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'Grandeur and Good Nature'

Modern Molosser asked six Mastiff breeders from around the world for their opinions on the state of the breed today. Here are their responses.

Donna Bahlman

Old School Mastiffs
Wilsons, Virginia
Years in the breed: 35
Do you remember the first time you saw a Mastiff? I could never forget it. At that time, in the mid-1970s, Mastiffs were rare. My husband and I were fortunate to find Lorraine Oldham’s ad in the Washington Post advertising a litter. We arrived at her house in Maryland as she was coming back from taking them for a walk in the woods. We stood in awe as these huge dogs emerged from the trees and surrounded us. We soon realized when an even bigger dog came walking out that these were, in fact, the puppies. This chance meeting in the woods changed our lives forever. We took home a bumbling brindle male, who later transformed himself into our beloved Ch. Hannibal of Makar.
What are the breed’s greatest strengths right now? I am disappointed in the majority of the Mastiffs we see today. They lack type, body and bone. However, I do believe the temperament has improved.
And its greatest weaknesses? Decline of correct head type. Our standard describes the head as being massive in appearance when viewed from any angle, breadth greatly desired. If you have ever seen that big, massive, square magnificent head with that noble expression that our standard describes, you could never be satisfied breeding anything less.
What one fault can you absolutely not forgive in a Mastiff? Our breed has so many inconsistencies, it’s hard to pick out one deal breaker. I do dislike a slab-sided dog – a dog that from the side has a nice let-down chest but when viewed from the front is narrow. My husband would say, ”You better not keep that dog behind a picket fence because he’ll run right through it.” Of course, I still feel the head is the most important feature. Along with substance and bone, these are the qualities that make our breed. There are too many generic-looking dogs.
What one virtue do you prize almost above all in a Mastiff? The noble Mastiff character that develops with maturity. Grandeur and good nature, courage and docility, along with dignity are found and cherished in our breed. Of course, there is also the occasional comic relief just so they don’t get a big head. We can only hope to breed and possess a dog of such character.
Name a Mastiff of long ago and not of your breeding that you consider to be a fine example of the breed. I have had the privilege during my many years in the breed of seeing some outstanding Mastiffs. I couldn’t possibly pick just one. I will list a few of the dogs and bitches that I consider to be true representations of our standard. I want to add bitches to this list because I consider them to be as important, or even more important, than the stud dog when planning a breeding program. The dogs: Deer Run Florister Rufus, Ch. Deer Run Ivan, Ch. Greiner Hall Chadwick, Ch. Windamohr’s Rock of Lionsire, Ch. Iron Hills Rocky Hill Thor. The bitches: Ch. Fallmore Hall Mistral of Deer Run, Ch. Banyon’s Mayflower Madam.
Deer Run Florister Rufus.
Ch. Deer Run Ivan.
Ch. Greiner Hall Chadwick.
Ch. Windamohr’s Rock of Lionsire.
Ch. Iron Hills Rocky Hill Thor.
Ch. Fallmore Hall Mistral of Deer Run.
Ch. Banyon's Mayflower Madam.
What common mistake do new Mastiff breeders make? I’m always surprised when talking with new breeders by their lack of knowledge of their dogs’ lineage. In this day and age, with the Internet, there is no excuse not to know both the dogs’ bloodline and what the dogs in that bloodline look like. 
Favorite story? The obedience club to which we belonged held a fun match at our house. As people began arriving, they were allowed to let their dogs run free in a large fenced area. At the time, we had a litter of puppies in a pen, anticipating a day of socialization. Our first Mastiff, Hannibal, was wandering around the yard enjoying himself while we set up for the match. Abruptly, we heard a horrible racket from the puppy-pen area. We turned to see two Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers in a frenzy, barking and terrifying the puppies. Hannibal calmly walked over as if to defuse the situation. It was at this point that the Wheatens attacked him. Hannibal got the most puzzled look on his face, as if to say, “You do realize I’m a Mastiff, right?” As Hannibal stood waiting for someone to end this folly, the owner of the Wheatens ran over and grabbed Hannibal around the neck rather than getting the culprits in this mess, his own dogs. 
To this day, that was the most comical thing I have ever seen. Hannibal again got this puzzled look on his face, wondering at the new addition now hanging around his neck. With one thrust of his massive head, he sent man and beast flying in all directions. Not one sound did he make. He then stood between the pen containing the puppies and the aggressors and remained there until some sane people came to collar and leash the terriers and their owner. Okay, not really the man, but maybe we should have in hindsight. Hannibal, seeming very pleased with himself, then continued his rounds, greeting everyone human and canine as if nothing had happened. Just another day at the office!

