On January 1, 2011, the American Kennel Club formally admitted two Molosser breeds, the Dogo Argentino and the Boerboel, into its Miscellaneous Group, the final step before formal recognition. Neither breed is particularly well known among fanciers or the general public. Here, representatives from each parent club answer some questions from Modern Molosser.
Katherine Kubicek, Public-Relations Liaison, Dogo Argentino Club of America
Can you tell us a bit about the Dogo in the U.S.? It seems to have taken a while for AKC recognition, and until recently there were two parent clubs ... how did that finally get sorted out?
There have been Dogos Argentinos hunting in Texas since the ’70s. There are conflicting accounts about who imported the first group of Dogos and exactly when, but there are definite records of Dogos in Texas at that time. The Dogo Argentino Club of America was established in 1985 by a small, mixed group of Dogo enthusiasts, and is the original parent club for the Dogo Argentino in the United States.
There has never been a strong and active, unified group working for breed recognition with the AKC prior to now. Until very recently, the active Dogo community always registered their dogs through the FCI by way of the FCPR (Federación Canófila de Puerto Rico). FCI-affiliate papers were what was valued in an international forum, and, as most of the active and community-minded folks were not terribly oriented toward conformation events, there simply wasn’t movement in numbers to support AKC involvement at a level that would entice AKC to move the breed past FSS recognition.
We in the active Dogo community always felt as though AKC recognition was a beast best left unstirred, so to speak – we preferred to avoid publicity and attention in the public eye for as long as possible, particularly with the growing public trend toward “rare” molossoid-type dogs.
The issue came to a head when the AKC recently voted to reduce the number of registrations required to move a breed past the FSS stage. Our breed met the new requirements, and thus was slated to move to Miscellaneous with or without the active petition of a parent club. In the face of this oncoming potential for breed publicity on a national stage, our community had a long series of discussions about what to do. It came down to a choice between ignoring the situation and acting as a hunting-advocacy group distanced from the breed with a slightly different name being shown on televised dog shows … or taking a strong and active leadership role in the national community as a voice for the balanced, working Dogo Argentino.
In the end, we all decided that setting aside minor philosophical differences and working together for the common good was the best course of action for preservation and improvement of our breed. The Argentine Dogo Club of America merged with the Dogo Argentino Club of America, and our combined studbooks make up the AKC foundation studbook.
Please share your concerns regarding popularity, both among the general popularity as well as the fancy.
I believe we have the same concerns as any other group representing rustic-type, active, working and high-drive dogs. Though we don’t insist that every Dogo or every Dogo owner hunt, we do believe that the “pack hunter” qualities are what make them the incredible companions they also are to active, experienced dog owners seeking this type of canine companion. We are concerned about emphasizing the necessity of big-game hunting as an integral aspect of their thoughtful breeding. Though there are highly regarded breeders who don’t actively hunt, all reputable breeders should be breeding Dogos as “hunting dogs, first and foremost.” One major ongoing goal of the club is to help effectively network all “branches” of the national community and underline the notion that our show and field champions should be one and the same.
Of course we are concerned about the potential for exploitation and popularity among people who will misuse them or breed them for reasons other than hunting and balanced companionship. Dogos are eye-catching dogs, and it is of the utmost importance that we continue to provide a strong voice of advocacy for the balanced, working Dogo.
There will always be people involved with the fancy who crank out puppies like there’s no tomorrow, and who demand absolutely obscene prices for puppies billed as “rare white mastiffs.” While it’s certainly true that the Dogo Argentino is no breed for the novice dog owner, people who see one and “have to have one” will surely find one. We can’t stop opportunists and scam artists … and we can’t always talk well-meaning “newbies” out of jumping in with both feet, but what we can do is work hard to build a thriving community that seeks to embrace and educate newcomers, rather than shun them and drive them away to the scam artists and high-volume breeders. Those folks will always be ready and willing to sell a pup to anyone with the cash, ready or not. Better we be there to guide and educate, and develop a self-policing community with core values and ethics we can all be proud to support.
Tell us a bit about the breed. What is important in terms of conformation? How can judges get more information? What about temperament?
The breed was initially conceived and developed in the Argentine pampas by two brothers, Agustin and Antonio Nores Martines, who sought to create a hunting dog that could function both as a social pack hunter against dangerous big game, and as a trustworthy family dog. The breed is expected to serve as an all-around hunter capable of finding, tracking, catching and holding primarily wild boar, and also serve as an outstanding companion at home.
