Handle With Care
Five Molosser handlers share their tricks of the trade
Dog showing is an exhausting way to make a living, as any professional handler will attest. It’s tough enough to orchestrate ring times, juggle dogs and keep everyone fed, watered, cooled and X-penned when it’s a Pomeranian you have in tow. But when your charge is a Molosser, your challenges are only just beginning.
We asked five Molosser handlers from around the country (and Canada, too) for their observations and advice on showing these super-sized breeds. They had a lot to say about everything from stacking and baiting to squeamish judges and drool management. Here are their pearls – or is that goobers? – of wisdom.
Years handling: 55
Now retired from the show ring, Alan Levine was known for his trademark Panama hat, waxed white mustache and a decided knack for showing Molossers, including Mastiffs, Bullmastiffs, St. Bernards and Rottweilers. As a breeder of Newfoundlands, his stand-out sire was “Newton” – that’s it, just Ch. Newton, ROM – who took a Best in Show in his native Canada shown on a rope, and who during his 206-show career in the U.S. in the 1960s took 200 breeds and 180 Group placements. Alan’s biggest-winning Molosser was the Bullmastiff “Rosie” (Ch. Ladybug I.M. Angelica Rose), shown below.
Training philosophy: “You can’t push these dogs into things; they get stubborn. You mold them into it. Make them earn attention; don’t give it to them without them earning it. That way you can get them to turn on when you want them to.”
Outside chance: “The problem with most Molossers is they like to lie around. They want the couch. Most of them are great house dogs. They don’t take up much more room than that chair, and the chair can’t get up and get out of the way. I like to get them appreciating working outside.
Somebody taught me something very early in training, when I was working with my first dog, a German Shepherd. I lived in an apartment, and the dog went out and worked every day. If it was raining, he did his long downs in a puddle. He would work in any kind of weather, because he was worked in every kind of weather.”
Fair warning: “You have to learn how far you can push a dog. I’ve shown some dogs that would eat another handler, but I didn’t have any trouble. I knew how far I could push them. I could tell by their eyes how far I could go. That’s the art of showing a dog. With Bullies, you have to quit when they give you that look. Don’t jerk them again, talk to them. People don’t realize that they’re someone else’s dog, not yours.”
Mind meld: “You try to think of what you want a dog to do. I had a deaf Newf once. He had severe roundworms when he was three weeks old, and they migrated and punctured his organs. When he was four months old, he could sleep in his food dish, that’s how small he was. But he grew to be 175 pounds. His name was Boobie – I called him my boobie prize. You just had to think his name and look at him, and that dog would get up and walk up to you. Dogs have a high level of clairvoyance.”
Stacking tip: “Always keep a hand on the collar, and when you want to move a foot, rock the dog to take the weight off its foot. I lean the dog in toward me, and then move the foot. Put the leg down slightly toed in, then let the weight go back down. The minute weight goes down on them, they toe slightly out.”
Gaiting tip: “You want to pussyfoot. Try to put your feet down like you’re trying not to make any noise. You want to land and not make a bang. If you take a long step, the dog will take a long step. They time themselves to you.”
On skittish judges: “If somebody is really afraid of a breed, I don’t show to them. Don’t push your luck. I had an Open Giant Schnauzer bitch I was showing under this Scotsman. If you looked at her and smiled, she’d show you her teeth. He looks at the dog, and he smiles. And she smiles back. He says, ‘You’re out.’ That’s a DQ, automatically. I had to get her reinstated.”
Trademarks count: “I could go to a show without my hat on, and nobody knows who I am. Once I wasn’t wearing it, and I had a client of mine walked by me three times.”
Welland, Ontario, Canada
Years handling: 40-plus
A breeder of Bullmastiffs and French Bulldogs (really, pint-sized Molossers), Pam McClintock has handled plenty of those, as well as Mastiffs, Great Danes, Rottweilers, Bulldogs and Boxers. Among her biggest-wining charges: Am/Can Ch. Bastions Louisville Slugger, who earned his Canadian championship in a mere 24 hours and was a multiple BIS and BISS winner north and south of the border, and Am/Can Ch. Bastion’s Celebration Time, a number-one Bullmastiff and top-10 ranked Working dog in Canada.
