Category Archives: Breeding and Genetics

Domestic Equines


In today’s post I am going to cover some basic similarities and differences between common domestic equines; horses and ponies, donkey’s, and mule’s and hinny’s. All of these animals belong to the family Euqidae, and the genus Equus.

Horse (Maggie) and Donkey (Lucy)

Horses and Ponies

Most people know what horses and ponies are, but often are unsure what the difference is. A surprising (to me) number of people have asked me if ponies are baby horses – the answer to that is no; a baby horse or a baby pony (of either gender, under the age of 1 year) is known as a foal. An adult female is known as a Mare, and a juvenile female (under 4 years old) is known as a Filly. An adult male that has been neutered is known as a Gelding, and entire (not neutered) adult male is known as a Stallion, and a juvenile male (under 4 years old) is known as a Colt. The gestation period for horses and ponies is 11-12 months.

There are many different breeds of horses and ponies; from thoroughbred horses to draughts and Shire’s, from cobs to Shetland ponies; within the different types, there are a myriad of colours and patterns – some specific to the breed (e.g. Appaloosa – spotted horse (see below)), others being quite commonplace across many breeds.

Horses are larger than ponies; ponies reach up to 14.2 hh (hands high), and horses are 14.3 hh and taller. The tallest recorded horse to date is a a Belgian Gelding called Big Jake, who was measured in 2010 at just over 20.2 hh.

Horses and ponies have small ears and long faces, long tails and manes, deep chests, and long legs with rounded hooves. They are intelligent creatures, with brilliant speed, agility and strength. Horses have long manes and tails; which need to be kept neat and clean, and are often trimmed, clipped or plaited. Their coats are thin, compared to a donkey’s.

The noises horses and ponies make range from neighing and whinnying to snorting and sighing; these noises can vary a lot in and of themselves, depending on the animal’s mood – body language and posture both help to identify the mood, alongside noises.

Donkey’s

Donkey’s are smaller than horses, and smaller than a good number of pony breeds. An entire male donkey is a known as a Jack (hence the term “Jack-Ass”), a male donkey that has been castrated (or gelded) is known as a John or a gelded-Jack, and a female is known as a Jenny or a Jennet. As with horses and ponies, donkey foals are donkey’s (of either gender) up to one year old, a filly is a female donkey under 4 years of age, and a colt is a male donkey under four yeas old.

The African Wild Ass (which are a critically endangered species according to the IUCN Red List), with a decreasing population, are the wild relatives of the domestic donkey.

There are a fair few different breeds of donkey; from the American Mammoth to the Miniature Mediterranean to the (long-haired) Poitou. The most common colour for a donkey is grey, but they also come in brown, black, roan, white, and a mixture of all of the aforementioned colours; in speckles or patches or other patterns, or just as broken colours. Donkey’s are usually white underneath, but can be solid colours too. Some colours and/or patterns being breed specific.

Donkey’s range from around 7.3 hh to 15.3 hh, with the average height of a donkey being approximately 11-13 hh. Donkey’s are very strong, they have long ears, and hooves rounded the same as a horse/pony. Donkey’s have short brush-like manes, and short tails with fur covering the tail, and a collection of hair at the end. Donkey’s have thicker coats than horse and ponies.

Donkey’s are known to make a braying sound, which most of us would recognise as the classic “hee-haw” donkey noise; this noise is unique to donkey’s, as they can vocalise whilst breathing in and out, unlike horses and zebras. Donkey’s are also known to squeal and snort, amongst producing other sounds.

Mule’s and Hinny’s

A mule is the offspring of a male donkey and a female horse, whereas a hinny is the offspring of a male horse and a female donkey. A female mule is called a Mare-mule or a Molly-mule, and a male mule is called a Horse-mule or a John-mule.

Genetically, horses have 32 pairs of chromosomes, and donkeys have 31 pairs; due to this, their offspring (when horses and donkeys are bred together) cannot themselves reproduce – they have 63 chromosomes, so one is left without a pair, resulting in mule’s and hinny’s being infertile.

