by   David Hancock

Improving the Mastiff Breeds: Honouring the Classic Phenotype
State of the Breeds
 Before any pedigree breed can be improved using registered stock, it is most important to assess that breeding source if past faults are to be eliminated or reduced and current faults recognised and rectified in breeding plans. Sadly, breed club shows tend to be more social gathering than serious examination of the state of the breed. Even sadder is the fact that the content of far too many post-show critiques reveal a lack of familiarity with the breed's historic function, and the design required to fulfil a role, a rather sycophantic desire to please the exhibitors, with entries falling, and a selfish, highly regrettable eye on future judging appointments. But judges at Championship Shows, often all-rounders rather than breed-specialists, can be more forthcoming and therefore give more value. In the last four years, the mastiff breeds in Britain's show rings have not impressed - with 'built-in' faults being perpetuated and serious ones being seen in exhibits subsequently bred from. This is not good news for any breed's future; here are some extracts from show judges' critiques in recent years: Mastiff: "I was very disappointed with the quantity of exhibits at Builth Wells and with some exceptions, the quality...In the UK, the Mastiffs that have been picked out and placed from the Working Group can be counted on the fingers of one hand." (Championship Show, 2011). "By far the most common faults were lack of rear angulation and weakness in hindquarters, with inadequate muscular development in second thighs." (Another Championship Show in 2011). In my lifetime, I do not recall seeing a show Mastiff with impressive hind movement.
Built-in Flaws
 A third Championship Show judge in 2011, reported: "Haw is an ever-present problem...Some of the haw was slight and I did not fault that as the eyes in such cases were still quite tight...Haw is quite a persistent fault...I fear that haw, like untypical coats, is a hand-me-down from our distant St Bernard root." Have Mastiff breeders not got the skill to breed out such an inherited defect? Two years after those comments, another Championship Show judge, in 2013, reported: "There were some eyes showing haw which spoils the expression." It also handicaps the dog's vision and comfort, allowing all sorts of debris to collect in the loose eyelids. At unsanctioned dog shows I see crossbred Mastiffs with tight eyes and strong rear ends; their artisan breeders have achieved more in a short time than purebred Mastiff breeders in a century and a half! The Welsh Mastiffs of Gareth Williams in Wales display the classic, timeless, eminently sound heads of dogs bred free of breed-bias. The irrational protection of a gene pool on outdated beliefs harms dogs; type in any breed is precious but soundness must always be any breeder's first priority. You can breed for type just as effectively from sound stock as you can perpetuate traditional flaws by re-using defective genes again and again.
Concentrated Faults
 Just as there are built-in faults in our largest mastiff, our smallest one too has a comparable problem.  The obsession of breeders of purebred Bulldogs with the head of their dogs has brought a wide variety of handicaps and discomfort to the breed. The jaw construction in many show ring Bulldogs is basically unsound. It was therefore good to read a critique from the judge at the Bulldog Club Inc's 2013 Championship Show that stated, very frankly: "Mouths still need to be addressed with quite a number of wry jaws, and worse still, narrow wry jaws..." Again if you look at the Sussex and Dorset Bulldogs at unsanctioned shows, you see strong sound jaws on the dogs - it can be done! I see wry jaws in Bullmastiffs too, especially in those looking too Bulldoggy in the head, never in the plainer-headed specimens. All three of these British mastiff breeds look untypical and quite ugly when they display too much wrinkling on the face, a common fault in the Dogue de Bordeaux and an over-exaggeration in the Neopolitan Mastiff. It appears that some Italian breeders actually prize the repeated folds of skin that give so much discomfort to their dogs, especially in hot weather when the deeper folds harbour all kinds of skin irritants. Accentuating breed differences to suit individual breeders is a matter for all kennel clubs to watch carefully.    

Loss of Function

 Our native mastiff breeds are testament to the fact that once a breed loses its function it is prey to every misbegotten human whim imaginable. Sadly the public assumes that breed fanciers know their breed and accept immobile Mastiffs, waddling Bulldogs and increasingly short-faced wrinkled Bullmastiffs as desirable perpetuations of treasured historically-correct breed type. Regrettably, the dog papers tell us far too little in depth about dogs, preferring trivia in so many breed notes to the discussion of important breed issues. There is rarely, in the world of the pure-bred dog, any serious sustained discussion about type, true type that is, just the endless round of shows, many featuring untypical dogs, which win! A debate is needed before true type in so many breeds is lost. The American breeder and vet, Leon Whitney made a key point in his 'How To Breed Dogs' of 1947, (Orange Judd, New York): "The point I am trying to drive home is this: Why should the proper type not be that which is best for the purposes for which the breed is intended?...But somebody set up a hue and cry for 'great bone' in almost all breeds and so, thoughtlessly, the bloodhound breeders who were interested in shows, had to breed for heavy ankles. Now actually there is no study which shows that heavy club-like ankles are stronger than trim ankles."
No Respect for Prototype           
There are plenty of good quality Bullmastiffs in our show rings, but that quality is undermined when dogs that breach the breed standard are not only placed but extensively bred from. When a dog with excessive wrinkle becomes a champion the validity of breed assessment through the show ring is undermined. The breed standard states that even 'fair wrinkle' is not permitted when the face is in repose. By what right do judges ignore the stipulations of the breed standard? On jaw length, the standard states that the distance from tip of nose to stop must be approximately one third of the length from tip of nose to the centre of the occiput, or the crest of the skull. By overlooking this wise wording, breeders and judges are producing, not a traditional British breed, but a fawn American Bulldog. Did the pioneer breeders of Farcroft, Pridzor, Wynyard and Bulmas dogs ever intend this to be the destiny for the breed they handed down to us? Do the Bullmastiff breeders of today truly know the breed? Do they respect its prototype? 
The same question could be put to Mastiff and Bulldog breeders with even greater justification. The sheer perversity of many breeders in these two breeds is astonishing, in the light of sustained criticism, often from within the breeds, over two centuries. Writing on the Mastiff in 1891, the American expert William Wade, commenting on the tendency to judge the breed solely on its head, wrote: "...you will probably get waddling, ugly brutes that will never rise above the position of prizewinners under 'fancy' judges." The man was a prophet! Six years later the much-respected Dalziel was writing: "...when the present rage for heads of immense girth, and exaggerated truncated muzzles in Mastiffs subsides...the extravagantly massive and unwieldy frame that is so popular...give us once more a Mastiff that can gallop and take a fence..."

