289 Asian Mastiffs

by   David Hancock

 The history of the domestic dog runs in parallel with the history of man; types of dog can be traced to routes taken by migrating tribes all over the world throughout recorded history. China, as a case in point, has benefited from the ancient silk routes, linking Peking with Tibet, Nepal, India and then the west, one of  which went north, from Xpan to Lanzhou, Turpan and Urumqi, then on into inner Asia. Valuable useful dogs passed along these routes, in both directions, with both Toy dogs and hunting dogs featuring in the list. Marco Polo wrote of Chinese barons hunting with mastiffs. Tamerlane, the Mongol conqueror (1336-1405) imported European mastiffs for his hunt; his base was Samarkand on the silk route.

 Japan was more isolated both from the benefits of such overland trade routes and the incursions of nomadic tribes from inner Asia. But the archives reveal occasional examples of the movement of dogs. The Portuguese captured Goa in 1510 and established trade relations with Japan in 1549. At this time, the Portuguese were using their Filas as weapons to subjugate natives in new colonies. Filas may well have been taken to India via Goa. There is an old Indian breed called the Alangu, described in 'The Indian Dog' of 1962 by WV Soman as: "An extremely short coated dog...of very magnificent proportions with noble carriage. The most common colours are red, fawn and black... the brisket is deep and the limbs are massive and well-muscled...The eyes and muzzle are invariably black. He stands about 27"...He is used for hunting." The name 'Alangu' is of interest; the Filas were originally the hounds of the Alans.

 In 1614, a Captain Saris wrote home to England, when visiting the court of the Daimiro of Hirado, recommending presents to be sent out to be "a mastife, a watter spaniell, and a fine Greyhound." A few years later, a Richard Cooke, chief factor for Japan of the East India Company, received a present from the Japanese of 'a great black dogg'; clearly dogs were regarded as prestigeous gifts and identifiable breed-types especially valued. There are endless records of tiny ornamental dogs being traded in this way, perhaps because the trading was on the behalf of wealthy people with access to scholars who recorded these matters.

 In China there are references to huge, fierce, broad-mouthed heavy hounds in 600BC. The Book of Odes states that "special carriages were prepared for Shan and Shejo. Both are hounds of the same family, only differing in their mouths; the latter have the short mouth, while the former the long mouth. The purpose of preparing carriages for them is to preserve their energy before their arrival at the hunting place." And the heavy hounds need to conserve energy, with their bulk. Even earlier in 420 BC, there is a record of "Anow, a fine mastiff, 4 feet high, the famous property of Wei-Lin-Kwon, a prince." Earlier still, in 140 BC, there is a reference to: "A sort of large dog was bred in Ribin. These dogs were as large as an ass with red fur." Ribin was a state which existed in Turkestan, a trade bridge between east and west.

 In his 'The Dog in Sport' of 1938, James Wentworth Day records that "I suppose the last possible descendants of the original dogs of war were the great Medelans owned by the late Tsar of Russia, and kept by him at the summer palace at Gatchina. These dogs were the size of a calf, and quite capable of killing a man single-handed. They were used for rousing bears out of the thickets..." In his 'New Book of the Dog' of 1912, Robert Leighton describes the Medelan as "...resembling the mastiff, or the dog of Bordeaux, rather than the Great Dane", giving its height as 27" and weight as 180lbs. But his description of the breed's coat and general build suggests an Owtcharka-type rather than a broad-mouthed dog.

 One genuine modified brachycephalic breed has emerged from the Far East however, the Japanese Tosa. We are not however allowed to have the biggest breed produced in Japan, and developed almost entirely from British breeds, the Tosa, banned under the disturbingly inconsistent Dangerous Dogs Act. The name Tosa comes from a region on the Japanese island of Shikoku, where the old breed of Kochi was improved by an infusion of Mastiff, Bullmastiff, Bulldog, Bull Terrier and Great Dane blood, between 1868 and 1912 in the Meiji era, to produce a combat dog. Being a holding or pinning breed, it performs, as a 'fighting' dog, more like a Sumo wrestler than a street fighter, holding its adversary in a prolonged grip. These canine wrestling matches are a feature of Kochi beach to this day.  But it is the activity which should be banned, not the breed.

 It would be quite wrong to write of the mastiff breeds in the Far East without mentioning the use of such dogs by the British in India. The British serving there and the Indian nobility were avid hunters and, with big game abounding, they found much to attract them. The British brought their 'bullbreeds' out with them and found them invaluable as holding dogs on a wide variety of game. Big game hunters in India called such dogs 'seizers'; they discovered that whilst there were local hounds of merit, no local dog would close with the quarry and hold it. As 'seizers' they used dogs resembling today's Bullmastiff, Bull Terrier, Bulldog and crosses between these breeds. The best account of these dogs is contained in Sanderson's 'Elephant Catching in India' and a section of this is produced here:

 "The seizers should be bulldogs or bull-mastiffs. In using the word bulldog I mean the dogs - usually bull-and-terrier - commonly termed bulldogs. I need hardly say pure bulldogs are very rarely seen, nor, if procurable, would they answer so well as the cross between the bull and terrier. The pure breed is seldom large enough, and the true bull is a particularly unintelligent and peaceable animal. It is necessary to hit a happy medium. The bulldog's determined courage and forward attack must be joined with the terrier's vivacity and intelligence... Six will be as many as are required for any bear, bison, or panther, and indeed four will generally suffice, or even two with most bears. For use against panthers or bears a leather collar, almost as thick as a trace, and 3½" wide, is ample protection for the dogs' throats. There should be no spikes or plates on the collar, as whilst a panther will seize the throat (which he cannot harm through the leather) if there be no spikes, their presence is likely to make him lay hold elsewhere, where he may do more damage."

 This extended quotation from Sanderson's book gives great insight into the problems experienced and the techniques used by earlier primitive hunters hunting big game with dogs. The awesome courage of the seizers has to be marvelled at, even when we view such activities with 21st century eyes.

 In his book, 'The Rifle and Hound in Ceylon', Longmans, 1890, Sir Samuel Baker wrote of using a cross between the Foxhound and the Bloodhound for elk-hunting. He stressed that the hound must be 'of great size and courage'. When boar-hunting, he observed: "The end of every good seizer is being killed by a boar. The better the dog the more likely he is to be killed, as he will be the first to lead the attack, and in thick jungle he has no chance of escaping from a wound."

 He described his favourite seizer 'Smut' as being sired by a 'Manilla bloodhound', probably a Cuban Mastiff. This dog, 'Smut', 26½" at the shoulder, with a girth of brisket of 34" and with 'immense limbs', he praised with these words: "I have seen many dogs who would rush in heedlessly upon a boar's tusks to certain destruction; but 'Smut' would never seize until the proper time arrived..." He went on to note that: "A veteran seizer is generally seamed with innumerable scars...The only important drawback to...elk-hunting is the constant loss of the dogs. The best are always sure to go. What with deaths by boars, leopards, elk, and stray hounds, the pack is with difficulty maintained." Great days with great dogs.