by   David Hancock

The Mastiffs of the Americas

European Exports

 The association between the Americas and the various breeds of mastiff is easy to underrate, until the fact that explorers and migrants took dogs with them on their travels is taken into account. In his excellent book 'The Labrador Retriever - The History...the People' of 1981, Richard Wolters relates how the Devonshire fishing communities settled in Avalon, Newfoundland with their black hunting dogs after sailing from England in the 16th century. He believes and may well be right that the Labrador Retriever was merely going home when it came off ships in Poole harbour two centuries later. In similar vein I believe that the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is the Red Decoy Dog of Britain exported and that the Chesapeake Bay Retriever is the Norfolk Retriever re-established near Norfolk, Virginia from Norfolk, England.

Dogs of War

 In Central and South America, the Spanish and Portuguese colonists similarly took dogs of various types with them, either as hunting dogs or dogs of war. In the latter category came the mastiffs. This has left us with the Fila Brasileiro in Brazil (a hunting mastiff), the Dogo Argentino in Argentina (a classic 'running mastiff'; see later chapter) and the Gran Mastino de Borinquen or Sporting Mastiff of Puerto Rico. The Cuban Bloodhound was undoubtedly of mastiff type; the Bajan Biting Dog of the Bahamas was also a holding or gripping breed. In Uruguay there is a big white flock guarding breed very similar to the Spanish Mastiff; the Spaniards had settled most of the country by the late 18th century.

Settlers' Needs

 In North America most European breeds of dog have found their way to Canada and the United States. The American-made breed of Boston Terrier came originally from a Bulldog cross. In his book on the American Pit Bull Terrier of 1997, Louis Colby lists family after family that emigrated from Ireland, England and Wales, with their Bulldogs and Bull Terriers. In Canada,  Lolly Wilkinson is still breeding her 'Original English Bulldogges' from stock originally taken to a remote area of Nova Scotia by English immigrants. The early colonists and settlers in North America needed stock dogs and hunting dogs, with cattle-pinning dogs becoming an urgent requirement. Perhaps predictably, the American stockmen took the English Bulldogs being imported and developed them into the American Bulldog, a bigger, usually more active and certainly less placid breed.

Bulldogs in the United States

 Variants of the Bulldog are bred in many places in the United States, with names like the Alapaha Blue Blood Bulldog, which is now a stabilised type, the Georgia Bulldog, (very much like a more powerful 18th century English Bulldog), Old Country Bulldogs and Old English Whites. But the most numerous and the best known are called simply American Bulldogs. One of the best known breeders of such dogs was John D Johnson of Summerville, Georgia, who believed the original stock came from an English settlement at Savannah in Georgia in 1733. He bred huge, powerful but active dogs weighing over 100lbs. He started his kennel in the early 1950s, buying the best dogs he could from 'bulldog country' like Calhoun, Georgia, Big Sand Mountain in Alabama and Lookout Mountain in Tennessee.

No Training Need

 John Blackwell of Collinsville, Oklahoma, one-time President of The American Bulldog Club of America, told me that the breed is free from the physical and mental weaknesses of so many purebred dogs registered with the American Kennel club and require no training as guard-dogs. Other early breeders of note were Alan Scott, Jack Tate, WC Bailey, Cell Ashley and Louie Hegwood. Respected breeders of the last twenty years or so include Tim Phaneuf, Mike MacDonald and David Farnetti. Sadly, after their influence for good, breeding standards have not been so high, with unwise and needless outcrosses to Pit Bull Terriers and Bullmastiffs, an absurd pursuit of huge dogs at the expense of soundness and an obsession with protection training in a type of dog which shouldn't require it. I judged a class of the breed, following a glut of importations, a decade ago, and found a huge variation in type and especially heads.

Obsession with Size

 American breeders of American Bulldogs have been prone to rate gigantic specimens in this breed, as if size itself had virtue. Closer acquaintance with the Mastiff breed in England would soon convince them of the folly of this approach; even Mastiff breeders in America are now resorting to an Anatolian Shepherd Dog outcross to replicate the real breed. The breed of American Bulldog comes in a variety of colours, but white or mostly white is the most common. Brindle and fawn dogs are not uncommon but usually feature plenty of white. Dogs can range in weight from 85 to 135lbs, bitches from 70 to around 100lbs. The smaller specimens have a distinct American Pit Bull Terrier look to them, which is hardly surprising for their blood was used in the creation of the latter breed. Bill Hines of Harlingen, Texas, used his American Bulldogs as hog-dogs, in the classic medieval catch-dog manner, with all his stock being from old working lines.