This quote from Agustin Nores Martinez’s History of The Dogo Argentino describes the breed precisely as the dogs should be today:
“I still remember as if it were yesterday ... the day when my brother Antonio told me for the first time his idea of creating a new breed of dog for big game, for which he was going to take advantage of the extraordinary braveness of the Fighting Dog of Cordoba. Mixing them with other breeds which would give them height, a good sense of smell, speed, hunting instinct and, more than anything else deprive them of that fighting eagerness against other dogs, which made them useless for pack hunting. A mix that would turn them into sociable dogs, capable of living in freedom, in families and on estates, keeping the great courage of the primitive breed, but applied to a useful and noble end; sport hunting and vermin control.”
The standard describes the temperament as “cheerful, frank, humble, friendly.” In practical terms, Dogos are strong natured and frequently dominant-type dogs, but an appropriately socialized and capably handled Dogo should never exhibit human-aggressive traits. A pack of hunting dogs frequently interacts with friends and strangers with or without the owner present, and under no circumstances is a human-aggressive dog welcome in the field. Dog aggression exists as a function of dominant character as in any other breed, but, again, a properly socialized and capably handled dog should not be overtly aggressive. It’s not uncommon to see some reactivity between sexually mature dogs meeting for the first time in the show ring, and, though heavily frowned upon, should not be cause for dismissal from the show ring in and of itself. Human aggression is always cause for dismissal.
Nothing about the Dogo is outstanding in terms of conformation … or rather, everything is of equal importance. One word the brothers used consistently was “balance.” There should be no extreme trait emphasized over any other. The Dogo is bred as a hunting dog, and no reputable breeder should be aiming to emphasize any particular physical trait. Its conformation and temperament both reflect field-capability in a balanced, cooperative and amenable athlete, and this should never be far from any judge’s mind.
We are working to provide seminars and educational opportunities for AKC judges, as well as literature for distribution. In the meantime, judges are welcome to contact the club for further information. FCI literature is available, as well as many historical documents. Those truly interested in “doing their homework” should refer to the books Todo Acerca del Dogo Argentino and El Perro Dogo Argentino: Origen, Evolucion y Futuro by Dr. Victor Valino, DVM.
What has the reception to the breed by American hunters been?
Wild and feral hogs are an invasive, introduced species responsible for greater than $800 million in damages to U.S. agriculture annually. Where they appear in wilderness areas, they threaten delicate ecosystems and endangered native species. They are very intelligent, extremely dangerous and unbelievably destructive. A couple of rooting hogs can destroy $30,000 worth of crops in a single night. The unfortunate reality is that the only way to effectively combat them is with the use of hunting dogs. They can’t be trapped or shot in any significant numbers to impact population, and capable pack hunting dogs are indispensable to feral hog control.
The Dogo Argentino is an immensely capable hog-hunting dog. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your perspective, the relative scarcity of these dogs means that they’re not in every hunter’s backyard. Aside from the value of the Dogo specifically, there is great value in a capable and trained hunting dog in general, as with any good working dog of any breed. Successful hog hunters, whether they’re feeding their family, protecting local farmers or engaging in field sports, work many years to develop an effective and capable hunting pack. Hunters’ lives quite literally depend on the capability and cohesion of their pack. Their dogs are not disposable by any stretch of the imagination.
We cannot emphasize strongly enough how dangerous wild boar are. Feral hog hunting is not a sport to be attempted casually by solo dabblers and “green” dogs. Wild and feral hogs kill dogs, and sometimes people, too. It is a dangerous undertaking, but in defense of American agriculture and wilderness areas, an absolutely necessary one. The concern we have as a community in stewardship of our breed is in emphasizing a culture of respect for the seriousness of this undertaking, encouragement of its educated pursuit, and mentorship for anyone who chooses to pursue it. We do not encourage people to pursue it casually, but we will absolutely assist anyone along the way who chooses to tackle it.
Although we continually emphasize the necessity for respect for hunting traits in thoughtful breeding practices, we certainly don’t expect all Dogo owners to take up hog hunting. The Dogo Argentino is a wonderful, loving, courageous, healthy and athletic companion for people prepared to provide an active, working breed the structure and mental and physical stimulation it needs for success. The key is in remembering that the Dogo Argentino functions more aptly as a pack-hunting Scenthound than an estate-guardian-type Molosser. They need a great deal of exercise and a mentally demanding outlet for an enormous prey drive. It must be strongly emphasized that they do not make great pets for the average suburban American backyard, any more than working coonhounds do. They are wonderful dogs, but are also a serious handful, even for the average “experienced” dog owner.
