BULL-HEADED BREEDING - Defacing Boxers and Bull Terriers
by   David Hancock

Within my lifetime, two breeds of dog - away from the Toy breeds with their seemingly acceptable 'smashed' faces - have had their skull shape and facial construction changed to suit their fanciers,  not from any historic, traditional or indeed justifiable basis. Younger fanciers in those two breeds, unless they are diligent researchers, will accept the head of their breed, as bred for today, as the 'real deal'; it is definitely not! Does that matter? Oh, yes, it does! For in time the newly-acquired head will get more and more disfigured until it totally ruins the breeds concerned. I am referring to the heads of the Boxer and the Bull Terrier breeds. The latter was developed from a 'bull-and-terrier' mix, mainly as a driving and pinning cattle dog but also as a baiting and fighting dog. The former came from the old German 'beisser' types, used as seizers in the boar and stag hunt, pictured by artists such as Riedel, Riedinger, Snyders and Desportes over two centuries ago. Both breeds were designed to grip and hold their animal targets; both needed the jaw construction to enable them to do this. A jaw without length or an 'artificial' muzzle denies each breed its rightful heritage and an accurate contemporary representation in form.

In Central Europe, hunting mastiffs or holding dogs were known variously as 'bufalbeissers', 'barenbeissers' or 'bullenbeissers' according to whether they seized or 'gripped' buffalo, bear or wild bulls. Fritz Bergmiller, according to Ferdinand Schmutz in his Mein Hund of 1954, considered that in the Middle Ages the hunting dogs in use in Germany were limited to eleven breed types, one of them being the 'grosse bullenbeisser' (literally 'big bull-biter' but better described as large gripping dogs used on bulls). These dogs, and smaller varieties, were later used in bull-baiting. It is not correct to think of bulldogs, in the sense of bull-baiting dogs, being restricted to Britain or indeed to think that night-dogs (like the breed of Bullmastiff) only occurred here. The French, for example, had both bouledogues and chiens de nuit/chiens du guet. In Belgium they had the Brabanter Bullenbijter, in Holland the Niederlandischer Bollbeisser and further north there was the Danzigger Bahrenbeisser, for use on bears.

Today's German bullenbeisser-ancestor, the Boxer, has been refined by breeders for a century or more and has emerged as a lighter, much shorter-nosed, deeper-stopped dog with extended hindquarters and an almost clown-like temperament. Yet the breed standard calls for: strong bone and evident, well-developed muscles; chest deep...ribs well arched; hindquarters - very strong with muscles hard and standing out noticeably under skin. It also asks for a dog that is: distrustful of strangers, with a guarding instinct. Far too many that I see behave as adults like retarded puppies. I do not know of any organisation, even in Germany today, which uses the breed as a guard dog. When I first lived in Germany, over fifty years ago, the breed had wide employment in this role. I can't remember the last time I saw a solid brindle in Britain; every exhibit seems to feature the white socks, white brisket and white blaze of an apparently desired uniformity. Years ago a strapping solid dark brindle Boxer was an impressive sight. The Boxers I saw in Germany in the early 1960s also had muzzles!

In his excellent book 'The Boxer' of 1949, the American John P Wagner wrote: "In the other extreme, refinement, or just plain raciness predominates at the expense of substance. If the Boxer is developed in this direction he will be high, small-boned and narrow-chested, lacking even sturdiness." This is how I see far too many Boxers in England today. Up until the early 1890s there was still some unwise inter-breeding between English Bulldogs and German Boxers, leading to concerns about the developing breed becoming too low-slung and cloddy. Perhaps the fear of a return to this has led to a contemporary breed that is too light, too finely timbered, under-muscled and short-muzzled. The German ancestors of the Boxer were catch-dogs and would not have lived long if they lacked power, substance and muzzles. A 'gripping dog' had to have good length of muzzle if it was to seize and hold its quarry.

This breed has found sustained popularity in Britain for some years. Thirty years ago, around 4,000 a year were being registered; in 2007 it grew to over 8,000 a year; then back to 4,000 a year in 2012 and 3,500 in 2015. These appreciable numbers have been matched by quality, with high class dogs being produced each year. The breed seems to breed true to type and keeping in mind the rather coarse dogs that started the pedigree breed, has emerged as a consistently sound, handsome animal. There is, justifiably, concern about health issues in the breed. I am concerned too about two tendencies, one mental, one physical, in the breed; firstly they all too often for me develop into grown-up puppies, lacking maturity of outlook and a lack of any serious intent - perhaps because they lack a perceived role. Secondly, the show fanciers seem to favour upright shoulders and exaggerated angulation in the hindquarters. The judge at the Southern Counties Championship Show in 2012 reported: "Of course there were some faults...like erratic front movement and some who were a bit long in the loin. Some had too much angulation in the rear and not in balance to the front assembly." The judge at the London & Home Counties Boxer Club Championship Show wrote: "I found quite a few front assemblies where the upper arm was rather more upright than ideal and this affected the overall balance..." These are serious flaws and need rectifying before they become the norm. But the imposed head-shape is an imposed flaw!

