477 Peninsular Dogs

by   David Hancock

 The breeds of dog of the Iberian peninsula are many and varied, ranging from the little rabbit dogs or podengos and neat little pointer of Portugal to the hounds of mainland Spain and its islands, both sighthounds and substantial hunting mastiffs, now used as cattle dogs in Majorca and San Miguel and guard dogs in the Canaries. The Ibizan Hound is well established here, but the Spanish Hound is little known. The podengo of Portugal comes in different sizes, with the pequeno or smallest now making its mark here, after the bigger variety, introduced some time ago, as the Portuguese Warren Hound, failed to gain admirers. The Ibizan Hound was introduced here at the very start of the twentieth century as the Spanish Podengo but failed to progress. The Portuguese Pointer, a charming spirited breed, has recently been introduced by the Beavens of Brittyhill Brittanys and should prosper. What we do not feature in our lists however are the 'holding dogs' from the Iberian Peninsular, the Filas and Perros de Presa.

 The Spanish influence on the hunting mastiffs of the world is a considerable one, from the fearsome Alanos of the baiting ring and the renowned Cordoba Fighting Dog of the pit to the broad-mouthed breeds of the Balearics and Central America, the latter still with us today. The Martinez brothers claimed to have utilised the blood of the Dogue Espagnol in the creation of the Dogo Argentino. The Alano is behind the 'holding dogs' found in the Canaries, the Perro de Presa Canario, in Majorca, the Perro de Presa Mallorquin and probably the Cuban Mastiff or Bloodhound, now lost to us, and the Puerto Rican breed, the Gran Mastino de Borinquen.

 An Alano was imported into Britain by the well-known Victorian dog-dealer Bill George and was described as a huge Bulldog, rather than as a breed in its own right. (The re-created Regency Bulldog produced much later by the late Clifford Derwent was remarkably similar in appearance to the Alano). Bill George's dog, 'Big Headed Billy', weighed 90lbs. Thirty years later, another British breeder called Marquand imported two more and then Frank Adcock, a well known Mastiff and Bulldog breeder, brought over two more; all these imports weighing 90lbs. This led to great opposition and eventually to the formation of the Bulldog Club to save the British Bulldog from what was termed the 'threatened invasion of the Spanish bulldog' and the 'impending introduction into its veins of blood of the Spanish milk-cart dog.' How silly dog fanciers can be at times!

 Whatever the quality of these imports, they were genetically important and were subsequently bred from, although not as part of Bulldog development in Britain. It may be no coincidence that 90lbs 'bull-and-mastiffs' were utilised about that time as gamekeepers' nightdogs. But the name of the Spanish broad-mouthed dog, Alano, is significant. The Alans settled in France, north Africa and Spain in the fifth century after wanderings from southern Asia through central Europe via the Ukraine, the Crimea, Hungary and Roumania. Great horsemen, they brought the famous 'Alauntes', or huge houndlike dogs, most likely a blend of Greyhound and Mastiff rather than a breed, with them, to bequeath us the strong-headed hunting mastiffs.

 If you read accounts of the Spanish conquistadores in south and central America, as in the Varners' book 'The Dogs of the Conquest', published by the University of Oklahoma Press in 1983, their description of the dogs  used to suppress the native Indians is almost identical with that of Alauntes provided by De Foix, who lived near the Pyrenees, in his valuable book on hunting of the fifteenth century. He wrote of these dogs being "...hardy to take all kinds of beast without turning, and hold fast and not leave it...they have a great head...and... help themselves at the baiting of the bull and at hunting of a wild boar, for it is their nature to hold fast". He stressed, incidentally, that whatever type they displayed, they were all hounds.

 From such a background have come the surviving broad-mouthed breeds of Spanish origin. One of these, the Perro de Presa Canario, is now well established after being threatened with extinction several times. Antonio Gomez Ramirez, president of the Club Espanol Del Presa Canario, has kindly supplied me with some background on the breed. In the 16th and 17th centuries they were used as cattle dogs, guard dogs and by butchers. The Canaries became an important staging post for ships en route for the Americas, with Alanos and hunting dogs from Spain on board and taken ashore. The Bardino or Majorero of Fuerteventura, a powerful watchdog, is alleged to have been used in breeding programmes, to give the brindles in the breed an almost green-gold colouration.

 Sadly, in the 18th and 19th centuries the breed was extensively used in dog-fighting and this persisted into the 20th century, until this activity was finally banned. The breed then declined and the islands suffered an influx of foreign breeds, with the effect that the breed faced extinction in 1960. As is so often the case a small group of local enthusiasts persevered in country areas, until the urban demand for silent, formidable-looking guard-dogs brought renewed interest in the breed. In the 1980s a group of breeders from Tenerife initiated a programme to secure the desired traditional type and select breeding stock. In 1986 a breed show was held for 150 dogs and three years later the official breed standard was issued and accepted by the Spanish equivalent of our Kennel Club.

 The sister breed of Perro de Presa Mallorquin has a similar appearance but a different origin. Sometimes called the Mallorquin Bulldog, but known to the Catalans as Ca de Bou, it was traditional to crop its ears in a rounded form to achieve an almost feline look. These dogs were widely used in dog-fighting, even being exported to the Spanish islands of the Caribbean for this purpose. The specimens that I have seen at World Dog Shows have been calm, friendly, equable and stable in temperament. How like humans and legislators in particular to blame such dogs for being made by humans to fight each other. I do hope this breed doesn't get proscribed as a result of disgraceful deplorable human behaviour in past times.

