by   David Hancock



The European Breeds

The Mastiff of Germany

"The Great Dane was originally designed for hunting the wild boar..."
'Hounds' by Frank Townend Barton, MRCVS, Long, 1913.

 “Speed from the greyhound, strength and tenacity from the mastiff, a combination of all three from the alaunt; characteristics necessary to bring a hunt to a rapid and bloody conclusion…hunting par force de chiens, ‘by strengthe of  houndes’…
from the Hound and the Hawk by John Cummins, 1988.

 Hunting Mastiffs
This book concentrates on the mastiff breeds used as holding dogs, the strong-headed, broad-mouthed, modified brachycephalic type, used at the kill in medieval hunting and as capture-dogs since, the world over. These dogs have been used as hunting mastiffs or matins for several thousand years. There are in addition however, what might be called 'running mastiffs', huge par force hounds which hunted using sight and scent, more often on boar. Their surviving examples are breeds like the Great Dane, the Dogo Argentino, the Rhodesian Ridgeback, the Broholmer of Denmark and the more recently developed Catahoula Leopard Dog. These often originated as hounds of the chase, too valuable to be sacrificed at the kill, not trained or bred to be recklessly brave and much more prized for their looks more than any holding dog breed. I have referred earlier to the unjustified false grouping of many of such dogs by modern kennel clubs. On the continent of Europe, the Great Dane is known as the Deutsche Dogge or German Mastiff (literally), but the boarhound/running mastiff ancestry is strangely denied by a number of kennel clubs, including the club of Great Britain, which classifies this breed, not as a hound, but in the Working Group, for show purposes.

Wrong Classification

 Theo Marples FZS, editor of 'Our Dogs' in the 1920s, comments on this odd classification in his book 'Show Dogs', stating: "The two breeds (i.e. The Great Dane as a boarhound and the Borzoi as a wolfhound) are exactly on all fours with each other in their sporting use and English relationship, which makes it difficult to understand by what line of logic the Kennel Club has thus differentiated between them on its register." (The Borzoi being in the Hound Group, unlike the Great Dane.) Three quarters of a century later this 'registration logic' is even harder to understand or support. Now accepted by the FCI as a German breed, its emergence as a pedigree breed was in no small way due to English Victorian fanciers of the breed, who formed The Great Dane Club several years before a comparable breed club had been formed in Germany.

Authoritative Writers

 But what do the more authoritative writers say on this subject? The esteemed 'Stonehenge' in his 'The Dog' of 1867 writes, on the subject of The Boarhound: "This is the Great Dane, and is used for boar-hunting in Germany and for hunting the elk in Denmark and Norway." Drury, in his 'The Twentieth Century Dog' of 1904 refers to "the great Dane, or boarhound, as it is also called." Dalziel, in his 'British Dogs' of 1881, stated that: "...the Saxons brought with them their Great Danes, and hunted boar with them in English forests and fens."  These were the influential writers at the time when our KC was being founded and expanded in its scope; it is difficult to understand why their words were ignored by the KC, even in its infancy. But other knowledgeable writers were ignored too.

Molossian Hound

 MB Wynn, in his 'The History of the Mastiff' of 1886, writes that: "...readers and translators should be very guarded how they render molossus as a mastiff, for the true molossian was an erect-eared (altas aure) slate coloured (glauci) or fawn (fulvus) swift footed...dog, identical or almost so, with the modern Suliot boarhound." This is a significant statement coming from such a mastiff devotee. Hamilton-Smith, writing at the end of the last century stated that Great Danes were most likely the true Molossian hound of antiquity. Interestingly, he also states that Caelius and others refer to a race of blue or slate-coloured Molossi (Glauci Molossi). The strangely under-rated Scottish writer, James Watson, in his masterly "The Dog Book" of 1906, writes on the Great Dane: "As to the origin of the dog there is not the slightest doubt whatever that it is the true descendant of the Molossian dog."

Sporting Dog Category

 Rawdon Lee included the Great Dane in his 'Modern Dogs, Sporting Division: Vol 1' of 1897, stating: "...that he was used for these purposes (i.e. to hunt the wild boar and chase the deer) long before he came to be a house dog there is no manner of doubt...This is the reason I place him in the Group of Sporting Dogs." The first official record of a Great Dane at the Kennel Club was in the KC stud book of 1878, Marko no.7893, described as an Ulmer Dog. A second Marko, registered in 1879 was actually described as a 'Royal German hunting hound'! No doubts about a hound ancestry there. The distinguished ancestry of the Great Dane is being cast aside by unconcerned and ill-informed kennel clubs and their past sacrifice to man's hunting needs unacknowledged.

Boarhound Function

 Hounds that hunted boar were often killed in the hunt and boar hunting in Central Europe down the ages was massively conducted. In 802AD Charlemagne hunted wild boar in the Ardennes, aurochs in the Hercynian Forest and later had his trousers and boots torn to pieces by a bison; all three quarry were formidable adversaries and were hunted by the same huge hounds. The sheer scale of hunting is illustrated by these 'bags': in 1656, 44 stags and 250 wild boar were killed on Dresden Heath; in 1730 in Moritzburg, 221 antlered stags and 614 wild boar were killed and in Bebenhausen in 1812, wild boar were pursued by 350 'strong hounds', clad in armour like knights of old. Hunting big game in Western Europe in the Middle Ages was more an obsession than a pastime - so often a demonstration of manliness.

Scale of Hunting

 Between 1611 and 1680, gamebooks reveal that around 40,000 wild boar, sows and young boars were killed in Saxony. In 1737, King Augustus II himself killed more that 400 wild boar in the course of a single hunt in Saxony. John George II, killed over 22,000 wild boar in 24 years. In the Bialowieza Forest in 1890, in a fortnight's hunting, 42 bison, thirty six elk and 138 wild boar were killed. This is the frame in which to picture the Great Dane type as a bison hound, auroch hound, staghound and boarhound. Perhaps because of the wholly arbitrary division of hounds today into scent or sighthounds, multi-purpose hounds which hunted 'at force', using scent and sight to best effect, have been neglected.

