Archives for November 2013

Beagle Sniffs Out Pregnant Polar Bears

Beagle Sniffs Out Pregnant Polar Bears

The olfactory capabilities of our best friends are amazing, and we continually find new ways to put them to work. From hunting and police work to security and disease detection, a dog’s sense of smell keeps us safe and healthy. Now it seems a two-year-old rabbit-hunting beagle from the Ozarks might help zookeepers detect when threatened polar bears are pregnant.

Taking a page from diabetic alert dog trainers, officials at the Cincinnati Zoo's Center for Conservation & Research of Endangered Wildlife have been working with Matt Skogen at Ironheart High Performance Working Dogs in Shawnee, Kan., to train dogs to detect hormonal changes in gestating polar bears so that officials can take necessary precautions with the expectant mothers. Polar bears have complicated reproduction cycles littered with false pregnancies that make captive breeding programs difficult to successfully administer. Early detection gives zookeepers the chance to separate male and female bears, to provide necessary cub-rearing dens and to monitor the mother more closely.

Skogen originally started with the border collie, arguably the most intelligent breed of dog, but a methodical beagle named Elvis eventually won the job. Elvis trained by sniffing fecal matter from bears that were and weren’t pregnant. When ...

Breed of the Week: English Cocker Spaniel

Breed of the Week: English Cocker Spaniel

Popular in both the U.S. and England, the cocker spaniel was originally bred as a gun dog that pushed game to hunters in the field. Originally, there were only two types of spaniels – those that hunted primarily on land and those that took to the water to retrieve game. Through time, those two classifications became more and more varied as specific breeds were developed. The cocker spaniel was used more on land (its name is derived from aptitude for woodcock hunting) and is among the oldest of gun-dog breeds – with its heritage dating to the first spaniels that came out of Spain more than 500 years ago.

As the happy-go-lucky cocker spaniel became more popular, and with the rise in conformation competition after 1885, a split took place in the breed – those dogs used for the field and those who competed in the ring. Most noticeably, field-bred cockers have a shorter coat and ears than conformation dogs, as well as a higher prey drive.

The cocker’s popularity soared in both realms, as well as in the pet world. In the show ring, the cocker has been the most successful breed at Crufts, winning Best in Show ...