His and Hers
Mark and Cindy McElderry of Northland Bordeaux in Earlsville, Illinois, are the first American breeder-judges of the Dogue de Bordeaux
Editor's Note: In December 2015, Cindy McElderry passed away at the age of 56.
Tell us a little bit about how you got involved in the breed.
Both of us are dog lovers, and we got our first dog, a Great Dane, shortly after getting married in 1979. We were both attracted to the large mastiff breeds.
The first time we saw a Dogue de Bordeaux, we did not know exactly what breed it was. It was, of course, the dog in the movie “Turner and Hooch.” The dog was portrayed as sort of a junkyard dog, possibly a mixed breed, but we suspected it was not. So we did some research, learned that the dog was indeed a purebred, and found the person that imported the dogs for the movie.
It took about one year on his waiting list before we acquired a female Dogue that we named Fergie (Femme Fatale) from Peter Curley of TNT Kennels. We were fortunate that she turned out to be a quite nice female, and we decided to breed her after consulting with Mr. Curley. We had a litter of two females and kept one for ourselves that we named Fanny (Northland’s Fanny). We got our start in the show ring with Fanny, showing at national specialties and American Rare Breed Association (ARBA) shows in the U.S. Fanny was truly a terrific example of the breed, but with our limited knowledge at the time, we probably did not fully appreciate her qualities. Fergie and Fanny were the foundation Dogues for our kennel, which we named Northland Bordeaux.
Northland's Finn in 2008, winning the Intermediate class at the SADB national show in France.
Unlike most Dogue breeders, you have an extensive kennel facility. Why did you decide to go this route? What freedom does it give you in terms of having the space and resources to do different breedings?
We started our kennel in Wisconsin with fewer Dogues and much more modest facilities. We realized that to achieve our goal of improving the breed, we needed to have more than two or three Dogues, producing a litter every year or two. Yet we were not willing to compromise the quality of life of our Dogues if we were to have the 12 or more Dogues that is required to produce several litters of puppies per year. So when Mark took a job transfer to Illinois, and we built a new facility for our Dogues, we made it large and comfortable, with over 3,000 square feet of heated and air-conditioned space. And of course the Dogues have several acres of outdoor space as well. The “kennel” is a bit of an extension of our house and is really the center of activity in our home. There is plenty of space for the Dogues to run and play indoors when the weather is poor.
Cindy also operates a grooming business at our home-based facility, and we do some outside boarding as well. This allows us to employ several people, which gives us the flexibility to travel around the U.S. and abroad to exhibit our Dogues and to judge.
Northland's Molly, going Best of Opposite Sex at Westminster in 2009, the breed's first time showing at the Garden. Judges is Charles Trotter.
What made you decide to apply to be breeder-judges?
The primary reason for applying was to help with judges’ education. We offer to put on a seminar and do ringside mentoring at each show that we are invited to judge. There are those that are opposed to AKC recognition, and their primary concern is that “the AKC will change the breed.” We believe the best way to keep that from occurring is to ensure the judges are well educated.
A nice study of a young Northland female, "Lola."
What strengths have you seen in the U.S. entries you have judged thus far?
For the most part, the top AKC Dogues in the country since the Dogue de Bordeaux was fully accepted into AKC have been Dogues that we would consider good or excellent examples of the breed. For that we are thankful. The concern has always been that the breed would lose type due to poorly educated judges in the AKC. Those that were against AKC recognition for the breed argued that judges who were ignorant of the breed might make their placements based on structure and movement alone. But again, we have been pleased to see that most of the Dogues attaining championships, and winning at the important shows such as Westminster and Eukanuba, have been Dogues that are structurally sound and have good type. So if anything, the AKC has encouraged breeders to pay more attention to producing sound Dogues, yet retaining type.
What weaknesses have you seen?
We have seen several Dogues that have attained championships in the AKC that are not good examples of the breed. Typically, these are Dogues that have good structure, but lack in type and substance. We’ve realized, though, that this occurs in Europe with our breed, and that it occurs in the AKC with breeds other than the Dogue de Bordeaux. The important thing is that the top Dogues in the AKC, and the winners of the important shows, have generally been good examples of the breed.
A Northland puppy "one of those classic Dogue running photos," the McElderrys say.
Are there any trends in the breed that you are seeing, for example in terms of size, head, temperament, etc.?
A positive trend is that we are seeing better structure and movement. AKC judges in general tend to expect good movement and structure. This has been the trend in Europe in recent years as well, due in part to the clubs encouraging more health testing. So the challenge for breeders has been to maintain type and substance, while producing sound Dogues with good movement.
What in your opinion are the biggest differences between U.S. dogs and those in Europe, both good and bad?
We have attended and competed in the national specialty for our breed in France for years. And we have done very well, taking placements in Open male and female classes and in the Champion class. The entry is much larger than anything we see in the U.S. There were more than 300 Dogues entered in 2010 at the show, which was held near St. Tropez. Our observation is that there are more quality Dogues in Europe due to the larger numbers of Dogues at these shows, but the average quality is similar to that in the U.S. I am not sure that those in Europe would agree, but that has been our observation.
Cindy McElderry in St. Tropez at the French National Show with Northland's Dumais.
What do you think about the recent changes to the FCI standard?