Healthier Bulldogs

 The Alapaha Bulldogs are allegedly from plantation dogs of the river region of that name in South Georgia. Around two feet at the withers and weighing just under 90lbs, they are commendably prized for their athleticism and agility. Another American keen on 'real Bulldogs' is David Leavitt, with his Olde Englishe Bulldogges. Having failed to produce what he desired from a blend of Bullmastiff, American Pit Bull Terrier and English Bulldog, he tried a different combination. He found an AKC-registered purebred English Bulldog, Westchamp's High Hopes (which also played a significant role in the production of some outstanding American Bulldogs), weighing 95lbs, in Massachusetts, and mated this dog with one of Johnson's American Bullbitches to produce the type he was seeking. Since then he has certainly bred some healthy handsome Bulldogs.

Common Origin

 If you lined up an American Bulldog with a solid brindle coat with a brindle Bullmastiff, few would argue against a common origin. In the United States, Tonia and Jon Lorensen, from their Templar Kennels, Litchfield, CT, have produced some admirable brindle American Bulldogs. They have their stock thoroughly health-checked and breed dogs both mentally and structurally sound. It is vital for such heavy dogs to be hip scored and for such powerful dogs to be bred with stable temperaments. The Templar Kennels set an excellent example in this respect. If British breeders of Bullmastiffs consider it necessary to widen their gene pool in the future, then the brindles at the Lorensen's kennels will be worth a glance. Twenty years ago, I was invited to judge a class of 'other Bulldogs' at an unsanctioned dog show for such breeds; here is my critique on the dogs put before at that show. It gives a good indication of the state of the breeds in England at that time:

Critique on the American Bulldogs in Britain (as  judged by the author)
General: An entry of a dozen American Bulldogs and one Victorian Bulldog produced a mixture of quality but a welcome consistency of active, lively, unexaggerated dogs and made an interesting contrast with a KC show ring for Bulldogs, where exaggeration amounting to deformity is the norm. The slippery surface made movement and the judging of it far from easy; the dogs were made to move slowly to give them the best chance of displaying soundness in these conditions. A larger outdoor ring would have permitted the extended trot that gives a judge a more valuable view of movement and so often reveals anatomical faults, especially a lack of coordination. Sound movement is much more vital in a large substantial dog, where excessive wear and tear on a heavy frame can be harmful to the dog. The pursuit of size for its own sake has ruined more than one KC- registered breed. For a 'catch-dog', agility, dash, power and sheer pound for pound physical strength will always be more important than height at the shoulder and great weight.
Forequarters: Heads were generally sound, with no massive skulls or dripping flews. A disproportionately large head is of no benefit to a Bulldog; too short a muzzle is a disaster. A breed expected to grip a dangerous adversary must be provided with a jaw that can seize and hold; this demands breadth and width. The KC-registered Bulldogs are practically muzzle-less and could never emulate their ancestors in the baiting ring. The muzzle should be at least one third of the skull length if function is to be honoured. Eyes were good, with no small, sunken ones or slightly bulging ones, two faults that easily appear in the bull-breeds. Fronts were good, the skill is to obtain width without the dog being 'out at elbow', a dreadful fault in show Bulldogs one hundred years ago. Fore-legs were good with no over-boning, an undesirable feature in so many mastiff-type dogs. We are breeding active agile animals here not cart-horses. Feet were disappointing, just not tight enough. Elbows were encouraging, close fitting but not restricting forward reach. Shoulders were well placed, allowing free movement. Necks could have been more powerful, this feature is vital for a holding dog. In dogs of this type, the weight is on the forehand with the centre of gravity well forward. This means that, on the move, the dog prefers to carry its head relatively low; handlers should not impose a high head carriage on such a dog when demonstrating movement.
Torsos: It was good to see no 'dippy' backs or croups higher than the shoulders. This latter fault is seen in both the Fila Brasileiro and the Neapolitan Mastiff, with some fanciers of the latter claiming it as a breed characteristic! When the dog is higher at the croup than the shoulders, it has to walk with an unnatural rolling gait, which places great stress on the hips, and 'crabbing' on the move because the hind-legs are longer than the front ones. This is far too tiring for a dog requiring to be active. A more or less level top-line provides the strength of body essential in a holding breed. Ribs were well sprung and reached well back. Loins were strong. I look for a hand's width between the leading edge of the dog's thigh and the last rib. More than that and the dog can have a weak loin; less than that and the dog is too cobby and will often lack stamina. I also look for three fingers width between the shoulder blades, to allow free movement in the charge, without ranginess.
Hindquarters: Most dogs had commendably free movement behind but lacked a power-packed first and second thigh. There is a lack of thigh muscle in far too many American Bulldogs and it is a fault needing to be bred out. Holding dogs must have immense drive from their hindquarters; the weight is already well forward and balance can only be achieved if the dog has a really hefty backside.
Temperament: This was admirable; any dog of this size and build not displaying sound temperament will disgrace the breed one day. Dogs of this size and strength must not be allowed to jump up at people in greeting, it is dangerous (and painful!) It was disappointing to witness owners permitting their dogs to bark at will. Holding dogs giving tongue are a menace in the hunting field and a nuisance in society. Such dogs were once praised for their silence in combat (Japanese Tosas still are). A powerful brave willing dog yapping like a village cur is not a good advertisement for any catch-dog breed.
Final comment: It was a privilege to have the opportunity of going over these splendid dogs and to meet their owners. Keep the flag flying for real dogs!

