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Molosser Musings

The Molosser Whisperer? No, it's only Bas Bosch, known for his gentle touch
Modern Molosser is pleased to present this 2010 interview with Bas Bosch of Belgium. A well-respected Molosser judge who is very much in demand at specialties around the globe, he is also the driving force behind BBPress, a world-class publishing house with internationally sought-after Molosser titles. Search "Molosser Musings" for more essays by Bas Bosch.
Do you remember your first "aha" moment with a Molosser?
It was the beginning of the ’80s, on my first trip to England. At an all-breed show close to the border of England and Wales, I met a male who embodied literally everything and more of what I thought a Molosser should look like. Breathtaking he was, despite the fact that he still was a young dog.
He would grow into the Mastiff CC record holder, Ch. Hollesly Medicine Man. After his death he was degraded to Mastiff male CC record holder, passed by a Mastiff bitch, something I would have loved to prevent if that would have been in my power, that is how special I think he was. Later on, I learned to see that he was not ideal, that he had a few faults that are even difficult to accept in a true-to-type Mastiff, but what a Mastiff he was. He still touches me when I think of him. He was like a tank and at the same time the most agile Mastiff I had come across. Even more special was his character: He was able to enjoy life with all his God-given qualities, to the fullest.
Ch. Hollesly Medicine Man and Phil Greenwell.
I took a photograph of him at that first show, a lucky shot really, but to me it shows everything I adore in a Molosser: an antique look full of strength and power, showing his adoration to co-breeder and owner Phil Greenwell. The snapshot was used as the cover photograph of an issue of the Molosser Magazin, let us say a modest forebearer of Modern Molosser.
What attracted you to the Molossers?
Bosch with his first dog, a Greyhound-Malinois cross.
From my earliest childhood, I was just crazy about dogs and pretty much any other pet that was around. Soon after turning six I got my own dog, a Greyhound-Malinois cross. As soon as  I was able to do some reasonable reading, I bought dog books and was allowed to take a subscription on De Hondenwereld, then the only national dog magazine (the very same one I would later run as editor-in-chief). I still have the books and magazines from those early days, showing clearly how much they have been used. Especially my favourite, the “Toepoel”; that big dog encyclopedia carries the “scars” of my going through it over and over again again – this breed I would like to have, and that one, no, this one.
Strangely enough, it was Molossoid breeds that led me into the dog game. It all started with a nasty incident. 
In the late ’70s, my then-best friend had been attacked by a burglar and asked my help in selecting a guard dog. It did not take me long to suggest the Mastiff and Mastino Napoletano, a novelty in our country then, which was the reason they were featured in De Hondenwereld, that monthly I was reading cover to cover. We were lucky to find a Mastiff breeder (one of the three of that time) and another of Mastini (one of the two) very close to where we lived. 
My friend bought two puppies, a Mastino male and a Mastiff female, and I became the kennel hand in the Mastiff kennel of Bert van de Vorst (Sanguis Nobilis). The first day of my new “job” – after school and on weekends and holidays only – Bert spoke in quite a dramatic way when I entered the kennels: “So, you want to become a dog person? Well, I am going to make one out of you!” And he did, along with his best friend Louis van de Meeren, breeder of Bloodhounds under the Oeienbos affix.  
Bosch with his first Bloodhound, Patrocles van de Oeienbos.
Bert van de Vorst made dog food for a living. His small factory and kennels both were situated behind his house, which was a gathering place for an impressive group, both in quantity and quality, of breeders and judges. I cannot tell you how much I learned around the kitchen table, which has become synonymous for me for learning about dogs and the dog game. It was an ideal place to learn, but from Bert himself I stopped learning pretty quickly. He was a colourful character, more of an entertainer who was very keen on winning. 
Louis was the opposite, very much down to earth, an intriguing blend of lone wolf and a countryman who liked to show his dogs, for sure, but who found more satisfaction in just being busy with them, whether training, hunting or just exercising them – all the dogs he used for breeding had to be able to trot 40 kilometres alongside him on his bicycle. 
