Tuesday, 3 March 2015

What is she?

When I was looking for a dog to adopt it really didn't matter what breed, or mix of breeds it would be - I knew I'd know the dog as if by magics, and that definitely happened when I first saw a photograph of Willow - somehow I just knew she would be mine. So with zero pre-conceived ideas of the kind of dog that would end up joining our family, I really don't care what she is. But...we do have some behaviour issues that, if I knew what was in her make-up, I might have a little insight into how to help her deal with them. If you don't know about some of Willow's worries, take a look here and here, it'll explain a bit more.

I've trained a few dogs in my time, so having a dog that is so unsure of everything has left me with a bit of a conundrum. Of course, this has as much to do with her past experience as it does her breed make-up (probably moreso) so - this research was a bit of fun really and to satisfy my own curiosity. I didn't really believe I'd learn much, other than some things about breeds I hadn't really heard of before. But the journey really did open my eyes, and whilst she might be none of the breeds below, learning about their characteristics has really helped give me a new understanding of Willow and what might be.

Willow is unlike any other dog I've known in many ways

The most beautiful girl ever known ever!

Willow's background

The great thing is that we know Willow's Mum. She lives here in the UK too after being rescued from the Thai Dog Meat Trade. I've met her and Willow is very much like her in many ways - she is a beautiful mixed-breed. We also know her brother and sister. Her brother is almost a carbon copy of their Mum in looks, and her Sister is very much like Willow in body type, but not in colouring.

Willow and her Sister Hetty meeting for the first time since arriving in the UK. Hetty was far more welcoming than Willow - whose aloof  stance was actually because she was fearful of the new surroundings.

I could go down the road of having her DNA analysed I suppose - but, having researched many breeds, I'm in a much better place to begin to understand Willow's quirks I think. She shares so many traits with a certain 'type' of dog, the very old breeds such as the Basenji and some of the native/Pariah dogs of Asia which of course fits with her geographical beginnings. If my hunch is correct, then a DNA test is unlikely to show any of these breeds anyway, due to the limited number of breeds on the DNA database.

Some of Willow's quirks are:

  • Singing. Whilst she does bark also, her main form of 'conversation' is what some might call moaning! Willow has the voice of a [drunken and psychotic] opera singer and she uses it often.
  • Cat-like in the way she sits, and uses her paws in play and grooming.
  • Head flicks when in an excitable state - something I've never seen before in any other dog
  • Totally independent - will do what she wants when she wants to. 
  • Frown lines - she looks worried even when she's not!
  • Incredibly gentle, even when in a state of dreadful fear. 
  • Very attached to her own 'pack'. Fearful and untrusting of strangers.
  • Using her paws like hands. She actually holds things as if she had fingers and will open doors by grasping the handle (not just flicking it, but holding on to it and opening the door itself)
  • An expressive tail, it's almost snake like! It twists and turns in all sorts of shapes, and, when happy, it falls into a sickle shape (unlike her Mum, Brother and Sister who all have a coiled tail.)
So what could she be? What breeds make up this beautiful creature? (The following is of course speculation and without DNA analysis there really is no way to really know.)

Shibu Inu

I often get asked if Willow is part Shibu Inu - I can certainly see how people might think she is - and she definitely shares many of the Shibu Inu characteristics.

 Shibu Inu. Imaged used under CC license. Credit: Roberto Vasarri

She has the urajiro markings (underside white) of the SU – but she’s much smaller and slenderer and doesn't have that thick coat. She shares the sickle tail though and those beautiful eyes. The Shibu also screams, and of course Willow loves the sound of her own voice. Shibu’s are also a very old breed, with independent thinking, much the same as many Pariah Dogs…so the similarities aren’t few.

The Basenji

I've no doubt that Willow has a lot of primitive dog traits in her – those of the Pariah type, which are some of the oldest breeds known. Many breeds share Pariah similarities, such as the Basenji – and even with very little knowledge of the breed itself, I would hedge a bet that there’s definitely Basenji in Willow's blood somewhere.

Basenji’s don’t bark – Willow does - but she also has the scream of a Banshee that will send your blood cold, and it happens mostly when she’s happy, or if she’s trying to find a hiding place for a toy or treat. The Basenji is a bit of a primper, it likes to be clean - this is very much like Willow. The Basenji is described as catlike, much like Willow too; she sits like a cat and uses her paws in play just like a cat. Basenjis are also renowned escape artists, and have been known to climb chain link fences - we all know that Willow ‘Steve-McQueen’ Wade's capable of that too!