I think they are positive changes. They are not so much “changes,” but rather clarifications that resulted from a move to more extreme type and some strange-colored Dogues being seen in Europe. The authors of the clarifications actually characterized the changes as “precisions.”
Four primary issues were clarified. 1. “White, without interruption, on the front of the body from the forechest to the throat” is now noted as a severe fault. 2. “White on the head or body, any other colour of the coat than fawn (shaded or not) and in particular brindle or solid brown called “chocolate” (each hair being entirely brown)” is considered a disqualifying fault. 3. An “important fold around the head” is described as a severe fault. (This clarifies that, if present, the wrinkle that runs from the inner corner of the eye to the corner of the mouth or the dewlap should be discreet); and 4. Very small incisors, unevenly set. Arched back (convex)” is included as a severe fault.
Again, these are more clarifications than changes. Judges are being educated on these details in the breed seminars that we put on.
How do you think these differences between the two standards are impacting breeding and judging of the breed here in the U.S.? Are U.S. Dogues tending toward “overdone” as a result of the AKC standard?
I don’t think there is any significant impact. There may be some confusion over the white markings, but that has seemed to be an area of confusion among AKC judges because the standard is not that specific on the subject. The only issue that could result in “overdone” dogues in the U.S. is the clarification regarding the wrinkle running from the corner of eye to the dewlap. We still see some FCI and AKC champions with this characteristic. Again, it is only through education and with consciousness and well-studied judges that we will lessen the incidence of this, since many breeders and much of the general public seem to find more wrinkles more attractive.
American breeder-owner-handlers swept the Dogue de Bordeaux national show in Spain in September 2010, with William Duvall handling GCh. Mount Sinai's Crusader St Armand to Best of Breed (right) and Cindy McElderry going Best of Opposite Sex with Northland's Shiloh. Judge is Juez D. Manuel Canadillas Mathias of Spain.
As breeders, what is the most difficult virtue to maintain in the breed?
That is difficult to say, because there are so many variables. Breeders who have developed a somewhat mature bloodline that they can call their own have likely solidified some strengths as well as some weaknesses in their line. And our observation has been that those attributes seem to differ from line to line. You can lose any virtue rather quickly by making some poor breeding choices, though. In some kennels, we have seen head type lost, good toplines disappear, or excessive white markings become prevalent, all in the span of a couple generations.
And what is the most difficult fault to eliminate?
Probably lack of head type. A “long, narrow head with insufficiently pronounced stop, with a muzzle measuring more than a third of the total length of the head (lack of type in head)” is described in both the AKC and FCI standards as a severe fault. Dogues with this characteristic are also typically lacking in substance. These are Dogues that in my opinion have no place in a breeding program or the show ring because they do not have the characteristics that are the essence of the breed: a massive head of proper proportions and features; a stocky yet athletic build, and built close to the ground with a deep, broad chest.
What is the most frequent mistake that “all-rounders” make when judging the Dogue?
If they don’t understand proper head type and that the Dogue de Bordeaux is a stocky dogue that is built low to the ground, they may select a Dogue lacking in type and substance that is structurally sound and therefore moves well. But it is important to note that the ideal movement of a Bordeaux has been likened to that of a lion.
The McElderrys trade off and take Best of Breed and Best of Opposite Sex.
What do you wish all-rounders understood about the breed?
They need to understand that type and substance are the critical aspect of the breed. If they can get a mental picture of head type, and know the aspects of the Dogue described in the General Appearance section of the standard (stocky, imposing, built low to the ground), they will know which Dogues to pay attention to in the ring.
American Dogue de Bordeaux fanciers are inclined to prefer overseas judges over American all-rounders who might have a good sense for their breed. Do you see that changing?
I don’t know if we can describe any of our AKC judges as true “breed experts” at this point. So that would explain the interest in more experienced European judges. But Dogue de Bordeaux exhibitors are paying attention to the AKC judges, and noting the judges that exhibit some knowledge of the breed standard in making their selections.
Two-week-old Northland puppies.
The Dogue de Bordeaux remains largely an owner-handled breed, but there has been an influx of professionals in the ring recently. How has this affected showing? Does it cause the owner-handlers to “up their game” in terms of their own handling?
I suppose it does. Personally, we have always been rather adamant about handling our own Dogues, and have attained all of our championships (six so far) in the Bred by Exhibitor class. I suppose that breeder-judges such as us like to think it should be more about the qualities of the dog rather than how well he or she is presented in the ring. But I believe many likeminded Dogue de Bordeaux exhibitors have realized the importance of presenting a dog properly so that the judge can easily see the dog’s attributes.
Where do you see the breed in the U.S. 10 years from now?
As the Dogue de Bordeaux continues to gain popularity in the U.S. and around the world, we will likely struggle with the results of some poor breeding practices. But at the same time, we believe there is growing interest in the breed in dog-show circles. So along with increased demand for quality Dogues, we hope we also see growth in the numbers of those committed to responsible breeding practices. We see no sign at this point in a divergence of the AKC standard from the FCI standard. We still look to France and other European countries as a source of Dogues to build our lines here in the U.S. There is still growing interest and participation in health testing. So we’re optimistic that in 10 years we will see more consistency in the breed and fewer health-related problems. And due to the sheer attractiveness of the characteristics that exemplify “type” in our breed, we do not believe we will let it be lost.
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Sun, 04/17/2011 - 9:56am