The Mystery of Teddy Bear

When you get a rescue dog, I think most people are curious about what the dog’s story is.  Sometimes, if the dog was surrendered, you have some information.  But for us, there was no story about his origins.

I started looking for a new dog in 2011, after our Great Pyrenees, Princess, had passed.  I had the idea that I wanted to rescue a dog, but being an alpaca farmer, I had to be careful what breeds I looked at.  The most dangerous predator for alpacas in our area is the domestic dog.  Because of that, I only felt safe looking for dogs that had livestock guardian breeds or herding breeds in their background.  Bred to live with livestock, they would not be as prone to see alpacas as prey.  They also had to live with cats and kittens.  I found Big Fluffy Dog Rescue on the Internet.  Based in Tennessee, they rescue the heavy-coated dogs that are in shelters and are at risk for euthanasia.  There was a picture online of a big yellow Fluffy with a huge bear-like head.  I inquired about him and after sending in an application, we got him.

This was the first picture I saw of 'Fred'.

This was the first picture I saw of ‘Fred’.

He had been sent up to New England in early 2011 and placed with a couple in Quincy, Ma., but they worked all day, and the dog had not taken to being alone.  I think they said he tried to go out a window in their apartment building, so the people sadly brought him back to Big Fluffy Dogs.  The Rescue had called him ‘Rhett’ and the couple had called him ‘Fred’.  We changed his name to Teddy Bear, figuring calling him ‘Ted’ would be close to ‘Fred’.  When we got his paperwork we found that he’d been picked up as a stray from a shelter in Murfreesborow, TN, around November 2010.  He was very underweight at that point.  I was told he weighed around 46 pounds when he was found.  He got veterinary care, was neutered and then went to Big Fluffy Dog Rescue and was sent north.  In January his first adopters took him to the vet and he weighed 67.2 pounds.  The vet said on the paperwork, ‘Fred is severely emaciated and is in extremely poor condition.  He has a mass on his left hip and enlarged lymph nodes in his neck’.  This dog was billed by the rescue as a Great Pyrenees/Golden Retriever cross, but looked like a Great Pyrenees with gold fur.  Pyrs usually weigh between 80 and 100 lbs – especially the males.  He got the care he needed, but was still underweight when we got him in the summer of 2011.

I had hoped that the Golden Retriever in his background would help make him more obedient than the average Great Pyrenees.  Princess, who was a very sweet girl, was not inclined to do what you wanted her to do.  This is common to the breed, as they were bred to work alone with herds of sheep and to make their own decisions.  But Teddy Bear was all Pyr in his temperment, and I could find nothing to use for reward-based training.  Treats did not work, nor did toys, nor did praise.  He only wanted to do what he wanted to do.  But I knew that Great Pyrenees didn’t come in that golden color.  Something else was in there.  And upon closer examination, it didn’t seem to be Golden Retriever.  He had a white collar and little ears that lay back.  His ears didn’t look exactly like a Pyr’s ears, as they were smaller, and definitely not like a Golden’s.  Could he have collie in him???  But collies don’t come in that color gold.  Would a light sable rough collie somewhere in the background have made Teddy’s white ruff and little ears???

Teddy playing with our collie Luna.  They both have white ruffs!

Teddy playing with our collie Luna. They both have white ruffs!

Teddy snoozing, showing his little ears laid back on his neck.

Teddy snoozing, showing his little ears laid back on his neck.

I decided to get his DNA checked to see what would come out.  I chose Mars Veterinary product ‘Wisdom Panel’ which, although not perfect, is scientific and has a ton of breeds that it checks against.  I did the cheek swabs and sent them off.  Keep in mind that all they have is two cheek swabs.  They have my name and address and Teddy’s name, but no pictures and no breed(s) specified to look for.  The results came back and they show a graph to help people understand the results.  It shows three generations and the breeds that were the most likely combination.  The Great-Grandparents are four dogs on each side of his family, for a total of eight dogs.  Six were Great Pyrenees.  On one side, all four were Great Pyrenees, which meant his grandparents on that side and a parent on that side were Great Pyrenees.  On the other side, two of his Great-Grandparents were Pyrs, which meant one Grandparent on that side was Pyr and that the parent on that side would be half Great Pyrenees.

Ok, that all made sense.  His DNA was almost 88% matching to the markers for Great Pyrenees.  But what was the other small match, which obviously would have contributed to his coloring and those little ears.  The Wisdom Panel said ‘Borzoi’.  I was shocked at that.  No sable rough collie?  No collie/golden cross?  No mutt anywhere?  I emailed them to see if they were sure about the results or if maybe the Borzoi markers could have been close enough to another breed to have come up false.  They were wonderful and reviewed the results.  They even ran an analysis of Ted’s profile to that of a Golden, but it did not group at all near the Golden’s genetic profile.  They asked for pictures of Teddy Bear, so they could try to explain the traits we see. After the review, they sent me a very long email with a great explanation of how they go through the process, plus they listed Teddy’s traits that could have been influenced by dominant genes in both the Pyr and Borzoi.  They confirmed that his DNA had showed no markers for any breeds, including mixed breeds, other than Great Pyrenees and Borzoi.