Dangerous Activity

 It is important too to acknowledge that boar hunting in the ancient world was not just another form of hunting. In his valuable book 'Hounds and Hunting in Ancient Greece', published in 1964 by the University of Chicago, Denison Hull states: "It was the very danger of the boar hunt that made it fascinating to the Greeks; victory was essential, for there was no safety except through conquest. It was that urge to display courage that made the boar hunt the highest manifestation of the chase;" the hounds of course were always in greater danger than the human hunters. Hull quotes from Xenophon's Cynegeticus as recording that boarhounds "must by no means be picked by chance, for they must be prepared to fight the beast". These were clearly highly respected and rather special hounds.

Boarhound Features

 In 'Sport in Classic Times', published by Ernest Benn in 1931, AJ Butler notes interestingly that Oppian mentions big-game hounds which are blue-black and considers 'a tawny colour' denotes swiftness and strength. He also refers to boarhounds which have light-coloured bodies with patches of black, dark red or blue. In his 'Hunting in the Ancient World', published by the University of California Press in 1985, JK Anderson writes that the Greek writer Xenophon considered that boarhounds should be "of exceptional quality, so that they may be ready to fight the beast". He quotes Arrian as reporting: "The best bred hounds have a proud air and seem haughty, and tread lightly, quickly, and delicately, and turn their sides and stretch their necks upward like horses when they are showing off." That sounds very Great Dane-like to me! 

Irrational Title

 I can find no reason for the Great Dane to be so named. The French naturalist Buffon (1707-1788), responsible for so many canine misnomers, called it 'le grand Danois' but, knowing his fallibility, he could have been mishearing the words 'Daim' (buck) or 'Daine' (doe), French for fallow deer, 'daino' in Italian, when packhounds used to hunt deer were referred to by sportsmen. Other references to a Danish dog could have been directed at the Danischer Dogge or Broholmer, the mastiff of Broholm Castle, a Great Dane-like if smaller breed (see below), now being resurrected by worthy Danish enthusiasts. In his authoritative 'Encyclopaedia of Rural Sports', published in 1870, Delabere Blaine records: "The boarhound in its original state is rarely met with, except in some of the northern parts of Europe, particularly in Germany...these boarhounds were propagated with much regard to the purity of their descent..."

Saxon Hound

 The Great Dane, as a breed type, is believed by some to have been originally brought here by the Saxons, quoting the words "He who alone there was deemed best of all, The war dog of the Danefolk, well worthy of men", in Hel-Ride of Brynhild. The breed was certainly known here in the late 18th century as the well known paintings at Tatton Hall in Cheshire indicate. Two of the breed were presented to HRH The Duchess of York in 1807, being described as Wild-Boar Hounds or Tiger-Dogs from Hesse-Cassel. It is important to note that in the early days of dog shows, e.g. the Birmingham Show of 1884, the breed was actually listed as the boarhound. Wynn in his "History of the Mastiff" of 1886 always refers to boarhounds rather than Great Danes. In 1780 the German artist Riedel portrayed the breed and described it as a Grosse Danischer Jagd Hund, or great Danish hunting dog.

National Dog

 In what is now Germany, names such as Ulmer dog, Deutsche Dogge, boarhound or Great Dane eventually became standardised into one breed name: Deutsche Dogge or German Mastiff. It has been argued however that this decision was born out of the need of a reunified Germany to have a national dog, after the war of 1870, rather than any pursuit of historical accuracy. Heavy 'par force' hunting mastiffs imported into Central Europe from England were similarly known as Englische Doggen, translated from the German as English Mastiffs. It is important to note however that artists such as Tempesta, Snyders, Hondius, Hackert and Ridinger produced paintings, etchings or drawings of boar hunts featuring not just prized highly-bred hounds of the chase but also the 'catch-dogs': huge, savage, expendable, broader-mouthed, rough-haired cross-breeds. These dogs, which the French called 'matins', went in at the kill so that the valued hounds of the chase were spared injury from deadly tusks. After all who wants their favoured carefully-bred hound of the chase portrayed and then confused with more casually-bred 'catch-dogs'? . Professor Gmelin, updating Linnaeus in 1792, referred to these catch-dogs as 'boar-lurchers' (canis laniarius fuillus), drawing attention to their strongly made heads.

Molossian Hound

 Sadly too, once, later on, as discussed earlier, kennel clubs around Europe wrongly accepted the Molossian dog as a broad-mouthed or mastiff-type dog, the genuine possessors of the Molossian dog phenotype: modern breeds like the Great Dane, the Dogo Argentino and the Broholmer, were lost to hound groups. But, as explained earlier, the word 'Dogge' in medieval Europe meant a hunting mastiff not a catch or capture dog like the broad-mouthed breeds. Hartig, in his 'Lexicon for Hunters and Friends of the Hunt', published in Berlin in 1836, wrote that "The stature of the English Dogge is beautiful, long and gracefully muscular. The stature of the Bullenbeisser is less pleasing." In referring to the 'English Dogge' Hartig meant the hunting mastiff from England. The Bullenbeisser was a catch-dog, the ancestor of the Boxer. Even then, the essential difference between running dog and seizing dog was appreciated. This is not a matter of mere semantics but has fundamental significance in the design of modern breeds for function. When you misunderstand their past function, you get the breed design not just wrong but damagingly so.

