Hypertype vs. Hypotype: Making like Goldilocks
Fairy tales aren’t just charming stories intended to lull toddlers to sleep. On a deeper level, they teach important life lessons and warn against dangerous pitfalls.
And if dog breeders could use a cautionary fairy tale, without a doubt it would be Goldilocks and the Three Bears.
When last we left our blond interloper, she was sampling the porridge and beds of a family of absent bears. Papa Bear and Mama Bear were polar extremes (pardon the ursine pun!): His porridge was too hot and his bed too hard, and hers were too cold and too soft, respectively. But to Goldilocks’ delight, Little Bear’s porridge and bed were — we are told repeatedly — “just right.”
Putting this in dog breeding terms, Papa Bear is hypertype, Mama Bear is hypotype, and Baby Bear is … just type.
While the terms hypertype and hypotype are more familiar to European fanciers, they are not part of the American dog lexicon.
To understand hypertype, think about a “hyper” child, whose behavior is over the top and excessive. (That crash you hear used to be the hanging egg chair in the living room.) Hypertypical dogs are “overdone,” following the philosophy that more is more. In hypertype, breed hallmarks are frequently amplified to the point that they almost become cartoonish. Hypertype takes the approach that “more is more”: If a little is good, then a whole lot more must be better.
Hypotype is the opposite of hypertype: The Greek root “hypo” means “under.” (That’s why they’re called hypodermic needles: Because they are injected under the skin.) Hypotype is “not enough,” leaning in the direction of generic.
Hypotypical dogs are missing some of the key aspects of breed type, or they are present in such a dilute form as to severely impact type. In Molossers, hypotype oftens manifests in weak heads: Bullmastiffs with overly long muzzles, Neapolitan Mastiffs lacking facial wrinkle, Cane Corsos with underdeveloped brows all fit this description.
The Pendulum Swings
Dog breeding can be a frustrating because it is such a moving target: With each new litter, a breeder is forced to adjust, selecting the sires and dams of the next generation to address the faults that have surfaced in the current one.
Molosser breeders have it just that much harder: Because they are breeding for recessive traits that are difficult to achieve and maintain — great size and bone are prime examples — they have much less wiggle room in achieving type. When they achieve a sound and typey dog, it is through an inordinate amount of trial, error and effort — a challenge that should make judges more inclined to reward them in the highest levels of competition, as they invariably have a steeper climb than many other breeds to reach the same level of quality.
Because Molosser breeds often involve extremes, hypertype and hypotype tend to be felt a little more viscerally in them than in other, more generically constructed breeds. It’s also important to remember that, like most things in life, hypertype and hypotype involve gradations: There is a big difference between a Dogue who has a slightly concave topline (slightly hypertypical) and one who is so overcome by Bulldog type that its eyes are set on the same plane as its nose and its lower canines jut out like a pair of tusks (very hypertypical).
Case in Point
For a clear example of hypertype vs. hypotype, let’s look at the Cane Corso.
The exaggerations of hypertype imparted by Boxer blood in the Corso include an overly short muzzle, bulgy eyes and an overall roundness to the head.
It is an open secret that Boxers were used in Cane Corso breeding programs, in particular on the Continent, to give breadth and upsweep of jaw, as well as a pronounced stop. In years past, this concentration of Boxer blood led to an explosion of hypertype in the Corso. Derisively dubbed “Boxeroni” today, these dogs, like the one above, had extreme heads, with super-short muzzles and bulging eyes. The roundness and wrinkling of some were in direct opposition to the flat back skull and smooth, straight lines that are fundamental to correct Corso head type (below).
A typey Corso head exhibiting neither hypotype nor hypertype.
Today, the pendulum has swung, and now the problem exists in the opposite direction: Hypotypical Cane Corsos with overly plain heads, lack of stop and central furrow, and underdeveloped brows are filling up the rings around the world. These “undercooked” examples evoke the Presa Canario, which has much flatter brows and less defined stop — two characteristics that weaken Corso type.