While waiting for the results of their review, I had done my own research on Borzoi dogs.  Although rare, there were quite a few breeder websites out there, and more than a few in Tennessee.  Who knew?  They also can come in Teddy’s color and carry the white spotting gene that gives them a pattern they call ‘gold Irish marked’.

A picture of Junot, an Irish marked Borzoi from C'lestial Borzois

A picture of Junot, an Irish marked Borzoi from C’lestial Borzois

Teddy's coat color, with his 'Irish Marked' trimmings.

Teddy’s coat color, with his ‘Irish Marked’ trimmings.

I have to say, I can see the possibility.  All Great Pyrenees with a smidge of Borzoi.  And if the test failed in that last little bit, and there is a collie back in the generations, the test did include checking for the MDR1 mutation which causes collies to have sensitivity to certain drugs.  Ted is Normal/Normal which is great, so no need to worry about that!

I still don’t know why a beautiful dog like Teddy Bear was found wandering and starved.  He has perfect house manners and is very loving.  Somebody socialized him well.  I can wonder about why a person breeding Great Pyrenees would breed out to another breed, and then take that mix and breed back to the Pyr.  Who knows.  I’m glad that someone found him, and that Big Fluffy Dogs sent him North.  They missed with the first adoption, but the second was just what a Great Pyrenees needs – a farm and people who understand the Pyr mind.  We appreciate his barking at night, warning off predators, and his diffident way with the alpacas.  Now when people visiting the farm see him and ask, ‘What kind of dog is he?’, I can smile and say, ‘He’s 88% Great Pyrenees, with a little of something that made him gold.’

The Purebred and the Rescue

As people who know me could guess, I am a fan of the purebred. But I have had a lot of random-bred pets over my lifetime, so certainly appreciate them as well.  I think I was interested in purebred dogs from an early age.  I was a voracious reader and read books about Irish Setters, Cocker Spaniels, and the most telling for my future, books about Collies.

My first dog, Frosty, was a gift from my parents for my eighth birthday.  Mom told me that his mother was a cocker spaniel, but his father was unknown.  I spent lots of time poring over dog books looking for the breed that was his father.  Could he have been an English Setter?  Maybe a Golden Retriever, but no, Frosty is white.  I don’t think I ever really determined what he was and I’m sure now that he was a mix too!

Frosty and me

Frosty and me

My first cat, Melody, was a mix-bred brown classic tabby with a coat like a mink and what I now know as the mitted pattern of white.  She was so friendly and went everywhere with me and had no objection to the car.  When she was at home she was in my lap.  I got other mix-bred cats along the way, but none  of them had the personality of Melody.  When she passed at 19, I had two other cats, Chloe and Thumbalina, and Chloe did not like other pets being added to the household.  But I was researching purebreds to see what breed had the temperament like my sweet Melody.  So when Chloe passed a few years later, at age 17, she was barely cold in her grave when I was on the phone with a Ragdoll breeder in Rhode Island.  Finally, I could have another cat like Melody.

Melody the Wonderful

Melody the Wonderful

One of the benefits of the purebred dog or cat, is that you can tell what type of temperament they will have, and what they will look like.  This predictability is wonderful.  But I also love the pedigree itself.  It is, I suppose, like people who love genealogy. When I got my first Ragdoll, Blue Moon, I ordered a five generation pedigree and pored over the cats in it.  It actually helped me years later when I started breeding.  But I’m not sure very many people care about a pedigree on an altered pet cat!

When we started breeding alpacas (also purebred and registered), we wanted a livestock guardian dog.  We got two purebred LGDs, an Akbash Dog and a Great Pyrenees.  I also got the dog of my childhood dreams, a rough Collie.  All three breeds were bred for centuries to have temperaments that are safe around livestock.  But when the Great Pyrenees passed, I started looking for another dog, but wanted a rescue dog.  I found Big Fluffy Dog Rescue who focuses on, well, big fluffy dogs, which are often Great Pyrenees.  They had a picture of a dog with a huge bear head that looked like a Pyr, but was a golden color.  They thought he was a Great Pyrenees crossed with a Golden Retriever.  Livestock Guards are generally very independent, which means they do what they think they should do and not what you want them to do.  I thought, wow, the Golden is so trainable, now I can have a Pyr who will do what I want!  But when we got him, named by us Teddy Bear as we didn’t like his previous name of Fred, and before that Rhett, he was all Pyr in his head.  The only sign of the Golden was in his coat color and smaller size.  But the good thing was that the Pyr brain made him very safe around the alpacas.  Teddy Bear had been a stray in Tennessee and was very thin.  He still has an issue with food and is not a good eater.  Because with a rescue, you don’t know their backgrounds, they can have issues.  Teddy couldn’t be closed in the house at first.  He broke through numerous screens.  He didn’t, and still doesn’t, like being confined in the backyard fenced area and repeatedly got out.  He isn’t good on a leash at all and isn’t motivated by any training aid I can find.  Would a purebred Great Pyrenees have been easier?  Probably on the leash, yes, but they also are hard to keep confined!  There is a very good feeling you have when you rescue a dog or cat, even if they aren’t always what you expected they would be.

We are happy with our two dogs, for now, but the next dog we get will be another Collie.  I admire other breeds of cats, but expect I’ll always have Ragdolls.  But geez, I do love the mix-bred tuxedo cats with white …