Isolde Schmidt 

Of Seven Oaks
Ottersberg, Germany
Years in the breed: 33
Do you remember the first time you saw a Mastiff? It was in 1976, when Of Meadowground – which existed from 1976 to 1983 and was one of the first German Mastiff kennels – started breeding Mastiffs. I had always owned big dogs: When I was a student I got a rescued German Boxer/ Great Dane mix that looked like a Fila Brasileiro. But I had never before seen such a huge apricot dog like that Mastiff out of the Meadowground kennels, who I met by chance near the city of Düsseldorf! At that time I was waiting for a Great Dane puppy, but I cancelled that at once and got my first Mastiff puppy more than a year (and a lot of travelling around Europe) later, in 1977!
What drew you to the breed? As the English standard says, the “combination of grandeur and courage” – with guarding instinct but at the same time calm and affectionate to his family. That first Mastiff I saw was accompanied by a sweet little girl, the daughter of the dog’s owner. The way the huge dog behaved toward that little girl touched me deep inside.
What are the breed’s greatest strengths right now? The temperament, which has improved very much compared to many dogs I saw in the 1970s and ’80. I think this is because the breeding pool is not as small as it once was.
And its greatest weaknesses? The variety of type. There are too many different Mastiff types, and even English judges prefer different types: Overdone or not overdone – that is the question! Imported American dogs often look different from “Continental breedings.”
What one fault can you absolutely not forgive in a Mastiff? Timidity combined with aggression!
What one virtue do you prize almost above all in a Mastiff? A high sensitivity to understanding the owner and to reacting correctly in difficult situations.
Name one Mastiff of long ago and not of your breeding that you consider to be a fine example of the breed. Lazybones Lord Rab and Lazybones Mr. Bumper, litter brothers I got to know in the early ’80s at Hans Rosing’s and Bine Blaauw’s Lazybones Kennel. Bumper was an impressive brindle and Rab the fawn one. I preferred the fawn: “Rab” was a perfect mover, a middle-sized dog with excellent heavy bone, not overdone, but with a true Mastiff expression and a perfect temperament. I bred my first Mastiff litter from Rab!
What common mistake do new Mastiff breeders make? Some of them maybe many don’t know much about the breed when they start. And many don’t want to learn anything they only go for names and titles. They don’t breed (in my opinion), but they “collect” Mastiffs and produce litters without knowing the background of the dogs they bred from! And not enough breeders pay attention to soundness! I have seen so many champion dogs that cannot move at all, but are asked to be used at stud because of their titles. 
What common mistake do Mastiff judges make? Some don’t take what is written in the breed standard seriously. How can a dog become a champion when he can’t be touched because he is so shy? (The breed standard says timidity is unacceptable!) The same applies to movement.
Favorite story? My first Mastiff, Isabella van de Ircomara (born in 1977 in the Netherlands, by UK Imp. Bournewood Brigadier out of Arabella V.D. Ircomara), was a calm and friendly female. But she kept the guarding instincts of her ancestors, as she showed one morning when I had to leave early for work.
I was late and in a hurry, and I forgot to lock her in the house. Normally she could go out in the garden when I was away from home, but on this day she needed to be inside because the fuel oil was to be delivered in the morning and the tanks were in the garden.
When I came home that afternoon, I was puzzled to see the big tanker in front of my house. I went inside – no dog! In a real panic, I ran into the garden and saw my Isabella standing in front of the poor supplier. Neither moved at all: Isabella standing like a statue with her hackles up and a puffed-up chest – really impressive and frightening! The poor man was also like a statue, but not very impressive – he was nearly dead of fear. He had been standing like that for more than two hours, he told me. As you can imagine, I had to choose a different supplier the next year!          

