My friend and fellow judge Rafael Malo Alcrudo of Spain says the goal in purebred dogs is to hear the music in a standard. Anyone can tonelessly recite the words to a song — or a standard — but judges and breeders are in search of the melody: That is type.
And in the context of that metaphor, the Westminster Kennel Club dog show is our Carnegie Hall.
So when the purple-and-gold-embossed envelope arrived in my mailbox last year, and I opened it to find that I would be judging 15 breeds at the 2023 Westminster Kennel Club show — and no less than a third of them would be Molossers — I was thrilled. Unfortunately, Molosser breeds are overlooked and underappreciated by far too many judges. But to say I am not one of them would be an understatement …
Fittingly, the Saturday before Westminster, May 6, was the Bucks County Kennel Club, a show with longstanding Molosser connections: Thanks to the influence of the late Tobin Jackson, for decades the Mastiff entry at Bucks numbered well over 100. (If the name Tobin Jackson means nothing to you, click here, as it is impossible to understand the modern Mastiff without appreciating the impact of his Deer Run kennel.) I have very fond memories of sitting ringside with Damara Bolte and Dr. William Newman, watching the endless pageant of grandeur and good nature …
Though today’s entries have dwindled by almost half, the custom of securing an overseas judge for the Mastiffs at Bucks continues. This year, it was Molosser expert Bas Bosch, who not surprisingly also drew a substantial Dogue de Bordeaux entry. (Yet another parenthetical comment for those who may not yet have connected all the dots: Bosch is the publisher of Prof. Raymond Triquet's magnum opus on the Dogue, "The Saga of the Dogue de Bordeaux,” a copy of which is a must for any serious student of that breed.)
A talented judge and equally gifted writer, Bas Bosch was one of my earliest mentors in Molossers, and one of the most avidly read contributors to Modern Molosser when I launched the magazine in 2008. (The print version is no more, but his “Molosser Musings” columns are all available in this website’s archive.) So I was tickled to run across The Bosch at Westminster's new, if temporary, home, the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens, and invited him to join me in the judges’ seating area at Arthur Ashe Stadium to watch the final night of judging — including, of course, the Working Group.
There is no greater test, I think, than to be sitting beside an important mentor when your Best of Breed winners trot into that cavernous arena for the group competition. And I am happy to say that I was pleased with each and every one of them.
Neapolitan Mastiff GCh. Shining Hills Hilario (GCh. Vlad Mastino Delle Correnti x Ch. Shining Hills Novella). Breeder: Shannon Drake. Owners: Shannon Drake and Brandi Borts. Handler: Brandi Borts. Entry 11, 5 absentees.
Though I might be mistaken, I don’t think I had judged any of my Westminster breed winners previously. Some young Molossers in particular made quite a strong impression on me.
At just over two years old, my Best of Breed Neapolitan Mastiff GCh. Shining Hills Hilario has not reached his crest of maturity, but I could not deny his soundness, age-appropriate bone and substance, and lovely head, with abundant but not excessive wrinkle of correctly heavy, stiff quality – no melted ice-cream cones here. He is proof positive that this breed does not have to sacrifice soundness in order to have type.
I also want to thank the American mastinari for the record entry (before absentees) of 11 dogs — the next-largest entry since the breed began competing in 2006 was 10 Neos in 2010. Though ultimately half this year’s entry was absent for reasons having everything to do with the vagaries of the American Mastino world, it was an absolute honor to have that level of support in a breed that arguably has never been stronger on this side of the Atlantic.
Dogo Argentino GCh. Lexus De Casa De La Bahia (Viron De La Paco Cassa x Ch. Kia Milcayac). Breeders: Victor Echavarria and Araceli Echavarria. Owners: Araceli and Isabella Echavarria. Entry: 9, three absentees.
Moving on, another stand-out of similar age was the stunning Dogo Argentino GCh. Lexus De Casa De La Bahia. The Dogo standard asks for a difficult mash-up: a mesomorphic body with a Molossoid head. This bitch delivered both, with a smooth, powerful yet athletic body that came together with precision on the move, and a correctly proportioned head with tight-fitting skin and lips, and essential markedly hard expression.
On reflection, of all the dogs I judged on the day, this 2-year-old female was the biggest and most satisfying surprise, as her beautiful type and quality were undeniable; the compliments and congratulations I saw later from some of her most hard-bitten competitors confirmed that many of her peers felt the same way. I later learned that her breeder-owner-handler had driven all the way from Texas to show at Westminster — a decision I am sure she later decided was worth every tick of the odometer.