Alaunt Link

 It is worth noting that the Italian name for the Great Dane is Alano. The alauntes (resembling a mastiff-sighthound cross) were the fierce dogs of the Alans or Alani, who invaded Gaul in the fourth century AD, with settlements on the Rhine and the Elbe. Place names of Alanic origin are Kotzen near Brandenburg, Kotschen near Merseburg, Kothen near Bernberg and Choten-Koppeldorf near Sonnenberg. One variety of the Alaunts depicted and described in Gaston Phoebus's great work "The Book of Hunting" in the early 15th century is very much of Great Dane type. So too are the hounds portrayed by Antonius Tempesta of Florence in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. It must be kept in mind that alaunts were not a breed; Phoebus describes three principal types: one resembling a strong-headed Greyhound, another a powerful hunting mastiff of Great Dane construction and a third a short-faced butcher's dog or catch-dog, the ancestor of the baiting dogs.

German Mastiff

 In his celebrated work 'The Illustrated Book of the Dog' of 1879-81, Vero Shaw refers to the Great Dane as the German Mastiff. He mentions a letter from a Herr Gustav Lang of Stuttgart, an authority on the breed at that time, which stated: "The name 'Boarhound' is not known in Germany. In boar hunting every possible large ferocious 'mongrel' was used." If you extend this logic, you should no longer call a Harrier by that name because Beagles and Basset Hounds also hunt hares. Do you stop calling an Elkhound an Elkhound because other breeds also hunt them? I think not. Lang, perhaps unfamiliar with the boar hunt and its niceties, was failing to discern the different functions, at the kill, of running dogs and seizing dogs, the latter considered expendable, the former less so. Specialisation in the hunt too was unusual, big hounds hunted boar, elk and wild bull without being identified as such.

Boar Hunt Used Undedicated Hounds

 Herr Lang was however making two points which I do not dispute: firstly that there was no breed of boarhound in Germany, the bigger quarry was hunted separately using the same hounds; and secondly, the boar-hunt utilised large fierce 'killing dogs' of mixed breeds, as well as hounds of the chase. No nation in the world has a breed with boarhound in its title. This is because large hounds did not specialise as a rule. The same hounds hunted stag, boar and sometimes bear and wolf too. In this way, the French used breeds like the Poitevin, the Billy, the Grand Griffon Vendeen and the Grand Bleu de Gascogne for 'la grande venerie' generally. Our own huge scenthounds ended up being called Staghounds, but it was a description of function rather than a breed title; before the loss of wild boar to Britain such hounds would have been used in the boar-hunt too.

Boarhound Link

 Herr Lang never disputed that the breed called both the Great Dane and the Deutsche Dogge had once been used as a boarhound, he was disputing the title not the function. Hounds and dogs used in boar-hunts in what is now Germany were called Saurude or Hetzrude, if they hunted in packs, and Saupacker or Saufanger if they were the less carefully-bred catch-dogs. The Americans use huge Bulldogs as catch-dogs with wild hog to this day. In the 1930s an English sportsman in France used a pack of Dogues de Bordeaux to hunt boar. They were boarhounds by function at that time but were mercifully not renamed. It is indisputable that most hounds of the chase used at boar-hunts across Central Europe for a thousand years had the conformation of the Great Dane.

Versatile Hound

 In 'Great Danes - Past and Present', Dr. Morell MacKenzie was concerned that "if the Great Dane is considered a hound he is the only representative (although he responds to 'pack law') which does not carry his tail erect or like a flag when on the track." This reveals the ignorance of the writer; such hounds were not purely scenthounds, they were 'par force' hounds which hunted by scent and sight. Why should such a versatile hound carry its stern like a scenthound when it is a more complete hound than that? The Great Dane, as a boarhound, had to have speed and the construction which produces it. The breed needs the pelvic angulation which permits a good forward reach of the hindlegs, more like the sighthounds than the scenthounds. Such a desired pelvic angulation decides set of and carriage of tail in the breed.

Value of Hound Recognition

 Once the hound origin evidence is accepted, the pressure for this breed to be transferred to the Hound Group will be irrefutable. Just as the Airedale is King of the Terriers, so too will the Great Dane (German Hunting Mastiff) be King of the Hounds. It will no longer be exhibited on the same day as the sled dogs, herding dogs, flock guardians, heelers, water-dogs and broad-mouthed gripping or holding dogs and be judged by those who know such breeds best - and possibly favour them. It might even lead to a concentration on anatomical soundness and functional athleticism in the breed rather than the mere production of statuesque canine ornaments unable to move with power and purpose.

Deserved Title

 The very expression 'Working Breed' undermines and demeans the noble associations and rich sporting heritage of these outstanding dogs. It is time to heed the views of Marples, 'Stonehenge', Drury, Dalziel, Hamilton-Smith, Rawdon Lee, Leighton, Wynn and Watson - can all these distinguished writers really be wrong? Surely Great Dane fanciers should listen to their combined wisdom and then strive, in their own lifetime, to improve the stature of their beloved breed. Breed titles do matter; breeds no longer bred for an historic function soon deteriorate. In his 'Dogs and all about them', published in 1914, the well-respected writer Robert Leighton, stated: "The Kennel Club has classed the Great Dane amongst the Non-Sporting dogs, probably because with us he cannot find a quarry worthy of his mettle; but for all that, he has the instincts and qualifications of a sporting dog..."

