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Tibetan Mastiff and Dogue de Bordeaux: Brothers from a different mother? Photo by Sanna Sander

Group Dynamic

The American Kennel Club puts a Molosser Group on the table

It’s not official. And if it does happen, it won’t be overnight.  

But the idea of an AKC Molosser Group came a step closer to reality this September, when the American Kennel Club’s Realignment Committee, which is charged with the task of expanding the registry’s seven variety groups, released its new list of proposed groups.  

Among the 11 is a group called Working-Molosser.  

So far, the reaction to the proposed groups “has been far more positive than negative,” says Dr. Thomas M. Davies of Brimfield, Massachusetts, vice chairman of the AKC board of directors and chairman of the Realignment Committee. “A lot of support we’ve been getting is from people in the Working Group who are happy to see it divided.”  

Under the proposed realignment, the Working Group would spin off the Working-Molosser Group (with 20 breeds, including Miscellaneous and Foundation Stock Service, or FSS, breeds). The plan also creates a Working-Spitz Group (24 breeds), which would also draw from breeds currently in the Non-Sporting Group. Most Working breeds that do not fit into the new categories would be retained in Working-Utility (19 breeds), which would also welcome some newcomers, such as the Dalmatian.  

While some in the fancy are predictably resistant to the idea of changing such a fundamental aspect of dog shows, an expansion of AKC’s variety groups is likely inevitable: With AKC registrations dropping precipitously each year, the accelerated recognition of new breeds is one obvious avenue to bolster them.   In other changes to the AKC group structure, the current Hound Group would be split into Sighthounds (with 15 proposed breeds) and Scenthounds (21); the Sporting Group would break up into Pointers & Setters (18) and Retrievers & Spaniels (21).  

 

Some reclassification cases are clear-cut: No one is going to argue that the Neapolitan Mastiff belongs in any group other than Molosser. Photo: Sanna Sander.

 

Some fanciers have wasted no time letting the AKC know their feelings about the Molosser Group – both for and against.   Soon after the Realignment Committee’s announcement, Karen Bodeving, president of the Saint Bernard Club of America, sent off a letter objecting to the breed being placed in the Utility Group instead of Molosser.  

“The ancestry, the massiveness of the animal, the heavy bone, massive head and broad short muzzle, the form and function of our breed, as well as the FCI … recognition, leaves no doubt in the Saint Bernard Club of America’s Board’s mind that we are a Molosser breed …” she wrote, noting that the club’s board had voted unanimously to send the letter. “We would ask you move the Saint Bernard into the Working-Molosser Group when the AKC realignment is finalized.”  

Bodeving adds that competing in the Molosser Group with other large, powerful-moving, but underappreciated breeds would level the playing field for the Saint Bernard, which – like many Molossers – is not a push-button show man.
 
But while Saints are anxious to get into the Molosser Group, Great Danes are angling to get out. 
 
“The Great Dane Club of America parent club and almost all Dane people do not want to be in the Molosser Group,” says an emphatic breeder-judge Nikki Riggsbee of Valrico, Fla., who notes that the subject was one of intense discussion at the recent national specialty. 
Riggsbee adds that there is a segment of the Dane community that would be comfortable with the breed in one of the two new Hound Groups. “The original and primary function of the breed was that of large-game hunter, specifically wild boars,” she says. “The breed has both Sight- and Scenthound characteristics.”
 
Leonberger fanciers are also reflecting on their proposed placement in the Molosser Group. On an email list devoted to AKC realignment, Leonberger breeder Matthew Townsend of Burlington, N.C., noted the breed’s identity as a true “multi-purpose working dog,” and commented on its suitability for the Utility Group rather than Molosser. “The bone is strong, but not heavy, and the headpiece is refined for a dog of large size – tight flews that don’t drool, tight eyelids, no loose skin.”
 