Basenji’s are known as freethinkers – and in one study were said to be the 2nd least trainable dog - that’s definitely my Willow - she’ll do what she wants when she wants to (although is very rarely badly behaved). The Basenji also ‘meerkats’ (walks on their hind legs with paws in the air) – and Willow does a lot of that too. 

Image used under CC licence. Credit Ibethagreatone

One of the Basenji's physical characteristics are their frown lines - they aren't a sign of worry, just part of their look.

Willow's Frown

The Telomian

When I looked at a picture of the Telomian, I immediately saw similarities to Willow (the frown lines, the ears and eyes), but even moreso with Willow’s sister, Hetty -  because of the colouring. 

Telomians are a native dog of Malaysia. If not socialised they are known to be very shy of people, and find it incredibly hard to adapt to new situations. An added trait is that they use their paws just like hands. One example is how they adapted to their people building houses on stilts to protect them from ground level predators; the Telomian learned how to climb ladders to be with their human pack. Of course, the 'hand' thing is another endearing quirk of Willow’s - she has incredible paws, she can open doors by gripping the handle and when she's climbing (on furniture) she'll grasp hold of it as if she has fingers. She also holds her toys and chews with human-like dexterity. 

The Telomian is a close cousin to the New Guinea Singing Dog and Dingo - two more canines that I found had similar 'Willow quirks'. This breed is also thought by some cynologists (people who study canines) to be the missing link between the Dingo and the Basenji (curiouser and curiouser!)

Those clever paws

The New Guinea Singing Dog (NGSD)

Out of all the breeds I've researched there's one that, if I didn't know better, I'd swear Willow was: The New Guinea Singing Dog. Everything I read about them was as if someone had written an entire description of Willow and her behaviour.

Of course, one of the things that give the dog its name is its ‘singing’- we know that matches.

A unique trait though of the New Guinea Singing Dog is their head toss – a behaviour that was in all NGSDs observed by Tim Flannery in his 1988 report on the breed. This is something Willow does daily and often. It’s not something I've seen before in any dog, it is rare, and I find it incredibly endearing.

The NGSD is described as “strangely cat-like” which if course is a Willow thing too.

They are "extraordinarily shy", avoiding any contact with humans - but are, on the flip-side of that, extremely gentle when they are with people – one report stating they had never heard of any case of a NGSD biting. This is something that has always surprised me with Willow, her gentleness is incredible and even in her most fearful states; her biggest meltdowns, when many dogs would feel the need to snap - Willow has never ever shown any sign of aggression at all. She of course likes no one near her but her immediate human pack.

The NGSD are also notorious escape artists, able to climb fences and dig – similar to the Basenji and Willow.

One of the very noticeable things I've found with Willow is her love of forests – she panics on beaches and in streets, she doesn't like parks either but is in her element amongst trees (much like me) – the NGSD comes from a coniferous, mossy forest habitat.

Thai Dingo

Australian Dingo - I couldn't find a usable by license picture of the Thai Dingo, also known as the 'Thai Dog' - but they are almost identical apart from being smaller in stature. Image used under CC license. Credit Jarrod Amoore.

Now, obviously, the Thai Dingo (also known as simply the 'Thai Dog') shares the same geographical origins as Willow and could indeed be part of her blood line somewhere –  she certainly looks very much like one. 

The Thai Dingo is closely related to the New Guinea Singing Dog and the Telomian, some experts believe that the Thai Dingo and the Australian Dingo are taxonomically identical (the Australian Dingo, some believe, having originated from Asia). Although they do have some physical differences, such as size (the Thai Dingo is smaller). The Australian Dingo is seen as a predator, whereas the Thai Dingo is seen as a mongrel dog that lives a stray life on the streets of Thailand.

When I look at a picture of an Australian Dingo – it has Willow written all over it.

So, in conclusion, I can only believe that whilst a lot of Willow's behaviour is due to lack of early socialisation, there must also be some behaviour which is fundamentally genetic. Her traits and quirks (being catlike, head flick, use of paws, 'singing', etc) connect so closely with the dogs above (beyond any other breed I looked at) and with 3 out of 5 of the breeds being genetically related (which I hadn't known until after I'd researched each individually), and one (the Telomian) thought to be the 'missing link' to the fourth dog (Basenji) it seems there could very well be a connection. 

Does it really matter? No - not at all. Has it helped me understand Willow more? Yes, I think it has. What is evident is that Willow comes from a mixed bag of ancient breeds - robust, clever, independent, and utterly beautiful dogs (I knew that last bit already). 

