Thursday, June 20, 2013

Involvement in the Mastiff Breed

This article is reposted with permission of Cedar Hollow Mastiffs

Whether your breed is The Mastiff or any other breed…much of what I am about to say will apply. It is very long but I hope you will take the time to read it all. 

Your interest in The Mastiff may stem from childhood memories; seeing them in a movie or on TV; meeting one on the street, at a park or in a store…but what brings you to this page is your interest in the breed. You might be a first time Mastiff owner or a ‘seasoned’ Mastiff owner. One thing that we all have in common for the breed is a passion. Those of us that choose to take our Mastiff ownership to the next level and show our dogs and possibly even breed them, take on an entirely new responsibility. We are shaping our breed, in the show ring and in the whelping box. In America, The Mastiff Club of America (MCOA) and the American Kennel Club (AKC) have a ‘Breed Standard’ set in place to help guide us on the ideal Mastiff specimen.  

Anyone that chooses to take this next step in Mastiff ownership ‘should’ find themselves someone with a number of years ‘in’ the breed. By ‘in’ the breed, this means someone that is active in the breed, has shown their dogs to their championships, bred more than a few litters over a number of years (not just all in one or two years), knows the pedigrees involved, is knowledgeable of the health testing available and how to perform such testing, knows (and is known by) other Mastiff breeders around the country, etc. This person will HOPEFULLY have also assisted Rescue in some way throughout their years of involvement. (If you don’t rescue…don’t breed.) 

Some people that are ‘new’ to the breed but still choose to breed their dogs without showing will state that the show ‘scene’ isn’t for them. Too much drama, etc. Well, I hate to say it…but…yes, drama is there. It is in everything we do. So, suck it up. You can choose to be a part of the drama or not. There are many people in the ‘show world’ that do not participate in the drama. Your choice…  go with those in the drama or not. But, especially as a new person to the breed…get out there and show your dog. YOU need to learn all aspects of the breed standard and how it applies to real dogs. Not some line drawing. Learn the differences in angulation and how it applies to the movement (side movement as well as coming and going) of a dog. Learn about ‘fronts’. You will hear a lot about fronts…but in reality very few people really understand about ‘fronts’. There is more that makes up a ‘front’ on a dog than a rear. How about lay back of shoulder vs. lay on of shoulder? Short upper arm? Can you tell when the shoulders are set too far forward on a dog? How does all of this affect the movement on the dog? (I often shake my head when reading comments on movement photos of dogs. Comments about the great movement, reach and drive, etc. Yet the dog is often crossing over, paddling, crabbing or any number of other “no no’s” and yet many people don’t recognize these traits for what they are…incorrect structure.) Go to the shows and learn. Go to the National Specialty and go to the breeder and structure seminars. YES…there is a lot of room for personal interpretation in The Mastiff Standard. However, a lot is general canine structure. So, when you say that the show scene isn’t for you and you choose to breed your dogs anyway…how do you know you are really breeding to the breed standard? How do you really KNOW the breed standard? Let’s face it…every one of us can walk our dog through PetSmart and hear over and over again how wonderful our dog is, how beautiful, etc…does that make it breeding quality? No. How closely it matches The Mastiff Standard is what makes it breeding quality. 