Delicate balance: “Handling a Molosser requires a strong, sturdy grip on such a powerful animal and at the same time presenting the dog with a certain degree of flair and finesse without crossing the line into outright flamboyance. A Bullmastiff flying around the ring at breakneck speed in a flying trot, while it may look impressive, is contrary to the very objectives and usage for which the breed was developed. So it is essential that the Molosser breeds be moved at a speed that befits their original function and the standard. On the other hand, a judge can hardly be expected to be interested in the dog if it moves in a plodding fashion and returns to him on the down and back with its head hanging low, appearing disinterested and dejected.”
Heads up: “I believe it is essential to keep those big, heavy heads up and looking straight at the judge. He or she should not have to raise the head to get a good look at the shape and bite. With the head well up, there is more of an appearance of dignity and splendor. Carriage while on the move is of equal importance. Getting those great heads up in a proud and noble manner while trotting will go far in presenting an eye-catching picture.”
Off kilter: “I tend to stack my Molossers on a bit of an angle. The head and forechest are often important attributes, and I think facing that area of the dog ever so slightly into the ring helps a judge to see these components a bit better, especially when he is walking down the line.”
Less is more: “I often find that after properly stacking, simply holding the head well up with the chain collar firmly fitting around the throat and behind the ears, collecting any loose skin and smoothing the throat latch to demonstrate a thick muscular neck topped with a massive, typey head is thoroughly appealing to the viewer. Excessive and exaggerated use of bait just promotes and speeds drooling. Unnecessary fumbling and fidgeting about the head is a distraction to the regal bearing that should be evident in a good Molosser.”
Fashion police: “Above all else I am really offended by seeing the drool towel hanging down the backside of the handler as the dog is gaited around the ring. I take two towels to ringside, one hand towel and one face cloth. As I am waiting to enter the ring and feeding my dog a bit to keep his interest, he will likely spit and drool, and I use the hand towel to wipe up the excess and discard it at ringside before I enter the ring. The face cloth is folded into a square and tucked into a pocket for easy access. Above all else, be sure the total mouth is clean and saliva free before the judge examines the bite.”
If you can’t beat ’em … “One of my favorite and fondest stories is of my Higgins. This brindle Bullmastiff stood proudly and properly in the Best in Show lineup until the diminutive Yorkie had her turn to strut. Higgins couldn’t take his eyes off her – I believe he thought she was some sort of wind-up toy. No amount of bait or coaxing would convince him to be attentive to me. I finally gave up and allowed him to turn backward until the little dog was out of sight and safely ensconced at the end of the line. Mind you, he was a total vision with his neck arched and standing so rigid and poised. That wonderful judge smiled, Higgins allowed himself to be repositioned, and then the ribbon was awarded. Higgins won Best in Show that day. Perhaps the Yorkie helped a bit!”
Midwest City, Oklahoma
Years handling: 38, having finished her first homebred Beagle at the tender age of 8
Talk about being born into dogs: In 1964, Pam’s mother ignored labor pains to watch their special in the Hound Group, then headed to the hospital to deliver Pam. Though she has championed countless Bullmastiffs and Saint Bernards (her parents’ breed, along with Bloodhounds), Pam is best known for showing Mastiffs – record-breaking and high-profile ones like “Sherman” (BIS BISS Ch. Southports Sherman), who she piloted to a record 29 Bests in Show, 114 Group wins and two National wins, in 2004 and 2005.
Biggest handler error outside the ring: “Not letting the dogs have enough ex-pen time. You can’t keep them crated all the time. People think all Mastiffs do is sleep all day, but they need their sunshine, and they need their space, mentally as well as physically. People think a lot of the Molosser breeds are easygoing and nothing bothers them. But they keep it inside and they worry.”
Biggest handler error inside the ring: “A lot of handlers treat Molossers generically. They’re not Danes or Rotties or Akitas. There are ways to stack them so their toplines look straighter and their rears have more angle. It’s just not the same way you would stack a Dobe.”
Best-kept secret: “My breed is Dogos – they are what make me happy. They’re clean, they’re neat, they’re very pleasing to the eye, and they’re smarter than most people. When my homebred Butler (MBIS BISS Ch. Iron Hill’s Into the Night) was the number-one Mastiff, I had the number-one Dogo here and in Canada, Snowy Mountain Chakotay, who also won both the Dogo club nationals.”