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  1. I don't know what she is but she is darling! <3

  2. Your in-depth research and interest to find out as much information about your Willow is fascinating. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the various breeds which I hardly knew anything of beforehand. She is the most beautiful animal, whether wolf or Dingo in origin. Thank you, once again, for an illuminating piece of intelligent writing.

    1. I'm glad you're enjoying the posts :)

  3. Such an interesting read ,utterly fascinating ,Whatever her make up ,she's truly beautiful ! xx

    1. Part of me really doesn't want to know - because she's perfect the way she is - but there's this other intriguing part that I can't get out of my head! :D

  4. Very interesting... She is SO beautiful and looks very sensitive. Your analysis made me think of my Shyla. She's 100% Lab yet her behavior is very atypical for a lab (shy, fearful, easily worried). From what I've been told, she's also very different from her parents and siblings (all of whom are "champion" field Labs). Based on my one dog, I've concluded that early socialization (or lack thereof) can trump everything else. However, some Lab traits still shine through when Shyla is courageous enough to show them - a yearning to make friends with people, a love of retrieving.

    Anyway, I love your analysis of your beautiful girl. It might be fun to do the DNA thing to see how close your analysis is to being right! I love the NGSD description!

    1. I think you're right - the lack of socialisation really is the key here, for the majority of her fearful behaviour - which may be added to because she's from a dog who is naturally shy anyway. We now have a behaviourist on board, who is helping me unravel the issues - and better still, teaching me how dogs think, and why they react the way they do, which I am finding fascinating. I am feeling so much more positive about helping her now - and realise, no matter how hard you study, or how much you believe you know about dogs, there is always more to learn.

      Another thing I've discovered is my absolute love of cynology - something I might pursue :)

  5. Congratulations! You have the distinct pleasure (and....peculiarities ;) ) of living with a Kintamani dog - the breed allegedly indigenous to Bali, Indonesia.

    Willow's personality traits are identical to the dogs that I and my friends here love and learn with. My dear four-legged friend Julie looks identical to your Willow - though, I must say, our Julie is quite plump.

    Vocalizations including singing (I call it "woo-ing"), sneezing to express emotion (boredom, frustration, displeasure, excitement) frown lines, head-tossing, deep pack loyalty, a mistrust of strangers, are all a part of this fascinating, stroppy little package.

    I see that others have commented about a lack of socialization. I assure you that these dogs are skeptical of strangers, fearful, and skittish because it is their nature. Humans have only recently meant friend, and not foe, in their bloodline. Here in Bali, they are still prone to be "on the menu" so to speak, and this is never far from their very keen thoughts.

    They foster a deep intuition, a high intellect, and an independence characteristic of wild canines.

    Socialization will eventually encourage them to incorporate a larger pack, but strangers will always mean danger...until they aren't strangers anymore :)

    These dogs tend to maintain more of a roommate relationship than domestic breeds I have lived with; prone to displays of independence, magnificent humour, and deep embarrassment when they "get it wrong". They also tend to be deeply loyal to one person.

    They don't appear to respond well to traditional forms of training - theirs is a relationship based on mutual respect and loyalty. It cannot be bought, bribed or cajoled. If they love you, it's because you have been chosen.

    They maintain a wildness that makes them very unique in the western world. It also makes a relationship with them deeply rewarding.

    My own "room mate", Jet, is another version of the Kintamani. We believe she is crossed with Thai Singing Dog, or Dingo, or a mixture of the two. She is much smaller and leaner than the Kintamani, almost like a Whippet, and much more vocal. She is very fast, and skittish, with energy and stamina like you wouldn't believe.

    Julie, the Kintamani is more powerful but less agile, and loves napping on her cushion as much as she loves to hop-hunt for rats in the rice fields.

    I have dozens of pictures I could send you if you would like to meet some of Willow's "cousins"!

    May you have a long and happy life with your wonderful Kintamani dog!

    1. Hiya Meg - wow, fascinating! I would love to see some pictures! My email address is: pets@corawade.com Thank you for such insight :)

  6. You have a beautiful dog. I loved her appearance. I have a KBD (Kintamani Bali Dog). It's a male. His name's Joko. He's solid white, big and a sweet friend. You'll love your dog. I think it was a small big attitude: you adopted a dog who's will turns food :( I've only bought my dog and you saved one dog. :) you're a heroin for your dog. She certain will love you so much due to Your act!


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