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Redrawing the Mastino

Michele Palazzo explains the reasons behind proposed changes to the Mastino Napoletano standard
As a breed grows and spreads beyond its country of origin, so too does its standard change. In the best-case scenarios, this evolution of the “paper version” of the breed stays true to the original, though words and phrasing may change over time.   
Recently, Modern Molosser was fortunate to meet up with Italian breeder-judge Michele Palazzo on his recent trip to the United States. Palazzo, who is involved in the Società Amatori Mastino Napoletano, or SAMN – literally, the Society of Lovers of the Neapolitan Mastiff, the specialty club responsible for the stewardship of the Mastino in its native land – has been instrumental in reworking the current standard for the Mastino Napoletano, in an attempt to fine-tune certain aspects of breed type that define the Mastino, particularly in terms of head and body proportions. This revision was accepted by the Italian kennel club – the Ente Nazionale della Cinofilia Italiana, or ENCI (pronounced “EN-chee”) – in April 2010.  
But before the new Mastino Napoletano standard can be put into effect in the ring, it needs to be accepted by Europe’s canine governing body, the Fédération Cynologique Internationale, or FCI.  
Mastino illustration by Anna Maria Riccardini   
As in the adoption of any new standard, negotiations over phrasing and content are to be expected. Today, in all breeds, the FCI is particularly sensitive to language that might be seen as permitting or encouraging exaggerations that could have a negative impact on the health or well-being of the dog.  
At last report, much of the new FCI standard had been agreed upon, with only two remaining points of contention: new weight ranges and the severity with which entropion and ectropion are to be treated as faults.   Palazzo sat down with us to go over the proposed FCI standard, and the reasoning behind many of the changes, among them:  
Body type: When it comes to discussing conformation, Americans and Europeans speak a different language – figuratively as well as literally. Italian fanciers, in particular, come from a tradition where breeds are discussed and compared using biological categories and mathematical equations, such as indices measuring body proportions. Many of these are terms and concepts that many American fanciers have never heard before and are unaccustomed to using.  
For example, the General Appearance portion of the Mastino standard – “large, heavy, massive and bulky” – describes a dog that is “brachymorphic,” though the current standard does not use that word. A brachymorphic breed has a body form that is more condensed or foreshortened than the average dog, whose middle-of-the-road body style is termed “mesomorphic.” The opposite of brachymorphic is dolichomorphic, which describes those breeds with elongated limbs and bodies, such as many of the Sighthounds.  
The new General Appearance portion of the FCI standard calls the Neapolitan Mastiff a “heavy mesomorph” – significant because is reinforces that this is not a short-limbed, low-to-ground breed, but rather a dog of normal body proportions augmented by great bone and substance.  
Palazzo adds that body style is determined by the body index, which is calculated by dividing the length of body by the circumference of the chest. If the resulting percentage is less than 70, the dog is brachymorphic. If it is greater than 70, the dog is mesomorphic. Palazzo says his measurements of Neos over the years (see chart below) have resulted in an average body index of 76, putting the breed staunchly in the mesomorph category. And, he adds, only one breed – the Bulldog – meets the body index’s definition of a true brachymorph.  
Body proportions: Palazzo stresses that the Mastino is a rectangular breed. He says the new standard’s increase in the length of body proportionate to the height at the withers – from 10 percent to 15 percent longer – better reflects that.  
Head proportions: In the first standard for the Neapolitan Mastiff, written by breed expert Mario Soldati and adopted by SAMN, the relationship of the length of the head to the height at the withers was 4/10. The current FCI standard is 3/10, which Palazzo says is inadequate. “That’s the length of a puppy, or a Boxer,” he says. The new measure in the proposed standard – 3.8/10 – is much closer to the original.  
Another adjustment in head proportions is new language that says the width and length of the skull are equal. The current standard says, “The bizygomatic width is more than half the length of the head.” Palazzo explains that in a dog with a 28-inch-long head, the width only needs to be greater than 14 – “even if that is the width of a Great Dane.”  
Muzzle: Two new measurements in the proposed standard seek to clarify the muzzle needed in the Mastino. The addition of “The width must almost equal its length” suggests that, when seen from above, the muzzle and head are a cube on a cube. The second addition asks for a muzzle whose depth is about double its length. In depth, Palazzo explains, the muzzle is similar to that of the Saint Bernard, with the bottom plane measured at the commissure, where the upper and lower lips meet. In other words, the depth of the muzzle is dependent on the overhang of the lips, not the jaw itself.  
Abundance of skin: Anyone who has followed coverage of the Neapolitan Mastiff in the international dog press over the last few years is aware of concern over how the breed’s trademark thick and loose skin has become exaggerated to the point of caricature in some dogs. New language in the standard seeks to remind that this facet of breed type must never compromise functionality. The description of skin – “thick, abundant and loose all over the body” – is qualified with the words “without exaggeration.” Under “Eyes,” a new sentence warns that “Skin folds must never interfere with sight.” And the description of loose skin around the elbows – a portion of the original standard that Palazzo calls sbagliatissimo, or incredibly wrong – is removed entirely.  
The sum total of this new language should result in a Mastino that is “more balanced, and not hypertypical,” he concludes.  
Points of contention: Before the revised ENCI standard can be accepted by FCI, two outstanding matters must be resolved.  
The first is a disagreement over weight. The proposed ENCI standard gives a heavier weight range of 75 to 85 kg (165 to 187 pounds) for dogs and 60 to 70 kg (110 to 130 pounds) for bitches. The current FCI standard lists 60 to 70 kg (130 to 155 pounds) and 50 to 60 kg (110 to 130 pounds), respectively. FCI is balking at the heavier weights.  
Palazzo notes that the current weight ranges reflect a Cane Corso rather than the more substantial Neo. “If a Mastino has correct bone, he has to be heavy,” he says. “It is an integral facet of type. If the dog doesn’t have bone, it’s not a Mastino.”  
Also in discussion with FCI is how to classify entropion (inward-turning eyelids) and ectropion (outwarding-turning eyelids). FCI wants to have them listed as disqualifying faults, while Mastino breed experts argue they should be listed only as serious faults.  
“We do have to correct these defects, but it is something we have to do gradually over time, through breeding and selection,” Palazzo says of the inadvisability of an all-or-nothing approach. “We can’t turn around and change it tomorrow,” because that would in turn eliminate too much breeding stock, creating genetic bottlenecks that would likely do more harm to the breed than the problems they were seeing to solve.  
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