Today's Breed

 If you accept that the Great Dane is a hound breed, you are able to judge it as one. In studying the breed from the ringside over half a century, I can see the flaws that have been allowed to creep in because it is not being regarded as a hound breed. When you breed intentionally for great size, you risk losing soundness, balance, symmetry and power from the anatomy of that breed. When you only breed for a vague 'Working Group' function, you lose focus and end up with all-purpose canine giants. As a direct result of this, I have seen over many years, often in despair, a potentially superb example of a heavy hound being bred as a huge, gormless, clumsy-footed, all too often grown-up puppy with no idea of what it is meant for. I have seen stunning specimens of the breed abroad, mainly in Scandinavia and Germany, but only rarely in Britain. At the 124th Amsterdam Winner Show in 2013, the Great Dane Diamante della Baia Azzurra was a stunning Best-in-Show, beautifully-proportioned, with impressive movement. The comments by British dog show judges on the breed in recent years are illuminating. The Crufts judge in 2013 reported: "Overall, I am still rather disappointed with the depth of quality in the breed - so many different types, and nothing has improved since I last judged., in fact, probably getting worse. Males worried me the most as here lies our future stud dogs but many are either too feminine in type or too overdone with lots of loose skin, broad back skulls and short forefaces...I do fear for the future of this lovely breed."
General Disappointment
 These remarks make depressing reading if, as I do, you care about this fine breed. In 2011, judges at Championship Shows also made worrying comments, as these four quite separate reports from different shows illustrate: "...I was disappointed with the overall quality. Far too many types. Movement was a problem..." "...unfortunately while many Danes have the correct lay of shoulder, they fall short in the length of upper arm or they are loaded on the shoulders and many are pigeon-chested, which of course, affects movement..." "I found several bad mouths; many with not so good front movement." "...I had a lot that had little or no muscle toning and consequently could not move or drive from the rear..."  Even more worrying is the fact that judges of this breed have been making comparable criticisms for some years. The Crufts judge in 2009 reported: "...I was less than happy in the quality of many of the Danes present...some of the Danes are too long in the body and in many the front end appears not to belong to the back end. Movement is still on the whole not very good and conformation appears to be going out of the window." At the East of England Great Dane Club's 2013 show, the judge commented: "I do worry about our lovely breed, the quality of the males since I last judged has dropped dramatically..." At the Great Dane Club of Wales's 2013 show, the judge reported: "I wish I could say that the breed is outstanding at the moment, but...there is a lack of overall quality and breed type is very varied." Clearly there is an enormous amount of work to be done by the breeders of this imposing breed - work that could be made easier if they attempted to breed hounds!

Rightful Sporting Place

 In the quaintly titled 'Dogs: their whims, instincts and peculiarities' of 1883, edited by Henry Webb, these words are used to describe the German Boarhound: "This giant amongst dogs is placed by strength, activity and courage, in the front rank of his race; as guardian or protector he has no superior, and but few equals. If you look at him when he stands, with all his qualities fully aroused, involuntarily the thought strikes you, I should wish that dog by my side in the moment of danger, well sure I should find in him a staunch friend and mighty champion." Over one hundred years later, we continue to deny such a breed its rightful sporting place in dogdom and are surely lesser people in so doing. We owe this distinguished breed its rightful recognition as King of the Hounds without any further delay.

"...out of a pack of fifty hounds that start on a boar chase often scarce a dozen return to the kennel whole and sound."
Jacques du Fouilloux, 16th century.

The Mastiff of Broholm Castle - the Real 'Danish Dog'
The Broholmer, or Mastiff of Broholm Castle in Denmark, is not likely to appear in Britain for some time, for its fanciers in its native land are determined to retain stock until such time as their own gene pool is satisfactory. The Broholmer Society now has over 300 members, with some 200 dogs registered. The rule over selling abroad will only be reconsidered when there are 300 dogs registered from 8 different lines. The selection programme began in 1974 and within 15 years 100 dogs suitable for registration had emerged. It was in 1974 that enthusiast Jytte Weiss wrote an article 'In Search of the Broholmer', after the last specimen of the breed was believed to have died in 1956. A responding telephone call to her brought to light an eleven year old dog, 78cms at the withers and weighing almost 80 kgs. This dog, when examined, met the demands of the 1886 breed standard. Other dogs of this type were then discovered.

Favoured by Kings

 At one time, it was believed that fawn was the classic colour for the breed, but researches revealed that there had been a black variety in the Grib Skov region of North Sjelland. The Danish kings apparently favoured the fawns in the hunting field, but farmers, butchers and foresters in that region preferred the black variety, the colour favoured too in the nightdogs at the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen. This colour was accepted by the FCI in 1982, when the standard was accepted by them.

Breeding Programme

 As the breeding programme developed blacks were mated with fawns but this produced tricolours, rather like the Swiss Cattle Dog breeds. Black to black matings were eventually dropped because the progeny lacked essential breed type. Fawns, from fawn parents, were bigger and stronger. The extant standard permits just three colours: clear fawn with a black mask/muzzle, deep fawn and black, usually with small white markings on the chest and toes. The ideal size is considered to be between 75 and 80cms at the withers. Great size is thankfully not desired and, commendably, balance, virility and health are considered a higher priority.
Leading fancier Jytte Weiss has stated that "we have paid particular attention to the very good character and mentality of the Broholmer." Although the guarding qualities of the breed are valued, a stable good-natured temperament, the famed magnanimity of the mastiff breeds and, especially, tolerance of children are wisely valued more. The more powerful the dog, the more caution has to be exercised in today's society. A disciplined biddable dog is also required by hunters. A bad-tempered hound is a menace in kennels; spirit and tenacity must never be confused with undesired aggression.

Boarhound Role

 This breed is very likely to have been the boarhound of the Danish kings. The Great Dane or German boarhound may well have developed from this breed, the added stature coming from an infusion of Suliot Dog blood, the latter being favoured as the parade-dog of German regiments. The Suliot Dogs came from the Suli Mountains in Epirus, base of the renowned Molossian dogs. An under-rated figure in the survival of this once famous breed is Danish archaeologist Count Niels Frederik Sehested from Broholm. In the middle of the 19th century he had his interest aroused from old prints depicting the breed. His work led, in time, to 120 pups being placed with notable Danes who promised to promote the resurrected breed. Two of these were King Frederik VII and the Countess Danner, who referred to his pups as 'Jaegerspris' dogs, after the name of his favourite estate. One of these, Tyrk, can be seen, preserved, in the Museum of Zoology in Copenhagen. Large fawn dogs were subsequently bred on the estates of the Count of Broholm. Dogs of this appearance were also utilised by cattle dealers and, rather like the Rottweiler in Southern Germany, became known as 'slagterhund' or butchers' dogs.