I was so much impressed by him that I did my very best to like the Bloodhound as much as I did the Mastiff. It took me quite some time to appreciate that peculiar cigar box of a head and high-set stern carried scimitar fashion. I started breeding Bloodhounds long before Mastiffs, and the first Mastiff males I bought, imports from America and Ireland, I had in partnership with Louis. 
Louis and Bert died with a half a year of each other – Louis in October 1998, Bert in March 1999. I consider myself extremely lucky that these two old-fashioned doggy people were my mentors. 
What is the most difficult thing in judging Molossers? 
I do not think that Molossers are different to judge than any other breed, but many judges experience them as extra difficult. I think in principle every breed is difficult to judge, if your goal is to know as much as possible about that particular breed, at the same time knowing that you never finish learning. Be careful of judges who preach that they know and have seen it all. 
In general the view is accepted that all-rounders do not understand breed type, nor do they want to, convinced that construction and movement are of the utmost importance. But I all too often see all-rounders – I am not talking about the American dog scene here – trying to judge as specialists. In doing so, they accept faults in a Molosser they never would accept in a “normal” breed, with a devastating effect on the state of many of our breeds. 
Of course, the various Molosser breeds are not easy to judge when you take into consideration all those small details that stamp breed type. A kind of nose placement can be highly typical in one breed, and totally wrong in another look-alike breed. We talk arbitrary qualities here, which have been made into “trademarks.” However artificial, they are very important indeed, as they make, say, a Bullmastiff a very different breed from the Dogue de Bordeaux, however similar they are in their original shape, function and history. 
When giving lectures and seminars I try to focus on those smallest details, in a fanatic way almost and with all pleasure, but only after I have preached for at least half an hour that Molossers are true athletes (even a Mastino or a Bulldog for that matter), that a male should be a male, and a female a female, that one should be very careful with giving the highest rewards to Molossers who give a finished picture at one year of age already. That hypertype has become a big problem in almost all popular Molosser breeds, and, even worse, we are confronted with new forms of hyper type, such as in Dogues de Bordeaux, where some have become a kind of a cross between a Bulldog and a Mastino. Luckily, many Molosser breeds are so popular nowadays that there are enough dogs around that any judge can and should be very strict on basic qualities. And when they are, surprise, surprise: True breed type flourishes. 
Tell us about your 2009 Mastiff judging assignment at Bucks County.
I consider Bucks to be the most important Mastiff show in the world, because of its numbers and orientation (type of Mastiff and kind of judge). It all became even more special as I was the first non-British European to officiate at Bucks. To be able to judge this show in the same year I received the Golden Needle award from the Dutch Kennel Club for being qualified for 25 years as a judge was the best possible anniversary present I could get.
The two Mastiffs I ended up with I will never forget. My Best Bitch (Ch. Audrey Farm’s All ‘N’ A Flurry) came out of veteran. Most gorgeous lady, so true to type, so feminine with a most beautiful face, superb silhouette given by textbook body proportions and faultless construction. “Here is my BOB,” I thought, but that was before the champions came in. 
As soon as I spotted my eventual Best Dog (Ch. Landondale’s Beyond Yankee Blu), I had déjà vu like thoughts, going back to what I personally experienced as the best era of Mastiffs in its country of origin, the 1980s. There were quite a few really nice males entered at Bucks, but he stood out and was my easy winner. I have to say that it was the first time I put up a Mastiff of this size with all pleasure, meaning that he excels in body proportions, which normally is so extremely hard to get in a dog of his size. 
Above, Best of Breed at the Bucks County Kennel Club in 2009, Ch. Landondale's Beyond Yankee Blu. Below, Best of Opposite Sex, Ch. Audrey Farm’s All ‘N’ A Flurry.
How did the quality of that entry compare to Mastiffs you have judged elsewhere in the world? 