 Our Victorian writers sometimes made reference to a Cuban Mastiff or Cuban Bloodhound. In his 'The History of the Dog' of 1845, WCL Martin wrote of: "...a dog of Spanish descent termed the Cuban bloodhound. A hundred of these sagacious but savage dogs were sent, in 1795, from the Havanna to Jamaica, to extinguish the Maroon war...they were accompanied by forty Spanish chasseurs.. the dogs, muzzled and led in leashes, rushed ferociously upon every object". In his 'The Dog' of 1854, William Youatt writes: "The mastiff from Cuba requires some mention...He was not a native of Cuba, but imported into the country." According to Hutchinson's Dog Encyclopaedia of 1934, a pair of these dogs was presented to the Zoological Society of London about 1832. They were described as being not unlike a 16th century British Mastiff, with a broad head, short muzzle, drop ears, a short close coat and heavily developed lips.     

 If you consider all these modified brachycephalic breeds associated with the Spanish, then add those associated with the Portuguese -- the Filas of Brazil and the Azores, it is clear that the Iberian peninsula has had a major role in the development of the mastiff-type dogs. Such dogs were favoured both in the hunting field and as man-hunters in times when the Spanish and Portuguese were at their zenith as colonists and overseas adventurers. However questionable in today's more enlightened times, the activity and capability of such huge fierce dogs gave their owners and handlers an enormous advantage over even much larger numbers of hostile natives, perhaps the difference between winning or losing a battle. They therefore played a key role in securing Spanish and Portuguese possessions overseas.

  Despite their being owned sometimes by quite unsuitable people, I can never see any logic in prejudice against powerful breeds of dog because of their past. No rational person would blame the Spanish and Portuguese people of today for the conduct of their distant ancestors. Why therefore did the Kennel Club, which advised the Home Office on 'breeds of dog' during the framing of the Dangerous Dogs Act, recommend those breeds outlawed in the wording of the Act to be so named? The Fila Brasileiro, the Dogo Argentino and the Tosa could not have been experienced by those KC officials advising the Minister, they have never been recognised as breeds by them, are not established here and have never been exhibited. Why pick on one Fila breed and not another? These dogs are not outlawed on the Continent or banned by the FCI, who do have knowledge of them. It is all very well for The Kennel Club today to claim opposition to the DDA, but they in fact had a role in framing it.

 When I see Filas Brasileiro at a foreign show behaving immaculately with both people and other dogs, I feel we are being deprived of a most attractive and commendable breed. Filas still work for their living in some countries. An American farmer, Dexter Brunette, who runs 180 head of cattle at Barnsville, bought a Fila Brasileiro as a companion guard but soon found it was a natural cattle herder. His dog subsequently worked daily with the cattle but went on to become a show champion. The Azores cattle dog, the Fila de Sao Miguel, is another working Fila; weighing around 40 kgs and standing 60cms at the withers, it features a distinctive brindle coat, displaying more yellow and red than most breeds of this hue. It is interesting how many cattle dogs, in many widely separated locations of the world feature the brindle coat.

 The Perro Cimarron, the national dog of Uruguay, is a brindle or fawn dog, used as a cattle-driver, property guard and boar-seizer. Descended from dogs introduced by Spanish settlers, it too is around 40kgs and about 60cms high, with a hard-muscled lean build and great agility. They need this as boar-hunting dogs; wild pig is a rural menace in Uruguay, causing enormous damage to crops and disturbing sheep. Cimarrones, as this breed is often called, are little known outside their native country but FCI recognition is being pursued. Another breed of this type introduced by Spanish colonists is the emergent Puerto Rican breed of Gran Mastino de Borinquen. Now being revived by Profesor Hector de la Cruz Romero, it is has a comparable range of coat colours to the Fila Brasileiro but is usually brindled, two feet high and weighs over 45kgs. They resemble the old Alanos quite closely.

 The influence of the strapping brindle Fila/Alano type dogs can be seen in the two Iberian flock guarding breeds, the Rafeiro do Alentejo of Portugal and the mis-named Spanish Mastiff. This type seems genetically strong. The logic of the Fila Brasileiro being outlawed by our DDA is not easy to comprehend when other Filas, the two Iberian breeds named above, the Canary Dog and the huge Russian Owtcharkas (some with hair-trigger tempers) are not. The Fila Brasileiro is not difficult to replicate from stock already here, as Michael Alderman of Kettering has indicated. Blending the blood of Neapolitan Mastiffs, Ridgebacks, Mastiffs and Bullmastiffs, he has produced huge brindle Fila look-alikes, like 'Tyson' and 'Zak', well over 30" at the shoulder.

If powerful dogs of a type used as war-dogs in the distant past can be banned, why too aren't the descendants of Genghis Khan! If brindle dogs of great stature can be bred with the admirably equable temperament as our native Mastiff, why cannot foreign breeds with a comparable past? We seem to be content to misjudge a breed in the wording of our absurd DDA because of its past or because of its misuse or abuse by man. That doesn't sound very fair or at all rational to me. It was man who bred dogs for and employed dogs in combat. Now man seems to wish to punish the dogs which result from such misuse; and such faulty logic is used by a Kennel Club whose mandate is 'the improvement of dogs'. Dogs deserve better custodianship.