Choice of Title

 As most were in the Broholm area, the breed was renamed. The first breed standard was cast when the first Danish dog show was held in the gardens of Rosenberg Castle in 1886. In his monumental work 'Dogs of all Nations' of 1904, Van Bylandt described the breed as The Danish Dog or Broholmer, 29" at the shoulder, weighing about 125lbs and fawn or 'dirty yellow' in colour. He illustrated the breed with two dogs, Logstor and Skjerme, owned by J. Christiansen and A. Schested (sic) of Nykjobing. These dogs displayed bigger ears than the contemporary breed. The extant breed standard sets out, as faults, long ears and a long-haired coat, faults which English Mastiff breeders must now face. No mastiff breed will retain type unless faults are acknowledged and then remedied. English Mastiffs have relatively big ears, despite the standard's words on ears, as well as a lengthening of the coat, which is not being penalised. If essential breed type is to be conserved, all breeds must be bred to their standard. It is pleasing to know that the Broholmer is in safe hands.

"The Danish dog, which is generally large and smooth hair'd...while he is near you, nobody dare touch you or any thing belonging to you."
'The Gentleman Farrier' of 1732.

The South American Dog: The Mastiff of Argentina
These arguments are valid too in the case of the Dogo Argentino, long banned from Britain under the absurd Dangerous Dogs Act (absurd because it brands breeds as dangerous rather than the social misfits who misuse such powerful dogs) and the Broholmer, neither breed being recognised as heavy hounds or running mastiffs. The Argentinian Mastiff is expected to be a hound of the chase or running mastiff and a capture dog, when used to hunt wild pig in its native country. The Alano of Spain was probably the original form of the hunting mastiff in Argentino, taken there by colonists. Spanish explorers first reached the coastal areas in 1516 and settlers quickly followed in search of gold and silver. The second largest country in South America and the eighth largest in the world, it features the Gran Chaco, a forested region famous for its big game. Wild pig destroy crops; pumas attack cattle. The Argentinian farmer has long had a need for big game hunting dogs.
Big Game Hound Need
This need was met by the Alano/Perro de Presa dogs taken to Argentina by settlers. Later, the Perro de Pelea Cordobes, or Cordoba Fighting Dog, mainly white and renowned for its ferocity became a component in the local 'boar-lurchers'. The Argentinian city of Cordoba was a base for English railway workers in the 19th century and some are known to have brought their pit-dogs with them. Bull-fighting and cock-fighting were banned in the mid-19th century but dog-fighting persisted into the 1920s. The end of dog-fighting could have led to the loss of the brave dogs misused in such a barbaric contest, but the desirable qualities in them were recognised by Dr Antonio Nores Martinez in his quest for a dog to hunt boar and puma, both enemies of the farmer.

Need to 'Seize and Hold'

 Dr Martinez spelt out the essential qualities desired in an Argentinian big game hound at a lecture in 1974: a hound which did not give tongue until confronting its quarry; a hound able to seek air-scent with a high nose, comparing this feature to that of the Pointer; a hound with scenting powers rated ahead of sheer pace and a resolute animal, not afraid to tackle a dangerous quarry. He stressed that a hound which could not 'seize and hold' its prey was valueless, mainly because of the immense physical demands made on hunters in the terrain favoured by the quarry. It was vital to have a successful conclusion to such physically stressful hunting in the mountain forests. It is no coincidence that breeds like the Dogo Argentino, the Perro de Presa Canario, the Cane Corso, the Perro Cimarron and the Fila de Sao Miguel, despite coming from different countries have almost identical jaws; function decided form.

Blended Blood

 It is alleged that the blood of the Pointer, the Dogue de Bordeaux and the Boxer (and some reports say Great Dane, Foxhound, Bullmastiff and Bull terrier blood too) was blended with that of the remaining fighting dogs, but that finally Irish Wolfhound and Pyrenean Mastiff blood was introduced. This seems a strange mixture of rough-coated and smooth-coated breeds, breeds with conflicting instincts and hunting aptitudes and too little scenthound input. It would have made more sense if a combination of Great Dane, Bull Terrier, Foxhound and the big white Bulldogs used for hog-catching in the United States had been tried. This would have produced the white smooth-coated dog desired, with scenting powers ahead of speed and with pinning instincts well to the fore. It would be of value one day to discover the actual breed mix, for the outcome has been highly successful and a fine hunting mastiff developed.

Eliminating Dog Aggression

 Both Antonio Nores Martinez and his brother Agustin admitted experiencing great difficulty in eliminating dog-aggression from their stock. I suspect this may have been caused by a lack of socialisation when the dogs were young, perhaps inevitable when a large number of dogs are kennelled, a lack of skilful training during the dogs' development and a failure to differentiate between gameness, i.e. spirit, determination and courage, and undesirable aggression, exemplified by bullying, irrational bad temper and unpredictable savageness. Hounds used in the boar hunt, and to face pumas, need fearlessness, dash and boldness but not unstable temperaments.

Daunting Quarry

 Wild pig, whether an enraged 200kg sow or a lighter peccary, with its formidable teeth, makes a terrifying adversary. A boar will face a dog without fear and is capable of ripping open a dog's flanks with its fearsome tusks. The puma that raids the herds of Argentinian cattle, concentrating on the calves, can tear a dog to shreds when fighting for its life. A running mastiff that is expected to be a catch-dog too would need the thicker skin and powerful jaws of the holding dogs, as well as the stamina, pace and scenting skills of a 'par force' hound. The specimens that I see at shows abroad have surprisingly thin skin for a dog with this function-led breeding, but they do have commendably stable temperaments.

