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The author with her first homebred Tauralan Ruby Tuesday, circa 1974.
The author with her first homebred Tauralan Ruby Tuesday, circa 1974.

Past Imperfect

A Bullmastiff breeder of four decades takes stock of where the breed was, and where it is today

Very few weeks go by that I don’t find my mind drifting back to the Bullmastiffs I remember from my early days in the breed. Almost always, I compare them to what we see today.  

Serious breeders should always go forward, improving what we have by making informed, judicious breeding choices. So here I go, giving my opinion on what progress I see, where we’ve hit a few bumps in the road, and what I think lies ahead.

To start this commentary properly, I need to go way back to the very early days of the breed’s development. That, of course, takes us to England. In judging what progress we’ve made, we need to look at the reason this breed was developed. There are always periodic fads in all breeds (that includes cattle, sheep and other livestock). We do have a standard, and while slight variations within that standard do no harm, ignoring it throws away a generation or more in a breeding program. The folks who developed these dogs did it with a specific purpose in mind – an agile, powerful, tractable dog that could down and hold a poacher as well as remove the poacher’s dog from the equation. The style of dog they developed fit its function.  

As the need for gamekeepers’ dogs decreased, and Bullmastiffs were increasingly owned by the general populace and were recognized by the kennel clubs of various countries, more attention was paid to the finer points of their structure, and standards were developed. There have been several changes in the American standard over the years, but nothing drastic. It still describes a dog that should have no trouble doing what the breed was bred to do.  

 

BM Ch. Favo D’Mel’s Keruth Gordo

Two successful East Coast kennels were Favo D’Mel and Tailwyne. Above: Ch. Favo D’Mel’s Keruth Gordo, “Gordo,” bred and owned by Beverly and Harry Bryant of Middleburg, Va. The Bryants bred some 60 champions under the Favo D’Mel banner. Below: Ch. Tailwynde’s Rinky d’Ink (Ch. Scyldocga Bairn McTavish x Tailwynde’s Amy of Thor Gen) was an early dog from Adele Pfenninger’s East Coast kennel. He won the national specialty in 1977.

Bullmastiff Ch. Tailwynde’s Rinky d’Ink

 

My first Bullmastiff came to me strictly as a pet in 1964. I had no idea there was a standard. All I was looking for was a manageable family pet and guard dog to keep us safe while my husband traveled on business. Heart, soul and mind, she was all Bullmastiff. She came from champion stock. She also had front legs that were several inches shorter than her rear legs. Never interfered with her work or life. She stopped two robbery attempts in the first year and a half we had her.  

I read there was a dog show nearby one weekend, and she and I went. I’d never been to one before, so how did I know I couldn’t bring an unentered dog? I got stopped at the gate, but luckily Bullmastiffs had just finished being judged and the exhibitors were heading for their cars. Did I ever get a lot of attention! Three different people told me I simply must show this bitch. Bullmastiff entries were very small then, and points were hard to get. That just might have caused their enthusiasm regarding a purely pet bitch. Before I could realize what I was doing, she was entered in a show three weeks away.  

 

Ch. Cascade Hrothgar of Meadhall, “Gar” (Ch. Pocantico Dunworyin Faro x Ch. Comets Penelope of Cascade), the number-one Bullmastiff in 1971, with six Group 1sts.

Ch. Cascade Hrothgar of Meadhall, “Gar” (Ch. Pocantico Dunworyin Faro x Ch. Comets Penelope of Cascade), the number-one Bullmastiff in 1971, with six Group 1sts.

 

It didn’t take long to realize she wasn’t championship material. Reading the standard explained that rather well. But soon I had another Bullmastiff, and was seriously into showing. Things snowballed, and over the years more and more seemed to join the family. Four years after buying my first one, I bred my first litter. I joined the national breed club. I got involved. As time went by, Bullmastiff entries got large enough so it didn’t take only four of one sex to make a major.  

There was very little exchange of bloodlines from the eastern U.S. and the West. I did travel east to the national specialty. It was necessary to do so, as it never moved from one kennel club show for many, many years. It became obvious that the dogs in the east were very different from the dogs in the west. Matings of dogs from one area to another required shipping the bitch to the dog. Artificial insemination was a long way off. Styles within breed type were divided into pockets of geographic location. A dog that was popular was still used as a stud predominantly in his own area. There were good dogs on both coasts, but the Eastern dogs tended toward less rear angulation, less tuck up in the flank, a little more Mastiffy in looks. The Western dogs were predominantly related to several western Canadian kennels, although several lines were East Coast related.  

