RESCUING THE JAPANESE WRESTLING DOG
Japanese breeds have long been admired in Britain, the little Chin had classes for it here over 130 years ago, with well over 200 now being registered annually with the Kennel Club; in the last fifty years, the Akita, the Spitz and the Shiba Inu have also found favour. We are not however allowed to have the biggest breed produced in Japan, and developed almost entirely from British breeds, the Tosa, banned under the disturbingly inconsistent Dangerous Dogs Act. The purpose of this Act, according to its own wording, is "to prohibit persons from having in their possession or custody dogs belonging to types bred for fighting". And the Japanese Tosa was rightly named in the Act as having been specifically bred for fighting.
Oddly, but thankfully, the Act does not proscribe other breeds bred for fighting, like the Bull Terrier, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, the Chinese Shar Pei and the Japanese Akita. I welcome that just as I welcome any effective legislation making organised dog fighting, an odious spectacle, and misdeeds by truly dangerous dogs, less likely. But just as our admirable Staffordshire Bull Terrier, our principal fighting dog from previous centuries, has been bred away from being overtly dog-aggressive, so too has the Bull Terrier, the Chinese Shar Pei, the Japanese Akita and, away from Japan, the Japanese Tosa. When I have seen the latter breed abroad, they have been as laid back as our Mastiff, very tolerant of other dogs and displaying wholly acceptable behaviour. Breeds in the mastiff group are famed for their stable equable temperament and renowned for their tolerance of and fondness for children.
The Japanese are not usually associated with mastiff breeds. Although when Buddhism reached that country in the seventh century, the famed 'lion-dog' mascot came too. Artists who had no knowledge of lions modelled them consequently on local dogs with broad-mouths, both hunting mastiffs and palace Toy dogs from China. The name Tosa comes from a region on the Japanese island of Shikoku, where the old breed of Kochi was improved by an infusion of Mastiff, Bullmastiff, Bulldog, Bull Terrier and Great Dane blood, between 1868 and 1912 in the Meiji era, to produce a combat dog. Being a holding or pinning breed, it performs, as a 'fighting' dog, more like a Sumo wrestler than a street fighter, holding its adversary in a prolonged grip. These canine wrestling matches are a feature of Kochi beach to this day. There is a long history of dog fighting in Japan, with the Yakuza, Japan's organised gangs, alleged to be involved.
In the Kamakura period, 1185-1333AD, the regent Hojo Takatoki promoted mass dog fighting. This involved hundreds of vicious dogs being divided into two teams and set against each other. In the Muromachi period, 1333-1568AD, large foreign breeds (kara inu) were imported from Europe, mastiff-type dogs for use as hunting dogs by war-lords. From the time of the Tokugawa to the Taisho era, 1603-1925, the native breed of Akita was used both as a hunting dog and a fighting dog. The Akita is now well established in Britain, with annual registrations running at around 1200 but has a record as a fighting dog spanning three centuries. The Tosa, banned from entry and registration here has a record as a fighting dog of just over one century.
The Tosa has the classic mastiff phenotype: red, fawn with a black muzzle, dull black and brindle in colour, with red preferred, on a short, hard, dense coat, weighing 100lbs or more from a minimum height of 25" (males) and 23" (females). The Tosa is described in its standard as having a 'stately' manner and a 'robust' build, with a temperament 'noteworthy for patience, composure, boldness and courage'. Sensibly it is required to have the gait of a powerful athlete. A dog weighing 100lbs needs to be athletic if it is to avoid threats to its health and comfort. A 'non-athletic' overall appearance is considered a minor fault, together with a slight over or undershot jaw. A major fault is listed as shyness and I applaud that: shy, frightened, fearful dogs bite more people than bold ones. But I do not like one of the other major faults, accepted by the FCI, 'a lack of boldness towards other dogs'. What may be undesirable in a fighting dog must be related to the needs of dog in society.
Despite the role of Tosa bouts in Japanese tradition and their accompanying ceremonial rituals, modern society does not find attractive the spectacle of two dogs artificially being made to fight each other for protracted periods. Such activity is actually foreign to the nature of dog and should be repulsive to human beings, no longer classed as barbarians. Humane societies should combine to get this loathesome so-called 'sport' banned in Japan; it only occurs in a small area and is more rooted in the past than likely to receive long-term public support. But it is the activity which should be banned, not the breed.
Just as other dogs bred for fighting have been reclaimed as companion dogs, so too could the Tosa. By banning the breed here, we help to condemn it to the dog-fighting arena and ownership by the social misfits who enjoy such degrading events. Already the breed is a domestic pet in the USA and in continental Europe. Tosa dogs are trained and bred to fight in this manner in Japan by human beings; they are not acting naturally. Dogs of every breed soon sort out their pecking order and if correctly socialised as pups rarely fight for real. Furthermore the Tosa does not have a reputation for being aggressive with people; as with any mastiff breed, it is stable, equable and has the inherent magnanimity of all big dogs. Why do we abandon this breed to man's baseness?
