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Profile in Courage

Dogo breeder and hunter Kassi McLaughlin describes the ideal - and often misunderstood - Dogo Argentino temperament

Above all else, he is courageous.

At first glance, the Dogo Argentino is nothing less than awe-inspiring: Beneath the bright white coat lies the intricate framework of muscles that contribute to unimaginable strength used to perform the breed’s main function – a wild boar hunter. Capable of stopping and holding prey more than four times his body weight, the Dogo combines imposing strength with extraordinary agility, creating a harmonic balance of beauty, power and grace. The Dogo Argentino is fearless, tenacious, and stoic; he will engage his quarry without regard for self preservation - the Dogo Argentino has what Dogueros refer to as “heart.” It is with great respect for its creator, Antonio Nores Martinez, that “heart” is ever present in the Dogo Argentino. 

With the American Kennel Club’s impending acceptance of the Dogo Argentino to the Working Group on January 1, 2020, there seems to be a misconception of the proper temperament for the breed that is revered to be “courageous above all else.”

To be courageous requires a stable temperament, a temperament that can be counted on to a fault. That said, it’s imperative that breeders place proper temperament in the foreground as the foundation of their breeding program, whether it be hunting, show, pet or all the above.

That’s not to say that when breeding sound temperaments genetics cannot throw you a curveball. This can happen in any breed – it is how you respond to it that counts. The preservation of this breed’s natural predilection as a hunter is our duty; as breeders we are responsible for the safekeeping of this breed and should do so with great care.

 

A Dogo Argentino suited up for the hunt. Photo courtesy Kassi McLaughlin.

 

On many occasions, we hunt our Dogos with friends, and oftentimes this includes teens and young kids interested in hunting and eager to learn the ropes. It is vital that the Dogo you are hunting with can be trusted. An unstable temperament can seriously endanger both pack and hunter. The Dogo must be confident and able to be handled by others, including the moment their prey drive is at its highest – when the quarry is caught.

In Texas, we hunt various types of terrain that can be hazardous in itself – rivers, ravines, fields full of cattle and wooded land, let alone the added risk of hunting after dark and the angry boar hog itself. I have witnessed how situations can change in an instant on the hunt, and those situations can put the lives of dogs, and humans, in jeopardy. You do not want a bad temperament on the Dogo you are hunting with to add to that risk. 

While we make the best effort to protect the Dogo in the field, injuries can and do happen, and an injured Dogo Argentino should allow his wounds to be tended to with little to no objection. This temperament that we trust in the field along with their innate prey drive is the same temperament that makes the Dogo Argentino a well-rounded part of the family.

Dogo meets porcupine -- not pretty! Photo courtesy Kassi McLaughlin.

 

 

A few years ago, we were out hunting with friends and a group of young guys. During the hunt, the dogs caught a porcupine. Some of the dogs grabbed and let go, and only received a handful of quills in their mouth and face. The female I was hunting at the time gave no regard for the discomfort of the quills in her face, and was determined to finish that porcupine off.

When she finally released him, we headed back with the dogs to the truck to start the quill removal. She had hundreds of quills in her face and mouth, with nothing more than the serenade of some ’90s jams and a teenage boy holding her collar, I pulled quills from her for three hours, no pain meds or sedation was necessary – and never a growl was heard from her.

Though the Dogo Argentino temperament is friendly, cheerful and humble, it is not the breed for everyone. The Dogo Argentino requires a strong leader who provides ample opportunity to burn off energy. The breed's intense prey drive, along with its strength and ability, have given rise to a mistaken belief that it is an "aggressive man eater." A balanced Dogo Argentino should be accepting of a friendly stranger, protective of its home and family when necessary, always confident, and never wary or cowardly.

The Dogo Argentino is gentle and loyal to his family. Photo courtesy Kassi McLaughlin.

 

The Dogo Argentino should flawlessly acclimate from field to family. That family can include cats, as well as other small dogs. I won’t say that all Dogos are great with cats, but raised properly some Dogos will discern the difference between a stray cat that is unwanted, and those that are part of their pack. Once again when it comes to situations of having a well balanced Dogo it comes down to breeding and leadership.

The Dogo was not bred with the intention to be aggressive toward people, as that would greatly inhibit their ability to do their job. Unfortunately, there have been some incidents recently where accidents happened and the Dogo was involved in attacking, biting and causing fatal or near fatal injuries to their owners. These are infrequent and caused by dogs with improper temperament, or offspring of dogs bred with improper temperament, and should be dealt with accordingly. I will not beat around the bush and let you infer that I mean anything other than a Dogo Argentino that intentionally bites or attacks a human should be culled.