The West Coast dogs were far more athletic. I think the tendency toward breeding more athletic dogs had to do with our weather. California was the primary area of concentration of Bullmastiffs in the West, and our weather is far milder, especially in winter, so people tended to produce dogs that were more attuned to really active lifestyles.

 

Ch. Tauralan Vic Torious (Ch. Tauralan Ted E. Bear x Ch. Tauralan Tanimara), a very influential stud dog in the breed, was linebred on Ch. Todd of Teddersbelle. He is handled here by his breeder, Carol Beans, in 1978. Ch. Tauralan Vic Torious (Ch. Tauralan Ted E. Bear x Ch. Tauralan Tanimara), a very influential stud dog in the breed, was linebred on Ch. Todd of Teddersbelle. He is handled here by his breeder, Carol Beans, in 1978.

 

In the 1960s and ’70s, I think many people were looking at heads (a strong definer of type in any breed), but ignoring the fact that Bullmastiffs are working dogs and therefore need to be able to do a job. I saw terrible fronts and rears in many dogs that had stunning heads and plenty of substance. Bites were not considered anywhere near as important as they are today.  

Ch. Todd of Teddersbelle was the most popular stud dog here in the West for a number of years, and his male offspring were also influential. “Todd” was a large, red dog, quite hard-bodied, with a good tuck-up of flank, and very athletic. He passed this on to a large portion of his offspring. It basically set the pattern for type in the area. At that time the Teddersbelle and Regalstock kennels had very similar genetic backgrounds and did most of the breeding in the area. That is not to say they bred a great many litters. Nobody really did at that time in the West, but these two seemed most influential in the show ring in the 1960s and ’70s. My own line started from an English import bitch and Todd.  

The Scyldocga kennel in Clements, Md., very prominent on the East Coast, sent several bitches west, which added another force in the region. Bullmast Kennels had dogs from England as their basis and that was another influence. Bull Brook put a definite stamp on its dogs, too.  

There was almost no back and forth breeding between East and West Coast dogs until later in the 1970s, and even then not much. It was not until the easy access to artificial-insemination breedings that any real blending of type coast to coast was obvious. It is still not difficult to see type strongly defined by geographic area.  

Above: Ch. Todd of Teddersbelle (Regalstock Dawson x Ch. Teresa of Teddersbelle) was a foundation dog for West Coast Bullmastiffs. He sired many successful get, including, below, Ch. Big Sur of Bullbrook (Ch. Todds of Teddersbelle x Ch. Sophia of Lorraine), who was the number-two Bullmastiff in 1973, bred and owned by Taun Brooks.

Bullmastiff Ch. Big Sur of Bull Brook

 

In the early ’70s, Ch. Big Sur of Bull Brook had a strong influence in the breed. In the latter part of that decade, my own Ch. Tauralan Vic Torious (Big Sur’s grandson and Todd’s great-grandson) became another key sire.   On the East Coast, Stonykill, Tailwynde, Favo D’Mel (Harry and Beverly Bryant of Middleburg, Va.) and Bandog (Helene Buzzeo, now Nietsch of Brookfield, Conn., and Louise Sanders of Pound Ridge, N.Y.) were quite active and created strong influences there. In the late 1970s, Blackslate began to make a strong mark on the breed.  

The Midwest, especially around the Great Lakes area, had their own prominent dogs. Cascade kennel was influential in the 1960s and ’70s. Coming soon after that, Ladybug (Geraldine and Jack Shastid) and Ironwood (Mrs. W.E. Edwards of Greencastle, Ind.) produced very recognizable lines. A little later in the Midwest, DOX and HappyLegs came into prominence.  

I don’t mean to leave any strong influences out of this commentary, but the above-mentioned kennels are the ones that come to mind as defining the type in the breed in their areas.  

 

Ch. Beowulf of Bandog (Ch. Little John of Sherwood’s Troll x Bandog’s Fancy Free), left, sired Ch. Huck’s Last Hurrah of Bandog (right) out of Ch. Bandog’s Hard Hearted Hannah. “Freddy,” as that youngster was known, is shown here at 11 months. He became the first Best in Show Bullmastiff in the mid-1970s.

Ch. Beowulf of Bandog (Ch. Little John of Sherwood’s Troll x Bandog’s Fancy Free), above, sired Ch. Huck’s Last Hurrah of Bandog (below) out of Ch. Bandog’s Hard Hearted Hannah. “Freddy,” as that youngster was known, is shown here at 11 months. He became the first Best in Show Bullmastiff in the mid-1970s. Bullmastiff Huck’s Last Hurrah of Bandog

 

During the late 1960s through the ’80s it was still possible, if one was active in the breed, to be familiar with most of the breeding programs, breeders and actively campaigned dogs, no matter what part of the country one lived in. From the mid-’90s to now, there are so many breeders of record it is difficult to keep track of most of what is showing and being bred.  