Ban on Breeds Unfounded

 The banning of this breed from Britain, under The Dangerous Dogs Act and its temporary import restrictions, was unjustified. It is ill-informed to ban any breed; this one appears well-behaved with other dogs and well-disposed towards strange dog-show judges opening the mouths of exhibits in the ring. This is a handsome breed, with a natural grace, impressive muscularity and obvious athleticism. Any powerful dog, over two feet at the withers and weighing 40-46kgs, bred to have spirit, could be a menace in the wrong hands or kept in unsuitable conditions. To ban the breed because of what some misguided 'authority' has claimed and despite what specimens of the breed demonstrate as characteristic behaviour is irrational. To ban the national breed of another country and one purpose-bred by two well-intentioned doctor brothers is not exactly admirable or a contribution to animal welfare. British breeders could so easily continue the work of the Martinez brothers and produce some quite magnificent examples of this splendid breed; they just need the opportunity.

The African Dog: The Mastiff of Rhodesia

 Hunting 'at force', using par force hounds which used sight and scent in the chase has long given way in Britain to 'hunting cunning', in which the slower unravelling of scent by hounds is favoured. But in Britain we did once use 'full-mouth' hounds, heavy-headed hounds with shorter muzzles, and 'fleethounds', which went too fast even for the most speedy steeplechaser. In the colonies, however, the early settlers had a need for hound-like dogs that could hunt at speed, using sight and scent. In India, for example, local breeds were utilised, like the powerful Sindh hound, the swift Rampur hound, the Poligar, the Vaghari hound, the Pashmi hound and the strongly-built Rajapalayan dog.

Ridged Native Dogs

 In southern Africa, however, the settlers blended the blood of native dogs with imported breeds like the Pointer, the Bull Terrier, the Irish Wolfhound, the Foxhound and possibly Dutch breeds like the Nederlandse Steenbrak. Some of the native dogs carried a ridge of reverse hair, roughly in a fiddle shape, along their spine. The Kalahari San were seen in south-eastern Angola forty years ago with ridged hunting dogs. The Khoi were recorded as far back as 1719 as owning hounds 18" at the shoulder, with a sharp muzzle, pointed ears, with a body like a jackal and a ridge or mane of hair turned forward on the spine and neck.

Hunters' Needs

 Renowned South African hunters such as Petrous Jacobs, Fred Selous and Cornelius van Rooyen, who bought his first 'lion dogs' from the Rev Helm, developed their 'running mastiff' in the Matabele and Mashona territories of southern Africa, using them as a small pack of four or five to catch pig, to pull down wounded bucks, to worry lions and to track the blood trails of wounded game. Many of these dogs were killed by crocodiles and snakes, as well as by lions. Such dogs had to have pace, power, courage, determination and remarkable agility. A type gradually developed with immense stamina and impressive robustness, severely tested by both climate and terrain.

Dangerous Quarry

 In his 'Hunting Big Game in Africa with Dogs' of 1924, the American sportsman, Er M Shelley, wrote: "Dogs are very fond of hunting them (i.e. wart-hogs), but it usually proves disastrous for the dog, for these hogs have two long tusks that protrude far out from the lower jaw, and they use them with deadly effect. Dogs can be maimed or killed much more readily by hunting these hogs than by hunting lions." The early settlers in remote areas of southern Africa faced enormous dangers when hunting for food or protecting their stock. The value to them of brave, determined, powerful dogs is inestimable.

Bushmen's Dogs

 Kobben, who arrived in the Cape only half a century after the first settlers under Jan van Riebeeck (1652), noted that the Hottentots used dogs for hunting and protection and that Europeans made regular use of such dogs. Lawrence Green, in his 'Lords of the Last Frontier' (1936) described the bushmen hunting dog as "a light brown ridgeback mongrel...ready to keep a wounded leopard at bay until the master finds an opening for his spear." The ancient Greeks would have admired that. Forty years ago, a game warden reported bushmen's hunting dogs in South West Africa sporting prominent ridges.

Likely Ingredients

 Accounts of dogs owned by early Boer farmers embrace breeds such as Bloodhounds, Greyhounds, Bulldogs, Mastiffs, Foxhounds, Pointers, Bull Terriers and Airedales. 'Steekbaards', rough-coated dogs, hinting at Deerhound, Irish Wolfhound, Airedale and continental griffon blood, were favoured by many Boer hunters. Van Rooyen had one, which was killed by a sable antelope. A writer to the Cape Times once gave important clues as to the make-up of these big resolute hunting dogs used by farmers in the bush. The writer stated that when he was a boy (around 1887) his father, like nearly every farmer, kept steekbaard (stiff beard) or vuilbaard (dirty beard) - honde, the size of Greyhounds. The first ridged pups he ever saw, born on his father's farm, were out of a purebred English Bulldog bitch, by a steekbaard sire. All had a distinct ridge of hair along their spines. The sire was a descendant of steekbaard dogs brought from Swellendam, when the trek to the Colesburg district took place. Steekbaards were sometimes advertised as Boerhounds (as distinct from Boerbulls or Boerboels) and occasionally as 'lion dogs'.

Needs of Pioneers

 Pioneer farmers needed powerful, determined dogs which would stand their ground when faced by predators such as marauding lions, leopards, wild dogs, jackals, hyenas, baboons, even human rustlers; this demanded the characteristics of the holding dogs, the famed mastiff group, and led to the development of Boerboel type dogs. Farmers also needed faster but equally determined dogs to hunt, running mastiffs by inclination, leading to the development of Boerhounds or lion dogs. In that climate and terrain, against such enemies, only the most virile dogs survived. One writer described the hounds used by farmers as rough-haired Greyhounds. The hunter-writer William Baldwin, mid 19th century, described the hunting dogs he preferred: "bull and greyhound, with a dash of the pointer, the best breed possible." A later book of his was illustrated with a drawing of a 'ridged European dog'.