Being part-horse and part-donkey, mule’s and hinny’s are, more often than not, taller than donkeys – ranging from approximately 12 hh to 17 hh. Some suggest that a mule is stronger than a hinny, but others believe it’s hard to gauge as it is hard to tell mule’s and hinny’s apart by appearance. They often inherit the best qualities of both the horse/ pony and the donkey parents; as with crossbreed dogs mule’s and hinny’s often inherit the good characteristics and physiology of their parents, and can be healthier. Physically they can range from looking quite donkey-like, to looking quite horse-like; more often than not they look like what they are – a mix of the two species.


All other images are open source, Google images, or my own – or photos donated for use by the pet owners.


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Once upon a time… dog breeds (1)


Once upon a time there lived different types of animals – in addition to or the ancestors of the ones we know know and love today… 

So we all know animal species become extinct and I’ve written many posts about threatened/ endangered species; but what about those species that are still around but have just lost some types/ breeds along the way?

Focusing, for a few posts, on dog breeds that once were but now no longer exist; here are the first few in our exploration of extinct dog breeds…

Hare Dog (a.k.a. Hare Indian Dog or Coydog)

The Hare Dog or Coydog is said to have been a domestic dog/ coyote hybrid (Coy[ote] dog). Bred as a (sight) hunting dog by tribes in Canada. This breed fizzled out of existence by breeding it with other dog breeds that were introduced to the region, until the Hare Dog was bred out of existence.

Described as having no detectable difference in form from that of a Coyote, except in size (being smaller than a Coyote). It is said to have had more of a howl than a bark, yet at the same time the sound is distinct as belonging to a domestic dog. However there are a lot of debates regarding the exact origin of this breed, and surrounding the appearance – and being extinct, I suppose the facts will remain extinct with it.

Coydog (open source image)

Talbot Hound

Said to be an ancestor to the Beagle, the Coonhound, it was close to the Blood Hound; the Talbot Hound was a scent-hound and was used for hunting. It is thought that the breed was interbred with the Blood Hound until just the one breed remained.

The breed is said to have originated in Normandy, and brought over to England by William the Conqueror. This however is disregarded by most as here-say, as there is no evidence to support this. Nor is there any mention of the breed in medieval French history.

Talbot Hound crest (open source image)

With big floppy ears and known for being white in colour (on occasion with spots/patches) the Talbot is described as having been a large, white hound. Large, slow, heavy hounds were described as ‘Talbot like’ regardless of colouration, but the ‘true Talbot’ was described as being milk white in colour.

Talbot Hound (open source image)

Molossus

Originating in Ancient Greece, specifically from within the region of the Molosi tribe, the Molossus is said to be the ancestor of a lot of large breeds we know and love today. The Molossus was often kept as a guard dog, and said to have been very loyal – fiercely so!

This dog was also used in war, hunting, gladiator and dog fights, as well as for herding and guarding livestock on farms.

The appearance Molossus varies between sources; some suggesting it was Mastiff like in appearance, and others suggesting it was more of a slender sight-hound looking animal. M. Aurelius Olimpias Nemesianus wrote a poem in 284 BC describing this dog as having the appearance of a sight-hound.

Due to the variation in appearance, the Molossus is referred to having been a type as opposed to a breed. Mastiffs are often referred to as Molossus types nowadays.

Stone depictions of Molossus type (open source image)
Molossus type – Alpine Mastiff (open source image)

Hawaiian Poi Dog

This short, fat, little barrel of a dog is said to have been a playful and friendly breed if not a little clumsy! It is also said that they were lazy and rarely barked. Being fed on a vegetarian paste diet caused them to be quite slow and sluggish, and resulted in a bloated stomach. It is said to also have had a large and flat head due to the lack of chewing from their diet. Some sources describe the Poi Dog as having flopped ears, whereas other sources depict them with ears that stick up.

Hawaiian Poi Dog (open source image)

They were kept by tribes they lived with as food. Fattened up along with the hogs. The Poi was also a companion animal and a pup would often be presented to a child as a gift. It is said that if the child died before the dog, the dog would be killed and buried with the child; if the dog died first, however, the child would be given a necklace of the deceased dog’s teeth for protection.

