by   David Hancock

A century ago, the most popular service/protective/tracking dog-breeds in the UK were the Airedale, the Bull Terrier and the Bloodhound, with the Airedale and the Bloodhound used in other countries too. But how is it that three tried and trusted British breeds have become so overshadowed by German breeds? Are the German breeds really better? (The German police are now turning to the Malinois of Belgium after a century of using German dogs). Did our own breeds actually decline? Or was it merely the result of copycat humans seeing others with these German breeds and wanting the same for themselves? The patriotic Colonel Richardson, Head of the War Dogs Unit in WW1, held clearly-felt views on overseas breeds, once writing (in his "Watchdogs" of 1924): "The mind of the master becomes mirrored in that of the dog...it is up to the public to support the British breeder in his efforts to keep the national breeds going...Furthermore, there are no dogs in the world which can compare with the British in reliability and courage." The registration tables show the degree to which the loyal public has "supported the British breeder in his efforts to keep the national breeds going." Patriotism apart, are we wise to overlook the breed characteristics of, say, the mastiff group, recognised and capitalised upon for thousands of years? Our Bullmastiff was created to fulfill the need for an anti-poacher dog, known as a 'night-dog' - because it had the innate qualities for the task.

 A police dog-handler of nearly a century in Norfolk once wrote: "Personally I want no better dog than a bullmastiff for police work and I am ready to back it against any other breed...A gamekeeper friend recommended it to me, and said I should never regret having one. His words were true." Before the Great War, Count VC Hollander, who knew a thing or two about dogs, recorded this little incident: "...Mr and Mrs Bennett had gone to a party, leaving the children in the charge of the maids. A man forced his way into the house; one of the maids loosed a dog, a bullmastiff, who held the man from nine o'clock in the evening until Mr. and Mrs. Bennett returned in the early morning." If your ancestors could pin a bull, what's the problem with a mere man! The Bullmastiff perpetuates the instinct of the seizing dogs or holding dogs.
  The seizing and holding instinct, handed down from the broad-mouthed "holding" dogs of ancient hunting days that were purpose-bred to hang on to big game until the primitive hunters arrived to despatch it with hand-held weapons, is to detain its prey rather than nip it, bark at it or threaten to rush in and bite it, as many baying hounds and the herding breeds do. Burglars have been known to get into a building guarded by a Bullmastiff, a Dogue de Bordeaux or a Neapolitan Mastiff but not to get out!

When I read of pitch-invasions at soccer matches and all the disorder which so often ensues, I recall reports of the demonstrations given at livestock shows seventy or eighty years ago by Burton and night-dogs from his famous Thorneywood kennels. He would give a guinea to any member of the public who could stay on his feet in the ring with a muzzled night-dog. Such dogs do not need to snarl or endlessly bark at wrongdoers. As General Hutchinson remarked "the appearance of the formidable-looking animal" is usually enough by itself. This impressive-looking group of dogs provide the ultimate canine visual deterrent.

It is a fact that dogs from this group, like the Bullmastiff, mature slower and do not develop or respond to training as early as the German guarding breeds. But is early maturity the top priority in a guard-dog in the country? The huge advantage of the Bullmastiff lies in the fact that it was intentionally and specifically bred for such duties, in contemporary jargon we have here a 'designer' gamekeeper's dog. Just as the poacher needed his lurcher to chase, catch and retrieve game silently and stealthily, so the gamekeeper required a powerful, steadfast, disciplined dog to chase, catch and detain the poacher. Not a task for a  nervous, noisy, restless dog but the strong, silent type, able on command to knock down and then hold down a tough, fit, very determined countryman, perhaps after tracking him or quietly observing him acting illegally for a while.

  As an infantry soldier, I conducted anti-terrorist operations in a number of countries, mainly in the Far and Near East. These often involved searching for armed men in caves, outbuildings, house-to-house raids and in thick undergrowth. If you asked me to choose the type of type of dog I would prefer to accompany me on such dangerous activities, I would go for the broad-mouthed, mastiff type such as the Bullmastiff, the Dogue de Bordeaux, the Neapolitan Mastiff, the Perro de Presa Canario, the Tosa, the American Bulldog or the Fila Brasileiro (used in this role by the Brazilian police). I would never go for the shepherd dogs however easy it is to train a German, Dutch or Belgian dog. When your life is being threatened who would you prefer to stand with you, a dog bred to guide sheep or a dog originally bred to pull down big game, such as buffalo, boar, bull and stag? Which dog would take the most punishment and fight on? It may only happen once!

  As trackers, the police go for GSDs or BSDs (mainly the Malinois variety) but why use an all-rounder when a specialist is available? The show ring may have exaggerated the breed of Bloodhound but those in the packs have not been. In Bloodhound trials it has been noted that the most successful hounds are those handled with the greatest rapport. The breed is also prized because of its ‘freedom from change’ capability; in other words, the Bloodhound relentlessly pursues one trail and does not get side-tracked, as the phrase appropriately goes. This breed seems to use its brains as well as its nose, when unraveling scent. I have noticed when using dogs on a trail that the dog's head is carried higher during morning tracking, perhaps because the air is rising bringing the scent with it. It is also noticeable that scenting ability varies from individual to individual dog within a pack, within a breed. The speed of a hound on a trail varies similarly, with accuracy not always sacrificed for pace. I suspect too that it is the determination and sheer persistence of the Bloodhound which makes it so effective at following cold trails, just as much as its scenting powers. Using Labradors, as tracker-dogs in the Malayan emergency, showed me that scenting prowess isn't enough by itself; you need a fanatical obsessive like a Bloodhound for really testing trails. The variety of trails used with hound sports indicates their versatility; they can follow, not just animal scent but a drag or artificial trail, or hunt the clean boot, the trail left along a pre-arranged route by human quarry.