The short-faced or brachycephalic head shape is the result of an inherited defect in development of the bones of the base of the skull; the skull is of normal width but is significantly reduced in length. The soft tissues of the head are not proportionately reduced, so too much tissue is crammed into the space available, leaving little space for the passage of air. Other breeds show this defect through having too deep a stop, e.g. American Cocker Spaniels, St Bernards and far too many Boxers, but to a lesser extent. Bulldogs often have elongated soft palate. Bull-bitches have an unusually hard time whelping, with one study stating that only 6% of Bull-bitches whelp naturally. The seeking of a relatively large head in this breed contributes to this, with the head shape not helping. The short face also imposes scenting limitations, with such a construction imposing a loss of 80% of scenting ability. With scenting power meaning as much to dog as sight to us, this is comparable to a loss of 80% of sight in a human being, some handicap. Eye problems occur in dogs with the short face too. It would not be sacrilege but a humane act to cross-breed such disabled breeds to provide a better life for their members. The threat to the Bull Terrier, with its Roman nose, curved forehead and lack of any 'stop' at all, is that one day soon it will feature a completely spherical head! Apart from the sheer hideousness of this, it will lead to complex anatomical problems leading to the breed being abandoned - is this what its fanciers really want?

The description of the Bull Terrier in 1896 produced by its breed club, established nine years earlier, used these words to describe the head: "...should be long, flat, and wide between the ears, tapering to the nose, without cheek-muscles. There should be a slight indentation down the face, without a 'stop' between the eyes." Winning dogs at the early shows featured heads roughly answering this description. A definite type emerged, based on a determined eye, a strong jaw and overall symmetry. Sketched by Arthur Wardle in the 1890s, the breed had a confident, athletic, self-assertive look about it, with the head of what might be termed a strong terrier. In his "The Illustrated Book of the Dog" of 1880, Vero Shaw described the head of the Bull Terrier as: "...flat, wide between the ears, and wedge-shaped; that is, tapering from the sides of the head to the nose; no stop or indentation between the eyes is permissible, and the cheekbones should not be visible." Prophetically, Vero Shaw complained about judges, stating that "...we see, show after show, dogs gaining prizes in these classes which do not show one atom of Terrier character in their composition"...going on to describe them as "cow-faced wretches".

The early years of the new century saw three major changes to this breed, each was to have a significant effect on the breed. First of all came a striving to develop a better-shaped uncropped ear, which has given us the prick ear of today. Secondly, in a effort to re-instill some of the gameness once famous in the breed, a back-cross to the coloureds (called Staffordshires) was undertaken, leading to the wider range of colours in the breed today. And, thirdly, in 1914, the first unwisely-worded ‘Standard of Perfection’ was introduced. This was the first time the words ‘gladiator of the canine race’ were used for the breed, now dropped in the recent KC review of potentially damaging descriptions. But sadly, the wording of the breed standard regarding the head changed quite dramatically. The Bull Terrier's head was henceforth expected to appear "oval, almost egg shape" with a profile "…almost an arc from the occiput to the tip of the nose. The more down- faced the better". For the first time in the long history of the dog, a breed was required to have an egg-shaped head. The reason for such a unique and unprecedented feature has never been stated. The Bull Terrier already had a clear identity and an established type when this rewording was agreed, so it could not have been to create a prototype.

Writing on the Bull Terrier before the Second World War, Hogarth described the foreface with this analogy: "...the curve of the profile should be 'Roman', as in, say, the Border, Leicester and Cheviot breeds of sheep." So we now had a redoubtable British breed of dog, renowned all over the world for its guts and gameness, needing to have its head resembling that of a sheep. Why a breed created from a blend of Bulldog and terrier should suddenly need a foreface like a sheep has never been explained. But if you took a pedigree Bull Terrier into a contemporary show ring without an egg-shaped head, you'd be laughed out of the ring. Yet in 1926, a noted breeder, Mrs DH Robbs, edited a book entitled The Bull Terrier Handbook, published by The Perry-Vale Press, which pictured over 50 Bull Terriers of that time, including such notable dogs as Ch Galalaw Benefactor, Ch Hades Cavalier and HK Mc Causland’s Wildfire, as well as some from Mrs Robb’s well-known Cylva kennel, and not one of them featured the egg-shaped head demanded by the breed standard of that time.