Informed Comment

 Twenty years ago, the highly regarded show ring judge Liz Cartledge was writing in a Mastiff critique: "I also had problems with lameness, such heavy animals landing awkwardly just getting out of a car can often make them unsound for weeks." Is it moral to breed dogs to such a weight? One Belgian fancier has stated that he doesn't come to English shows any more because our Mastiffs are so bad. Do our Mastiff breeders truly know the breed? A move away from traditional type also occurred in the Bulldog. Earlier, I referred to the writing of James Watson in his The Dog Book of 1906; he recalled visiting an Alexandra Palace dog show in the late 1870s and being briefed by the Bulldog breeder Bill George's son, Alfred. He was told by Alfred that '...there has been a great change since you went away. You will see some of the old sort at father's, but they don't do for showing.'
That last phrase is the killer: don't breed for type, don't breed to honour tradition, breed to win in the show ring. This kind of narrow, selfish, visionless, harmful, disrespectful thinking has threatened the future of more than one breed. Show ring whim brings no consistency, no guarantee of soundness, no motivation for improving a breed. It is driven by wallet-conscious exhibitors, not by those who truly know the breed. The Bulldog expert Edgar Farman, writing in 1899, gave this view: "From one extreme breeders have gone to the other, and the national dog in many instances is not possessed of those characteristics of which he always figures as the emblem. Excellent as an example of distorting nature by patient inbreeding...he is a manufactured article - a mass of show points." What a sad commentary on the fanciers of the Bulldog. Dog shows were never intended to provide an arena for the parading of breeds exhibiting a 'mass of show points'. They were intended to provide a contest between good dogs, so that breeding material could be identified. Some breeds have benefited from such an honourable intention, some have not. The famed Englische Dogge or English 'docga' and the English 'bulldogge' do deserve immense respect; neither was an inactive yard-dog. Both were remarkable canine athletes and shame on us for not respecting that legacy. The phrase ‘a mass of show points’ indicates the work of the faddists and their priorities.

The Harm done by Fads

  Fads may be passing indulgences for fanciers but they so often do lasting harm to breeds. If they did harm to the breeders who inflict them, rather than to the wretched dogs that suffer them, fads would be more tolerable and certainly more short-lived. But what are the comments of veterinary surgeons who have to treat the ill-effects of misguided fads? In his informative book The Dog: Structure and Movement", published in 1970, R.H.Smythe, a vet and exhibitor, wrote: "...many of the people who keep, breed and exhibit dogs, have little knowledge of their basic anatomy or of the structural features underlying the physical formation insisted upon in the standards laid down for any particular breed. Nor do many of them -- and this includes some of the accepted judges -- know, when they handle a dog in or outside the show ring, the nature of the structures which give rise to the varying contours of the body, or why certain types of conformation are desirable and others harmful."
Against that background, it is worth studying the words of Mastiff specialist judge Nick Waters on judging an entry of 57 Mastiffs from 8 different countries at the 2000 show of the Belgian Mastiff Club: "What did concern me the most were the hindquarters and movement. Straight stifles, narrow, lacking muscle and some were unsound fore and aft, and far too many were close behind, lacking strength and drive, and the front legs were doing all sorts of things - rather than propelling the dog, the hindquarters just followed on." If you compare his words with those of the Mastiff judge at the 2006 Crufts; "In some classes, when the dogs were lined up to give me a good view of the side profile, less than half displayed the proportionate body length...a few were so short that I noted them as more resembling a Mastiff head on a Bullmastiff body." Did these exhibitors truly know their breed? Are they well enough informed to be proudly displaying such dogs? 
Having watched the judging at Crufts over the last decade on Working Group Day, I can see why such words were forthcoming. Having gone to my first dog show just about fifty years ago, I feel, with enormous concern, that things are getting worse rather than better. In his book, Smythe goes on to say that "...the same may sometimes be written regarding those whose duty it is to formulate standards designed to preserve the usefulness or encourage the welfare of the recognised breeds." Encouraging the welfare of the recognised breeds has to be the underlying mission of not just the Kennel Club, whom Smythe is pointedly criticising, but every breeder, every breed club and every judge officiating at dog shows.

