-I’ll-do-for-you world. They offer the richness of their companionship unconditionally.
Maybe our emotional tie to dogs is not such a mystery after all.
1 Lindblad-Toh, Kerstin, et al. “Genome sequence, comparative analysis and haplotype structure of the domestic dog”. Nature 438 (2005): 803 – 819.
3 “Working dog”. Wikipedia. 26 June 2008. 2 July 2008. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Working_dog.
4 Hare, B. 2004. Dogs use humans as tools: is it the secret to their success? Encyclopedia of Animal Behavior. Beckoff, M. (ed). Greenwood Publishing Group.
5 Hare, B. & Tomasello, M. 2005. Human-like social skills in dogs? Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 9, 439–444.
6 Hare, B., Plyusnina, I., Iganacio, N., Wrangham, R., Trut, L. 2005. Social cognitive evolution in captive foxes is a correlated by-product of experimental domestication. Current Biology, 16, 226–230.
7 See, Woodard, Colin. “Clever Canines Did domestication make dogs smarter.” The Chronicle Of Higher Education. Section: Research & Publishing. Volume 51. Issue 32. Page A12. 15 April 2005. 2 July 2008. http://chronicle.com/free/v51/i32/32a01201.htm.
8 Tenenbaum, David. “DOGS the fantastic food finders”. The Why? Files. Ed. Terry Devitt. 27 November 2002. University of Wisconsin, Board of Regents. 2 July 2008. http://whyfiles.org/shorties/119dogs_eat/index.html.
About Shiba Inus
According to the American Kennel Club, Shiba Inus have “a spirited boldness, a good nature, and an unaffected forthrightness, which together yield dignity and natural beauty.” They are alert and agile, have an independent spirit and are wonderful companions and watchdogs. Bred to flush birds on the hillsides of Japan, they are athletic, muscular and enduring.
Their independent nature is sometimes described as feline-like aloofness. But, this coolness is reserved for strangers. They are great family dogs and, when raised with children, happy to be kiddy magnets.
The breed standard Shiba height ranges from 13.5 – 16.5 inches, with males are on the taller end of the range. Weight varies with height, up to about 25 pounds. The dogs are very proportionate, with a height to length ratio of 10 to 11. The average Shiba life span is 12 – 15 years. And the dogs look exactly like the photo above.
The Shiba Inu is one of the 14 ancient dog breeds, those with the fewest genetic differences from wolves. Researchers today suspect that the ancestors of the Shiba migrated with the first humans to Japan about 7000 BCE. In the third century BCE, a new group of dogs, accompanied by still more humans, arrived in Japan. Interbreeding between the new arrivals and the first group of dogs eventually produced the Shiba Inu breed.
The smallest of six native Japanese breeds, Shibas were trained to flush birds for hunters in the dense undergrowth of Japan’s rugged mountains. Due to wartime bombings, and outbreaks of distemper, Shibas almost went extinct after World War II. However, they recovered to become the number-one companion dog in Japan, a position they still hold.
In 1936 the Shiba, along with the other indigenous Japanese breeds, was placed under government protection. Since that time they have all been regarded as “national monuments”. The first documented Shiba in the U.S. was in 1954, and the breed received regular AKC classification in 1997.
The derivation of the word “Shiba” is uncertain. It may mean “small” or “red” or “brushwood”. Small refers to the size of the dog. Red is for the breed’s predominant color. But it also describes the brushwood growing in the dog’s native hunting regions. So, you can’t go wrong if you refer to a Shiba as a “little red brushwood” dog. The meaning of “Inu” is well known. It means “dog” and is commonly omitted when referring to the breed.
There are several very good articles on the web detailing the Shiba breed history. Three of them are:
For an excellent summary of Shibas, including their physical and behavioral characteristics, health, history, temperament and other qualities, please visit the website of the National Shiba Club of America:
Or, maybe, another breed? To build a successful relationship with any dog, just do a little homework ahead of time. If you’re interested in a purebred, first learn about the characteristics and behaviors of several breeds. Then choose one that fits your lifestyle and you the lifestyle of the breed.
For breed investigation, please visit this, and other, sites:
But before selecting a purebred, please consider a mixed-breed dog. They make terrific companions, too, and there are millions of them who need good homes.
For the benefits of having a mixed breed dog as your next best friend, please visit these sites, among others:
Once you’ve decided on the type of dog that’s right for you and you for him or her, all that’s left to do is to find The One.
In selecting your companion, please do not support puppy mills, either directly or indirectly. The deplorable conditions and just plain horrors of those places are gut wrenching.
For documented examples of puppy mills in action, please visit the following sites:
An excellent source of purebred dogs is adoption through both rescue organizations and shelters. To find a rescue organization near you, please visit:
Another resource for finding purebreds is the American Kennel Club breeder information page:
To find your next mixed breed dog, please stop by your local shelter. You’ll save a life. A good shelter should be able to match you with the right dog, for both you and the dog. To find a shelter near you, please visit:
Just one more thing. Unless you intend to be a breeder or to show your dog professionally, please spay or neuter your new friend. 3 - 4 million dogs and cats are euthanized in shelters each year. Most of the deaths are due simply to overpopulation.