Imported Breeds  

 Inspired by Baldwin's book, a hunter called Frederick Courteney Selous travelled extensively until the 1890s, covering most of southern Africa. Later he hunted with van Rooyen, accounts of their dogs mentioning, again and again, rough-haired Greyhounds, Pointers (prized not only for their noses but for the robustness of their feet) and mongrels between these breeds and local dogs. The Bulawayo Chronicle contained the following references to breeds of dog in the period 1894-1917: Pointer (87), Bull Terrier (25), Greyhound (20), Bulldog (19), Airedale (15), Great Dane (14), Boarhound (11) and Deerhound (10). Source: David Helgesen, 1982. Also mentioned were a Cuban Mastiff, a Kangaroo Hound and a 'Ridgeback'.

Selous's Reputation

 Selous is forever mentioned by Ridgeback historians but I remain to be convinced about his standing as a hunter with dogs. His book, 'A Hunter's Wanderings in Africa' of 1881, is made up of over 450 pages, more or less his hunting diary of the previous few years. In it he hardly mentions hunting with dogs. He refers to being a guest of the Rev CD Helm, (from whom Van Rooyen bought his dogs), without mentioning his dogs. In his hunting exploits of 1876, he records: "...our mongrel pack. At the mere scent of the lion all but two rushed precipitately past us, not forwards, but backwards, with their tails between their legs, some of them yelping with fright; nor did they put in an appearance again until the hunt was over." He doesn't come across as a dogman at all.  

Stabilising the Breed

 The first printed use of the word ridgeback for a breed was in a newspaper advertisement of 1912, offering 'Well bred 'Ridgeback' hunting pups for sale.' An English vet, working in Bulawayo, Charles Edmonds, took an interest in these 'ridged lion hunters', as he called them, and suggested classes for them at dog shows, based on a description of: Height 24", weight 60lbs, colour tawny, fawn or brindle, coat short and hard, head rather broad, cheek muscles well developed, in the shape of the old Bull Terrier. That is a fair summary of the phenotype of any prototypal running mastiff. It is interesting to note that in his book 'Hunting Big Game in Africa with Dogs' of 1924, Shelley observes on jackal hunting: "There was a smooth-coated red dog in the bunch named 'Red' that did most of the catching. He was faster than the others and had a good nose."

Recognising the Breed

 Another Englishman, Francis Barnes, settled in Salisbury in 1875 and became interested in the breed. He wrote to the national kennel club in 1925, stating that a breed club had been formed for the Rhodesian Ridgeback (Lion Dog) Club. Another Salisbury resident, BW Durham, a Bulldog exhibitor, helped Barnes to produce a breed standard and get the new breed recognised. In 1926, the South African Kennel Union recognised the breed. The Rhodesian Ridgeback is now recognised across the globe, gaining championship status in Britain in 1954 and admission to the American Kennel Club registry in 1955. The English KC correctly places the breed in its Hound Group, something it denies to the Great Dane.

Eastward Movement

 Another ridged breed, the Thai Ridgeback Dog, is gaining popularity; a light chestnut red, pure black and silver blue (acknowledged mastiff colours), it is 24" at the shoulder, weighing 60-75lbs, very similar to the African dog. Claims have been made that the African dog descends from a ridged dog, the Phu Quoc dog, found in the Gulf of Siam, with some suggesting a westward movement of such dogs. My view is that it is more likely for the African ridged dogs to have been taken to Asia with black slaves, i.e. an eastward movement. The Arabs were trading slaves to Canton and Siam as long ago as 900AD (Jeffreys, 1953).

Perpetuating Correct Type

 Comparable ridges on the backs of dogs have manifested themselves in Weimaraners and a purebred Labrador. Many fawn dogs of mastiff type, as well as Bulldogs and Boxers with red in their coats, have been known to display spinal markings of darker colouration and on hair with a different texture. A few years ago, in New Zealand, two purebred Mastiffs went through quarantine there, each featuring a ridge of reverse hair along their spines. This distinctive feature is however the hallmark of the African and Thailand breeds, with Rhodesian Ridgebacks respected all over the world for their hardiness and character. They may not used as running mastiffs in the classic manner any more but their service to the early settlers, especially the hunter-farmers, was invaluable. A medieval master huntsman like Gaston de Foix would have admired them; they evolved in a tough environment and developed in a tougher school. We must now perpetuate them as famous African hunters designed them to be: hugely capable par force hounds, true running mastiffs. In America, the breed has now been allowed to compete in AKC Sighthound field trials; this could lead to a leggier, lighter-boned hound prized for its speed at the gallop ahead of its stamina and UK breeders need to aware of this change of use.          
The Breed Today
  The post-show critiques in the last few years reveal the state of the breed in Britain. Comments have varied from concerns about size, condition, poor feet and weak pasterns, variations in type, lack of chest fill and short upper arms (2011), and weak fronts, lack of forward reach, excessive dewlap and heavy lips, gay tails and too much length in the loin (2012) to narrow, apple-domed heads with small, almond eyes, too level a bite and lack of spring in pasterns (2013). I get the impression however that within the breed far too much attention is being given to the fiddle-shaped spinal crown, its shape, size and configuration. One of the best Ridgebacks I have ever seen was born ridgeless but sadly will never be bred from. Breed features matter less than overall soundness; if breed type alone rests on the quality of the crown, this to me is a false value. Over the years I have been impressed by American dogs, such as Rob Norm's Norma, Dagga and Elsa, Talltimbers Ajax and  by Swedish tracking champions from the Roseridge kennel of Sonja Nillson. I was immensely impressed by the breathtaking movement of one specimen here a year or so ago: Ch Gunthwaite Midnite Preacha, displaying superb forward and rearward reach and in great condition for a running mastiff. 