I would like to make a distinction between the champion class and the classes “before.” There is not a great deal of difference between the “normal” classes in America and wherever you go in the world. That means the same amount of variation of type, and in every class only a few dogs that one would consider excellent – meaning the highest grading according to the FCI system, of championship quality, in other words. 
The champion class was a feast in numbers – only in America – but also in overall quality. Never have I come across so many dogs in such splendid condition, plenty of muscle, without carrying too much weight (read “fat”). Having said that, there were quite a few that I considered on the lean side, who could do with more “show condition,” but there is no discussion of course about what is better for the dog. I would love to organise a trip for quite a few European breeders and judges to show what a Mastiff should be like in that respect, the opposite of the couch potatoes too many seem to prefer. 
Another quality American Mastiff champions excel in is silhouettes, first and foremost given by great toplines. But also in heads there were plenty with the desired amount of stop and length of muzzle; I was quite surprised, to be honest. But when seeing the heads front on, it proved to be a different story. So many were just not broad enough. The balance in width between muzzle and skull was often there, but the width of the total head was lacking in many entries. One might argue that there is a difference between the Kennel Club/FCI and AKC standards in this respect, but I want to stick to my observation: In too many dogs there was not enough width to the head as a whole. 
There is no room for arguing about the difference in the standards regarding the amount of wrinkles. I have to say I wholeheartedly belong to the English school in this respect, but I prepared myself to follow the American standard, and so accepted more at Bucks than what I would in other countries. Even with this higher tolerance, I still saw too many Mastiffs with far too much wrinkle. There were even a few that would have been better off in the Neapolitan Mastiff ring. 
Regretfully, America is not the only country where one sees Mastiffs with too much wrinkle. I consider it problem number one when talking about Mastiff heads.
There is another difference between the U.S. and the Old World, and that is the way heads are presented. So many exhibitors at Bucks seemed to be so proud of all that wrinkling that they forced it to the front of the skull. By doing so, one not only gives the Mastiff a foreign look skin wise, but it also gives the head far more cheek. Cheek is first and foremost a Bullmastiff characteristic, and is a nightmare in Mastiffs, as it takes away the gentle, angular lines and the noble expression so essential in the true Mastiff. Never before had I to put so much effort in “cleaning” the skulls, so that I could appreciate what was really there. Almost every time I came to the same conclusion: normal amount of cheek, luckily.     
Problem number two is the size, shape and placement of the eye. Far too many Mastiffs had large, round, even protruding eyes, enough for half a week of nightmares. I know, a Mastiff does not walk on his head, let alone his eyes, but one must not forget that of all Mastiff breeds, the Old English Mastiff suffers the most in expression if the eye is not typical. A Neapolitan Mastiff expression is first and foremost dictated by parallel lines, wrinkles and lips. In a Dogue the Bordeaux, the eyebrow, stop, nose placement and chin mark are more important than the eye for expression. In a Bullmastiff it is dictated by square dryness and strength, accentuated by that extra development of cheek and (please!) finished off by a small ear, which is as important as the right expression of eye. And in the Mastiff, with his more modest head characteristics compared to the other Mastiff breeds mentioned above, it is his eye that will give the first and lasting impression of breed type.
You recently judged the Dogue de Bordeaux Nationale in France. Can you elaborate a bit on your entry? 
It was the third time I was invited to judge at this show. I say it with a bit of pride, as no other foreign judge has officiated that number of times and this is the most important show for the breed worldwide. I have been witness to the unbelievable popularisation of the breed; the history of the “Nationale” is the history of the breed in that respect. 
The first time I visited the show, in the mid-’80s, it took place in the centre of Bordeaux. However impressive it was, there were French entries, French judges and French visitors, except two, one from America and one – me – from The Netherlands …
Some ten years later I was invited for the first time to judge at the “Nationale,” being only the second foreigner to do so. But I had plenty of opportunity to feel more or less at home, as there were quite a few exhibitors from The Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. The state of the breed was, according to Professor Triquet, such that the judges were asked to be strict on construction and movement; the breed was strong enough in numbers and there was plenty of type around to go for this next step in selection.
