by   David Hancock




 “An understanding of pedigrees and the existing bloodlines, the willingness to cooperate with one another, and the determination to eliminate the mentally and physically unsound individuals from any breeding program are the first steps to be taken towards establishing a worthwhile strain of Mastiff which should stand high on the list of Working breeds.”

From The Mastiff by Marie Antoinette Moore (Denlinger, Virginia, USA) of 1928.

"The breed does not seem to have made the improvements I personally would have liked to have seen it make in the last 15 years or so...I am saddened by the loss of type; where are the square heads, deep broad muzzles and good spring of rib?...I am sure that if we can recapture the old dedication and enthusiasm and watch breeding lines carefully we can return to the breed's former glory. Just because you have a Mastiff that may have won well does not necessarily mean it has to be bred from."
From The Mastiff Today by Lyn Say, Our Dogs, June, 2000.

Selecting Good Genes

 The selection of mates will forever be the principal factor in successful livestock breeding. So often, in the working dog world, it's done on a work-rating: how good at working are the prospective parents? In the show dog world, however often this is denied, rosette-winning is the biggest single factor, with even unworthy Crufts winners being freely used as breeding stock. This is an entirely irrational act; it is based on a view that, firstly, Crufts judges are trustworthy in their judgements, secondly that the winning dog is physically and mentally sound, and thirdly, that the chosen mate will actually 'nick' with the other mate. By that I mean, produce the quality offspring the blood behind each mate should create. As master- breeder Jocelyn Lucas wrote in his Pedigree Dog Breeding (Simpkin, 1925): "A stud dog is not good just because he is good looking. He must be bred right and not be 'chance got', or his good points will not force themselves on his progeny."
Being ‘Chance Got’
Far too many pedigree pups are 'chance got', any success coming from luck, or bred in hope not to a plan. Charles Castle FZS, in his Scientific Dog Management and Breeding (Kaye, 1951), wrote: "Bruce-Lowe traced the pedigree of every racehorse back to the original dam...he was able to classify these families by their characteristics, such as 'sire- producing families', 'running families', etc...these families run true to the present day, passing on family characteristics and certain families 'nick in' to each other to produce winners..." There, was a serious enlightened breeder. As vet and exhibitor RH Smythe wrote in his informative The Breeding and Rearing of Dogs (Popular Dogs, 1969): "It is true that some kennels contrive to turn out a champion each year, but they are usually those that contain a number of bitches often similarly bred, and their owners have been fortunate enough to discover a sire that 'nicks'..." This system has a run-out date as repeat close-breeding can penalise in time; breeding closely is a skill, not an opportunity.
Breeding livestock is very much a science, but a good breeder makes it into an art. There are some show dog breeders with gifted insight. In the Bullmastiff world, for example, distinguished and highly successful kennels like Oldwell and Bunsoro, have long excelled at sire selection and choice of darn. Some of their very best dogs have not come from high winning parents. Some quite sound but not truly outstanding dogs sire high standard offspring, as Bunsoro Bymesen, top sire in 2005, and Azer of Oldwell, who never became a champion but sired nine, illustrate. It is the blend of phenotypical and genotypical features which produce the offspring; top quality can skip a generation. The concept that a Crufts winner mated to an indifferent bitch can somehow produce top quality pups is seriously flawed. It is based on wishful thinking not science. The lazy thinking which leads to a good quality Bullmastiff bitch being mated to the nearest available Bullmastiff sire is just puppy-producing. If I were buying a Boerboel I would approach a dedicated breeder like Peter Wilson, who, in his diligent quest for quality toured the Boerboel kennels in South Africa, before he came across stock with the mental and physical attributes he was seeking. That is serious enlightened intent. All too often 'dogs only good on their papers' or pedigree-irnpressive dogs are assumed unwisely to be valuable breeding material. This is not wise.
Respecting a Breed
In dog breeding, the written pedigree has a role, but should never ever be the deciding factor. Without the written pedigree declaring health details, how can anyone know the genetic health of the dog? The written pedigree can mis-instruct; if you believe that it accurately sets out a dog's ancestors, then you are naive. Far too many written pedigrees are accepted at face-value; no DNA checks are routinely made to verify accuracy. I know of well-known breeders offering stud-dog A at a fat fee, but actually employing kennel-dog B, a better performer. It is fraudulent but it happens. The Danish geneticist Winge proved on coat-colour grounds alone that 15% of the Danish KC pedigrees were untrue. A serious breeder is an assiduous researcher. Honest breeding records are of course immensely valuable but it takes skill to read them rewardingly.
Far too many breeds of purebred dog are 'overdone': Beardies, Rough Collies, Shelties, Bull Terriers, Bulldogs, Mastiffs, Fox Terriers, Dachshunds and Basset Hounds are, in my view. Selective breeding for show points has gone too far. Some Bullmastiff heads are 'overdone'. In the new edition of my book The Bullmastiff, A Breeder's Guide, I show over a hundred illustrations of the pre-war breed; which is the true head for the breed? The Bullmastiff is sometimes unwisely described as 'a head breed'; 'overdone' heads exaggerate themselves. But it would take a brave soul within the breed to attempt redress. Soon there were be a generation, if there isn't one already, that doesn't know what their breed once looked like. So much for respecting a breed and its functional origin. In The Principles of Dog-Breeding (Toogood, 1930) RE Nicholas wrote: "The breeder who returns from each show with a new rather than an improved ideal seldom accomplishes anything worthwhile, for vacillation in standards is the direct road to confusion of types and to absolute failure. The rolling stone gathers nothing but hard knocks." Every breed needs breed-architects ahead of breed optimists.