The Home Office was the Department of State which drew up the legislation known as the Dangerous Dogs Act and consulted the Kennel Club over its provisions. The banning of this breed could only have been made on the specific recommendation of the KC. But the latter body has no experience or knowledge of the breed; they don't even recognise it as an established breed. The international kennel club, the FCI, does recognise it and does not ban it. Tosas appear in the show rings of shows approved by them. If you extend the logic of the Home Office and the KC, the Gurkhas would be banned from Britain and the Ibans of Borneo forbidden to track for the Army in the jungles of the Far East, for both come from a fighting tradition.
Despite the activities of their ancestors, do we refuse entry into Britain to Germans and Japanese people? Of course not, we try to build for the future, demonstrate how humanity should work and seek a more compassionate world through inclusion not exclusion. But not apparently as far as the Japanese breed of dog called the Tosa is concerned. We virtually say to the Japanese: "You carry on with your dog-fighting -- we are leaving the breed of dog you force into this activity to your mercy." Is this really a satisfactory policy?
The main dissatisfaction for me about the DDA is that it was drawn up by people who demonstrably know so little about dogs. And as the Kennel Club was involved in this, what a commentary on them! Most of us long to have a body running the dog game in Britain that earns our respect, ideally our admiration. But when the KC, a canine charity allegedly caring for dogs not humans, actually supports the Home Office in anti-dog legislation who on earth can give them anything but scorn. A rational reaction to their support for such an ill-framed Act is: Who now speaks up for breeds of dog?
When I re-read books on the instincts and temperament of dogs, such as Eberhard Trumler's 'Understanding your Dog', Konrad Lorenz's 'Man meets Dog', Clarence Pfaffenberger's 'The New Knowledge of Dog Behavior' and Michael Fox's 'Understanding your Dog' it is quite clear to me that sufficient research has already been conducted. Breeds do not behave simply as breeds. Why did the KC, established to achieve the improvement of dogs, not give informed advice to the Home Office over the implications of the DDA? How has the KC improved the breed of Japanese Tosa by recommending its exclusion from Britain?
The Tosa is a breed waiting to be rescued, not condemned to its fate amongst an isolated group of recidivist barbarians. Everybody in the world of dogs but the KC knows that you just can't have a dangerous breed of dog. At the World Dog Show in Vienna, I watched a pair of Tosas, resting with their owner, happily snoozing away whilst hundreds of humans stepped over them and hundreds more dogs of every conceivable breed stopped to sniff them over. The two Tosas presented that resigned imperturbability of every mastiff breed and posed no threat to any living thing. In the background could be heard a snarling dispute between two huge ferocious permanently-muzzled Russian Owtcharkas; the latter can of course, unlike the Tosa, be freely and legally imported into Britain.
The Secretary of State who pushed the DDA through Parliament wrote recently to a national newspaper, justifying his action by pointing out the resultant reduction in attacks on humans by Pit Bull Terriers. He was not honest enough to admit that dog-biting incidents have not declined since his Act was promulgated and that the dogs responsible did not come from breeds once associated with dog fighting. Sadly, once a country of Britain's standing in the dog world starts discriminating against breeds of dog, other countries with a dog problem do not overlook it. The Council of Europe starts to draft legislation covering breed designs. In America home owners insurance companies have started to restrict cover for owners of certain breeds. This stigmatisation of breeds is an increasing feature of state legislation in America, in striving to reduce 'dangerous dog activity'. It is noticeable however that the mastiff breeds rarely feature in such breed-specific condemnation.
It was significant too that in their 1994 Annual Report, the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors listed the most common breeds with behavioural problems, e.g. aggression, as: German Shepherd Dogs, Border Collies, Cocker Spaniels, Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers and Jack Russell Terriers. Not a mastiff breed in sight. But the Kennel Club recommends the exclusion of the Japanese Tosa from Britain -- where is their evidence? How do they justify such a damaging decision? British justice, love of fair play, nation of dog lovers -- these are fast becoming meaningless cliches nowadays. The Home Office is unlikely to have the humility to admit 'we got it wrong' and would elect to hide behind their KC advice. But it would be an honourable and commendable step for the KC to take and to reverse their advice over nominated breeds and help rescue the misused, abused and falsely maligned breed of Japanese Tosa.
Throughout history the mastiff breeds have been misused by man, made to fight bears, bulls, human gladiators, other dogs, even lions. We have boasted of their courage, determination and stoicism. We have bred them to our design, for our purposes, and now we blame them for being a threat to our well-being. We have long been a threat to theirs. It is now reparation time. We must accept responsibility for the breeds of dog we have shaped, especially when the bureaucrats step in, and, in their ignorance and shameful desire to be seen to be doing something, punish a breed of dog unfairly. Instilled proclivities can never remove or permanenty overide the innate nature of dog. Those who occupy positions with power over dogs should learn more about dogs before they embarrass the dog world with their unenlightened opinons. The first step in any dog -restraining legislative action must be to punish man not the subject creature he abuses.