The show grew and grew, more than 200 dogs easily, coming from literally everywhere. It would be difficult to find an annual national breed show with that international a competition and audience. My second judging appointment on this level was very much in the middle of this era (end of the 1990s), and one of celebration, with so many truly excellent Dogues around.
Bosch admiring a female Dogue from Eastern Europe at the Italian club show in 2007.
At the Nationale this time, I was asked to judge a large class of open bitches. Let me start with the best news: Of the 45 entries, only two I considered to be of hyper type, meaning that the muzzles on these females were too short and broad, with too deep a stop; too much wrinkle on muzzle and skull – more “dead,” deep ropes of excessive skin than wrinkles, really; too-small teeth “all over the place”; too broad a chin mark. One of the two also had too high a nose placement, was suffering from a rasping breath and lacked femininity. In body proportions they were typical, though; when talking about a hyper-typical body one thinks of too heavy (in bone also) and too low, losing clean-cut strength and athletic ability, which is accentuated by a level underline lacking the desired amount of tuck-up. 
In general I considered the quality to be very nice indeed - more than half got the highest qualification. But in former years the top was broader, for sure. In the end I was able to pay all possible attention to construction and movement. I know it sounds like a cliché, but the females I placed could change places anytime, except the number one.
After I finished the class we went for lunch. I was so full of this bitch (Tyrannus Skyejacked by Emberez) that I had to talk about her pretty much the whole break. Well, she became BIS, naturally ... What a lady… my critique, which normally fills the whole page, consisted of a few words only, of total admiration. When studying the catalogue after the show my joy became even more intensive, if that was possible. Both her sire (Ch. Moby de Legeane) and dam (Ch. Rhodonite Renais for Tyrannus) I consider to be the best male and female around of the former generation. 
When did you found your publishing company, and what was the impetus for that? 
BBPress was founded in the early 1990s, in a period when I was still editor-in-chief of De Hondenwereld. The first book I wrote myself was published in 1993; it was a book on Great Danes, celebrating the Centenary of the Dutch breed club, the oldest in The Netherlands. 
After I was the editor-in-chief of De Hondenwereld for more than 10 years, the magazine was sold to a different publisher, meaning that the content had to change dramatically, from a special-interest magazine for breeders and judges to a pet dog publication. That’s the way it went, but without me. Together with Janneke Leunissen, who was writing for De Hondenwereld for quite some time, we decided to focus on BBPress only, so we could continue making the high-quality content I was used to. This quality is appreciated literally all over the world, as the majority of the BBPress books are published in English.
Many of your books (i.e. "The World of ...") address the various Molosser breeds as a global community, rather than regional ones. Just how global do you think the Molosser community is? 
The Molossers are not different than any other dog breed with a more or less global spread. But that does not mean that every regional part is acting as a global community. One of the qualities of “The World” series is that it shows how regional or global a certain breed development is.
Dogue de Bordeaux breeding (and judging) is showing the most global orientation, since the breed has gained a worldwide popularity, that is. I’ve written about how fascinating this is, but also how scary, as the influence of a very small number of dogs and kennels might easily become a problem. And the first worrying signs are there, if I read them correctly. 
The BBPress Bullmastiff bi-annuals show a strong influence of the American school.  It also shows what I consider the best region for the breed, and that is the one Down Under. Both Australia and New Zealand have proven in an impressive way the combination of the best of both worlds, English and American. They managed not to sacrifice English breed type, and they improved it with what America had to offer in terms of construction and movement. Judging Bullmastiffs over there is like heaven – Bullmastiff heaven, I mean.  
First anniversary show of the Danish Bullmastiff Club in 2006.
America might be a world of its own – well, it is more than big enough for it. It is easy to criticise how many breeds have developed in the U.S., but at the very same time they have proven in many breeds to be a vital contribution to their global development, something England cannot say anymore. Even in breeds like the Bullmastiff and Mastiff – and it is pretty difficult to find more British Molossers than those two – Great Britain has lost to America. 
