621 Give Them Their Entitlement

by   David Hancock

I once tried to explain to a curious TV production company executive what the various breeds of dog from Tibet were like. I had to point out that the Tibetan Spaniel is not a gundog, that the Tibetan Mastiff is not a broad-mouthed holding dog but a flock guardian (like the Spanish and Pyrenean Mastiffs), that the Tibetan Terrier is not an earthdog but more likely their equivalent of our Beardie. She was not impressed! But then came the killer blow, she then asked what a herding dog did and whether the Belgian Shepherd Dog shared a function with the Anatolian Shepherd Dog, just as they shared a similar breed title. The late Natalka Czartoryska, much missed in the latter breed, once told me she had raised this particular point with the Kennel Club but got short shrift. For them it appeared breed titles were cast in tablets of stone, despite the move from Alsatian to GSD being authorised by them.

 But some canine body really should sort out nomenclature in breeds of dog, it affects not just their grouping but also their future design. The Great Dane, better described as a German Mastiff (the Danish Mastiff is the Broholmer), will always be a hound, whatever group some official body places it in. But then the hound group is badly served anyway: there were always four types of hound, never just scenthounds and sighthounds. A more precise division would be a four-way split identifying: Hounds which hunt by speed (sighthounds), those which hunt by stamina (scenthounds), those which hunt 'at force' (parforce hounds, like the Great Dane and the Rhodesian Ridgeback) and the heavy hounds, the holding dogs, perpetuated today by the brachycephalic mastiff breeds. The FCI now acknowledges 'dogues' or mastiffs separately from 'molossers'.

 The molossian dog is well recorded by the ancient Greeks who described two forms: the huge shepherd's dog or flock guardian, usually white, and a giant hound, sometimes referred to as the Suliot Dog, from Epirus. The heavy hounds, or dogues, used in boar hunting to close with the quarry and 'hold' it, as opposed to just pursuing it, they called 'Indian dogs', linking them with Hyrcania, near the Caspian Sea. The holding or gripping dogs are the true mastiffs, with both the words Fila and Perro de Presa in breed titles translating as 'seizing, gripping or holding' .In Germany in the 19th century, German regiments patronised parade-dogs at their head, rather as the Irish Guards favour the Irish Wolfhound as a regimental emblem. These were boarhounds with their stature increased by the blood of Suliot Dogs, used as outpost sentries in the eastern campaigns. Boarhounds were usually around two feet at the withers in the central European hunt, not truly giant. Breed history should give you the breed and its title. The Dalmatian may well be the medieval 'dama-chien' or deer-dog and a genuine hound.

 Munsterlanders and Poodles are identified, within their breed title, as embracing separate breeds by size. German pointers, Weimaraners, Fox Terriers, Vizslas and Collies can be differentiated by coat. Dachshunds are divided by coat and size to form six breeds. If the group called Sporting Terriers was renamed Earth-dogs it could embrace the Dachshund too. Dachshund means badger-dog; the badger-hound is the Dachsbracke. Aren't Schnauzers and Pinschers, perhaps the Smoushond too, terriers? Should the ear-set of Norfolk and Norwich Terriers be enough to divide a small gene pool? With docking abolished should the two Corgi breeds merge, if only to save the Cardigan? It would widen the gene pool. Should the Toy group be renamed? Dogs are not toys, despite Paris Hilton's endeavours!

 Kennel clubs the world over have never understood the difference between water dogs and water spaniels. Water dogs have an astrakhan coat, making the Irish Water 'Spaniel' and the Curly-coated Retriever both water dogs. Water spaniels have a marcelled coat, exemplified in the American Water Spaniel and the Chesapeake Bay Retriever. Coat texture reveals ancestry and function, both important in breed identity. We now have Portuguese, Spanish and Italian Water Dogs on parade here, the French Water Dog (Barbet) has now been introduced; the German Water Dog or Pudel has been here a long time. The Dutch Water Dog or Wetterhoun appears at world dog shows but is mainly a sporting breed. One day we might even get our English Water Spaniel, once recognised by the KC, restored to us!

 Does the appropriateness or accuracy of breed titles matter? Only if you respect the origin of your breed, wish to perpetuate it true to function and want to achieve order in the breed lists. It can and should influence conformation in a breed. It certainly affects breed instincts. The flock guarding breeds, like the Pyrenean Mountain Dog, the Caucasian Owtcharka and the Kuvasz, have no need to be mastiff-like; seizing big game was never their role. The Pyrenean Mastiff, the Spanish Mastiff and the Tibetan Mastiff were never mastiffs in the true mastiff role, so why mislead everyone with their breed title? The anatomy of a seizing and holding dog is markedly different from that of a flock guarding breed; ferocity and sheer dash in the hunting field produces a different dog than the protectiveness and robustness demanded by the high pastures. It is lazy to argue 'What's in a name?' No honest historian tolerates false titles, it deceives and misleads. But change in dogdom is never easy, especially, it seems from the very top.

 Now I must go! Off to a show to have a look at the Alpine Mastiffs, oops, English Mastiffs, sorry, Mastiffs.