Importance of Condition

 Spending a day at the Working and Pastoral Group's Day at Championship Shows in recent years has given me enormous food for thought; sometimes I've been quite shocked - by the physical condition of far too many of the exhibits. Are these not the shows of the year for those breeds that were meant to work? I use the word 'shocked' quite legitimately because, if the breeders, the exhibitors and especially the judges are prepared to go along with this situation, there is something fundamentally wrong - with worrying possibilities for the future. Of those who argue that such a show is just a beauty contest and the condition of the dogs an afterthought, let me ask a couple of questions. Firstly, when did you ever see a national beauty queen with a spare tyre and podgy limbs? Secondly, what is the point of having a serious hobby if you don't take it seriously, especially if you want to win? And thirdly if exhibits are expected to be in "show condition", why are judges taking a different view? I was also disturbed to watch four successive classes of one breed being 'judged', without the exhibits' feet once being examined. The bite of each dog was checked and infinite care taken over the comparative assessment of the entry. But feet are crucial to working breeds, as stressed earlier, more important even than mouths. Why does the organisation inviting the judge invite such an inadequate individual?
In 2013, in keeping with the KC's introduction of veterinary inspections at shows before some named 'high profile' breeds can proceed from Best-of-Breed placings to Best-in-Show judging, a Mastiff and a Bulldog both failed the test at The Midland Counties Championship Show. Based on the KC's wish for such a health check to be 'a visual veterinary observation and opinion on the findings, at the time of the examination, to establish whether the dog's health and welfare is compromised, rendering it incapable of competing in the Group competition on the day.' This examination was intended to be an objective assessment checking on signs of pain or discomfort resulting from exaggerated conformation, such as excessive wrinkling on the dog's face.  The Mastiff had a rash under her chin; the Bulldog had a mark on his eye caused by an old injury. But, veterinary inspection apart, were these two dogs in show condition or is that no longer a consideration.

Importance of Definition

 But what is actually meant by the expression 'show condition'? The Kennel Club's Glossary of Terms defines condition as: "Health as shown by the body, coat, general appearance and deportment. Denoting overall fitness." Not brilliantly written but the last phrase is the key one. Frank Jackson, in his most useful "Dictionary of Canine Terms", defines condition as: "Quality of health evident in coat, muscle, vitality and general demeanour." Harold Spira, in his "Canine Terminology", describes it as: "An animal's state of fitness or health as reflected by external appearance and behaviour. For example, muscular development..." The Breed Standards and Stud Book Sub-Committee at the KC inform me that show condition indicated an expectation of "a dog in good health as indicated by good coat condition, good muscle tone, a bright eye and up on the feet", adding that any competent judge would know this. One thing is inescapable in the interpretation of these definitions, condition means fitness as demonstrated in the dog's muscular state. Why then, at the Working Group shows each year, are judges putting up flawed dogs, so often in poor muscular condition and quite clearly not fit? Is it ignorance, incompetence or indifference? Some of the judges I watched simply did not know soft muscle from hard and seemed incapable of detecting the absence of muscular development. I shudder to think where this will lead us! Judging livestock is essentially a subjective skill based on what you see in the entry not what the exhibitor wants you to see. Rather than a reaction to the animal before you, it is more a conscious action to relate the animal presented to you in the ring to the beau-ideal for that particular breed. Dogs with dirty teeth and coats, skin conditions, poor muscle state and exaggerated physiques should not even be judged!

Unworthy Tickets

 It is tiresome to see yet another Bullmastiff get its breed ticket at Crufts demonstrating extremely poor hind movement. (It is even sadder to see the Best-in-Show there clearly afflicted by a luxating patella in its right hind leg!) If this is "the best of the very best" as the Crufts slogan once assured us, God help the mongrels of England! There would be enormous merit in dogs at KC-licensed shows being judged on movement alone for a few years, especially in the so-called 'head' or 'coat' breeds; at least it would result in the winning dogs being able to walk properly! The relentless pursuit of a muzzle-less Bulldog by contemporary breeders leads to distress in the dog. The vomer bone in this breed may be incomplete or more deeply notched at its front end than is desirable and this interferes with the suspension of the soft palate, giving rise to difficulty in breathing, especially in hot temperatures. This condition is often compounded by faulty development of the sphenoid bone, increasing the discomfort to the dog. At the World Dog Show in Brussels I saw a Bulldog collapse in the ring on a really hot day, be carried out of the ring by its handler, wrapped in cold wet towels for a while and then brought back into the ring, only to collapse again. Does such a person really love Bulldogs?
The jaws of so many breeds have fallen victim to thoughtless show points or perhaps breed points not thought through. Breeds ranging from the Poodle to the Chihuahua now have too narrow a jaw, too narrow that is to find space for the correct number of teeth. Conversely, broad-mouthed breeds like the Bulldog and the Boxer frequently display too many incisor teeth in both lower and upper jaw, as nature fills the unnatural width of mouth. Outward appearance impresses the judge but a faulty mouth does the possessor no good at all. Internal soundness is mainly a moral issue for breeders but it also needs special attention from the more perceptive judges.