Loss of Basic Soundness

 When you breed, selectively for coat, as has happened in the Beardie, the Rough Collie and the Sheltie, you can end up with all coat and no dog. When you breed, selectively, for head-shape, you lose genuine type, as in the Bullmastiff and the Bulldog, no matter how widely accepted the new look is. When you breed, selectively, for 'stance', substance and excess of breed features, as in the Dogue de Bordeaux, the Mastiff and the Neapolitan Mastiff respectively, you betray the breed's heritage and don't always put the well-being of the dog ahead of slavish perpetuation. Breeds which feature the over-heavy head are so often unbalanced, especially on the move, as the dog's centre of gravity is shifted. Regrettably, overseas judges and all-rounders see loss of basic soundness and true type quicker than breed specialists, although it is more a matter of honesty than eyesight. Over half a century ago, as a vet's kennel boy, I went with him to Molly Harbut's Airedales, to Manson Baird's Deerhounds, Miss Lipscombe's Bull Terriers and other renowned kennels; it would be good to see such 'type' once more.
It is perfectly possible to breed selectively for soundness. All sporting and working breeds were created that way. The soundest breed I see in the show ring, abroad admittedly, is the American Staffordshire Terrier. They are unexaggerated, supremely fit, superbly constructed, uniformly typy and impressively 'like themselves'; they look, even in a ring of thirty, as though they all came from the same dam. A class of Bullmastiffs at a championship show a few years ago was described by the judge as 'any variety Bullmastiff'. American Bulldogs can look very different, one from another, as different kennels favour different types. But each appears to have been selectively bred to be a canine athlete. When I judged a class a few years ago (see report in later section), type was varied but soundness still manifested itself. Selectivity wasn't working towards one design but still producing sound construction. A dog of this size too, which is Bullmastiff size, must be bred with temperament in the forefront of the breeder's mind.

Constructed by Boasters

 Of all the pedigree breeds of dogs failed by their fanciers, and it would make quite a long list, the mastiff breeds sadly come high on the list. The English Mastiff has become prized for its giant size – not for anything the breed can do! The Bulldog is preferred as a caricature of itself – with its fanciers still claiming it could ‘pin’ a bull! The Bullmastiff is all too often bred like a huge Bulldog, rather than a blend of Mastiff and Bulldog, with the latter’s blood featuring less, as was the original intention. The Neapolitan Mastiff so often displays excessive skin and needlessly heavy bone. The Boerboel, at the last breed event I attended, was being prized for its massiveness not its power and athleticism. The Dogue de Bordeaux regularly exhibits too long a body and legs lacking length, with more than a hint of eye problems in the making. The Great Dane or German Mastiff has become valued for its immense shoulder height ahead of its soundness. Far too many Filas are too bloodhoundy to be true to their own breed type. Are these fair criticisms from someone ‘outside’ these breeds or from an honest observant critic with their best interests at heart? A veterinary surgeon friend once described the breeders of huge dogs as ‘status-seeking size-boasters’; he may have had a point. Earlier I have set out the perils of breeding dogs that are too heavy for their own good, too short-muzzled for their well-being and harmfully heavy-boned. Here, I stress the significance of the key features in a strongly-made but essentially active type of dog and emphasize the danger arising from show ring fads. 
Bone-headed Breeding
No breed of dog benefits from being too big, that is a human desire for dogs to suit their concept rather than the dog's best interests. Dogs are punished by over-heavy bone. "The search for large bone is going to bring with it an obvious increase in growth rate which in turn renders the dog more liable to such problems as OCD, UAP or FCP...." Those words by Malcom Willis in his authoritative 'Practical Genetics for Dog Breeders' (Witherby, 1992) don't seem to impress dog-breeders perhaps as much as they should. Some breeds are actually prized for the weight of their bone, with many judges seeking heavy bone in exhibits, if their critiques are anything to go by. A century ago, Foxhound breeders lost their way and sought hounds with heavy dense massive bone, claiming that this feature provided stamina. They themselves however, when riding to hounds, rode hunters not cart-horses--and still managed to keep up! Their folly was subsequently exposed by a hound-expert from America, the legendary 'Ikey' Bell.
Strength, power and endurance do not reside in heavy bone, as any dog-sledder will tell you. To breed dogs with bone heavier than nature intended is asking for trouble, as the statistics on hip and elbow dysplasia, cervical vertebral malformation and osteochondrosis sadly demonstrate. The Mastiff of today seems to be bred for beef not any previous canine function; a Mastiff exhibitor at Crufts once boasted to me of the heaviness of his dog's bone but heavy bone is not required in the Mastiff's standard. A Mastiff breeder advertised his stock in the dog-press a few years ago by claiming 'I am pleased to say that we have now bred the largest and heaviest dog in Britain', boasting of a 35" dog weighing over 20 stones. The two great Mastiff breeders at the end of the 19th century, Wynn and Sidney Turner each favoured dogs around 29" high and around 10 stones in weight. Both prized soundness in their Mastiffs.
Hip and elbow dysplasia are painful and potentially crippling malformations of the joints. Many elderly humans know only too well the appalling discomfort of arthritis. To breed dogs of such body weight and bone density that they suffer cruelly from such afflictions is hardly admirable. But if show judges are actually rewarding massive bone, then cruelty to dogs is seriously being encouraged. In his valuable book 'The Anatomy of Dog Breeding' (Popular Dogs 1962), exhibitor and vet RH Smythe writes: "When a judge picks a dog out of a breed class for honours because he considers that it has better bone than its rivals, he is probably under the impression that the bones of its limbs (and he usually considers the fore limbs from elbow to knee) are thicker and stronger than those of other exhibits.it is only the mineral content of the outer casing which gives strength to bone...we must not delude ourselves into imagining that the increase of 'substance' implies extra thickness of bone."