For the past 20 years, more and more scientific tests have been made available to check the health of dogs. We have hip, elbow, eye, heart and thyroid certifications. The positive side of this is that a line with problems has the ability to now weed them out before doing a breeding and finding out the hard way. Doing subsequent generations gives one a continuing record.  

The negative side is that dogs with hip and elbow certifications don’t necessarily have sound movement or good structure. But it seems that certification is the end-all-and-be-all ticket to being bred. These two points are just that – two points in a large amount of reasons to breed or not to breed. A dog with excellent certifications that walks like a duck is a terrible breeding prospect, no matter what the certification says.  

 

Ch. Battersea of Bullmast (Ch. Bullmast Bayard of Hellmark x Scyldocga Bullmast Bronwyn), “Bim,” winning his final major under judge William Kendrick at the Beverly Hills Kennel Club Show in 1977, shown by breeder-owner Pat O’Brien. Her father, Leonard Smith, started the kennel. He always gave dogs names that started with a “B,” in honor of his British friend Cyril Leeke of Bulmas fame. Ch. Battersea of Bullmast (Ch. Bullmast Bayard of Hellmark x Scyldocga Bullmast Bronwyn), “Bim,” winning his final major under judge William Kendrick at the Beverly Hills Kennel Club Show in 1977, shown by breeder-owner Pat O’Brien. Her father, Leonard Smith, started the kennel. He always gave dogs names that started with a “B,” in honor of his British friend Cyril Leeke of Bulmas fame.

 

In the very early days of the breed, its developers would never have used a dog for breeding that wasn’t fully functional. They had no scans or X-rays. They bred what could perform the duties it was bred to perform. Nowadays, certification despite lack of function is often the criterion. It cheapens the value of the certification of dogs that are both certified and sound. Sound function is sound function. The reason to do certifications is to enable the production of soundly functioning dogs.

Today’s Bullmastiffs are in the main a sounder lot than they were early in my association with them. Part of that is due to testing and part of that is largely that breeders have far more choices in what to use as breeding stock. There were so few dogs in the 1960s and early ’70s as compared to now that choices were much more limited. The ability to use frozen semen rather than shipping bitches has opened up an avenue of long-distance matings, international as well as cross country. Options today are available to choose the very best combinations.  

 

Ch. Blackslate’s Boston Blackie (Ch. Tauralan Hold That Tiger x Ch. Blackslates Darling Dalilah), known as “Mister,” sired his equally successful son, Ch. Blackslate’s Boston Brahmin (Ch. Blackslate’s Boston Blackie x Blackslates Chimney Sweep).

Ch. Blackslate’s Boston Blackie (Ch. Tauralan Hold That Tiger x Ch. Blackslates Darling Dalilah), known as “Mister,” sired his equally successful son, Ch. Blackslate’s Boston Brahmin (Ch. Blackslate’s Boston Blackie x Blackslates Chimney Sweep).

Bullmastiff Ch. Blackslate's Boston Brahmin

 

In the past 15 years, Bullmastiffs have definitely become a “handlers’ breed.” Early on, almost all Bullmastiffs were shown by owners or amateurs. Now, especially in the Best of Breed competition, the professionals have taken over. There were very few publications devoted to the show ring in the 1960s and ’70s. Now there are a great many. Showing champions was not nearly the massive, expensive, time-consuming effort it now is. This is a huge change, and one of the biggest differences between the past and the present in the sport of dogs.  

Many breeders today are focusing on both type and soundness combined. Bites, angulation and toplines have been given more attention. Bullmastiffs are being looked at for their working abilities as well as their appearance. We have far more interest now in obedience and agility competitions than in the past. In the early years, most folks looked at a Bullmastiff as a big, impressive guard dog who was too stubborn or dense to do anything but guard the property. Today’s Bullmastiffs can do just about anything. (Not all of them, certainly, but most are very versatile.)  

 

Ch. Scyldocga Little Joe (Ch. Scyldocga Blackazz Ink x Scyldocga True Grit) taking a major and BOW under Thomas L. Bennett, breeder-owner-handled by Mary A. Prescott, whose Scyldocga Kennel was based in New Jersey. He is behind many North American kennels, including Tailwynde and Bastion. Ch. Scyldocga Little Joe (Ch. Scyldocga Blackazz Ink x Scyldocga True Grit) taking a major and BOW under Thomas L. Bennett, breeder-owner-handled by Mary A. Prescott, whose Scyldocga Kennel was based in New Jersey. He is behind many North American kennels, including Tailwynde and Bastion.    