Stretched Hindquarters

 We can stretch the jaw in width and length and the dog can still live a reasonably happy life. But when we seek to 'stretch' the hindquarters the consequences are much more worrying. We are then affecting the dog's ability to move as well as the best interests of its bone structure. Inequality between the length of the rear stride and the length of the front stride is producing ugly unsound movement in an ever increasing number of breeds as the contemporary fad for hyper-angulation in the hindquarters gathers more and more momentum. In the Dachshund the hind feet have difficulty keeping tally with the front ones. This, combined with inflexibility in the spine, produces a failure of synchronisation behind. In soundly constructed dogs sufficient angulation in the hindquarters and adequate length in the tibia enables the hock to flex and the hind foot to advance beneath the body enough so that balance is maintained. The side effects of excessive angulation in the hindquarters of a number of pedigree breeds are increasingly manifesting themselves. Why then is it becoming almost 'de rigueur' in breeds like the Boxer, the Dobermann, the show Greyhound, the Great Dane and the show Whippet?
In every animal walking on four legs the force derived from pressing the hind foot into the ground has to be transmitted to the pelvis at the acetabulum, and onwards to the spine by way of the sacrum. In over-angulated dogs the locomotive power is directed to an inappropriate part of the acetabulum. In addition, so as to retain the required degree of rigidity of the joint between the tibia and the femur, other muscles have to come into use. In the over-angulated hind limb, the tibia meets the bottom end of the femur at such an angle that direct drive cannot ensue. The femur can only transmit the drive to the acetabulum after the rectus femoris muscle has contracted, enabling the femur to assume a degree of joint rigidity when connecting with the tibia. This means that the femur rotates anticlockwise whereas nature intended it to move clockwise.
Excessive angulation in the hindquarters, with an elongated tibia, may, to some, give a more pleasing outline to the exhibit when 'stacked' in the ring. But, in the long term, it can only lead to anatomical and locomotive disaster. Such angulation destroys the ability of the dog's forelimbs and hindlimbs to cooperate in harmony in propelling the body. Yet I have heard it argued by breed specialists at seminars that it will increase the power of propulsion operating through the hindlimbs and on through the spine. If it did, the racing Greyhound fraternity would have pursued it with great vigour. I have heard a dog show judge praise an over-angulated dog because it 'stood over a lot of ground'! So does a 'stretched limousine' but it requires a purpose-built construction to permit the luxury.

The Importance of Shoulders

   For me, the first point of real quality in a dog lies in clean sloping shoulders. Well-placed shoulders give a perfect base for a proud head carriage. They provide too the balance between the length of the neck and the length of the back, preventing those disagreeable dips in topline which mar the whole appearance of a dog. I learned, over the years, to start any judgement of the shoulders by considering the position of the elbow. If the elbow is too far forward, then the dog is pulling itself along, not pushing itself along, capitalising on the drive from the hocks and thighs, through the loins. The great Foxhound expert, Capt Ronnie Wallace, in his video on the packhounds, states that the shoulders are controlled by the elbow. He knows his stuff; he bred superbly constructed hounds. In the editorial of The Kennel Gazette of June 1890, the writer states: “If we take such an essential matter as shoulders, and ask an old bulldog breeder, he will say that while heads have improved the dogs of the present have in many cases lost the good shoulders of the old dogs…” Without well-placed shoulders the dog’s whole activity is handicapped.
It is only when the scapula and the humerus are of the right length and correctly placed that a dog can achieve the desired length of stride and freedom in his front action. Sighthounds can have their upper arms 20% longer than their scapulae. In smaller breeds they tend to be equal in length. Dogs that step short in front are nearly always handicapped by upright shoulders and short steep upper arms. A dog of quality must have sloping shoulders and compatible upper arms to produce a good length of neck, a firm topline without dips, the right length of back and free movement on the forehand. The upper arm determines, with its length, the placement of the elbow on the chest wall. Many dogs that are loose at elbow are tight at the shoulder joint and the forelegs tend to be thrown sideways in a circular movement. If the dog is tight at elbow the whole leg inclines outwards, causing the dog to 'paddle'.   
When judging 'galloping breeds' I always check the space between their shoulder blades at the withers. Much indifferent movement stems from a faulty forehand construction. The placement of the shoulder blades and the elbows being the source of the problem. The shoulder blades of a working breed are vitally important. They have to support weight, they absorb concussion from the gait, they work hard when the dog is changing direction, they permit free movement of the head. Loose elbows are often accompanied by other front leg faults: slack pasterns, splayed feet or feet that turn in or out. Dogs with correctly sloping shoulders and compatible upper arms rarely have such a problem. When shoulders are correctly sloped, the topline runs through much more smoothly, giving a far cleaner look. The shortening of the neck from the forward placement of the shoulders does seriously impede a working dog. No working dog deserves incompetent breeding bestowing handicapping features on it. When moving, 60 to 70% of a dog's weight is distributed on the front legs; the forequarter construction decides the soundness of the dog's movement.  
I once actually heard a speaker at a breed seminar argue that a short neck, upright shoulders and short upper arms made an exhibit look more impressive when stacked in the show ring. It allegedly made the dog stand right up on its toes and lift its head at a higher plane, so that it looked 'more statuesque'! I don't think I have ever heard a greater insult to show judges. If we are going to breed physically-crippled dogs to please mentally-crippled judges, then the sport of showing dogs is drawing to a close. But we do need judges who can assess forehand construction wisely. Working dogs need informed assessment; winning dogs get bred from. No dog with an unsound front assembly should ever be bred from.
Incorrect Placement
I have long understood that long-arched necks give flexibility to the head carriage and usually go along with good shoulder placement, the two combining to give the dog an air of quality and style. This is exemplified in top quality Great Danes. Long cervical bones, long dorsal bones, a 'bump in the front', adequate upper arm length and a gap between the scapulae at the withers are not difficult to detect when viewing and 'going over' an exhibit. Two Bullmastiff judges' critiques in recent years on this aspect make sobering reading: Manchester, 2000; 'A worrying aspect was the number with incorrect shoulder placement, too many were far too upright, which not only unbalanced them in front, it also affected their overall action. This needs watching.' Crufts, 2004; 'Too many were upright in shoulder with short, steep upper arms, restricting movement so that there was virtually no forward extension...' For a powerful breed, sound construction is vital; for good movement, sound construction is essential.
In his book The Conformation of the Dog, RH Smythe wrote: "One reason why a sloping shoulder is preferable lies in the much freer and faster action which is associated with this type of conformation...A good shoulder is much more likely to be accompanied by a good length of chest and by additional lung space than one which is badly spaced." A famous Newmarket trainer used to stress 'No shoulder, no horse!' A famous professional huntsman advised 'Necks and shoulders! get the necks and shoulders and the rest will come!' These are the cries needed for soundly-built dogs; we select the breeding stock, so we shoulder the blame. If you want your Bullmastiff to move like an Airedale, ignore the crucial importance of shoulder placement. If you want your Bullmastiff to move like a Foxhound, give shoulders top priority. You might even, under an enlightened judge, win a prize for a sound dog; but more important still, you will be respecting your own working breed.
In the Bullmastiff breed standard, the shoulders are expected to be 'muscular, sloping and powerful, not overloaded'. This, for me, is far too brief and open to false interpretation. In his informative book The Saga of the Dogue de Bordeaux of 2007, Raymond Triquet writes on shoulders for that breed: "A wrestler's shoulders. The muscles are prominent. The shoulder blade is set at the normal angle of around 45 degrees to the horizontal...this oblique lay and the mobility of the shoulder allow the D de B to take those long strides mentioned in the paragraph on gait...The angle of the shoulder blade with the upper arm is said to be somewhat more than 90 degrees. It's very difficult to measure, but it will be about 100 degrees (normal in a short-lined or compactly-built dog). In any case, it's clearly seen in profile: the upright front leg stands back a little, underneath the body."
Upright shoulders are becoming acceptable in many breeds; judges don't seek that 'upright front leg standing back a little, underneath the body', which Raymond Triquet stresses. In most show terriers there is no 'bump in the front', just a smooth uninterrupted line from throat to toes. Thirty years ago many of the Oldwell and Bunsoro Bullmastiffs had beautiful shoulders and the judges rewarded them. When they moved they drove themselves over the ground; when the front leg is too far forward, the dog pulls itself along, a very tiring exercise. A good judge should be able to spot whether the elbow is back and under the body, to detect a lack of forward extension and a front action that pulls rather than pushes on the ground.