Needless Bulk

 Bigger doesn't always mean better, especially in the dog-breeding world. In the past few years, I have attended dog shows in which dogs have been proudly presented by exhibitors when they were clearly just too big for their own well-being; this is not wise. Breeds like the Boerboel, the Bullmastiff, the Dogue de Bordeaux, the Neapolitan Mastiff and the Mastiff were never intended to be admired and valued because of their size but for what they could do. The Boerboel is and was the South African 'farmer's bulldog', needed to drive wayward bulls, protect livestock from predators and lead a full life on a vast farmstead. It was not designed to pull carts or engage in weight-pulling contests of little consequence. It was always an active working dog. Similarly, the Bullmastiff was bred to be active and powerful not inactive and immense. A Bullmastiff weighing more than 130lbs breaches its own breed standard and should not even be seen by a judge. Why breed away from function when it always creates problems and leads to a loss of true breed type?
A couple of years ago, I watched the Mastiff of England being exhibited by foreigners at a World Dog Show. It made me quite angry. The dogs were so unsound, so demeaning in a once-distinguished breed - slothful, shambling, grossly overweight specimens of a fine breed 'gone wrong'.  Their movement was quite dreadful; their construction so unsound; their eyes deeply-sunken and dull; their flews exaggerated beyond comfort and their ultra-heavy bone a needless handicap. I was appalled. Any group of breed fanciers can lose their way, but when a dog of this size is ill-bred, indirect cruelty is involved. These dogs were heavier than any past function could ever justify; they appeared to be valued because of their extreme bulk.
Writing in 'The Book of the Dog' of 1948, edited by Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald and published by Nicholson and Watson, Arthur Croxton Smith gave this view: "Breeders seem to have concentrated more and more upon getting immense size, and great bulk usually brings the evil of unsoundness in its train. I have seen plenty of perfectly sound mastiffs, such as could move well and were really active, but latterly the proportion of unsound ones has been alarmingly heavy, for it is extremely difficult for breeders to get soundness in alliance with bulk." No breed can lead a healthy life if its whole design is at the mercy of human whim. Any breed no longer bred for a function, even if that function has lapsed, has a doubtful future.
Resultant Problems
If youthen look at the health of the breed as summarised in an authoritative book such as 'Medical and Genetic Aspects of Purebred Dogs' by Clark and Stainer (1994), youcan see some of the problems in the breed. It states: "Many bitches experience uterine inertia after whelping one or two puppies, probably resulting from the breed's characteristic lethargy...Obesity is the curse of the Mastiff breed...many owners continue to overfeed their dogs in the mistaken belief that the heavy feeding increases the dog's size." Far too many of the show ring Mastiffs cannot live an active life, they are simply too heavy, and they do not lead active lives. They can damage themselves just getting out of a car. No dog should be bred so heavy that it cannot live like a normal dog. No dog should be bred with built-in anatomical handicaps. In the pursuit of great size, many Mastiff owners overfeed and over-supplement their young dogs with vitamins and minerals. Obesity is a major threat to the well-being of Mastiffs. Any dog weighing nearly 200lbs desperately needs the soundest of physiques just to ensure a fulfilling life.
Lethargy and obesity from overfeeding, are these not the consequences of breeding for great size without accompanying soundness or quality? I groan when I read a judge's critique praising 'great bone'; are we breeding cart-horses or powerfully-built physically-sound dogs? The seeking of massive bone in any breed of dog is not a rational act. Strong, flat bone is admired by every racehorse owner, because it is the strongest, and who in all honesty wants a dog with thick ankles? Of what use and value are they to the dog? Did our distant ancestors, who actually used these dogs in the field, ever value a dog purely for its bulk? The Mastiff of England is an imposing breed, developed because of its athleticism not its size; now a veterinary author refers to "the breed's characteristic lethargy". It is dishonest to boast of a breed's historic feats and then breed an animal that simply could not accomplish such a task.

Strange Desire for Harmful Bulk

  I attended a Bullmastiff seminar twenty years ago, where the principal speaker argued that to be a successful nightdog the dog had to weigh over 120lbs and had no need to be able to jump fences or stone walls! The most successful nightdog was Thorneywood Terror and he weighed 90lbs. His owner, W Burton, wrote on nightdogs that "He ought to be able to jump a gate with ease." Another famed nightdog 'Osmaston Daisy' weighed 88lbs. The esteemed pioneer breeder Moseley always stressed that a Bullmastiff should be active. His 'Farcroft Fidelity' was described by the knowledgeable Robert Leighton in 1924 as being as "active as a terrier, with hindquarters that would not disgrace an Alsatian". Sadly there are many Bullmastiffs lacking 'activity' in the 21st century.
"The Bull Mastiff is, or should be, a light heavy-weight..."
Arthur Craven FZS Dog World August 1932


Identifying Need

 Sadly, dog-breeding in purebred dogs is conducted, not on lines of desired and measureable improvement but on repeating the past, despite advances in scientific knowledge and a pronounced loss of type in some breeds. When, as part of my professional responsibilities, I ran a rare breeds' farm, I was able to benefit from a range of systems and recommended procedures, not utilised in adapted form by dog breeders. But even when breeding longhorn cattle, I never once heard the desirability of heavy bone mentioned in breeding programmes, and these were creatures weighing over a ton each. Strength and power in animals doesn't reside in bone size, as racehorses, antelopes and hyenas demonstrate only too vividly.

Standard Words 

 If you take a powerful breed of dog, such as the Bullmastiff, then compare its breed standard to the remarks made in judges' critiques, you can soon spot different requirements. The Breed Standard of the Bullmastiff makes just one reference to bone in its wording: the forelegs are expected to be 'well-boned'. The 'general appearance' section demands a dog that is not cumbersome; the hindquarters must not be cumbersome. The 'characteristics' section demands a dog that is active. There are no words in the breed standard to demand heavy bone, great bone, outstanding bone (whatever that is!) or substantial bone. But 'bone-headed' judges rush to find it!

Critical Stress

 These extracts from thirteen recent critiques covering just Bullmastiff exhibits make my point for me: "He had the best bone of the puppies I was considering"; "...outstanding bone"; "...great bone"; "...well-off for bone"; "...good bone"; "...super bone"; "...well-boned"; "...good bone throughout"; "...she is heavily-boned"; "...with plenty of bone"; "...could have more bone for his size"; "...terrific bone"; "...lovely bone"; "...with adequate bone". I'm glad about the latter, for surely the dog would have fallen over without it! Were these judges judging to the standard? Most animals with heavy bone are cumbersome and lack activity, two features undesired in the standard for this admirable breed.

Confused Judges

 I don't believe the words in these quotes have any value for the novice breeder but, to me, they reveal confusion amongst judges. To breed dogs with bone heavier than nature intended is asking for trouble, as the statistics on hip and elbow dysplasia, cervical vertebral malformation and osteochondrosis sadly demonstrate. But if the prototypal Bullmastiffs didn't display heavy bone and the breed standard doesn't authorize it, in whose name are judges seeking it when judging the breed? The situation in some other big breeds is even worse. The Mastiff of today seems to be bred for beef not any previous canine function; a Mastiff exhibitor at Crufts once boasted to me of the heaviness of his dog's bone - but heavy bone is not required in the Mastiff's standard.

Breed Need

 It is worth noting the requirements for bone in the Breed Standards of the heftier breeds. The requirement is so often, as in a separate quote, writer and vet RH Smythe remarked, perceived as a forequarters' feature. The Pyrenean Mountain Dog, for example is required to have, in its forequarters, heavily-boned forelegs. The forequarters of the St. Bernard have to be strong in bone, those of the Tibetan Mastiff to be strongly boned, those of the Rottweiler need plenty of bone. The bones of a Mastiff's forelegs have to be large boned, the Leonberger's, the Maremma's and the Komondor's well boned, the Estrela's strongly boned and the Bouvier des Flandres's heavy boned. But shouldn't it all be a matter of degree? Does a Bouvier really need heavier bone than a Mastiff or a St. Bernard? Should Breed Standards not be coordinated and comparable?

