836 BULL LURCHERS - The Hunting Mastiffs Of Today

BULL LURCHERS - The Hunting Mastiffs Of Today
by   David Hancock

In his 'The Illustrated Book of the Dog', Cassell, 1879, Vero Shaw wrote, on a strain of Greyhound:

"The best of Lord Orford's strain were purchased by Colonel Thornton on the death of the breeder, and thus found their way from Norfolk to Yorkshire...we are told that 'it was unanimously agreed by all the sportsmen present, that they ran with a great deal of energetic exertion, and always at the hare; that though beaten they did not go in, or exhibit any symptoms of lurching or waiting to kill. These qualifications - pluck and endurance - were no doubt the result of the Bull cross alluded to...". At country shows I see lurchers that closely resemble such a strain; they combine the pace of the Greyhound with the strength and persistence of the Bull breeds. 

I also see, at 'alternative' i.e. unsanctioned dog shows, quite fascinating hybrids produced by enthusiasts eager to prove or at least demonstrate that their combination of say, Mastiff and Staffie, Canary Dog and Greyhound, Dogue de Bordeaux and Bulldog or Bullmastiff and Bull Terrier reproduces the hunting mastiff types of old. When they are more like the seizers they dub them 'alauntes'; when they are more like 'bullenbeissers' they dub them Bull Lurchers, especially when they are tucked-up behind the rib-cage. Historically, the latter were usually called 'strong Greyhounds' and used on deer and boar, as well as by butchers needing to control wayward cattle.

Hunting par force or at speed using the pace and power of strong, quite fierce dogs was replaced by hunting cunning or the use of packs of scent hounds in Britain. This led in turn to a decline in the use of hunting mastiffs, able to pull down their quarry by sheer force.The mastiff breeds, whether huge like the Mastiff of England, as small as the Bulldog of Britain, cropped-eared like the Cane Corso of Italy and the Perro de Presa of the Canaries, loose-skinned like the Mastini of Italy or dock-tailed like the Boerboel of South Africa, are not only fine examples of powerful but good-tempered dogs but form part of their respective nation's canine heritage. It is vital that they do not fall victim to show ring faddists or misguided cliques of rosette-chasing, over-competitive zealots. Today's breeders need to wake up to such unacceptable excesses, honour the proud heritage of these distinguished breeds and respect them for what they are: the light heavyweights of the canine world, quick on their feet and devastating at close quarter protection when threatened. Such magnificent canine athletes deserve the very best custodianship, with every fancier respecting their hound ancestry, remembering their bravery at man's behest and revering their renowned stoicism. In Britain the blend of breeds combined to make a Bull Lurcher perpetuate this ancient canine tradition.

Whatever the blend of blood behind a Bull Lurcher, the anatomical requirements are similar for this type of hunting dog: a powerful neck, a seizing jaw, with breadth right down to the nose, strong loins, good spring of rib, with the rib-cage showing good length as well as circumference, immense power in the sprint and great muscularity. Mentally, such a dog has to have considerable persistence, immense determination when closing with quarry yet always be responsive to commands. In the wrong hands such a dog is capable of being misused or not being satisfactorily under control. In today's society, a powerful hunting dog, allowed to be too dominant or inadequately trained, is going to be troublesome. The awesome catch-dogs depicted by Snyder and Desportes simply cannot fit in with 21st century living in Britain. Breeders of Bull Lurchers need to be wise and socially aware, concentrating on highly biddable dogs and avoiding the production of hyper-aggressive specimens. The Bull Lurcher perpetuates a long line in powerful hunting dogs; their breeders need to respect this as well as the constraints of modern living.   

But Bull Lurchers do not need to be canine giants in order to reflect past form, a previous role and a declared function. The German boarhound, before becoming a  'parade dog' for German Regiments based on an outcross to the huge Suliot Dog, was never a giant dog - as so many show ring Great Danes have become. The Mastiff of England, when as the famed Englische Dogge was the most coveted hunting mastiff in Europe, was never the giant it has been bred to be by show ring criteria. The Dogue de Bordeaux was far smaller when used as a boarhound in France a century or so ago. The Cane Corso from Italy represents the correct size for a hunting mastiff - two feet tall at the withers, under a hundredweight on the scales. American farmers and sportsmen using the American Bulldog as a catch-dog never breed for size but for performance. Function should always decide design. Bull Lurchers need pace and power, not bulk and sheer size. The best specimen I have ever seen was at a show on the Oxfordshire/Gloucestershire border; this dog, Barney, came straight from De Foix's book on hunting and would have simply delighted that remarkable sportsman who prized such dogs for their athleticism as well as their stoicism. We must now do the same.