The Importance of the Loin

 What is the loin? The KC definition describes it as the "Region of the body on either side of vertebral column between the last ribs and hindquarters". From that brief imprecise description, it is easy and forgiveable to understate the importance of this part of the canine anatomy. Nearly every breed standard dismisses the loin in a few words; it is rare to read even a mention of the loin in judges's critiques of their show entry. This might be understandable in say a Toy breed, but is a disappointing oversight in hound, terrier or gundog breeds. When I watch judges going over exhibits at shows I am amazed at how little attention is paid to this desperately important part of the canine anatomy. In a powerful dog, the loin provides transmitted strength between the quarters.
In the Bullmastiff's standard the loin is considered to be part of the hindquarters, as does that for the Dogue de Bordeaux and the Neapolitan Mastiff. The Newfoundland's standard regards the loin as part of both the body and the hindquarters. Is anybody overseeing or coordinating these vital word pictures of a breed? The loin has the same function and location in every breed. Judges of each breed need to be aware of the loin. Good length of loin can make a dog look more rectangular than square, when the actual distance from the sternum to the point of buttock is in reality not much greater than the height at the withers. A short-loined exhibit can so often be more eye-catching, especially if it displays a long neck and upright shoulders, but it is not a sound animal.
The long dorsal muscle, which extends the spine or bends it to one side, is especially noticeable in the loins, where each vertebral bone carries the weight of the body in front of it, together with the weight of its own body mass. Towards the sacrum, each vertebra is accepting greater total weight than the one before it - the vertebrae enlarge, moving rearwards, throughout the lumbar region. It is not difficult to appreciate therefore the importance to the huge heavy dog, as well as the fast lithe leaping dog, of the loin. Breeders of Foxhounds have long been aware of this importance.
Knowledge of how a dog's anatomy works, rather than mystical powers, is why the so-called gift of 'an eye for a dog' puts one judge in a different class from another. A desirable arched loin can be confused with a roach or sway back. An exhibit may get away with a sagging loin in the show ring or even on the flags at a hound show; but it would never do so as a working or sporting dog. It would lack endurance and would suffer in old age. Yet it is, for me, comparatively rare to witness a judge in any ring in any breed test the scope, muscularity and hardness of the loin through a hands-on examination. For such a vital part of the dog's anatomy to go unjudged is a travesty.  The lumbar vertebrae are quite literally the backbones of the loins, lumbus being Latin for loin. Any arch should be over the lumbar vertebrae and not further forward. It is vital that show breeders, who really keep the breeds alive, keep in mind always the role that gave us the breeds of mastiff we value today.