On showiness: “I get a lot of guff from old-time Mastiff breeders, so much so that they added the ‘Pam Rule’ in the late ’80s, the sentence in the standard that reads ‘Judges should also beware of putting a premium on showiness.’ I work really hard to make my Molossers very happy. I feel it’s all part of understanding the breed. You’re never going to get a Neo worth his salt to twinkletoe his way around the ring, but you can get them to bait and to move purposefully. You have to find whatever a dog does best – maybe it’s freestacking, maybe it’s moving well around the ring, maybe it’s moving around the ring more slowly, but with presence – and make that his trick.”
Seriously … “A lot of the Molossers are guarding breeds. But I think some judges lump them together when they can be very different. For example, I would never condone ‘talking’ in a Dogo, where with a Rottie I give him more latitude. I think judges should educate themselves about all the particulars of each Molosser breed. And as a handler, when you have anything that weighs 150 pounds or more, you have to be in control. Dogos, for example, sense fear or insecurity. If they catch you off guard and think you’re weak, they’re going to push it. It’s their nature.”
Drool rule: “I always have a bag full of hand towels. But I just don’t dab at the lips – I go all the way down into the pocket on each side, and then I grab the tongue and pull it out. All my specials get used to it.”
Reflexive judging: “Mastiffs have done more and more winning and placing in the Group in the last several years. That has been a Herculean effort – it’s a lot of work to make them recognized. I get tired of just any Boxer, or any Doberman, with wrinkles over its tail and shoulder, beating my number-one Mastiff. I want to say to judges, get your eyes off the mediocre Boxer and Dobe, and look around to see if there’s anything else of quality.”
Years handling: 36
Michael Brantley started breeding Chow-Chows in 1960 with his parents, and continues to today with his wife Linda, a fellow professional handler. Michael has handled virtually every Working Group breed except the Neapolitan Mastiff. His highest-profile dog is “Midas” (BIS Ch Drakyi Gold Standard), the first Tibetan Mastiff to win an AKC all-breed Best In Show.
Paging Dr. Jekyll: “Showing Midas was a challenge, as Tibetan Mastiffs are not naturally a show dog. I never knew which Midas I was taking into the ring, the phenomenal show dog or the typical Tibetan Mastiff. When he was on, it was exciting. When he wasn’t … well, imagine trying to show a 130-pound dog that refused to walk on a leash!”
Perpetual PMS: “Tibetans are a moody breed. I don’t know what those monks did to them up there in Tibet, but it’s like they’re here to teach the Westerners patience. Some breeds, like the Mastiff, are just big and happy, and you know what they’re going to do. But when you get a breed as intelligent as some of the Asian breeds are, you never know, because the wheels are always turning. I have had I don’t know how many handlers come up to me and say, ‘I need to get a Tibetan Mastiff, they’re so pretty.’ And I say, ‘No, you don’t. You don’t know.’”
Don’t fence me in: “We have an acre yard where the Tibetan Mastiffs are, and the Chows are in the back acre. Every once in a while Midas decides he wants to visit them, and he finds a spot to go through the fence. I make the fence stronger, and he finds another place. It’s an ongoing battle, and usually he’s sitting behind me when I’m repairing the fence barking at me, because he knows exactly what I’m doing.”
Dogue gone it: “Dogues de Bordeaux tend to be ‘soft’ and need reassurance, as well as a strong arm to hold up those heads! Dogues tend to be protective at home, but if you get on to a Dogue de Bordeaux and try to correct him, he’ll melt into the ground and turn into big brown puddle. It’s an interesting breed in that respect. They all resent the collar – you have to drop the lead. It’s not a natural show dog – they’d rather be at home.”
Pass the crowbar: “You need to use leverage rather than force in stacking Mastiffs as well as gaiting them. Lean weight off one side or the other. Use your body to push them around, rather than trying to pick their legs up. I see so many handlers do that, like they’re trying to pull a tree up out of the ground. You have to use the collar to pull them off balance here and there. It’s more steering than showing.”
Button, button, who’s got the button … “Try to find the buttons that make each dog want to do what you are asking and not try to force them into it. We take our Parson Russell Terrier ringside to make the Tibetan Mastiff happy! He loves little dogs, and the terrier doesn’t have to do anything, he just had to see him. We found something that made him happy, got him in the right mood.”
Best drool tip: “Color-coordinated drool towels! The first Clumber Spaniel I showed 25 years ago, the client brought me the dog ringside, and always came with a towel that matched whatever I was wearing that day. Ever since then, the towels have to match.”