If any breed appears to be the odd man out of the Molosser Group, it is the Boxer. While it is classified as a Molosser by the Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI), American Boxers are by contrast very stylized, with plenty of curves and little of the ballast often seen with their European counterparts. Davies says he has not heard any feedback, good or bad, from the American Boxer Club, and at press time email queries to the club from this magazine went unanswered.

 

 
 
Though classified by the FCI as Molossers, in the AKC system Bulldogs will likely be headed to the Non-Sporting Group.

 

Bruce Voran, the American Boxer Club’s AKC delegate and a member of the AKC Realignment Committee, says the Boxer “quite naturally” is a Molosser, though not as genetically close as, say, the Mastiff or Dogue.
 
“When we read the history of our breed, we find this same reference to the Brabranter,” a Molosser-type breed of various sizes, the smallest of which was crossed in Germany with a white English Bulldog to create the breed we know today as the Boxer, he explains.
 
Moving to the Molosser Group might be a strategically savvy move for the Boxer, which is hands down the flashiest – and so most competitive – of the breeds earmarked for the new group.
 
Another potential candidate for the Molosser Group is the Chinese Shar-Pei, which is currently in Non-Sporting and has been recommended for the Spitz Group by the Realignment Committee. But Chinese Shar-Pei do compete in Molosser-club events in Europe, and some breeders who compete overseas see the logic of joining the Molosser Group. Grace Fritz, president of the Chinese Shar-Pei Club of America, said if the realignment went forward, the club would like to give its membership an opportunity to vote on where it should be placed.
 
While some parent clubs are understandably spending a great deal of energy debating or lobbying to determine their eventual group placement, that is a bit premature. The first step is for the AKC delegate body to approve the number and names of the new groups. After delegate approval, the AKC Board of Directors will place individual breeds within those groups. (This division of authority is dictated by the Rules Applying to Dog Shows, which cannot be changed without delegate approval. This document – specifically, Chapter 3, Sections 1, 15, 17, 18, 19 and 20, and Chapter 6, Section 3 – lists the number and names of the AKC groups, which makes it delegate business. But the dog-show rules do not list the breeds they contain, which puts that beyond the delegates’ purview.)
“It is expected that the reasoned input of the fancy will be an integral part of the placement,” the Realignment Committee noted in its September memo to the AKC board and delegates.
 
One of the arguments against AKC group realignment in general – and the Molosser Group in particular – is that adding four new groups spreads things too thin. 
 
“Of the breeds listed in AKC’s proposed Molosser Group, only nine are currently AKC recognized breeds. Of the nine, five are low-entry breeds,” Riggsbee notes. “Most Working Groups at shows I’ve been at this year had less than 14 dogs competing. Even if AKC by fiat approved all the FSS breeds, how many would actually be entered at most shows?”
 
Of course, no one knows for sure. But if AKC programs like the new Grand Champion titleship are any indication, fanciers will bring out dogs they otherwise wouldn’t if there are more slices in the pie to go around. (And though not all the breeds listed in the proposed groups are currently AKC recognized, they are expected to achieve full recognition within the next three years.)
 
“If we can get more people with more group placements, that might make them more willing to participate,” Davies says. And certainly in the Molosser Group, most of whose members are most decidedly not the usual suspects on the podium, having a shot at a rosette might prompt handlers of less popular or rare breeds to enter shows they otherwise would not.
 
In its first ill-fated attempt to draw up a plan for new groups in 2007, the Realignment Committee discussed a Molosser Group, but abandoned it over concerns that the group would be seen to contain “dangerous dog” breeds, and would be targeted by animal rights and breed-specific legislation groups.
But in this second incarnation, “we decided people really need to understand what the term Molosser means, where it comes from, and the basis of shared breed type,” says Davies. “And if they don’t know, we can teach them.”
 
The rule changes necessary to go from seven to 11 groups will be read at the AKC delegates’ December meeting, and will be voted on at their March 2012 meeting. Even if approved at that early juncture, the changes are estimated to take another three years before being implemented – mid-2015 at the earliest.
 