Mastiff Needs

 This breed was re-created in the 19th century using the blood of the Alpine Mastiff/Smooth St Bernard, the Tibetan Mastiff and the Great Dane. The first two named were of the transhumance type, heavily-built dogs for sound functional reasons. Portrayals of Mastiffs before this infusion of foreign blood did not feature the heavy bone, considerable bulk and vast size of the contemporary dogs being passed off as Mastiffs. The function of dogs in the true mastiff mould was that of hunting dogs, as so many prints depicting the medieval hunt exemplify. The breed of Mastiff should never display 'great bone', huge bulk or be prized for its size. It should be an impressive big dog of activity, agility and strength. It should never ever be the canine equivalent of a cart-horse.

Harmful Design

 It forever disappoints me that the profession of veterinary surgeon doesn't bring with it a more developed desire to speak out when dogs are bred to a harmful design. They appear quite vocal on the docking of dogs' tails but are silent, and quite busy, on the castration of dogs for alleged 'behavioural' reasons. It is rare indeed to hear one hold forth on the perils of breeding 'shorthorn' dogs. Twenty years ago, one vet, Simon Wolfensohn, wrote on this subject in New Scientist magazine. He wrote: "There is no simple explanation for the shorter life-span of the giant breeds...apart from those that are destroyed because of bone problems early in life (usually due to faulty development of the growth plates of the bones or defects in bone mineralization) or because of severe arthritis...it may be that the hormonal mechanisations or other factors responsible for the giant size and heavy bone development of these breeds are intimately related to the aging process."

Animal Welfare

 He took the view that St Bernards and Bloodhounds have a strong inherited tendency to acromegaly, a condition caused by excess production of growth hormone in the adult, which leads to heavier than normal bone structure, especially in the feet. Article 5 of the European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals, at last receiving some official attention here, takes account 'of the anatomical characteristics which are likely to put at risk the health and welfare of the animals.' Before we reject as unwarrantable interference from Brussels such an Article, we surely need to remind ourselves of the times we live in. Animal welfare attracts a higher priority in contemporary life than hitherto. Do we really want unseemly scenes over dogs bred for harmful features, such as 'great bone' in breeds that never originally displayed it and are penalised by it?

Heading for Trouble

 If you put four fawn-coated black-faced mastiff breeds: a Boerboel (undocked), a Canary Dog (with uncropped ears), a Dogue de Bordeaux (with a black nose, as permitted in its standard) and a Bullmastiff, in a show ring with an all-rounder as a judge, I am prepared to bet that they would confuse the breeds. The most apparent breed identifier should be the head in each case, but with specialist Bullmastiff judges so often ignoring the breed standard's words on the breed's head, it is hardly surprising if confusion reigns. So many Bullmastiffs now resemble fawn (or brindle) American Bulldogs, because untypical heads are being rewarded. If this continues, breed type could soon be threatened and big Bulldogs replace the true breed of Bullmastiff.
The head construction is often a decider when identifying breeds; the Braque St Germain looks like our Pointer at first glance, but when you look at the stop and the occiput, then the ear carriage, it is easier to separate them. This is true too of the two recognised ridgeback breeds, a Thai Ridgeback has a different ear carriage from the Rhodesian version, with most of the latter being stronger in build. Closer to home, the Mastiff is expected to be bigger than the Bullmastiff, but at world dog shows it is easy to confuse the two. For me, the contemporary Mastiff has lost its classic head and is too heavy-headed and loose-lipped. But sadly the Bullmastiff is now changing, with the help of show ring judges, from being 60% Mastiff 40% Bulldog to being 75% Bulldog 25% Mastiff, not what the pioneer breeders sought at all. A round-headed stub-nosed dog with a wrinkled forehead contradicts the Bullmastiff standard, but dogs bearing such features are richly rewarded in today's show rings. There should not be such basic differences within a breed, not if breed-identity and breed-type are truly valued. Head type has long created dispute; as C Aubrey Smith, owner of the Mastiff 'Colonel Cromwell', a 1902 champion, is quoted in Crompton's 'The Twentieth Century Dog' of 1904:

"Breeders of today adhere to the short, bulldog, thick, Bordeaux type of head. Surely this was not the type of the old English mastiff? To my mind it deprives the king of dogs of intelligence of expression, to say the least. And I vote for length of muzzle accompanied with due breadth, and free from any suspicion of tampering, as being most in accord with the original type."

and from Dog World August 1932 written by Arthur Craven, author of 'The Bullmastiff As I Know It:.
"Another fault we find in some animals is muzzles. Here we often see weakness where strength should prevail. Some people say many of our present-day specimens show too much of the Mastiff muzzle; a few people give other reasons...one cannot afford to ignore these cranks, who in most cases know absolutely nothing about the many subjects they discuss, but do their best to try and get others to imagine they are experts. In Bull-Mastiff circles we find a number of these self-claimed authorities at practically every dog show, but fortunately few people listen to their claims."

