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!
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.)
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.
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
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!)
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.
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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