Breeding for Show

 In his valuable two-volume The Dog Book of 1906, the under-rated Scottish writer, James Watson, describes quite scathingly those in the world of purebred dogs who fail to realise that a pedigree is only a piece of paper. He records a conversation with the great Irish Terrier breeder of one hundred years ago, William Graham, who cast his eye over a show entry of his time and declared: 'Some men show pedigrees; I show dogs and take the prizes.' Vero Shaw, the distinguished canine authority of that time, gave the view in a show report that, all too often, the pedigree was worth more than the dog. And to this day, you still hear an indifferent animal excused on the grounds that it 'has a good pedigree'. As James Watson observed: ‘No one with any knowledge of the subject will breed to a dog merely on pedigree...a good dog makes a pedigree good, and not the other way round.  There used to be a saying in dog breeding circles: No animal is well-bred unless it is good in itself. I haven't heard it spoken of as a received wisdom for some years. Much more important than the names on the written pedigree is the ability to 'read' it, translate the names into physical content. As the great Scottish Terrier breeder, WL McCandlish wrote in his book on the breed: 'The names in a pedigree form are merely cyphers, designating certain groupings of features and certain sources of blood, and pedigree is of no value unless the breeder can translate what these cyphers mean. ' Yet even some quite experienced dog breeders get dazzled by names on forms, rather than by dogs, supported by blood from distinct ancestors. The eminent canine geneticist Malcolm Willis has written: 'Never does pedigree information become more important than information on the dog itself.'  We must always value dogs that are good in themselves.
Twenty years ago, a dog fancier in the south of England, imported a magnificent example of an overseas breed she admired, as so many Britons have for centuries. She chose well; it was a top-quality dog: imposing, athletic and extremely handsome. It was so physically impressive that a few Mastiff breeders used this import, clandestinely, as a sire. The dog was not just an impressive specimen of his breed, he was an outstanding canine, with wonderful temperament. Then, in 1991, a law was drafted by the Home Office and, on the advice of the Kennel Club, the breed of dog this dog belonged to was banned from our shores. It was a Japanese Tosa. This breed, having been abused by man in his native country, was now to be abused in ours. This blameless dog now had to be castrated and permanently muzzled when in a public place. This is a bizarre way to treat a well-behaved top-quality dog in a civilised dog-loving country. It is a stupid way too of treating valuable genes; it is the genes that have the value, not the breed, and never the pedigree.
A decade ago, the Bullmastiff breeder Claire Ridsdale, produced an outstanding dog, Wyburn Nightcap, a superbly-proportioned extremely handsome brindle canine athlete. She knew I would admire him and arranged for him to be brought to a show where I could see him. He was not entered for the show; he was not the type of Bullmastiff favoured in the show ring. He was a throwback to the old gamekeeper's night-dog, where the breed has its roots. I can understand why this top-quality dog wasn't shown but regret the fact that he would never be bred from, because of this lack of contemporary show type. He would have made a most suitable outcross for Mastiff breeders seeking a reversion to truly typical type in their breed; a strapping Bullmastiff, Tawny Lion, was used to restore the Mastiff after World War II. We really should make full use of outstanding dogs, they produce the blood, not the paper they are registered on; our ancestors bred impressive dogs, not impressive pieces of paper.
Another outstanding Bullmastiff, bred by Antony Buckley (Bogatyr) and now with the Italian Green Dragon kennel, International Champion Bogatyr Rapture of Bunsoro, fortunately has been bred from, possessing great quality and perfect breed type. Such an outstanding dog deserves to feature in the KC publication Illustrated Breed Standards, epitomising the beau-ideal for the breed and exemplifying the words of the written standard. Top quality dogs are a joy to see and deserve wide admiration. I have never seen a better Airedale than those I viewed as a teen-aged 'vet's assistant' in Molly Harbut's (Bengal) kennel over half a century ago. The memory of them however will stay forever in my mind. Top quality dogs are truly memorable. I don't recall written pedigrees.