Not Pug-nosed
The head of the Bullmastiff is one of its main breed points, but it should not, according to its KC-approved Breed Standard, be Pug-nosed. The Breed Standard specifies quite precisely that the distance from the nose-tip to the stop must be approximately one-third of the length from the tip of the nose to the centre of the occiput. A shorter muzzle is a breach of the breed standard and an exaggeration. Yet Bullmastiffs quite often become champions, rewarded by both breed and all-round top judges, with muzzles which breach the standard, as well as featuring a degree of wrinkle, in repose, which also breaches it. A well-known Bullmastiff breeder and judge recently told me that she has both correct and incorrect (i.e. too short) muzzles in her kennel. The dogs with approved muzzle length can run and run; the ones with incorrect muzzles are out of breath all too quickly and suffer in the heat. It is shaming that the European Convention is needed; it is good to know that our KC is starting to act to reduce such distress; too short a muzzle does bestow distress.
Threat to Health
I recently attended a game fair on a warm but not hot day; several hundred dogs were present: a Foxhound pack, a Beagle pack, a collection of hunting Bassets for a competition on the flags, gundogs for a scurry, working terriers for a show, racing Whippets and over a hundred visitors' pets. Of all of these dogs only one, an American Bulldog with a short nose, became distressed by the warmth of the day. Thirty years ago I attended the World Dog Show in Brussels; a Bulldog collapsed in the ring in the heat and had to receive emergency attention. Within half an hour, it was back in the ring, only to end up in the veterinary room, being given oxygen and covered in ice-cubes. The wretched Bulldog just could not breathe properly through its muzzle-less mouth. This is direct cruelty and should be prosecuted. Our KC has recently amended the Bulldog standard to include: 'Dogs showing respiratory distress highly indesirable'. But does every judge know of this? 
At the Neapolitan Mastiff Club's Open Show of the 9th of April 2005, the judge was an extremely knowledgeable very competent Dutch breed specialist. In his critique on the open dog class he wrote: '...over the years I have come across quite a few bad eyes, but some entries managed to make me almost speechless; how is this possible...searching for eyes, which proved to be too small, too deep set and severely damaged.' Did the exhibitor-owners of such dogs themselves have 'severely damaged' eyes which prevented their spotting such a handicap? I think not; but the standard for this breed does actually stipulate eyes that are 'set fairly deep'. That is most unwise and the breed standard, which is owned by the Kennel Club, needs early amendment. No other mastiff breed has such a requirement; this is not a breed difference but a breed disability, and an intolerable one.
Unnatural Features
In their book, Dogs (Scribner, 2001), the Coppingers write on the Bulldog: 'Their faces are so squashed that the turbinate bones in their nostrils are tiny. Turbinate bones are covered with respiratory epithelial tissue, which helps the dog to breathe and cools its brain. As a result of the tiny turbinates, bulldogs and the other flat-facers have poor brain cooling, poor breathing, and low oxygen tension in their blood'. In their authoritative 'Breed Predispositions to Disease in Dogs and Cats' (Blackwell, 2004), Gough and Thomas devote more words to the Bulldog than any other breed, stating that brachycephalic upper airway syndrome (BAOS) is common in the breed (and in the Boston Terrier, Pekingese and Pug), with 55% of cases of hypoplastic trachea being found in this breed.
The short-faced or brachycephalic head shape is the result of an inherited defect in development of the bones of the base of the skull; the skull is of normal width but is significantly reduced in length. The soft tissues of the head are not proportionately reduced, so too much tissue is crammed into the space available, leaving little space for the passage of air. Other breeds show this defect through having too deep a stop, e.g. American Cocker Spaniels, St Bernards and some Boxers, but to a lesser extent. Bulldogs often have elongated soft palate. Bull-bitches have an unusually hard time whelping, with one study stating that only 6% of Bull-bitches whelp naturally. The seeking of a relatively large head in this breed contributes to this, with the head shape not helping.
The short face also imposes scenting limitations, with such a construction imposing a loss of 80% of scenting ability. With scenting power meaning as much to dog as sight to us, this is comparable to a loss of 80% of sight in a human being, some handicap. Eye problems occur in dogs with the short face; Boston Terriers can suffer from outward turning of the eyes, making it difficult to achieve binocular vision, as well as protrusion of the eyeballs, which can lead to their eyes popping out of their sockets, from even moderate trauma. The Pug, with shortened nasal passages, suffers from chronic sinusitis and other respiratory infections. Some Pug owners actually find their dog's snoring  'comforting'!
Harmful Features
Breeding dogs for the psychological needs of humans is not very admirable but I've read of Pekingese owners liking the look of a permanently 'crying' pet and of pop-eyed breeds being desired because they look vulnerable, and they are! Eyeballs that protrude excessively expose the eye to drying, even difficulty in closing the eyes properly, and risking corneal injury. Too short a muzzle also leads to dental problems; the upper and lower jaws are not equal in length and the jaw is so short that the teeth are overcrowded. The short face also results in skin problems; deep folds or wrinkles around the nose attract bacterial infection, leading to surgical removal of some folds. Folds around the mouth tend to trap saliva and debris, causing at least a foul smell, at worst dermatitis. Inheritance should be something prized not something dreaded by vets and dog-owners. But what went before is so often intentionally falsely interpreted by irresponsible fanciers - preferring to seek rosettes ahead of soundness, even in their own kennel. Fad of the day can easily become harm in a very short span of time. That apart, breeding the broad-mouthed breeds with a short muzzle displays total ignorance of their function and the anatomy required to permit historic function. Inheritance should mean too prizing all the genes in a breed - not concentrating unhealthily on the ones that suit your breeding plans. This applies to coat colours especially.


Coat Colours in the Mastiff Breeds

 The coat colours in the mastiff breeds seem to be rooted in black and dilutions of black. Starting with the Bullmastiff, the Breed Standard calls for any shade of brindle, fawn or red, for the coat colour to be pure and clear, for the black muzzle to be essential, with slight white marking only permissible on the dog's chest (and more usually found in brindles). It is likely that the black mask and muzzle is dominant over no black mask/muzzle. The black mask/muzzle was at one time more often missing in dogs bred in the United States. Many early registrations here, including those bearing the Farcroft affix, did not feature the black mask and muzzle. The genetics of coat colours in the Bullmastiff are comparable with those for the Boxer, except that white markings are frowned on in the former. It is unusual in British show rings to see a Boxer without white feet, blaze and brisket; this collection of markings seems to be associated with light bone, a less substantial frame and eternal puppy-hood. It may be that the solid-colour brindle Boxer has been lost.

Common Colours

 The standard of the Mastiff calls for three precise colours: apricot fawn, silver fawn or dark fawn brindle, with an obligatory black mask. These variations are also available, together with black, in Pugs. Little (1957) described the apricot fawn as "probably the ordinary reddish fawn" and stated that "The silver fawn may be due to the chinchilla gene..." Reds or sables of various shades are common in the bulldog, together with brindle. Robinson (1990) described the fawny colour known as 'fallow' as: "...may be red diluted by a chinchilla gene..." Walkley, in his book on the Bullmastiff, attributes the red colour in the breed to the Dogue de Bordeaux, despite the liver nose found in the French breed not manifesting itself in the Bullmastiff. (It is important too to keep in mind that the English occupied Bordeaux for over 200 years at a time when hunting mastiffs from England were prized. The Dogue de Bordeaux is much more likely to be an off-shoot of British stock than an influence on it.) The usual colours in the Bloodhound are red and black and tan; we know that Bloodhound blood is behind the Bullmastiff and is shown on some early pedigrees, e.g. Osmaston Turk's dam was half Bloodhound and half Mastiff.