In the hypotypical Corso head (above), lack of brow development and shallow stop really take a toll on correct head type and expression. Compare its similarity to the head of a Presa Canario (below).
Arguably, no Molosser breeds has to deal with more “drags” — or influences of outside breeds — than the Cane Corso. So it is incumbent on Corso breeders to familiarize themselves with the type and traits of those contributing breeds: Otherwise, they can be — and, indeed, in some quarters, have been — confused for correct type.
Just because a trait shows up in your whelping box doesn’t mean it’s correct.
A Wrinkle in Time
In Molossers, hypertype often manifests as excessive wrinkling, a subject that Bas Bosch covered for us so brilliantly in a long-ago essay.
The Dogue de Bordeaux AKC standard uses wrinkling as a barometer of hypertype. It stresses that the wrinkle on the outer corner of the eye that extends down to the corner of the mouth or the dewlap — a fundamental point of type for the Neo — should be “discreet.” In this same vein is the admonition, accepted breedwide, that the wrinkles on a Dogue should be “living” and mobile, not fixed. (That concept was repeatedly reinforced by Mr. Dogue himself, Prof. Triquet, who used this precise description in my 2000 interview with him.) Again, the idea is to ward off any semblance of the heavy folds that define Mastino type.
Indeed, the poster child for hypertype in Molossers is the Neapolitan Mastiff. You’ve seen the images of those sad-looking dogs, draped in flaccid flesh, looking for all the world like melting ice-cream cones.
Too much. Just too much. The poster child for the hypertypical Neapolitan Mastiff.
Of course, even in Neapolitans, there is such a thing as too much wrinkle. Excessive loose skin that droops like cheap pantyhose around the hocks, elbows and buttocks, and that “accordion”-like set of wrinkles on the tail — all are big, blinking warning signs for hypertype. The Mastino relies on Bulldog blood for its tremendous bone and mass, channeled through the early, earthy Neapolitan dogs known as zaccari. In addition to excessive wrinkle, a too-short muzzle is also hypertypical, ruining the breed’s wistful expression.
Hypotypical Neos can easily be mistaken for Corsos. This dog, identified by a stock photo service as a Neo, is hypotypical even for a Corso.
Conversely, hypotypical Neos lack wrinkling, in particular the two required by the standard: the wrinkle extending from the outside margin of the eyelids to the dewlap (the palpebral wrinkle), and from under the lower lids to the outer edges of the lips. The more hypotypical a Mastino becomes, the more it begins to resemble its drier cousin, the Cane Corso.
For some balance, lets look at an example of a typical Neo who is arguably neither overdone or undercooked: Ch. Argo del Monte.
Interestingly, Neo puppies are relatively dry, often devoid of head wrinkle except for the required two mentioned above: These are present even in the youngest subjects, like the puppy below. Mastini acquire more wrinkles as they age, as opposed to Chinese Shar-Pei, which start off extremely wrinkled and then lose those folds as they mature.
Even at this tender age, this puppy has the two wrinkles required of a Neapolitan Mastiff, starting at the inner and outer corners of the eye.
Degrees of Separation
When used wisely, hypertypical dogs — or those that tend in this direction — can be important to breeding programs, as they can impart much-needed type to hypotypical examples. The ideal is for their hypertype not to compromise their soundness.
An excellent example of this in Mastiffs is British Ch. Hollesley Medicine Man. With a maximum of bone and substance, and a broad head that would be hard pressed to carry even one more wrinkle, Medicine Man leaned rather snugly up against hypertype, but never crossed the line, as much as he may have flirted with it. Nonetheless, for a dog of his mass, Medicine Man was quite agile and light on his feet. It could hardly be surprising to know that the successfully typey Greiner Hall strain linebred intensely on him.
UK Ch. Hollesley Medicine Man: Mastiff type to the max.