Margot Lauritsen

Lamars Mastiffs
Brentwood, California
Years in the breed: 25
Do you remember the first time you saw a Mastiff? It was in 1972. I saw one at a park and fell in love with the gentle nature and massive size.
What drew you to the breed? Size and temperament. I love big dogs. I bred Rottweilers back in the 1970s. Doing research on the origins of the Rottweiler I discovered that they, like many large breeds, were bred down from the Mastiff. That was when my search began. Unfortunately for me, there were not a lot of Mastiff breeders in the Seattle area at the time.
What are the breed’s greatest strengths right now? Temperaments and soundness. Mastiffs have come a long way in structure and soundness in my opinion over the years. Breeders are being more concerned with health testing and breeding proper temperaments, which in our breed should be gentle but protective without being vicious. “Grandeur and good nature,” as the standard says.
And its greatest weaknesses? Incorrect fronts (narrow, straight shoulders, not enough breast plate) and rears (narrow rears, straight stifles, hocky, weak with no second thighs). A lot of big dogs without the bone and balance to support them.
What one fault can you absolutely not forgive in a Mastiff? A weak, straight rear with no second thigh, which is one thing we are losing in our breed. This does not allow for proper movement, reach and drive. A Mastiff cannot do its job if he or she cannot function. A bad rear throws the whole dog off.
What one virtue do you prize almost above all in a Mastiff? Grandeur. A giant, trustworthy family member. Temperament in our breed of giants should always come first. I love a balanced dog with type and structure and correct temperament as well.
Name one Mastiff of long ago and not of your breeding that you consider to be a fine example of the breed. Ch. Deer Run Ezekiel. He was a very balanced Mastiff, not overdone at 30 inches tall and 200 pounds, according to his stats. He was the sire of many champions and is in the pedigree of many top-winning Mastiffs. To me, he was the perfect, balanced, typey Mastiff that contributed so much to our breed.
Ch. Deer Run Ezekiel.
What common mistake do new Mastiff breeders make? Breeding for size only, with total disregard for health, structure and soundness.
What common mistake do Mastiff judges make? Picking only the largest dog in the ring with the biggest head, because if they don’t know the standard they go for mass only, ignoring the total dog.
It is a common thing to do: When you think Mastiff, you think mass. And although I agree a Mastiff should be massive, it should have a well-knit frame with balance and soundness. A Mastiff cannot do its job if it cannot support its weight. I have heard the phrase more than once that Mastiffs do not walk on their heads. I think when judging our breed, structure, balance and soundness should be just as important as in a smaller breed.
Favorite story? I sold two of my Mastiffs, a big fawn male named Argus and a brindle female named Paige, to a nice young family with four children. One day, while Mom was doing dishes in the kitchen, she saw Paige outside the window jumping up and down and barking frantically, so she went out to see what was wrong. Paige then ran to a large tree, where the mother found Argus sitting at the bottom guarding her 4-year-old son, who was crying; he had climbed the tree and got stuck.
Final word? Mastiffs are not the breed for everyone. Although they are very majestic and cuddly looking, there is a lot of work to owning a giant breed. I feel so blessed to have been owned by many great Mastiffs over the years. I can’t imagine ever not having a Mastiff by my side.