But for Molossers, among the most ancient of breeds that's a mere eyeblink.
 
 

What’s in a Name?

The AKC Realignment Committee’s first attempt at reordering the groups went down in flames in 2007, when some key breeds – among them Siberian Huskies and Alaskan Malamutes – took exception to the proposed Northern Group.  
 
Discussions with those breed communities revealed the fact that they were loath to lose the word “Working” in their group description, for fear it might dilute the functionality of their breeds.  
It’s no coincidence, then, that take two of the AKC realignment has rechristened the former Northern Group “Working-Spitz.” Similarly, the other two classifications derived from the Working Group are officially called “Working-Molosser” and “Working-Utility.”  
 
Because fanciers objected to the Companion Group label, which surfaced in the first realignment proposal, in the new plan that group remains Non-Sporting, even though the name – originally intended to distinguish it from the Sporting Group – is now relatively obsolete.  
 
 

Divvying Up

How did AKC choose its Molossers?
 
It is a legitimate question, since the proposed AKC Working-Molosser Group leaves off many breeds that are categorized as Molossers under the European FCI system.
 
“There was no attempt to mirror any other organization’s structure,” wrote the Realignment Committee in a list of FAQs (frequently asked questions) released earlier this year. “There are similarities – and differences – to FCI and others.”
 
The FCI’s Group 2 contains Molossoid breeds, as well as pinschers, schnauzers, Swiss mountain and cattle dogs. Under the FCI’s more expansive system, its Molosser section is further subdivided into dogs of Mastiff type and Mountain type.
 
In some areas, the new AKC system mirrors FCI: Mastiff-type Molossers like the Boerboel, Boxer, Bullmastiff, Cane Corso, Dogue de Bordeaux, Mastiff, Neapolitan Mastiff, Perro de Presa Canario, Rottweiler and Tosa were earmarked for the new AKC Molosser Group. But the Leonberger and the Tibetan Mastiff were also placed by AKC in Molosser even though FCI classifies them as a Mountain-type Molossoids; ditto for FSS breeds like the Caucasian Ovcharka, Central Asian Shepherd Dog, Estrela Mountain Dog, Rafeiro Do Alentejo, and Spanish Mastiff.
 
Realigment Committee member Bruce Voran notes that in most cases, the distinction between Molosser and Utility is “merely a matter of what they guarded.” Most of the breeds placed in the Molosser Group guarded property, he notes, while those in the Utility Group guarded living things, whether people or livestock. While this may not apply to every individual breed, it does, writ large, distinguish the two groups.
 
Two breeds classified as Mastiff-type Molossers by FCI managed to duck any AKC Working-related group altogether: the Bulldog and the Chinese Shar-Pei.

 

Anatomy of a Group

 
Under its proposed Group realignment, the American Kennel Club is contemplating  11 new groups, among them Group 6: Working-Molosser.
 
Breeds highlighted in yellow are currently AKC-recognized breeds. Highlighted in green are in the Miscellaneous Group, presumably receiving AKC recognition in the near future; the remainder are FSS, or Foundation Service Stock, breeds.
 

Proposed Group 6: Working-Molosser

(20 breeds)
 
Boerboel
Boxer
Bullmastiff
Cane Corso
Caucasian Ovcharka
Central Asian Shepherd Dog
Chinook
Dogo Argentino
Dogue de Bordeaux
Estrela Mountain Dog
Great Dane
Leonberger
Mastiff
Neapolitan Mastiff
Perro de Presa Canario
Rafeiro Do Alentejo
Rottweiler
Spanish Mastiff
Tibetan Mastiff
Tosa

 

 

 

 

© Modern Molosser Magazine. This article may not be reposted, reprinted, rewritten, excerpted or otherwise duplicated in any medium without the express written permission of the publisher.