Save the drama for your mama: “Years ago I was showing a Mastiff that was a real mommy’s boy. The owner decided to stand outside the ring directly behind the judge. So when we came back to the judge from gaiting, he saw his mom and went right on past the judge and over the ring gate! One of those trying to ‘steer’ moments!”
Years handling: 10
A breeder of American Staffordshire Terriers along with his wife Karen, Ed has handled most Molosser breeds in his decade as a professional handler, with the exception of the Dogue de Bordeaux. His biggest-winning charge at the moment is “Bart” (BIS Ch. Seng Khri Bartok at Dawa), one of only two Tibetan Mastiffs to win an all-breed AKC Best in Show.
Size does matter: “Molosser breeds across the board are the hardest breeds to show. Everything you do is a challenge – you can’t move too fast, and simply stacking them you can do damage. My wife Karen, who has shown and finished more than 10 Mastiff champions herself, can’t show my special. She’s just not big enough.”
Heat index: Keeping most Molossers cool is a monumental task. “When we showed a Neo, it was a constant worry if he would be overheated. We made sure the truck stayed at 68 to 70 degrees, and whenever he came out of there, he had a cool coat on. The generator started at 5 a.m., and the air-conditioning wouldn’t shut off. Mastiffs can handle the heat a little bit better. Tibetan Mastiffs adapt even easier, because they were bred to live in the high desert. Their country of origin is just cooler.”
Biggest whoops for Molosser handlers: “Not taking enough time to prepare their dogs for the show ring. You need to take time to train them. Molosser breeds are very smart. If you work with them, they’ll do what you want. If a 200-pound Mastiff wants to go somewhere, you can’t stop him. Your back becomes a regular visitor at the chiropractor.”
Their move: “I’m a strong believer in letting dogs set their gait themselves, and you follow it. Too many people, when the judge asks them to do whatever pattern, they take off running, and the dog falls apart, because he is struggling to keep up. People do that all the time – just watch them.”
Bear necessities: “I used a big stuffed animal on a Mastiff once, a yellow bear. For whatever reason, I didn’t have any bait. The bear was the only thing I could find – it was a complete act of desperation. He loved that bear, but destroyed it later on.”
Why Tibetans have an edge: “I think in general people don’t understand the Molosser breeds. It’s very easy to go into the Working Group and find a Dobe, Boxer, Sammie and Malamute, even though the Neo is the one that fits its standard even better, but it doesn’t get recognized. That’s where the Tibetan Mastiff has done so well: They move around ring fairly efficiently, they have coat, and they’re pretty.”
Intimidation factor: “Break the ice by saying good morning or good afternoon, and when the judge approaches, show the bite – always. That will help them feel more comfortable. Most judges, unless it’s their breed, don’t want to deal with drool. It’s a small percentage of the population that’s OK with that. I show bites on all my dogs.”
Swimming in it: “My assistant always said if drool were currency, we would be rich. In our box truck, have a Tibetan Mastiff, Mastiff, Bullmastiff and Rottweiler. That is a lot of drool. And Neo drool, when it hits the wall, better get your scraper out.”
No tickee … “Our dry cleaners are our best friends. They know us by our first names, and we get a discount. I’ve thrown more than one of my sports jackets out. There’s no fabric that repels drool, unless it’s a rain jacket. By the end of the day, our jackets have stains on them. I try to wear lighter colors – gray and brown don’t show drool as much.”
Move over, Heloise: “Spray the drool with water, take ear wraps that you would use on an Irish Setter, and roll that wrap over the drool spot. It will clean it off.”
Spit and polish: “I was showing a Neo at a regional in Texas that we won, and we went into the Group. As I came back to the judge, the Neo shook, and a nickel-size wad of slobber landed right on the steward’s forehead. The judge and I laughed, but she ... ‘disgusted’ would be the best word to describe it.”
On trailblazing: “The Working Group is based on Molosser breeds, and for the new ones coming in, the most important thing you can do is show them. You can’t have high expectations, but make it fun. Educate everybody about these dogs by entering them, even if you’re only one.”
© Modern Molosser Magazine. This article may not be reposted, reprinted, rewritten, excerpted or otherwise duplicated in any medium without the express written permission of the publisher.
Thu, 04/01/2010 - 9:42am