Huntaways' bark begs serious questions

Taieri farmer Graham White with huntaways Tuff (left) and Scoot. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
Taieri farmer Graham White with huntaways Tuff (left) and Scoot. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
Why are huntaway dogs so good at barking?

Even if you have not asked yourself this question all that often, one other question is even less likely to be asked.

That is, where on the huntaway genome are the genetic areas that contribute to this farm dog's gift for loud and almost continuous barking when herding sheep or cattle?

Alana Alexander, a postdoctoral fellow in the University of Otago anatomy department, is thinking about the latter question.

Alana Alexander
Alana Alexander
She is working on this tantalising puzzle with fellow Auckland University graduate and project leader Jessica Hayward.

Dr Hayward is a postdoctoral fellow in the department of biomedical sciences at Cornell University, in the United States.

Big benefits could ultimately be gained through the research, which could also help shed new light on the genes that influence barking in other dog breeds.

And this could help reveal why some individual dogs bark excessively, resulting in many being sent to dog shelters by their owners.

Dr Alexander has already gained saliva swabs from 27 huntaway dogs, and wants to complete gathering 50 swabs by December.

She had enjoyed her recent "fantastic'' interactions with dog owners, many of them "very passionate'' about huntaways.

Huntaway owners wanting to participate can contact her through the university and a test kit will be sent out.

Dr Alexander, who gained her PhD at Oregon State University, said it was also "really neat'' to be back working on ``such a uniquely New Zealand project'', given that huntaways were developed here.

Both women were proud dog owners, and were working with Embark Vet, a US firm that had developed a canine genetics testing kit.

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