The Curs - American Hunting Mastiffs:
The Running Mastiff of Louisiana
Very much developed in the United States, in north-east Louisiana, is the rather dramatically named Catahoula Leopard or Hog Dog, Catahoula meaning beautiful clear water. A muscular, Dalmatian-sized hound, but used extensively as a herding dog, they are usually black merle, with their black patches earning them their breed title. They can also be solid-coloured: black, blue, red and yellow-tan, the coat colours long associated with the mastiff breeds. The distinctive black merle is also found in Great Danes and the Norwegian Dunker Hound. Possessing the classic phenotype of the running mastiffs, they are versatile hunting and herding dogs, able to hot track lost stock, bring it to bay when found and then 'hold it'. This is a difficult task with defiant semi-wild cattle and wilful half-wild hogs. These dogs are often used in teams, with specialist roles: leading, herding or rounding up and driving in the destined direction. They combine this testing task with that of hunting dogs, where they can exercise their 'par force' hunting skills, using sight and scent, their great stamina and immense determination.

Great Versatility

 Skip and Vicki Loudenslager of the Cottonwood Kennels, Lake Odessa, Michigan, have had Catahoulas for eleven years and bred nine litters in that time. They have the first two UKC champions, the first three grand champions and the first UKC agility champion on record. So far, they have produced 13 UKC champions. Their red dog Trace came 2nd out of 25 dogs at the National Association of Louisiana Catahoula's (NALC) show. Skip hunts them on raccoon and is anxious to keep the working instincts of the breed alive. He tells me that his dogs hunt more as sighthounds, do not run cold tracks, bay like a scenthound or have the latter's temperament. He stresses that his dogs will cease tracking once they see their quarry, the classic once-favoured technique of hounds hunting 'at force'.


 Don Abney of Abita Springs, Louisiana, the author of a book on the breed, is a NALC certified breeder (and trainer of all breeds), using his Catahoulas across a range of skills. This is an extremely versatile breed, able to hunt, track, herd and compete in agility trials. Registered as the Louisiana Catahoula Leopard Dog with the NALC, the UKC (United Kennel Club), the ARBA (American Rare Breed Association) and the SKC (States Kennel Club), but known informally as the Catahoula Cur, the breed is listed in the Herding Group for show ring purposes. That may recognise their pastoral skills but is scant reward for their sheer versatility.

Mixed Origins

 Some researchers have linked this breed with dogs brought to the Americas by Spanish colonists, to be subsequently acquired by Indians and later by settlers. There are theories too of the introduction of the blood of herding dogs brought out by French immigrants, with the harlequin coat (what the French call 'gris avec taches noires [danoises]') of the Beauceron, perhaps in mind. But there is a genetic difference between harlequin and merle. Smoother-coated, drop-eared dogs like the Norwegian Dunker Hound would be a more likely foreign source. Interestingly, my namesake, the highly successful English lurcher breeder produces collie/greyhound lurchers with this type of physique and striking coat colour and they are superbly efficient hunting dogs. As Sullivan wrote a century ago: "Form follows Function". Known affectionately as 'cats', used successfully as coonhounds, these Leopard Dogs have been described as 'walking sledgehammers' because of their forcefulness and sheer physical power; they are today's equivalents of medieval par force hounds.

Respected American Hounds

 Earlier, I described how the American hunter Shelley used hounds from his country in his 'bobbery pack' of lion-hunting dogs in Africa in the 1920s. In his 'Jaguar Hunting in the Mato Grosso' of 1976, de Almeida wrote: "...good dogs are essential to a successful hunt. And good jaguar-dogs are the hardest thing to come by in Mato-Grosso...We arranged for Bert to send down to us six hounds of the Plott breed, which were trained to hunt bear in the forests of Washington State, near Seattle. This race of hound is famed for its courage, having been bred over the years strictly for hunting big game...The Plott breed is an overall brindle colour, but varying from orange in some dogs to almost black in others." Once again, a famous big game hunter is singing the praises of brindle hunting dogs, brindle running mastiffs.

The Running Mastiff of the Southern States

The Black Mouth Cur

 Known affectionately as 'Ole Yeller' because of its coat colour, the Black Mouth Cur or Southern Cur, of the United States, has all the uses and appearance of a running mastiff. Weighing up to 95lbs, with a height at the shoulder of up to 25 inches, these versatile hunting dogs have been used on quarry ranging from squirrel and raccoon to bear and boar. Famous for their long loping stride, great stamina and even more impressive gameness, they hunt and catch their prey, never flinching from closing with fearsome adversary like boar. They can work stock too as can so many of the mastifflike breeds.

Ridgeback Look-a-likes

 Short-haired, with a coat varying from light red, through golden yellow to fawn or sandy yellow/tan, they usually feature a black mask and muzzle and sometimes have white toes or a small white spot on their chest. They resemble the Rhodesian Ridgeback, without the ridge. They are silent on the trail, but give a characteristic 'yodel' as they close in on their prey. With a strongly developed desire to please their masters and great hunting skills, they have proved their worth over the years on many remote farms. Such dogs deserve more recognition, especially when you consider that given to purely ornamental breeds that have never worked to help man survive in testing times.

Running Mastiff Heritage

 If breeds like these two American breeds, the Broholmer, the Rhodesian Ridgeback, the Dogo Argentino and the Great Dane are to thrive they must be bred in the mould of their hunting field ancestors. The powerful strong-headed running mastiffs may no longer have a role in Europe as big game hunters, but they are a distinctive element in canine heritage as well as fine breeds in their own right. They must be bred, as the Danes insist with their native breed, with superlative temperament and sound character. There is no place in today's society for big, powerful savage dogs. There is still a need however for well-disciplined faithful dogs with a natural guarding instinct and that is the challenge for breeders in the 21st century.

"Undaunted in courage, the true boarhound would rush on his game without hesitation and almost as certainly he ran on his destruction. These valuable dogs, therefore, were not so frequently allowed to attack the boar 'at force', as formerly, at the first onset, but were purposely restrained until the boar had become somewhat exhausted."
'An Encyclopaedia of Rural Sports' by Delabere P. Blaine, 1870.