Bernard Le Courtois

Brullemail Mastiffs
Southern Normandy, France
Years in the breed: 23
Do you remember the first time you saw a Mastiff? Like all Mastiff fans around the globe, my Mastiffmania started with a “coup de foudre,” the day I met my first Mastiff, the Molosse with a tender heart. It was back in 1986, the year I moved to Brullemail. I was taking one of my mares to a neighboring stud farm where I was greeted by a stentorian voice, deep and impressive, telling me that somewhere in the farmyard there was a Molosse. Suddenly I saw this big, wet nose glued onto my car windshield!
This Mastiff, who came from the United States, was called Agbar (from Indian Raid). It was thanks to him that my love story with this exceptional breed began. So naturally, several months later, my first Mastiff arrived at Brullemail, a female called Bambou de Belgodere.
Ever since my passion for this breed hasn’t stopped growing. 
What drew you to the breed? At the time I was looking for a new dog to be my companion and also to guard my new farm. After having had a Boxer and an Irish Wolfhound, when I saw my first Mastiff, I knew straight away that I had found my perfect dog. 
What are the breed’s greatest strengths right now? This extraordinary breed is a fantastic family dog: our guardian angels.
And its greatest weaknesses? We would like  Mastiffs to have a longer life span (more than 8 to 12 years).
What one fault can you absolutely not forgive in a Mastiff? Bad movement.
What one virtue do you prize almost above all? Good and friendly temperament.
Name one Mastiff of long ago and not of your breeding that you consider to be a fine example of the breed. MBIS MBISS Am Ch. Southports Sherman is still alive. I saw him for the first time at the National Specialty when he was 1 year old and Winners Dog and Best of Winners. He was so promising. Then he was the top Mastiff in the U.S. for several years. He has everything we need to look for: real head type with pigment, substance and conformation, topline, angulation and movement. He has also a great presence, which is not so often seen.
Two others are BISS Am Ch. Regal Hills Sudden Impact, who I saw only as a veteran but still a fantastic dog with all the great qualities. And the fantastic bitch MBIS BISS Am Ch. Ironclad Ironhill Ivana. I loved her. I would like to breed one like her!
MBIS MBISS Am Ch. Southports Sherman.
BISS Am. Ch. Regal Hills Sudden Impact.
MBIS BISS Am Ch. Ironclad Ironhill Ivana.
What common mistake do new Mastiff breeders make? Breeding common Mastiffs together. They breed dogs but they don’t make a good selection. And they are attracted by the heaviest, sometimes obese males.
What common mistake do Mastiff judges make? In Europe and England, giving credit to the biggest ones even if they have bad angulation, topline or bad movement.
Last word? In Europe, Mastiffs are a more exclusive breed than in the U.S. and the quality of the breed is correct. In the U.S., we can see very different types, the best and the worst. But the good ones are really very good.

Gabrielle Simmonds 

Marstenmoor and Yanoor 
(joint prefix with Yangerdook, which is Debbie and Brodie Hobbs, 
used for our joint ventures such as imported frozen semen)
Victoria, Australia
Years in the breed: 17
Do you remember the first time you saw a Mastiff? Paul and I had recently moved from an inner-city residence to a small semi-rural home on just over one acre. We were newly married. The builder that we had employed to make some minor alterations owned a Saint Bernard, and Paul expressed to him his desire to own a Mastiff.  Just by chance, his next-door neighbor owned a Mastiff and knew of a litter! When I found out how much a Mastiff puppy cost, I decided to do some research. I contacted the Mastiff Club of Victoria and was given some good advice, which completely went out the window as soon as we saw these adorable Mastiff puppies! Emma was not the greatest Mastiff and had many health issues, but she set the direction of our lives.
What drew you to the breed? Paul had seen a Mastiff as a child when he lived in the UK, and had always wanted to own one. For many years, he followed work internationally, so could not own a dog. When he immigrated to Australia and finally decided to stay here, and we moved to a suitable home, he wanted to fulfill that desire.  
What one fault can you absolutely not forgive in a Mastiff? Lack of breed type! A Mastiff must look like a Mastiff – there should be no doubt that the dog is a Mastiff and not possibly a Great Dane or a Bullmastiff, or a cross thereof.
I am not suggesting that an unsound dog should be awarded, but if there is an unsound dog and one that does not have breed type at a show, both should be non-awarded!
What one virtue do you prize almost above all in a Mastiff? It is difficult to come up with just one, so I haven’t! Here are three.
So much of the breed standard is devoted to the head, so I have to say that a correctly proportioned head is very high on my “desired” list. I particularly look for the breadth of skull and width of lower jaw.
I know that much emphasis is placed on the rear, but when so much more of a dog’s weight is borne on the front, a solid, sound front with tight feet is imperative. 
I would have to say that a Mastiff’s devotion to his or her owner has compelled us to always own this breed. We have had disappointments along the way as far as breeding and including dogs in our breeding program, but living with this breed has kept us going and made the challenges worthwhile. Rightly or wrongly, we have to have a Mastiff sleeping on our bed!   
Name one Mastiff of long ago and not of your breeding that you consider to be a fine example of the breed. It was important to me to select a dog that I had seen in the flesh. This dog is Am. Ch. Madigan’s Doc Holiday, who I saw at the 2003 MCOA National Specialty. I must state that Yanoor subsequently imported his semen and produced the first frozen semen litter for the breed in Australia.
Am. Ch. Madigan’s Doc Holiday.