Loss of Type

 Breeds of dog that cannot consistently produce smooth lines of physical appearance do not breed true to type. The early Bulldog breeders realised this and soon acknowledged its penalties. Breeds like the Rhodesian Ridgeback, the Dobermann and the Dogo Argentino, manufactured breeds with more ingredients than the Bullmastiff, now breed more true to type and are rarely coarsely constructed. The Boxer illustrates the fact that a breed can come from a broad-mouthed origin and not be coarse-headed. If you look at the winning Bullmastiffs at successive World Dog Shows – and I have attended 7 - it is becoming apparent that if this trend continues then the breed will have to be renamed 'Pugmastiffs', for that is what these winning dogs were. Overwrinkled, loose-lipped, massively-boned, heavy-headed, coarse in construction and with no trace of the symmetry required by the breed standard, it is sad to see such wholly undesirable features being rewarded in such a highly visible arena. Veterinary surgeons constantly warn us of the health problems caused by excessively wrinkled skin, too much bone and too wide a jaw. This apart, what is the value of a breed standard if judges ignore it? Just as bad as being coarse in the head is coarseness in the shoulders. Far too many Bullmastiffs display ugly shoulders, lacking symmetry. For a breed to possess these two features so regularly after the best part of a century as a recognized pedigree breed on the Kennel Club's lists is disappointing. So many of the early registrations in the breed lacked this awful coarseness. Where is the logic in extolling the virtues of outstanding dogs of the distant past and then producing dogs in the same breed that look nothing like them?
Mastiff Breed Type
 In a letter to Dogs Monthly in August, 2001, Marguerite Penrrenoud, in the Mastiff breed for half a century and whose parents had the breed in the 1930s, wrote: "Different types of Mastiff in the same class is unforgiveable. I must strongly state here there is only one type of Mastiff...In my view the present state of the breed, the incorrect type and poor conformation is serious...If the Mastiff breed clubs fail to act...I feel in less than ten years the Mastiff I have known since childhood will be lost forever!" A year later, the judge at the Blackpool Championship Show concluded: "I have to express concern at the direction in which this fine breed is going. I found many exhibits of incorrect type...Many had weak hindquarters..." In a letter to the Mastiff Association's Newsletter in December 2001, veteran breeder Sylvia Evans wrote, on giving up the breed she loved: "I have been as dismayed as anyone by the inexorable loss of breed type, perhaps more than some, as I was told many times, when I agitated about health problems, that type would suffer if we tried to reduce them. I find it a bitter irony that type has suffered anyway, despite our inertia..." Five years later, the judge at the Old English Mastiff Club's Championship Show, wrote: "I feel very despondent about the quality of the Mastiffs in the country at this time. With only a very few exceptions, there was a definite lack of type and poor movement to be seen."  
Essential Breed Type                                                           
What constitutes true type in any breed of mastiff-type? No breed standard tells you what is essential in each breed; it is for the Breed Council perhaps to set out the breed's stall. Too difficult to obtain agreement, the pessimists would claim. In the Bullmastiff, it varies from kennel to kennel, I was informed by one prominent breeder; so much for breed type! It's all in the breed standard, advised another breed elder; but is it? Why does the standard not state that the nose of a Bullmastiff should be black? The standard tells us that the ears should be 'folded back', but they are not actually desired to be so. What really makes the Bullmastiff the breed that it is? How beneficial it would be, before any all-rounder judged a mastiff breed for that judge to be handed, not just the breed standard, but those essential points which distinguishes the breed of Bullmastiff from say the Dogue de Bordeaux, the Mastiff, the Perro de Presa Canario or the Boerboel. All had a common origin yet have distinct differences, differences that really matter. Is a fawn Boerboel with a full tail not easily confused with a Bullmastiff? Is a brindle Mastiff, 26" at the shoulder, not very very similar to a Bullmastiff? I have seen a Dogue de Bordeaux, with a black nose, looking very much like a Bullmastiff with the same degree of 'wrinkle'. Would a fawn Canary Dog without cropped ears not look like a Bullmastiff?
If the Bullmastiff really is, in that damaging expression, a 'head breed', which of the different heads being presented to show ring judges at the moment, is the one most representative of the breed? If you read 'Exchange and Mart' magazine or attend unofficial bull-breeds' shows or rallies, you will know that Bullmastiffs are being crossed with Dogues de Bordeaux, Neapolitan Mastiffs and American Bulldogs. Bullmastiff devotees may not like it, but it is happening. Unless essential breed type is established for the Bullmastiff, breeders of these hybrids can pass off their pups as purebred Bullmastiffs; plenty of genuine Bullmastiff pups are sold without papers. The breed standard of the Bullmastiff does not mention the word 'mask' and does not stipulate a black nose. It could be argued that a black muzzle brings a black nose with it and that dark markings around the eyes constitute a mask. But why not spell it out and reduce the likelihood of arguments? If the black muzzle is essential, why isn't the black mask too? If the coat should be pure and clear in colour, how can two-tone coated dogs become champions? As they have. If the head typifies the breed, how can dogs win with muzzles far less than one third of the distance from the centre of the occiput to the tip of the nose? The words of the breed standard don't always protect the breed from its own breeders.
The Bullmastiff is expected to have well-boned forelegs but not well-boned hindlegs, yet be symmetrical in general appearance. Show critiques make constant mention of 'great bone' but the standard doesn't. A foreign judge at a 2001 championship show placed a Bullmastiff first in Group 2, stressing its 'outstanding bone'. Was he judging shire horses or a breed designed to be active? Another judge's critique in Feb 2001 stated that: "I found so many which had ultra short muzzles; a number with over-wrinkled skulls and quite a few with loose flews." There are clearly Bullmastiffs being entered for major shows that defy their own breed standard. Do their owners actually know this to be the case?

Favouring a Fault

 One Bullmastiff kennel seems to favour the Boxer-chin and has champions made up carrying this feature. Surely that is untypical? There were several exhibits at the League Spring 2001 show with lurcher tails and brown not fawn coats. No doubt they will be bred from! The breed standard has its faults but is quite specific on coat-colour and tail requirements. The judge at the Manchester 2000 show wrote: "This year marks the 75th anniversary of the KC recognition of the Bullmastiff as a pure-bred dog, yet after all this time there is still such a wide variation in type. In some of the classes I was hard pressed to find two of a kind." At the 2001 World Dog Show, a much younger breed, the American Staffordshire Terrier, attracted an entry which looked as though they had all come out of the same dam, so even was their appearance. Is it just a British inability to breed for type?
One breed council has pioneered a breed survey scheme and tries to grade breeding stock. If a mastiff breed like the Bullmastiff is to maintain essential type, perpetuate the classic breed we inherited and not go forward as 'any variety mastiff-type', there is work to be done. The breed council could for example set out the ten essential points which embrace breed-type and persuade clubs to put up prizes for the entrant best encapsulating breed-type. Ah, the destructively-minded will claim: surely the best dogs at the show must encapsulate breed-type. But what if the dogs are judged on 'outstanding bone', have brown coats and lurcher tails? The mastiff breeds can vary, within each breed, more than most; clear information on essential breed type for each mastiff breed is long overdue.           