The Pinning or Gripping Breeds

 It is worth a look at colours in the other 'pinning' breeds. The standard of the Dogue de Bordeaux calls for 'red to fawn', allows white patches on chest and feet but not the face. The Cane Corso is required to be black, blue, chestnut, tawny, red or any of these colours brindled. Black and tan is allowed but not sought. The Perro de Presa Canario is required to be tiger, silver and golden brindle, from dark brown to light grey or solid colours ranging from sand to dark ochre. The Neapolitan Mastiff can be black, blue, all shades of grey, brown varying from fawn to red with brindling permissible on either of the latter colours. This is similar to the colour variations in the Great Dane, although harlequins occur in the latter. The mastiff of Broholm Castle in Denmark, or Broholmer, can be fawn or black. The Fila Brasileiro can be any solid colour or brindle. The Tosa is preferred in solid red, but white markings on the feet and chest are permitted; brindle, dull black and fawn are permitted but the red dog is very much favoured. The Perro de Presa Mallorquin is favoured in fawn, again with white markings permitted. The Boerboel from South Africa is favoured as a solid coloured dog: brindle, yellow (lion), grey, red-brown or brown; white markings are permitted, the black mask is not essential, light brown or yellow brown eyes are acceptable but the nose must be black, not liver-coloured.
Harlequin and Black Merle
The Great Dane can produce both harlequin (black patches on white) and black merle (black patches on grey) offspring. In 'Great Danes, past and present' of sixty years ago, Dr. Morell MacKenzie quotes breeders as saying: "I believe that it has always been recognised that a black or blue should be crossed in about every third generation to avoid harlequins being too lightly marked...Ch. Orus of Lockerbie, was a brindle-harlequin, in the days when such a colour was permissible. I consider a harlequin dog to a merle bitch one of the best matings." (Mrs Cowan). "Mrs Blackler bred some of the best harlequins out of a black bitch with a white blaze and white on her neck and feet...she once had a beautiful golden brindle puppy from a sire and dam who had been harlequin and black for generations." I have never seen a brindle-harlequin anywhere in the world, but have seen mainly white dogs with brindle.

Modifying Gene

 In his 'Genetics for Dog Breeders', (Pergamon Press, 1989), the late Roy Robinson wrote: "The harlequin is basically a merle but with a modifying gene H which changes the bluish areas of the merle to white...The merle effect is produced by heterozygosity (i.e. containing two different alleles of the same gene, DH) of a gene M which is dominant to normal colouring." The black merle of the Catahoula Leopard Dog is quite remarkably similar to that found in the collie/greyhound lurchers bred in England by my namesake. In Norway the Dunker Harrier has three colours: grey-mottled, black and white with small grey-mottled patches. The grey-mottled dogs can have large black patches. Running mastiffs display merle and harlequin coats, but not the hunting mastiffs, the modified brachycephalic dogs.  

Wide Range

 The Boerboel of South Africa is part-descended from the Brabanter bullenbijter, like the Danzigger bahrenbeisser, a brindle 'pinning' or 'gripping' dog of the Middle Ages in Northern Europe. In the 18th and early 19th centuries most of the portrayals of our Mastiffs and Bulldogs showed parti-coloured dogs, as was Howitt's Bullmastiff of 1810, although fawn with a black mask also appeared from time to time. These fawn Mastiffs were more usually those portrayed with the landed gentry. In the middle of the 19th century, mastiff-type dogs were produced from Great Danes, St Bernards and the blood of large cross-breeds, like the Suliot dog of Lord Truro. This was conducted mainly in pursuit of great size. There is a wide range of colour and blood behind the Mastiff of England and, not surprisingly, the Bullmastiff. Pied Mastiffs, when cropping up in purebred litters, should be prized; there are irrefutable historical records of this coat colour being part of the Mastiff gene pool. It is noticeable that pied Mastiffs are stockier, more substantial and heftier than usual; this could be the old Alpine Mastiff/Smooth St Bernard blood re-emerging from its mid-19th century infusion into the English breed, e.g. at Chatsworth.
Far too many purebred dogs suffer from man-imposed limitations that lessen the variety, especially within a closed gene pool. Restrictions on colour reduce the size of a breed's gene pool and increase the perils of too-close breeding. A griege Weimaraner, a bay Hanover Scenthound or a sorrel Ridgeback look distinctive but such one-colour breeds come from a small base. The Mastiff does not and any restrictions on its breed livery are wholly whimsical. Mastiff expert, Wynn, was writing, over a century ago: 'Formerly the mastiff ran all colours, and were mostly pied with white...the question of colour looked at impartially, will at once be seen to be anything but a characteristic, all colours being admissable...for my own part I prefer the all-black, or the stone, or smokey fawn, with intense black ears and muzzle...' He was the best informed Mastiff breeder of his day. Weckuff was a favourite Englische Dogge in medieval Germany and was mainly white. (Daisy, a purebred Mastiff - from champion stock, DNA-tested as 100% Mastiff, white with small cream patches, is now registered as such by the AKC.)

The Brindle Factor

 A Belgian researcher, Marcel Wynants, claims to have traced the brindle colour in pure-bred Mastiffs back to the Marquis of Hertford's 'black' dog Pluto, in the middle of the 19th century. But there are illustrations of brindle Mastiffs well before that time and plenty of outside blood has entered the breed's gene pool before and after that date. Both Greyhound and Great Dane blood could have been responsible for brindle in the neoteric Mastiff. Brindle is very much a feature of mastiff-like dogs, as the Perro de Presa Canario, the Fila Brasileiro, the Cane Corso, the Alano and the Fila de Sao Miguel demonstrate today. Looking at the inheritance of the brindle factor, mating two fawn Boxers produced 808 fawn-tan and 2 brindle pups. Mating two fawn Great Danes produced 60 fawn and 4 brindles. Six matings of brindle X brindle Boxers gave 33 brindles to 6 fawns. 566 pups from two brindle Great Dane matings produced 493 brindles and 73 fawns. Even without statistics from Bullmastiff litters, it is clear that genetically you could get brindle from mating two fawns but I do not know of such an occurence. A brindle parent increases the likelihood of brindle offspring; a brindle Great Dane bitch mated to a black and tan Bloodhound produced nine pups, every one of them brindle.