The breed standard of the Bull Terrier, as authorised by the Kennel Club today, now includes under "characteristics" these words: "…A unique feature is a downfaced, egg shaped head." This so-called unique feature has only been a feature for seventy years or so; for fifty years before that it was not a feature at all. Such an absurd shape did not characterise the prototypal dogs; James Hinks, his sons and other early breeders: SE Shirley, EH Adcock, RJ Hartley and JH Ryder would be greatly ashamed to see their dogs betrayed in this way. Tom Horner, who knew as much about Bull Terriers as anyone in the 2Oth century, has written on this subject: "The filled-up downfaced head is individual to Bull Terriers...No one knows exactly how it came into the breed, Hink's original white did not have it..." In other words, it never was an original feature of the breed. It is an old tactic to invent new words in order to blur issues or try to justify the unjustifiable. The word "downface" has no meaning; it was coined to legitimise an uncharacteristic undesirable feature which developed in this breed. Horner also wrote: "On balance it seems likely that the filled-up downface is the product of skilled breeding..." I am not sure that it wasn't the product of unskilled breeding by those without the touch of James Hinks and afraid to outcross to remove a strong alien feature cropping up in their stock. Far easier (and defeatist!) to authorise it! Then along comes the Kennel Club and legalises it!

  Perhaps cynically, one can detect the hand of either one wealthy dominant breeder, or a group of leading fanciers at that time, without the skill to prevent a certain shape of skull developing in their stock. Their predecessors would have probably used outside blood to correct such a tendency but in the modern world of the pedigree dog, such sacrilege cannot be permitted, the gene pool is closed. This is in spite of the skilled, informed outcrossing practised by such master breeders as Millais, with the Basset hound, Brough, with the Bloodhound, Graham, with the Irish Wolfhound and those who re-created the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. Such breeders never imagined for a moment that their dogs had been stabilised in a physical mould for all time. If alive, they would have bred for renewed type with whatever blood provided this. An outcross to the American Staffordshire Terrier, a beautifully symmetrical dog, with a balanced unexaggerated head, could so easily restore true type in this most English of English terriers.

The simple fact is that this "downface" should never have been allowed to develop in this quite admirable breed; it disfigures a famous dog, it attracts ridicule from the general public, it detracts from the symmetry and athleticism desired in such a breed and its mere existence exposes a breach of the original standard laid down by those who first developed this distinguished breed. The fact is that it is an exaggeration, that all exaggerations end up exaggerating themselves and that, in time, the head of the breed will look quite monstrous. It is likely to ‘morph’ into a globe, with no protection for the dog’s eyes and not enough room for normal teeth. Do we truly want a globe-headed Bull Terrier with its eyes popping out and poor dentition?

The dog-owning public is coming to its own conclusion. In 1972, there were twice as many Staffordshire Bull Terriers registered as there were Bull Terriers; in 1988 there were three times as many; in 1998 there were four times as many. Twenty or so years ago, I wrote to one of the dog papers expressing my concern not just over the egg-shaped head, but also over the piggy-eyes and stiff movement prevalent in the breed. In response I got a very patronising letter back from the most influential Bull Terrier breeder of the day, which in essence said "Mind your own business, leave such judgements to us." The well-being and conservation of our precious native breeds of dog, part of our national heritage, is far too important a matter to be left in the hands of breed-point faddists

I go to 'alternative' dog shows, unlicensed by the KC, and see what are termed 'Irish Staffies' and they look exactly like the old prints of our renowned Bull Terrier. Lyndon Ingles of Tredegar has kept the faith and perseveres with the classic type of white Bull Terrier; his dog, aptly named ‘Hinks’ is as good a specimen of the breed as you are likely to find. This breed used to be owned by gruff characters, who didn't set much store on conforming - just as bull-and-terrier owners didn't in the 19th century! Our Bull Terrier is a very special English breed and it is being ruined by a bunch of misguided show breeders, who have no regard for the breed's classic physique and truly typical head. How can any rational person, especially an alleged lover of that breed, justify the imposition of a sheep's head on a dog's body? It isn't traditional; it isn't an improvement, if anything it is a deformation, a disfigurement. It is an outrageous liberty taken by faddists and condoned by the KC. Any admirer of our native breeds of dog, especially one as full of character as this one, should frown when they see this travesty, this parody being paraded as the real thing. Come on, terrier-men of England, let’s put this right!

Show breeders seem to overlook the fact that their breed was once very much a sporting terrier - long before it was a fighting dog. It is not right to perpetuate the gladiator and not respect the field dog. There is an abundance of antique prints and old paintings which depict the bull-and-terrier in action in the field. Breeders need to look at the American Pit Bull Terrier to spot the genuine anatomy for the pit; whatever their misuse by man, this breed resemble powerful canine athletes not waddling brutes. They are in fact more like the old depictions of the bull-and-terrier ancestors of the contemporary breed of Bull Terrier than the show Bull Terrier. There is a vital question for show breeders of Bull Terriers to answer: which do you want your breed to resemble, the fighting dog or the sporting dog? We need to restore the Bull Terrier of England to its rightful form.