Dogo Argentino GChB. Onix Icon Borneo (Alano I Del Blanco Diablo x Ii Mondo Del Carmen Asolo). Breeder: Peter Istvan Voros. Owner-handler: Kristin Winter. Photo courtesy of Kimberly Roberts.
I also want to mention my Best of Opposite Sex in Dogos, GChB. Onix Icon Borneo, a substantial male with black-spotted skin visible under his coat. Dogueros say their breed is born white and dies black, and I hope other judges are not mistaking this perfectly acceptable age-related skin darkening for the disqualifying black coat color mentioned in the standard.
Cane Corso GChG. Adibeir Red Carpet Affair (GChP. Oblivion Earthride CGC x GChB. Garritani Gabriella Ragazza CD CGC). Breeders: Elizabeth and Dennis Shauck. Owners: Dave Musto and Elizabeth Shauck. Handler: Kathy Musto. Entry: 13, three absentees.
As a result of that aforementioned bullie blood, judging the Cane Corso always involves a wrestling match between head type and soundness. Sadly, these days it is a rarity to find dogs in which major concessions do not need to be made in one area or the other. For that reason, I want to mention my Select Dog, GCh. Giangreco’s Black Kaiser. His handsome head, with strong brow and correct stop and furrow, gave no doubt that he was a Corso – a seemingly basic requirement that nonetheless can be a constant challenge in this breed. He was also quite sound – again, not always a given in this breed.
GCh. Giangreco’s Black Kaiser (GCh. El Mesquital Viking CGCA TKN x Casey Jones CGCA). Breeder/owner: Andrew Giangreco. Handler: Deanna Rotkowski.
One interesting point regarding those two top-placing males: Both were presented and/or bred by professional handlers who are themselves heavily involved in the breed. Corsos aren’t the only Molosser breed in which this phenomenon exists: In a surprising number of them — including Boerboel, Bullmastiffs, Mastiffs, Dogos, Dogues and Tibetan Mastiffs — professional handlers are as much an influence in the whelping box as they are in the ring. And for the most part, that has been a very good thing.
Dogue de Bordeaux GChB Mount Sinai’s Call Me Maximilian St Amand (GChG. Mount Sinai's Crusader St Amand x Mount Sinai's Annabel Lee St Amand). Breeders/owners: William Duvall and Kent D. MacFarlane. Handler: Kent D. MacFarlane. Entry: 10, two absentees.
GChB Mount Sinai’s Call Me Maximilian St Amand was a very typical Dogue de Bordeaux who satisfied the tongue-twisting description of a “concave-lined brachycephalic molossoid.” He excelled in head type just as much as he did in soundness with his wide-set eyes, strong and wide muzzle, and prominent chin, all lending to the breed’s desired “sour mug” expression.
One word of caution, however: If the overall Dogue entry is any indication, diminished size is becoming an area of concern in the breed. Accompanying it was an unwelcome reversion to Bulldog type in too many exhibits, with rounded rather than trapezoidal heads, excessive wrinkle and severely undershot mouths.
Boerboel GCh. Silverthorne’s Leo Pride of Clemina TKN(GCh. Revelation Cletus x GChS. Fuller's Simply Irresistible FDC CA RATO DJX DNA AJ AN CGCA CGCU TKP). Breeders: Morgan Michelle Jacoby and Ann Claire Lester. Owners: Melanie and Daniel Mahone. Handler: Kasey Black. Entry: 3 (1 absentee).
When judging Boerboel, I look for dogs that in terms of their degree of bulliness are midway between the Dogue (which has more Bulldog influence) and Bullmastiff (which has less), as opposed to “houndier” dogs with a more generic appeal. GCh. Silverthorne’s Leo Pride of Clemina TKN had the substance and power required of this breed, and was strong in topline — an area where the breed is frequently weak.
Of all the Molosser breeds, the Boerboel has the greatest challenge in standardizing type and communicating its fundamentals to judges. This becomes even more of a concern when one considers that in its home country of South Africa, the Boerboel has been all but destroyed by the proliferation of historically incorrect black dogs. Thanks to the efforts of the American Boerboel Club, the U.S. is one of the few places in the world where this breed continues true to type.
I’d like to thank the owners, breeders and handlers who gave me the honor of rendering an opinion on their dogs in as significant a venue as Westminster. I have always had the upmost respect for Molosser breeders because their music is among the most complex in dogdom: With so many difficult notes to master, they are at greater risk than most for dissonance and disharmony interfering with type.
Thank you all for an assignment filled with uplifting and satisfying melodies.