Kerri Dale, President, American Boerboel Club
Can you give us some information on the Boerboel parent club in the U.S.?
The American Boerboel Club was formed in 2006 by Pam Senffner of Castle Inu Boerboels. Pam passed unexpectedly in 2008 and was not able to see her hard work come to fruition, but her husband John has remained active in the club. We have approximately 40 members currently.
The parent club will help shape the future of the Boerboel in the U.S. We are trying to bring all Boerboel enthusiasts together to form an alliance with all aspects in mind: pet, working, obedience, conformation, etc.
When was the first Boerboel introduced in the U.S.?
To my knowledge, in 1996. The breed has significantly gained in numbers in the U.S., with most of the growth happening after 2003.
What are the biggest concerns facing the Boerboel, in terms of health, type, genetic diversity?
Like all Molosser breeds, the Boerboel has its share of health problems, including hip and elbow dysplasia, entropion, ectropion, vaginal hyperplasia, cardiomyopathy, anterior cruciate ligament tears, and hypothyroidism.
The breed was formalized in 1983, and began with 72 dogs that were hand-picked by the founders of what has become known as the SABT (South African Boerboel Breeders Association), the original Boerboel registry. So, we are still a relatively new breed. Phenotype ranges from a more hound-type dog to those that are much more mastiff in appearance. In spite of the different types, most Boerboels will have a lot of common ancestors.
What should judges keep in mind as they are judging this breed?
Judges should look for a general, all-purpose farm dog that was also a protector of the family and herds. It should demonstrate a sound temperament and the physical structure to fit into a utilitarian, harsh working environment. Judges should be searching for the Boerboel that closest meets the breed standard – a dog with balance, substance, fluid movement and a head that leaves no doubt it is a Boerboel and not one of the other Mastiff type breeds. All Boerboels will not excel in the show ring, but still must have a calm, confident demeanor to excel as a companion and family guardian.
Do you have any guidance for judges regarding the seeming variability in type in the Boerboel?
I would repeat this phrase from the AKC breed standard: “Balance, proportion and sound movement are of utmost importance – more so than size.” Bigger is not better! Head type is also important in many of the Molosser breeds as it distinguishes one from another because of similar body styles.
What about any questions judges might have about Boerboel temperament?
I would approach a Boerboel with much as I would a Cane Corso, Rottweiler or any other dominant breed that they have previously observed in the ring.
The Boerboel is a confident, dominant dog, but may be aloof with strangers until properly introduced. The Boerboel should be reliable, obedient and intelligent with a strong watch-dog instinct. They are foremost incredibly devoted dogs that form close bonds with their family.
Are there any concerns on the part of Boerboel breeders regarding AKC recognition?
The popularity of the Boerboel has exploded over the past several years without the AKC, but, yes, there certainly are concerns. At this time, it has been heatedly debated on some of the message boards. A poll was conducted recently on one of the more popular Boerboel message boards, and some of the concerns expressed were the loss of working ability and the breeding of a more placid dog, like the Bullmastiff. There was also the possibility that people will like the Boerboel for its looks and not be prepared to handle the breed. I consider these legitimate concerns, and these issues must be addressed by the American Boerboel Club through education efforts with both breeder and consumers. These are substantial dogs with a strong temperament. Breeders bear the responsibility of screening potential puppy buyers for adequate handling, raising, training skills and experience.
As far as breed type, we tried to translate the breed standard as accurately as we could from the country of origin standards and place in the accepted American Kennel Club format. It was somewhat tricky as there are several standards out there: KUSA, SABT and EBBASA to name a few. Here again it is incumbent upon breeders not to be influenced purely by how well a dog appraises or how well they do at a dog show, but to be more concerned with the original function of the Boerboel, which is reflected in the breed standard. Breeders should work to preserve the breed and/or improve their breeding stock, not just producing puppies. That is a common problem with a breed gaining popularity. By providing a strong, cohesive parent club with information and resources available to those interested in showing, working and breeding the Boerboel we can limit the negative effects of increased popularity and availability.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Boerboels are a dominant breed, and this presents several challenges. Early socialization, training and firm and reasonable leadership are musts. They are a working dog and do well when they have a task to perform. Boerboels fare best living as part of the family. Left alone or without proper exercise or stimulation, they may indulge in undesirable or destructive behavior. Same-sex aggression is not uncommon and care should be taken to introduce new dogs properly. While the Boerboel is certainly not for everyone, active, experienced dog owners with a strong but affectionate personality will enjoy the unique character of this breed. Given appropriate leadership and sound genetics, the Boerboel is hard to beat as a family companion and protector.