For me the most surprising thing about America is that there are obviously enough breeders and judges around who want more than, may I say, a clone of the all-American show dog. (And if there are not enough judges, then get them over on a regular basis from the Old World, as Bucks does.) They manage to focus on what is considered to be the original, classic or however you want to call it type, and breed it. Even in a breed like the Mastiff – which for a long time was so different in type that it was very difficult to appreciate, however well constructed, sound and striking it might have looked – “America” improved its Mastiff type. And generation after generation, it gets better. 
Tell us about your breeding program.
The lineage of the first Mastiff female I bought went back to Sanguis Nobilis. Bert had stopped breeding for quite some time, but I felt more or less obliged to start with his breeding, however far it was back in the pedigree.
The first Mastiff litter I bred in 2001. The female I kept, Bardolynn’s Baron’s Aurora (“Lizzy”), is very much around still and a true matriarch; so nice to see, such an impressive character, sweet, full of charm, but there is no doubt whatsoever who is the number one of the pack. I could not have wished for a better foundation bitch. She is truly feminine, beautifully constructed, sound as a bell and true to type – one judge in England labelled her as old fashioned, but I take it as big compliment, taking the modern variations of Mastiff type in England into consideration. Another compliment I cherish was made by one of the oldest breeders in The Netherlands, who to this day is known for her classic type of Mastiffs. All she said was that Lizzy reminded her of the first Mastiffs she started with in the early ’80s.  
In terms of show wins, it is all quite modest. I just bred my fifth litter and I hardly show my dogs anyway, due to a more than busy judging schedule, the majority taken by invitations to judge champion breed club shows literally all over the world. 
The few times my Mastiffs have been shown, they have done really well. Three Mastiffs have been made up, and two males were selected as best mover (one and the same male won it twice in a row) in what is known to be the toughest competition in Europe, the Dutch championship breed club show. At the same show two half-sisters, both out of Lizzy, won the championship and the reserve (and the third daughter became second in her class, behind her sister who won the reserve ticket). Lizzy in her prime became reserve best bitch at the Belgian champion breed club show, and her daughter, Deirphille, the same one who became best bitch at the Dutch championship breed club show, got the same result in Belgium. 
"Lizzy," the matriarch of Bardolynn. Bardolynn’s Baron’s Aurora. Photo: Ineke van Beekum.

Before I bred Mastiffs, I bred Bloodhounds, Pugs and Dandie Dinmont Terriers. What counts for the Mastiffs counts for those three as well: modest amount of litters, hardly shown, but when entered they have always done really well. In my first litter of Bloodhounds, for instance, I bred three BIS winners – one male and two females – at the Dutch championship breed club shows. Besides those breeds I’ve had a Bulldog – the one and only Ch. Beefeater Bulls Ever More Irish (“Charlie”), who besides being a grand creature, was reserve best dog all breeds in 1986 – Basset Hounds, Bracci Italiani, Deerhounds and French Bulldogs.
Despite the fact that first and foremost my doggy life was/is ruled by Bloodhounds and Mastiffs, I am open to many more breeds; the little boy with his “Toepoel Top 50” is still there. I dare to say that all breeds I am judging and those who are still on my list to get qualified for are breeds I would like to have. The vast majority of the breeds I judge have an impressive length of history behind them. It is the preservation of classic type that really makes me tick as a judge and a breeder. I am lucky again to be asked to help other breeders spot interesting dogs and breeders in other parts of the world and bring them together; that is a kind of breeding, too. Judging also gives me the opportunity to literally be in touch with many more dogs and breeds than those I own myself. I cannot tell you how much pleasure it gives me just to be with the dogs, watching them, going over them, but also meeting them, looking into their eyes, experiencing whatever they want to share with me. 
All good and true, so many dogs to love, so many breeds to adore. But literally every time I come home after judging whatever important show of whatever fascinating breed, I look at my Mastiffs and I am happy to admit: My breed, home indeed. 

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