Breeding for the True Phenotype

  Where are the mastiff breeds heading? At worst they could each be heading for a gene pool in which inheritable defects are being concentrated and in which the short muzzle is being enshrined. The mastiff breeds are relatively short-lived and this needs attention too. If you throw in unacceptably poor movement, then there is an enormous amount to be done within the breed. But by whom? Breed clubs? The Breed Council? By a group of enlightened individuals forming a new breed club? The future of the breed is very much in the hands of present-day breeders, judges and club committees. I do hope that mastiff fanciers of the future will be proud of them.
Finally, whilst my views expressed here are highly individual ones? What are the words of those involved in just one mastiff breed? Take those on the Bullmastiff, for example:
"Each time I judge this breed in the UK, the quality deteriorates...the larger proportion of both dogs and bitches were appalling in movement." Terry Thorn, top UK judge, July 2001.
"Over the years a variety of types and sizes have crept into the breed, which is a pity...Movement overall is not good..." Jean Lanning, leading UK judge, October 1998.
"Decisions on the majority of placings were made difficult by virtue of the enormous variety, in so many aspects of the breed, which have appeared in recent years." Ann Arch, leading UK judge, Breed Show, December 2000.
"I have long been intrigued by the seemingly endless variety of Bullmastiff heads presented to me inside and outside the show-ring." Robert Cole, international expert on conformation, December 1997.
"This year marks the 75th anniversary of the KC recognition of the Bullmastiff as a pure breed.  Yet after all this time there is still such a wide variation in type." Bill Harris, veteran breeder of Bullmastiffs, Manchester Show critique, 2000.
"...I was rather sad to see that there appeared to be as many problems in the breed as there are in Mastiffs. It was quite hard to find anything with all the essentials I was looking for, to find a typical head allied to a good body..." Betty Baxter, top Mastiff judge, February 2001 (judging Bullmastiffs).
Of course, in each and every breed, show ring judges find disturbing flaws; here are some on some other mastiff breeds: Crufts, 2013, Mastiffs – “I saw some pretty awesome movement, a lot of average movement and too much just plain sloppy movement much of which was, in my view, down to lack of exercise…but the worst fault I saw to differing degrees in dog after dog, was narrow, weak and snipey forefaces. This problem seems to have become so pervasive that there is a danger of narrow muzzles becoming the norm and the proper Mastiff head being lost forever.” How do these exhibits actually qualify for Crufts? Poor movement was commented on by the Dogue de Bordeaux judge at the same show: “I was shocked and although a heavy breed with a long low gait, they should still be able to move around the ring more than a couple of times.” Unsoundness is so often revealed when the dog is on the move. The year before at Crufts, the Neapolitan Mastiff judge commented: “I was surprised at how lacking in muscle some dogs were…There were a few with rather deep set eyes and others with haw. The Standard does of course call for a tight eye with no haw and I fear until this is achieved the breed will face problems.” How do dogs that breach the breed standard manage to qualify for the top show? A judge at a championship show that year in this breed gave the view that “One comes across weak hocks in many breeds but the problem in this entry was that the percentage displaying this trait was too high…Head type varied alarmingly…in too many cases the amount of haw was undeniably excessive.” In 2011, at another show, the Mastiff judge reported: “By far the most common faults were lack of rear angulation and weakness in hindquarters with inadequate muscular development…” In 2012, the Great Dane judge stated that: “Soundness in movement continues to be the exception rather than the norm. Long backs combined with poor muscular condition do not help with this seemingly eternal problem.” For a giant breed to exhibit eternally poor muscular condition tells you much about its exhibitors!
Are all these knowledgeable people, quite separately, all wrong? Nearly three hundred years ago, Jonathan Swift, the Anglo-Irish poet and satirist, wrote: 
"They never would hear, But turn the deaf ear,
As a matter they had no concern in."
Future Needs
 Who is to say that huge hunting dogs will never ever be needed again? When a sizeable meteor hits Mother Earth, with or without warning, man could be reduced to being a primitive hunter once again. Hunters without vehicles, binos and bullets, would quickly become aware of the crucial support big determined hounds could provide in the relentless pursuit of food, in chaotic conditions. Sight-hounds can catch the fleet-footed quarry; scent-hounds can track the hoofed and furred quarry for a hunter to trap but to pull down the bigger sources of food:, stag, boar, wild bull and the fiercer quarry, big brave hounds are needed, as our distant ancestors learned. If such valuable dogs are allowed to drift into being show specimens only, with field performance overlooked, a vital contributor to man's future survival could be lost.
The state of each breed, the condition of the breed, is surely of concern to every genuine lover of the breed. Turning a deaf ear is the coward's way out. The magnificent breeds of mastiff will not improve unless those 'in charge of' each breed take positive steps to safeguard its future. It is no solace for them to hear that other breeds have bigger problems. Each breed is primarily the responsibility of its own fanciers, mainly through its various breed clubs. It should be no chore to look after your own breed. Actions speak louder than words; these are mere words.