607 Breeding for Type

by   David Hancock

 What typifies a breed? The domestic dog produces breeds ranging in size from the giant Irish Wolfhound to the tiny Chihuahua, in coat from the heavily-coated Bergamasco to the non-coated Mexican Hairless Dog and in shape from the leggy Saluki to the nearly legless Dachshund. Such variations were originally initiated by function: the sighthounds needing the anatomy which allowed them to catch their prey using their speed; the scenthounds needing to have the physique to catch their quarry through stamina; the terrier breeds needing to be capable of entering underground burrows and the gundogs needing the physical qualities to hunt up game or retrieve shot game in all ground conditions. Not surprisingly therefore there are similarities between breeds within each of these groups. The smooth Saluki, the Greyhound and the Whippet have immediately recognised similarities; the Foxhound, the Harrier and the Hamiltonstovare look very much like each other; a liver and white Field Spaniel is easily confused with an English Springer and ear carriage is the principal physical difference between a Norwich and a Norfolk Terrier. So what does make a breed a breed?

 Breeds in the hound group provide a good example of how breed differences start. Foothounds tend to be small and slower moving, the hounds accompanying the mounted hunter have longer legs to enable them to possess pace. Hounds which pursued big game like boarhounds, tended to be bigger, higher on the leg and stronger jawed, as the Great Dane, the Dogo Argentino and the Grand Griffon-Vendeen or the Grand Fauve de Bretagne demonstrate today. The killing hounds, the hunting mastiffs, tended to be heavier, fiercer, weightier up front and wider-jawed, as their descendants, the Dogue de Bordeaux, the Cane Corso, the Boerboel, the Perro de Presa Canario and our Bullmastiff, illustrate today. These breeds were the heavy hounds, invaluable before the invention of firearms and are nowadays, wrongly in my view, formally placed in the Working Group by our Kennel Club.

 Primitive man, not surprisingly, used primitive methods of hunting. He used fierce dogs either to drive panicking herds of animals over cliff edges into ravines or to wear down and then drag down the bigger game. His spear and his arrow lacked the range and the power to do this. Dogs in the wild  hunt together in large packs but early man developed domesticated dogs strong enough to hunt in smaller numbers. Some became specialised in their skill at catching their prey through sheer speed; their type is perpetuated in our sighthound breeds of today. Their breed differences disappear when they are X-rayed and their bone structure is revealed. Others became renowned and valued because of their stamina, allied to their scenting powers. Here, physical type is of little value without scenting skill. Type is never restricted to physical form. The hunting mastiffs were esteemed for their ability at the kill, as many boar and stag hunt paintings indicate. For their successor breeds to lumber unathletically around a show ring is a travesty.

 It is forgivable to look at the Mastiff in today's show rings, in the Working Group, and overlook its hound ancestry. In his celebrated book 'The Master of Game', written between 1406 and 1413 and  the oldest English book on hunting, Edward, second Duke of York, started his eighteenth chapter with these words: "A mastiff is a manner of hound." Such a powerful hound was once deemed to pose a threat to the stags and boars of royal forests and lawfully made lame to stop it hunting. The breed of Mastiff we have today poses little threat to any stag or boar. This modern breed of Mastiff was re-created by 19th century English breeders using stock including the Great Dane, smooth St Bernard and Tibetan Mastiff. It now looks very different from its true ancestors. If it were to be bred in its correct historic mould, it would resemble a heavy hound, with excellent movement and great stamina. It should not have a massive wrinkled head, over-heavy excessive bone and disastrous movement.

 There is a lesson here for Bullmastiff breeders. Bullmastiff breeders are wrong to look at type in the modern breed of Mastiff and say my breed should be 60% like that. They would also be wrong to look at type in the modern breed of Bulldog and say my breed should be 40% like that. The bull-baiting dogs were athletic and agile -- or they didn't live long enough to breed! So what should a typical Bullmastiff look like? Whether it is modelled on the hunting mastiff or the Gamekeeper's Nightdog, its 19th century role, it must have: a really strong jaw, suberb movement, great stamina, considerable substance and great strength, backed by immense determination. There are distinct tangible anatomical features which enable these qualities to be displayed in the breed.

 Dealing with the jaw first of all. A strong jaw has to have length as well as breadth. A gripping or pinning breed needs to be able to seize a good mouthful. A muzzle which is too short would be a handicap to a gripping breed. The broad-mouthed dogs should never be muzzle-less dogs. If you look at the dogs depicted in the prints of the bull-baiting rings they all have good muzzle length, unlike today's pedigree but untypical Bulldog. A broad mouth with some length reduces dentition problems, respiratory problems and whelping problems. A Bullmastiff with a muzzle-less, squashed-nosed face betrays all the work done by the dedicated pioneer breeders in the breed. Of course, a breed with 'bull' in its title should have a broad jaw, but never a muzzle-less jaw, a feature untypical of the breed. Type and shape of head are interdependent.

In every breed of purebred dog the breeders should surely be faithful to those pioneer breeders who gave us the type and the stock to perpetuate it. Old depictions of dogs in art and early photographs give us plenty of evidence of breed type. What really is the point of admiring a breed and then attempting to recarve its appearance?