Counterintuitive as it may seem in Molosser breeds, where any sign of weakness or dilution can easily destroy type, hypotypical dogs can have their place in breeding programs, too.
Contrast the typey Caligola di Ponzano (above), who was Best in Show at the 1992 World Dog Show, with his rather hypotypical sire, Toscano di Ponzano (below).
Most Mastino enthusiasts know of Caligola di Ponzano, who famously won the World Dog Show in Valencia, Spain, in 1992. But not many have seen his sire, Ch. Toscano di Ponzano, whose surviving images suggest a gargoyle peering off a flying buttress at Notre-Dame — and I think that’s being kind! Almost entirely devoid of wrinkle — except for the two coming off the eye that the standard demands! — he gives the distinct impression of a bullfrog in canine form. But for all his aesthetic shortcomings, he had the curvaceous solidity of a super-sized Bulldog, the same sheer substance that typified the zaccaro dogs of Naples. (Indeed, this zaccaro form reminds a bit of the Boerboel, with a vaguely but definitively Bulldog-influenced outline that is difficult to ignore.)
Periodically, this style of zaccaro-inspired Mastino arrives in the whelping box, showing a particularly rich concentration of type that radiates as powerfully as the midday summer heat in a Neapolitan piazza. A recent example was the World-winning 5-year-old Mastina It. Ch. Maresca Abate, rewarded by judge Christopher Habig in 2022 at the World Dog Show in Madrid.
The female It. Ch. Maresca Abate, in full bloom at five years old, was Best of Breed at the 2022 World Dog Show in Spain under breed expert Cristofer Habig. An accomplished Mastina, she was also the top winner at the prestigious Trofeo Mario Querci exhibition in 2018 under another respected Molosser adjudicator, Rafael Malo Alcrudo of Spain, at only a year of age.
As this article begins to drift into hypertype itself, let’s return to another example of hypotype altering a breed for the better: the complex story of the legendary Tobin Jackson and his Deer Run Mastiffs. There are theories —none of them substantiated — on how he managed to tease such impressive soundness out of what was then a largely crippled breed. The most compelling one involves first introducing a lighter, sounder Molosser type with some Sighthound elegance and soundness behind it, such as the Great Dane. This, of course, is hypotype, tending in the direction of the Cane Corso, whose elegance also derives from a drop of Sighthound influence, just as it does in the Dogo Argentino.
Ch. Deer Run Noah Massalane, an early dog from the kennel, which initially traded a bit of breed type for the soundness the breed was lacking.
Next, in order to correct the plainness that had arrived with Dane’s much-needed soundness, some Deer Run deconstructors argue convincingly that the St. Bernard was then added, providing the secret sauce needed to restore head type. This, of course, represents the opposite of hypotypical, with the Saint’s well-developed brow, stop, breadth and depth of muzzle, and flew. Head type aside, some unintended outcomes of the St. Bernard’s hypertypical contribution include piebalds and fluffs, both of which persist even today.
What’s in a Name?
American fanciers aren’t accustomed to using the terms “hypertypical” or “hypotypical” when describing varying degrees of typiness in our dogs: Instead, we tend to express this as “overdoneness” of one intensity or another. But those two H words are anchored by the word “type,” which is what we should all be striving for: in the whelping box, in the ring and on the podium. Thinking about overall type instead of individual pieces is always more revelatory for me: In the end, after all, type is as much a feeling as a collection of quantifiable traits.
In the end, hypertype and hypotype are simply points along a continuum. As with anything, moderation is key: We seek to breed and reward dogs that are typey without being overdone or lacking. Sometimes we get a little more than we want; sometimes, a little less. It’s how breeders navigate this variability, understanding how to combine lines and families and individual producers to reach that elusive middle ground, that counts.
And, as Goldilocks demonstrated — sinking blissfully into Baby Bear’s impossibly comfortable bed, a satisfied belly full of his porridge — it’s well worth the effort.