Breeding Real Bulldogs

 In Canada, Lolly Wilkinson of Victoria, British Columbia, has her Original English Bulldogges, fit, healthy dogs which live a lot longer than the KC-recognised type, weigh between 50 and 75lbs and stand between 17 and 19 inches at the shoulder. Unlike the show ring dogs they have muzzles! They are remarkable in their resemblance to early 19th century bulldogs in England, but because they lack the exaggeration of the type favoured in today's show rings, they are rather strangely scorned by fanciers claiming to love Bulldogs yet breeding less healthy and less traditional animals. Breeding any subject creature to a harmful design merely to conform to some ill-advised and misguided breed standard as approved by an unthinking kennel club is surely bizarre in any civilised country as we enter a new millennium.
America's Running Mastiffs
A fascinating breed, sporting both an eye-catching coat and an attention-grabbing name is the Louisiana Catahoula Leopard Dog. Around 45lbs and two feet at the shoulder, strongly muscled but thankfully not over-boned, they have the classic physique of a running mastiff rather like the Great Dane, the Rhodesian Ridgeback and the Dogo Argentino. Often black merle with tan markings on their legs, they have an enviable reputation as a hound, herder and guard. Virile, hinting at great power and strong-minded, they have been described as being made of whipcord and leather. Selectively bred by demanding owners for well over a century, they, together with the Black Mouth Cur, or 'Ole Yeller' as they are known, epitomise the strong-headed hounds which hunted at pace, using sight and scent, all over Europe in the Middle Ages. (see later chapter).

Undiscovered Breeds

 In past millennia, the modified brachycephalic types of dog gave remarkable service to man as he explored the world. A mastiff breed, the Boerboel, developed originally by European settlers, has emerged in South Africa after years of obscurity there. In Puerto Rico, the mastiff breed of Gran Mastino de Borinquen has been saved after years of neglect. It may well be that in Central and South American countries there are other mastiff breeds waiting to be saved from extinction. The colonialisation that brought mastiff-like dogs to the Americas included many countries which do not have a recognised mastiff breed today. The Spanish and Portuguese, with their Filas, in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, explored a wide range of coastlines in the Americas, from California, Mexico and Florida to the north, Cuba, Panama and Central America in the middle, to Colombia, Equador, Peru and Chile on the western coast and Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina on the eastern coast of South America.

Developing Breeds

 In Uruguay, the Perro Cimarron (otherwise known as the Perro Criollo or Perro Gaucho), a fawn or brindle 40kg dog about 60cms at the withers, is used as a watchdog, guard dog and boar catch-dog. Little known outside Uruguay, it is in fact now the national breed, with FCI recognition being sought. Cimarrones are agile, active, muscular dogs, with great determination in the chase. They are used in boar-hunting with a number of other breeds like the Dogo Argentino, exactly as medieval hunters used running mastiffs with hunting mastiffs or catch-dogs/holding dogs. This resuscitated breed bears the classic phenotype of the ancient hunting mastiffs.