Unfortunately, the popularity of this breed has increased over recent years due to shows like Animal Planet’s Dogs 101, Ray Donovan and Cesar Milan. This influx of popularity allows for unscrupulous owners of male and female Dogos to cash in on the craze by selling puppies out of inferior stock to owners less than equipped to raise a dog of such caliber. Additionally, it brings out the wannabe tough guys and dregs of society who think having this breed will be a status symbol to add to their lacking machismo, once again putting a negative light on a breed intended to be a hunter. Conversely, the “fur Baby’ mentality, which allows for little to no control over a dog's behavior, has also contributed to these dogs being turned over to rescue at an alarming rate. Such Dogos need to be evaluated by those with experience in the breed to make decisions as to whether or not the dog can be rehomed properly, or if it has a weak or unbalanced temperament and should be euthanized.

 

Dogos, especially adolescent males, will test their boundaries. Be prepared.

 

The Dogo Argentino requires a strong leader who will give consistent, balanced and fair corrections. I am referring to correcting bad, or unwanted behavior –  not giving treats for all things good or bad. I have a rule with my dogs: They do not work for food. As a very intelligent, affectionate and loyal breed, Dogos are eager to please, and respond well when praised for a job well done. A young Dogo will continuously test its limitations, and yours!

Males in particular like to challenge authority while growing up. This can happen up to three years of age or older. It appears that most Dogos are given up to rescue or rehomed from anywhere around 18 months to two years old, when they become too much dog for their current owners.

It is not permissible for the Dogo to make his own decisions. I see this type of thinking from dog owners all the time in my line of work as an emergency-room vet tech: Owners will tell me all of the things they cannot do because their animal doesn’t like it, or won’t let them. This mentality is not acceptable for any dog, but it can be dangerous with a Dogo Argentino. I see so many Facebook posts on a daily basis of owners saying they can’t get their Dogo off their couch, or the Dogo will growl at them when they try and remove it from their own bed. This is not OK, and is most likely because they have allowed this behavior to begin with as a cute puppy. Now as an adult it is no longer cute, and without a strong leader can be a bit terrifying.

I cannot stress enough this breed is an athlete, and if not hunted requires ample exercise to keep from being uncontrollable and destructive. The rule of thumb is that a tired Dogo is a good Dogo. A Dogo must have structure, and consistent training and correction from a strong leader.

 

The Dogo Argentino needs an outlet for his energy.

 

Many years ago, my friend Marcelo from Calfucura Kennels in Argentina said something that has stayed with me for almost two decades, and it is the mindset I keep when working with this breed, as well as the advice I give anyone about owning a Dogo:

The Dogo Argentino must believe his owner is capable of killing him with their bare hands. Whether that is true or not doesn’t matter, as long as the Dogo believes it to be so. 

When it comes to showing the Dogo Argentino in the conformation ring, it is imperative that breeders, owners and fanciers set the proper example, and help to educate our judges and others. We should be exhibiting the best specimens, health, temperament, and condition; proper conformation goes without saying.

When judges examine the Dogo, they  should not approach from behind unexpectedly and begin their exam. They should greet the Dogo to allow the dog to be prepared for a friendly stranger’s touch. The Dogo Argentino is typically a friendly, outgoing breed; some of my Dogos act as if everyone they see in public needs to meet them, while others prefer to keep their trusted circle of friends small – not unlike their owners.

Exhibitors in and out of the ring should always have control of their dog and should not show any Dogo with a sketchy temperament, or dog aggression. It is my hope and expectation that there will be many owner-handled Dogos, and that some dogs will take time to become comfortable in the conformation ring. Judges should help those new to the fancy so they have the opportunity to learn. I want to encourage hunters to exhibit their finest without fear of being excused or overlooked because they are new to the fancy. Everyone starts somewhere, and newcomers should be encouraged, not ostracized.

Dogos can transition seamlessly from the field to the ring, but some new exhibitors will need guidance and support. Photo courtesy Kassi McLaughlin.

 

I have had the pleasure of being in the company of Dogo Argentinos for the past 20 years. I have learned a lot during this time and will continue to learn as time goes on. I have shown Dogos, and have hunted beside them. I have started, stopped and started over. I have whelped and raised puppies. I have stapled, and sewn up injuries, broken up dog fights. I have made some of the best friends and worst enemies. I’ve been available for help and advice to those new to the breed, the sport and the fancy. I have shed blood and sweat, cried tears of joy and tears of sorrow for myself and for others.

I cannot imagine any other way to have spent this time, and I understand the sentiment when Augustín Nores Martinez said, “I have expressed to my own people my last willingness to, which is to die with a Dogo Argentino under my bed. Having my grave, in the solitude of the Andes, covered just with a rough cross, and the vigilant figure of a Dogo guarding my eternal sleep. They have shared with me every instant of my troubled life, and it is my desire that they be my company in my final resting place.”

To be courageous above all else is not only a required virtue for our beloved breed, it is a necessity for those of us who fight to preserve the true Dogo Argentino.

 

Kassi McLaughlin breeds under her El Remate Dogo Argentinos in San Antonio Texas. Translation of Augustín Nores Martinez quote courtesy of Marcelo Ignacio Fernandez of Calfucura Kennels. 

 

 

 

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