In an informative article in the magazine Dogs in Canada in October 1983, Maryellen Rieschick pointed out the loss of scent in house dogs, going from a warm room out into a freezing day and finding no scent at all. She also wrote: “A dog learns to track people in the right direction, instead of following a trail backwards, in three ways. First, the dog learns that the lighter scent produced from the ball of the foot indicates the direction of travel. Because the weight of a person’s body is placed on the heel of the foot when he steps forward, it causes the heel to have a much heavier concentration of scent than the ball of the foot. A second way…is that individual scent ingredients will evaporate at different rates of speed…a dog can register ‘scent images’ as they change in concentration, and therefore make out the direction of the track he is following. A third method is…a steadily increasing concentration of scent” – pointing out that a dog reacts to the scent strength received by each nostril, hence the wavy line followed by tracking hounds, as the right nostril, then the left, perceives the best scent. 

Perhaps the greatest failing of man in his understanding of dog is his recurring inability to appreciate how dominant in the senses of the domestic dog is the sense of smell. For man the main detecting senses are sight and hearing, indeed I have read scientific papers claiming that our sixth sense only lapsed because of the high quality facility given to us by our eyes and ears. I have also read articles in country magazines extolling the superb eyesight of dogs, which I find hard to justify. I have never come across a dog with better all-round eyesight than man, although we will never be able to match their remarkable detection of movement. Never too will any of us ever match the quite astonishing sense of smell in dogs. The scenting powers of dog have attracted the attention of the scientists; Droscher in 1971 found that a barefooted man leaves roughly four billionths of a gram of "odorous sweat substance" with each step he takes. Budgett in 1933 found that water formed 99% of such a gram in the first place. In locating this minute sweat sample, the tracking dog has to overlook the accompanying, conflicting and much more powerful surrounding smells - animal, vegetable and mineral...and most men on the run wear shoes! The experiments of the Russian psychiatrists Klosovsky and Kosmarskaya on puppies led them to believe that the senses of smell and taste were so interconnected that they were virtually acting as one, and, could in general, act interchangeably. If you are truly serious about tracking criminals, why not use your best canine resource - the Bloodhound!

  The despair over the decline of the German Shepherd Dog in the last half-century is well illustrated by the creation of 'offshoots' like the Eastern European Shepherd, the Saarloos and the Czech Wolfdogs, and, mainly in North America, the King Shepherd, the Shiloh Shepherd and the Panda Shepherd Dogs. But now, the Thames Valley Police Dog Section has produced their version and an impressive version it is. Thirty years ago, when working in London, I walked behind a Metropolitan Police dog-handler as he patrolled a nearby street in Whitehall. I was appalled by the 'back-end' of his GSD! The dog was badly cow-hocked as well as bent-backed, with no power from behind and a distinct lack of fluid movement overall. The dog had clearly been obtained from a show breeder rather than 'bred for the job'. Disappointingly, the dog's handler seemed quite oblivious of the basic flaws in his dog. For such a fine breed to descend to this is extremely sad.

One of the best security dogs in the Armed Forces in recent years was a white German Shepherd Dog (GSD). Captain von Stephanitz, a pillar in the development of the breed, once wrote: “...our German sheepdogs have never been bred for colour, the latter being of complete indifference in a working dog." I haven't seen that written in more recent times. I can understand the very sensible wish to avoid breeding albinos and to retain good pigmentation but find it hard to justify penalising a really good dog because of the colour of its coat. In his Practical Genetics for Dog Breeders of 1992, Malcolm Willis wrote: “Do not breed for colour, breed for quality of character and conformation using the best dogs you can find, regardless of colour and take what colours you get. By all means include colour in your list of features sought but do not put it as a high priority.” To me, that sounds like very good sense from an informed source. But you don't see many white, cream or whole black GSDs.

   It is foolish to regard any dog registered with the KC as a purebred product as having true type just because it is a registered pedigree dog. Type in any breed of dog is far more subtle and a lot more elusive than that. For me dogs with the genuine look of their breed are always to be preferred to untypical specimens with "papers". Is a German Shepherd Dog with a roach back, hyper-angulation in its hindquarters and a lack of substance, with two show-ring wins and KC registration to be preferred to an upstanding, well-boned and symmetrically built dog with a level topline but no papers? Contemporary GSD breeders seem to have lost their way and it's going to take decades to restore true type to this quite outstanding breed. I wholeheartedly agree with Lady Malpas, who wrote a decade ago to one of the dog papers: "There can be no justification for any attempt, accidental or intentional, to produce different types of German shepherd." I also support the view of a GSD breed correspondent who questioned 'What has happened to this noble breed? I was brought up in the school that had as a pattern dogs like Ch. Fenton of Kentwood, Ch. Sergeant of Rozavel and dogs of similar type. My mentors told me that a good Alsatian could carry a glass of water on its back without spilling when moving...' What ever makes a breed-clique alter a breed to its disadvantage? The first show Alsatians I ever saw, as a young teenager, were from the celebrated 'of Movem' kennel and had a topline for any breeder to die for!

To go on using a breed that has lost its virility isn't very bright. To utilise one breed for every police task is a waste of canine talent. So it's reassuring to note the employment of Springers, a Munsterlander and Border Collies in specialised tasks, such as the detection of drugs, money, explosives or hidden humans. But when you consider that a breed like the Beagle has been specifically trained to follow only the scent of the hare and a breed like the Foxhound to pursue just the scent of a fox, there must be mileage in selecting talent for nose-work as widely as possible and stop relying on pastoral breeds just because they are easier to train. It is doubly challenging to train those selected for special forces in the Armed Forces, but doubly rewarding.