Sporting Mastiff

 In Puerto Rico, a Spanish colony until ceded to the United States in 1898, the Gran Mastino de Borinquen, a Bullmastiff-like breed, is being revived by Professor Hector De La Cruz Romero. Also known as the Puerto Rican Sporting Mastiff, Viejo Perro de Lydia Espanol and Gran Sato Bravo de los Campos (Barsino de Borinquen)/Perro Jibaro, those who can remember the breed from the turn of the century refer to them as the Old Perros Bravos. Some link the high incidence of rear dew claws in the breed to the old Spanish fighting breeds of mastiff type. Fanciers like Pura Cabassa, Modesto Maldonado, Edgardo Pauneto, Dr Gallardo and Anibal Torres have done much to develop this emergent mastiff breed. Ranging in height from 24" to 28" for males, 22" to 26" for females, weighing around 80lbs if from the fighting strain or up to 150lbs if from the boar catching strain, the coat colours are black, red, chestnut, buckskin or any of these brindled. It is good to hear of the progress of this mastiff breed. There may well be others in Central and South America awaiting discovery.

Cuban Dog

 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.

Use of Attack Dogs

 In the colonisation of the Caribbean Islands, as elsewhere – and referred to both in earlier and later sections, the Spanish used attack dogs extensively. References to them mention a dark nose and a dark area around the eyes, the distinctive mask of so many mastiff breeds. The more valuable ones were given the protection of an 'escaupil', a cotton-padded cloak, similar to the chain-mail coats worn by mastiffs in the boar hunt. Las Casas recorded, in the conquest and settlement of Cuba, how the local Indians were fed to the Spanish war-dogs, sometimes still alive. These dogs were trained to track humans and on command to seize them, usually pinning their human quarry to the ground to enable capture and subsequent slavery. The more ferocious dogs were trained to go for the entrails and literally tear their victim to death.

Formidable Appearance

 In 'The Sportsman's Cabinet' of 1804 there is a sinister account of the use of attack dogs in Cuba: "...the troops had suffered great losses, that the militia, and the numbers on duty greatly lessened. No time, therefore, was lost in landing the chasseurs and their dogs; the wild and formidable appearance of both spread terror through the place; the streets were cleared, the doors of the houses were shut, and the windows crouded (sic), not a negro ventured to stir out. The muzzled dogs, with their heavy rattling chains, ferociously making at every object, and forcibly dragging on the chasseurs (who could hardly restrain them), presented a scene of a most tremendous nature, well calculated to give a most awful colouring to the report which would be conveyed to the maroons." In his The History of the Dog of 1845, WCL Martin writes, on the Cuban Bloodhound: “…we hesitate not to regard them as mastiffs rather than hounds, though they have not the heavy head and the extremely pendulous lips of the English mastiff. Their colour is tawny, with black about the muzzle; the ears are comparatively small, but pendant; the muzzle is shorter, and the jaws thicker than in the hound, yet not so truncate as in the bulldog. The limbs are remarkably powerful, and the general contour is compact, indicating both activity and strength; the chest is very broad, their height at the shoulder is about two feet. In their disposition they are faithful and attached, and, unless irritated, very gentle; they make excellent guard-dogs, and will attack both the bull and the bear with determined resolution. It will be seen that in our arrangement of dogs we place these fine animals in the mastiff group.”  It was clearly not accurate to describe these dogs as ‘Bloodhounds’.

Misuse of Dogs

 On the island of Hispaniola, now divided between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, during a battle at Vega Real, one of Columbus's officers, Ojeda, released twenty mastiffs, which immediately threw themselves into the fray, seizing the Indians by their throats or bellies, hurled them to the ground and then ripped them to pieces, often disembowelling them. Las Casas reported that each dog killed around one hundred Indians, commenting with chilling dispassion that the hounds found the skin of these unfortunate human victims far easier to tear than boar or deer hide. In Venezuela, an officer called Garci-Gonzalez used a huge black mastiff to subdue any Indians who opposed him. The quite appalling atrocities carried out in this way are another example of man's misuse of dog; reading such shocking accounts it is easy to blame the dogs, but they were trained and directed by evil men in such activities.

Inbred Restraint

 Those involved in the training of protection dogs will tell you how hard it is to find a dog which will actually attack a human being. It is thankfully rare to find a dog that will kill another dog, without being carefully bred and incited to do so. The mastiff breeds of today are famous for their relaxed attitude towards children, and quite remarkable tolerance of them, their stable temperament, faithfulness with their own family, natural instinctive guarding qualities and steadfastness when provoked. As guard dogs they rarely bark and seem to have an innate ability to distinguish between acceptable visitors and unwelcome intruders. For dogs with their violent past to emerge with such tolerance, trust and restraint is a telling commentary on their inherent qualities.