We were attracted to “Doc” because to us he had the type and balance we wanted. He was very similar to our dogs in many ways, but was stronger in topline and rear. At the time, he had limited progeny, but we liked the majority that we saw. The fact that he was an apricot brindle was an added bonus! 

What common mistake do Mastiff judges make? Some judges are obsessed by mouths and cannot accept anything other than a scissor bite. In Australia, we follow the British standard and a scissor bite is actually incorrect. The standard reads: “Mouth - Canine teeth healthy; powerful and wide apart; incisors level, or lower projecting beyond upper but never so much as to become visible when mouth is closed.” 
Many non-breed specialist judges and “all-rounders” expect Mastiffs to move like a Doberman or a Siberian Husky. They don’t take into account the size of the Mastiff, and reward speed and “flashiness” over breed type. 

Birte Christoffersen

Kennel Hugedogge
Egtved, Denmark
Years in the breed: 15
Do you remember the first time you saw a Mastiff? In the 1970s, I saw a picture of a Mastiff in a dictionary. At that time there were only a few Mastiffs in Denmark and I did not get the option see the Mastiff live. In my head the pictures of this magnificent dog showed up constantly, but many years passed before I was lucky enough to touch a Mastiff and speak to the owner. I was totally lost – our next dog had to be a Mastiff.
What drew you to the breed? The Mastiff´s appearance both physical and mental was exactly what I wanted. This huge, beautiful dog with the sensitive mind and expressive head. Furthermore, the short coat with undercoat was a must in the countryside where we live. Our former dog was a St. Bernard, a lovely dog, but he required a lot of grooming and was not easy to dry off. Another thing that I found very exciting was that the Mastiff as a breed had not changed much for centuries. Mastiffs pictured in the old books look very similar to the Mastiff we know today.
What are the breed’s greatest strengths right now? In general I think the Mastiff is a quite healthy breed. Over the last 15 years the movement has improved. Most Mastiffs are noble, gentle giants that also can move.
And its greatest weaknesses? Mastiffs that are able to reproduce themselves are crucial for the breed’s further existence. Problems with infertility, bitches that don’t take or carry a litter are well known in the breed. I am very worried for the future because we humans do take over from nature. More matings are done with artificial insemination, even in situations where a normal mating should be possible. Over the years Caesareans have become more and more common, even planned ones where nobody knows if the bitch would be able to give birth by herself.
Another issue is keeping a healthy population of Mastiffs. When planning a breeding we normally look at the ancestors at least five generations back, but looking long way back in the pedigrees many of today’s Mastiffs are related. I think doing tight inbreeding is a threat to our breed and can lead to many problems, such as mental instability, infertility and size.
Name one Mastiff of long ago and not of your breeding that you consider to be a fine example of the breed. Hollesley Medicine Man. A very harmoniously built dog. Well angulated, nice head, lot of breed type but nothing overdone.
UK Ch. Hollesley Medicine Man.
What common mistake do new Mastiff breeders make? You never get educated in breeding Mastiffs. It is a lifelong learning process. I am a strong believer in pedigrees, but that also means that you have to do a lot of research to find information about the dog’s family and what are the strong and weak sides. I am sorry to say that many new breeders are not that enthusiastic. It is also very important to be able to see the faults your own dog has. No dog is perfect, even if it got a good placement at a show. Breeders must know the weaknesses of their own dog and what to look for in a partner.
What common mistake do Mastiff judges make? A difficult question; you have to look at it from two views: Some judge the whole dog but forget to judge for breed type. On the opposite side, some judges look so much at special breed details that they forget to judge the whole dog.   


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