 

We have some really good dogs being produced nowadays, but with the numbers being produced, doing that should not be difficult. The breed would benefit from a little less breeding stock and more judicious choices. Breed rescue is inundated with unwanted dogs. That is something else we didn’t see much of until the last 15 years. During this period, the number of rescues has reached tidal-wave proportions. It isn’t solely the result of the recent economic downturn. Popularity is not an asset for Bullmastiffs.  

The majority of Bullmastiffs I saw 30 or 40 years ago were of basically good type. The differences between then and now have to be major structural improvements. Correct rear angulation is still more prevalent than correct shoulder angulation. More attention is being paid to good movement. More stress is placed on proper bites. Eye color has improved greatly. Coast to coast, dogs are more athletic and capable of doing the job the breed was intended to do. I believe percentage wise, many bitches in the early days were more in the standard in height than today. I have seen a great number of bitches well under the 24-inch height limit.  In my early years in the breed, very small bitches were uncommon.  

It seems most of the dogs of decades past had better topline length than nowadays. I am seeing a larger percentage of long dogs. The length comes in the length of the flank. The standard clearly calls for a dog very slightly longer than tall (at the withers). The long back is leaning more to Mastiff type and needs to be corrected. Shoulder angulation needs to be stressed along with rear angulation. There are many cases of mismatched angulation, and it is almost always that the front lacks the angulation to match the rear.  

 

Ladybug Becky of Cascade, CD, or “Becky” (Can. Ch. Pixie’s Imp of Cascade x Vanguard’s Blue Flame), with Kelly Roach, was the foundation bitch for Ladybug Bullmastiffs.

 

Where in the early days people tended to breed to the convenient local dog, whether he suited the bitch or not, I have seen a tendency at present to breed to the latest big winner, whether he suits the bitch or not. There are a number of well-thought-out breeding programs and the careful consideration of matching dog to bitch in both pedigree and appearance have paid off in the production of sound dogs of good type. There is so much information available to prospective breeders now there is no reason to settle for less than an informed, well-reasoned choice.  

Which brings me to the subject of the future of the breed. We are now facing a real crisis because of animal-rights groups and their attacks on not only breeding but owning dogs. The large guard breeds are in particular danger. Bullmastiffs certainly fall into the category of a large guard breed. Breed-specific laws are being passed all over the country as misguided generalized answers to specific problems.  

The tendency in our breed (and in others, I am sure) to sell basically whole litters of pups on must-show, must-breed contracts with sellers taking back pups and putting them out with the same requirements is heavily increasing the numbers of litters produced. This in turn almost ensures a larger number of owners incapable of properly dealing with the requirements, dogs ending up in rescue, or in homes that are totally unsuitable. The problems created have brought many Bullmastiffs to the notice of their local animal control, and the breed to the attention of the media, who feast on sensationalism and tragedy. Selling lots of puppies, and getting one’s stud dog in the record books for X number of champions, has zero to do with bettering and protecting our breed. We need to scale back the number of litters and concentrate on breeding the absolute best quality, being exceptionally careful where every puppy goes.

 

Sir Charles of Ironwood (Ch. George’s Royal Duke x Ch. Coco of Ironwood) and Amanda of Ironwood going Best of Winners and Winners Bitch under judge Clifford L. Ganson. Gene and Lila Edwards’ Indiana-based Ironwood Kennel was a force in the Midwest starting in the 1960s.

Sir Charles of Ironwood (Ch. George’s Royal Duke x Ch. Coco of Ironwood) and Amanda of Ironwood going Best of Winners and Winners Bitch under judge Clifford L. Ganson. Gene and Lila Edwards’ Indiana-based Ironwood Kennel was a force in the Midwest starting in the 1960s.

 

This is not a breed for everyone. To protect the future of the breed we need to police ourselves. We cannot control the puppy millers, but those who want to be responsible for the continuation of Bullmastiffs in the face of increasing problems facing all breeds of dogs need to take a good, hard look at what we are breeding and why. We need to be more critical in our evaluation of what to breed and where to place the pups. We need to pay careful attention to the temperament as well as the structure of our breeding stock.  

The breed has made good progress in the last decade toward more uniformity of type and soundness. It has come a long way from what we had 40 years ago. If we make intelligent and responsible choices, it will only get better.

 

Carol BeansAbout the Author

Carol Beans of Santa Ana, Calif., has owned Bullmastiffs for 45 years and bred them for 41 years. She has bred and/or owned 52 champions, with several dozen more sired by her stud dogs. In 2001 and 2003, one of her dogs was the #1 dog all systems in the Bullmastiff breed. She has judged numerous Sweepstakes at national and regional specialties over the last 30 years.           

 

 

 

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