Hawaiian Poi Dog companion (open source image)

As this breed interbred with other breeds it lost its purity; a breeding programme was started in Honolulu Zoo in the 19th Century, in an attempt to recapture the original breed type, but with no luck. The breed soon became extinct.

Cumberland Sheepdog

It’s pretty obvious by the picture below who these guys are the ancestors of…

Cumberland Sheepdog (open source image)

A medium sized dog, with a bushy tail and white in colour with brown or black markings. These dogs were said to be highly intelligent, but unruly if their owner did not take on the role of Alpha. Said to have been an energetic breed – much like its descendant, the Border Collie – it needed a lot of exercise and could get bored easily. Used for guarding and herding livestock, this breed is said to have become extinct by interbreeding; it is said to have been interbred eventually resulting in the Border Collie.


All images are open source, Google images, or my own – or photos donated for use.


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Interesting: Boris’ Bedlingtons

Actor, William Henry Pratt, known more commonly by his stage name; Boris Karloff, was not only ‘the monster’ in the 1931 film ‘Frankenstein’, and a big actor in horror movies for decades, but was also a breeder of Bedlington Terriers.

He was fond of animals and had many different kinds, including exotics and livestock, but he had a particular interest in Bedlingtons and would breed them when he was between films. Two of Boris’ Bedlingtons were called Silly Bitch, and Agnus Dei (meaning “Lamb of God”).

One of the stories goes… Boris was walking three of his Bedlingtons with his four year old daughter; the dogs ran off barking at a drunk on the roadside, who subsequently asked Boris to take him to the hospital, as he’d just seen three sheep barking at him! Boris is said to have obliged.


All images are open source, Google images, or my own – or photos donated for use by the pet owners.


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Labradoodles and other “designer” cross-breeds

In response to a question asked – this post is going touch on breeding and genetics in the dog world. The question asked was; “are Labradoodles (and other designer cross-breeds) infertile? – like a mule is.”

The short answer is no.

Two Labradoodles can have puppies – the argument these days is whether or not the offspring of two Labradoodles is still a Labradoodle, or just a mongrel… but that’s a different issue altogether!

A Labradoodle is the offspring of a Labrador crossed with a Poodle (miniature, small, or standard).

Labradoodle (open source)
Labradoodle (open source)

A Labradoodle is genetically different, and genetically the same as your little Dachshund, your beautiful Bulldog, and your fluffy Akita. They are also genetically the same, and genetically different to the Wolf and other wild Canid species.

The family Canidae is broken down into the genus Canis – Wolves, dogs and Jackals; and the genus Vulpues – foxes. The Wolf is its own species within this genus – Canis lupus; the domestic dog is its own species – Canis familiaris.
Canis lupus is divided into subspecies, such as; Grey Wolves and Red Wolves.
Canis familiaris has lots of breeds within the species, but these are not scientifically classified as subspecies. Scientifically the Springer Spaniel and the Irish Wolfhound are the same.

Domestic dogs, Wolves, and Jackals all have 39 pairs of chromosomes. If two dogs breed, the offspring has 39 pairs of chromosomes. If two Wolves breed, the offspring has 39 pairs of chromosomes. If a domestic dog and a Wolf breed, the offspring has 39 pairs of chromosomes. This means that the offspring of any mix are all fertile.

A mule is infertile because a donkey has 31 pairs of chromosomes, and a horse has 32 pairs of chromosomes – the offspring of the two does not have an equal amount of chromosomes; there is not enough to for all to be paired. Therefore, the offspring cannot reproduce. The donkey is a different species to the horse, hence the genetic difference.

A Labradoodle is just the same as a mongrel – it’s a dog. Therefore, it can breed and successfully reproduce with other dogs; no matter what breed. As a cute example, see the image below – she is the adorable offspring of a Chocolate Labrador (Dad) and a Labrador x Springer Spaniel (Mum). Just a cute, little, baby dog!

3 Part Lab, 1 Part Springer Spaniel (Cross-breed)
3 Part Lab, 1 Part Springer Spaniel (Cross-breed)


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