Health testing: This is always a hot topic. Health testing is NOT the same as a vet check. Anyone that takes on the responsibility that comes with breeding these dogs OWES it to the breed, both now and the future generations, to health test. Health testing is a tool. Just like the tool box in your garage…it contains many individual tools. And as you go along you add to that tool box. Health Testing Mastiffs is very similar. 20 years ago they tested hips. Then they added Elbows and Heart. Today there are many tests that are used to evaluate breeding dogs and make our educated decisions on proper pairings. While part of this Health Testing is done at your regular veterinarian…it involves other agencies as well; OFA, CERF, Optigen, etc. These are not things that are done just on your general practitioner’s say so. Some people will claim that they don’t want to risk their dog’s health by putting them under sedation to have their hips and elbows x-rayed. Well, this is a cop out, IMHO. First of all…there are hundreds of qualified vets around the country that can and do offer OFA x-rays without sedation. If this is a deal breaker for you…then go the extra mile and find one that does it without sedation. Secondly…have their hearts done PRIOR to the x-rays. If there is no heart problem evident the risk of sedation is minimal. Thirdly…if you are willing to put the dog at risk by breeding it (potential c-sections, etc) then what is the difference in using sedation for Health Testing? By doing all of the appropriate health testing on today’s dogs we hope to reduce the health problems in the Mastiff breed for future generations. Does it mean that you won’t have the occasional health problem pop up with health tested parents? Of course not. But…at least YOU know, as a responsible breeder, that you have done everything in your power to ensure that the puppies you produce are the best they could possibly be.

Even after you do all of your health testing…the responsibility does not end there. Then you need to find the appropriate mate to your dog with suitable and complimentary structure, temperament and health testing. RARELY will this be to the dog in your own back yard! The odds of having a dog in your own back yard that match up conformationally and though health testing is very low. It takes years of breeding with this in mind to increase your odds. Your responsibility as a breeder is to work to improve the breed…not breed for convenience. That will usually mean that the stud dog of choice will be across the country, out on a show circuit, etc. when it comes time to breed your girl! Murphy’s Law. But…if you are doing things right you do what you have to do. 

Temperament: Another Hot Topic. Just because you read on the internet that a dog has a wonderful temperament doesn’t make it so. Just because a dog has passed a CGC, TDI, TT, etc…doesn’t make it so. The Temperament tests ARE a good start…BUT…they can be trained for. Also, ideally, you want to see a dog (and as many relatives as possible) outside of the home…in many other settings. Watch the dogs at shows. Watch how they interact with each other and people walking by. Watch how they respond to the judge. Watch them on more than one day. (Every dog can have a good day or a bad day…just like us.) Are they happy well-adjusted dogs day after day? Do they look like they would prefer to be any place other than there? Are their tails tucked, hanging freely, wagging happily or held ‘erect’? Are their ears relaxed, back, at attention? What about their eyes? What expression do they exhibit? Body language states a lot. Watch them in and out of the ring. How do they react to strollers, wheel chairs, small children, small dogs, etc. Indifference? Interest? Caution? Assertiveness? Is the person holding the dog relaxed? Do they have a ‘death grip’ on the lead? Watchful? Protective? Just because someone says their dog has an awesome temperament doesn’t make it so. 

Size: For many people Size is a BIG deal. Well, The Mastiff Standard says that males need to be minimum 30in tall and females 27 1/2in tall. There are no weight requirements. Proportion is very important. You rarely (if ever) see someone advertising a male and stating that they are 30in tall. Human nature leads to exaggeration. If you brought a wicket (the official measuring tool) to the MCOA National Specialty and measured each and every Champion in the ring…chances are that very few would measure ‘up’ to what the claims are in advertising. Same thing goes for weight. Here is something to keep in mind (as a guide)…those flat wooden (often painted blue) boards that are the legs on show rings…the accordion partitions attach to them to make the show ring…are 24in tall according to the manufacturers. There are very few Mastiff males that are at a proper weight for their structure, that TRULY weigh over 225lbs. I will even give 5lbs +/- for variations in scale accuracy. That doesn’t mean that there are not those boys that weigh more…but it is not that common. And more often than not…they are overweight. I am more impressed by the owner that claims a believable weight/height on a dog as it makes me more likely to believe other claims they might make. (Willing to stretch the truth a bit in one area?? Why not others?) 

I hope that you have taken the time to read this…I know it is long. There isn’t a single person in the Mastiff community that can say they know everything and have nothing left to learn. Keep an open mind. Be willing to listen to those with more experience. Chances are they have been there and done that. This isn’t ‘elitist’ or ‘cliquish’, etc. If you don’t like what you are being told…be honest with yourself…sometimes the truth is the hardest to accept.

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