Brindle Types

 The brindle colour produces variations, often referred to as silver brindle (from the grey tone of the stripes), tiger brindle (light tan stripes) or red brindle. Fawn in the Bullmastiff is often described as apricot fawn, silver fawn or red fawn. When the latter displays a darker saddle, it is referred to as being stag-red. Although brindle was favoured in the Gamekeeper's Nightdog, red and red fawn are surprisingly difficult to pick up at night. Some of the old breeders mistakenly believed that the brindle colour indicated Greyhound blood and therefore greater athleticism. The Greyhound may well have obtained its brindle coats from past Bulldog crossings (e.g. Lord Orford's well known experiment), although primitive tribal sighthounds in north and South Africa also display this colour. In Leighton's The New Book of the Dog (1912), WK Taunton, who kept a large kennel of Mastiffs for over forty years, wrote: "It has occurred that Mastiffs bred from rich dark brindles have been whelped of a blue or slate colour. In course of time the stripes of the brindle appear, but puppies of this colour, which are very rare, generally retain a blue mask, and have light eyes. Many such puppies have been destroyed; but this practice is a mistake...some of the best Mastiffs have been bred through dogs or bitches of this shade." Campaigns by breeders to restrict the gene pool by obliterating the rarer colours do harm to a breed. Surreptitious outcrossing also has to be concealed when coat colours betray the traditional coat colours in a litter.


 On the subject of pigmentation, pigmentation is a genetic matter not a nutritional one. The Bullmastiff breeder who informed me at Crufts twenty years ago that he fed his dogs iron filings to ensure good pigmentation was living in the dark ages. It is not a good idea to seek a thickening of the skin of the lips in breeding stock, which some older breeders linked with pigmentation, because this increases the tendency to acne and furunculosis, not uncommon in the mastiff breeds. Rate of hair growth is influenced by nutrition but not the colour of nails/claws, rims of eyes or noses. It is believed by geneticists that different genes are responsible for the colour of skin, nose and hair. Many standards call for dark toe nails; if however judges reward dogs with pink toe nails then they are encouraging this as a future breed feature. Winning dogs get bred from and their genes proliferated. The mastiff breeds look more than a little effeminate with pink toe-nails; it is a degrading feature and undermines the presentation of a powerful athletic dog.

The Darker Past of the Mastiffs

 “Several terracotta models of large mastiffs from Nineveh, dated to the 7th century BC include preserved paint pigments indicating that they were originally coloured black, white, piebald or speckled.” Those words from Karunanithy’s Dogs of War of 2008 refer to the mastiffs so often claimed by Mastiff historians as ancestors of their modern breed. These advocates also embrace those in the contemporary breed of Mastiff who reject any dog not displaying the KC-ordained coat colour as either ‘not proper Mastiffs’ or insist that such ‘impurities’ only came from the introduction of outside blood. Surely anyone proud of their breed has to respect their whole past not just select those elements that reflect their prejudices. The breed is more important than that.
Bertrand de Guesclin, a 14th century French soldier, who fought for Charles V against the English during the One Hundred Years War and one of the finest leaders in battle of his time, was so respected by his English opponents that they called him 'The Black Mastiff'. This was an indication too of the regard for Mastiffs at that time. Little, in his The Inheritance of Coat Colours in Dogs of 1979, points out the many similarities in coat colour inheritance in Bulldogs, Mastiffs and Boxers but notes that both black and black-with-tan-point patterns are found in Bulldogs but not (today) in the other two breeds. In his British Dogs of 1888, Dalziel writes: “A correspondent in the Live Stock Journal spoke of a coal-black bitch of the Lyme Hall breed…it is evident that black was by no means an unknown colour at that time.” In The Kennel Encyclopaedia of 1910, J Sidney Turner writes, on this subject: “It may be news to present day breeders that black Mastiffs ever existed, but this was a recognized colour, as so also was white.” He goes on to give many examples of black Mastiffs being owned and prized for their physical qualities. Yet, today, in the Kennel Club's rings you will never see a black one. (When a black Mastiff, purebred, cropped up in an Australian litter, pressure from within the breed there led to this excellent specimen being castrated).
Colour Prejudice
This is clearly not historically correct. The modern breed, according to its KC standard, can only be apricot-fawn, silver-fawn, fawn, brindle or 'non-standard', whatever that means. But Bewick, Buffon and Gilpin* depicted Mastiffs two centuries ago that were pied, black and white or mainly white. Foreign mastiff breeds, as pointed out earlier, like the Broholmer, the Neapolitan, the Fila Brasileiro, the Tosa, the Cane Corso and the Great Dane can feature a black coat. But in recent years, as already covered, a Welsh enthusiast, Gareth Williams of Bishopston, Swansea, with his wife Claire, has been promoting his line of black Mastiff, which he considers is a descendant of the Welsh holding dog or gafaelgi, used by butchers to seize wayward bulls and before that to pull down big game. Douglas Oliff in his The Mastiff and Bullmastiff Handbook of 1988, mentions two fifteenth century references which translate from Welsh as, 'what good are greyhounds, two hundred of them, without a gafaelgi' and 'the gafaelgi takes fierce hold of the stag's throat, and is black in colour'. Note the coat colour.

*In 1903, Edwardian Mastiff expert EG Oliver wrote an appraisal of the Gilpin portrayal, making valuable remarks too about the state of the breed at that time, which are set out in this image:

Welsh Background
In his The Bullmastiff Handbook of 1957, Clifford 'Doggie' Hubbard, who knew a thing or two about Welsh dogs, recorded: 'As far as I know, the Mastiff (in Welsh, Cystawcci) was of two kinds, the Cadgi (or battle dog) and the Gafaelgi (or holding dog). The fact that the holding or gripping dog was included under the heading of Mastiff instead of Hound does not necessarily preclude his use in hunting, of course, but it does suggest early work as a guard and keeper's watchdog.' Gareth Williams's Mastiffs are not vast, lumbering, heavy-boned unathletic specimens, like the show ring exhibits, but strongly-built, muscular canine athletes, just as the true Mastiff should be. He deserves support.  His Mastiffs resemble the type depicted by Ben Marshall in 1799, a very large but agile, alert, soundly-built and strongly-muscled strong-headed but tight-mouthed dog.
Historical Correctness
Gareth Williams's Welsh Mastiffs are around 26 inches at the shoulder and weigh 110lbs; he does not restrict his breeding to blacks, accepting any solid colour, but not favouring brindles or whites. So you can have a Welsh, German, Italian, Brazilian, Danish, Tibetan and a Japanese black mastiff but not a black English one. You can however have a near-black English Mastiff in darkest brindle. Where is the rationale behind that? Black has been lost in Boxers and isn't favoured in show Bulldogs. In the famous 'Philo-Kuon' Bulldog breed standard of 1865 however, it stated that 'black was formerly considered a good colour...' Why not now? How many quality Bulldog whelps down the years have been consigned to the bucket purely on account of their coat colour? This is not wise breeding; it's colour prejudice – genetically-limiting colour prejudice.       
In his informative and valuable Practical Genetics for Dog Breeders, leading geneticist Malcolm Willis has written: "If a colour is associated with a specific problem (as with MM) (i.e. the merle gene, DH) then there is good justification for avoiding or banning the colour. Where no such biological excuse exists bans are less justifiable...Those breeders whose breed allows any colour are advantaged and should preserve such advantages." Some colour prejudices come from quite primitive beliefs; Italian shepherds once regarded white pups as the only pure ones; Portuguese shepherds once believed that harlequin ones were pure; Turkish shepherds used to consider fawn with a black mask as a sign of purity. Having a very human preference for one colour is understandable; but, in a closed gene pool, it is unwise to ban a colour that once featured in that gene pool. Black Mastiffs are historically correct.
A famous Mastiff breeder, James Wiggesworth Thompson, of Southowram, Yorkshire, who started breeding Mastiffs in the early 1830s and whose family had several black Mastiffs, once wrote: 'I have seen mastiffs of exceptional character with more or less white on them, and think any judge ignoring a dog simply for this reason, would display fastidiousness to a fault.'  It is this 'fastidiousness to a fault' that imposes quite artificial and historically incorrect limitations on coat colour in more than one distinguished breed. Imagine, if, in 1900, the Labrador fraternity had decided that, despite their gene pool, black dogs were to be disallowed. How many quite outstanding Labradors would have been denied to us as a direct result? However much we admire the yellows and the chocolates, the blacks have been the bedrock of Labrador excellence. The black Pointers of the Duke of Kingston once excelled but nowadays whole black Pointers don't seem to be favoured. Colour prejudice seems to flourish in dogdom. You can register silver, apricot, fawn or black Pugs but all of those coat colours except black in Mastiffs. The outside blood introduced into the Mastiff gene pool in the 19th century included that of the Great Dane and the Tibetan Mastiff, both of which can be registered as blacks. So the black gene is acceptable but not the colour when manifested. Genetic diversity, especially in a closed gene pool, is highly desirable. I know of no geneticist who supports the pursuit of coat-colour exclusions. It is irrational; it lessens the genetic health of a breed. 
Show Men not Dog Men
Half a century ago, two leading Mastiff breeders also kept Newfoundlands; in the 1960s one winning Mastiff carried a distinct Newfie head. I just wonder how many black Mastiff pups were found, and never admitted, in litters over the years. Our distant ancestors bred good dog to good dog and handed down superlative dogs to us as a direct result. It is absurd when a black Greyhound whelp is welcomed but a black Mastiff pup is destroyed entirely because of its coat colour. A really fit black Greyhound with the sun shining on its gleaming coat is a sight for sore eyes. There aren't many solid-black short-coated breeds and a majestic black Mastiff would be quite impressive. In past times, richly-coloured near-black brindles like the Marquess of Hertford's Pluto (1830) and EG Banbury's Wolsey (1890) were strikingly good-looking dogs.
Sadly for dogs, far too many exhibitors in KC-sanctioned rings are show-men rather than dog-men; the rosette means more than the breed, with breed-improvement not on their agenda. At game fairs, country shows and companion dog shows I see pioneer-breeders trying, without doctrine or dogma, to produce quality dogs of a set type or a re-creation of a breed long spoiled by show-breeders. They will get nothing but scorn from the pedigree perpetuators, which is often totally unfair, because they regularly produce admirable dogs. Last year I saw several Mastiff-crosses that were far sounder dogs than the show ring specimens bearing the Mastiff name. The Mastiff is a breed that screams out for improvement, even a new start. The blind pursuit of pure-breeding when the results don't justify it is not an exercise in livestock breeding but misguided eugenics. Breed sanctity can become breed insanity. 
Our Kennel Club has made sustained attempts in the last five years or so to widen its mandate and extend its reach in keeping with its self-imposed leitmotiv of 'the general improvement of dogs'. Just as the KC once recognized and registered crossbred retrievers and gamefinders, it should similarly attract the registration, on a separate register, of unrecognized breeds, such as Fell Terriers, Plummer Terriers, Sporting Lucas Terriers (already registered with the UKC of America), Dorset Olde Tyme Bulldogges, Sussex Bulldogs and the Williams's Gafaelgis or Welsh Mastiffs. The owners of such dogs may not want to exhibit them to the KC's criteria but they deserve encouragement, they need support. Sniffy disdain does nothing for the general improvement of dogs, enlightened leadership can contribute a great deal. Why should a water spaniel from America, a newly-created spitz breed and an American variation of a Japanese breed obtain a higher priority than British breeds developing here? We need a Register of Emergent Native Breeds - and soon!
Need for Inclusion
Emergent breeds are often much more virile and robust than many long-established breeds, probably benefiting from hybrid vigour. The black Mastiffs of the Williamses will receive nothing but suspicion, scorn and opposition from the Mastiff breed fanciers of today. But it will be opposition not based on knowledge of the history of the breed but on show ring thinking, modern within-the-breed prejudice. The latter with its closed mind and unthinking perpetuation of past folly can harm a breed. Any honest genuine breed fancier would honour its breed's past, respect the great breeders of the past and their wiser philosophy, so often intentionally overlooked in the blind following of mistaken contemporary dogma. Many a bright future has come from a dark past.           

 “Men who breed bull terriers for the pit pay no attention whatever to colour or points, breeding only from dogs of proven courage, and it would be ridiculous to imagine that Englishmen of four or five hundred years ago adopted any other course in breeding for a dog that would bait the bear and the bull. We can see the results of this system of breeding in the colour of the mastiff of one hundred years ago, all of the illustrations of that period showing more or less white about the head and body, and that was not bred out even when show-dogs were started.”
From James Watson’s The Dog Book of 1906.