Thursday, November 15, 2007

Some Random Thoughts on Bandogs and Sport by Dan Balderson (DanUK)

"Let's look at the facts: the dogs used...

Mastiffs - Not utilitarian dogs X Pitbulls - soft to biting people usually bred against man work.

Where does utilitarian come in either of these two mixes? Then they go on to lay claims, without proof."

This is simply not true, but then it also depends upon definition of Utilitarian. If you wish to encompass protection and scent-work for example, you have much greater argument than if you mean protection and catch work. Certain strains of mastiff are still bred for protection, whilst skilled bandog breeders (often arriving in this sphere from 'sport breeds') can look beneath the surface to match and blend traits in different dogs then selectively breed a line from them. It is not that different to performing a line cross in many instances. I've seen US Terv's (which I have no idea what they were based upon), bred to UK Terv's (which have heavy Mal' influences in their foundation) produce very inconsistent results, yet both parents were from purebred lines dating back over many, many generations and obviously representatives of the same breed. It is usually a product of ignorance that sees such comments arise, because you can know a good dog or be a good trainer, but it doesn't entail you'll be a good breeder and vice versa.

"If Bandog and Mastiff breeders were serious in producing dogs for work ie. SchH, Ring or any of the globally recognized programs, from their own stock, with consistency and not "one offs"....they'd produce proof and not hype."

Again, the proof is there in cases, it just isn't always open to public scrutiny. Sadly, at least in the context of the UK, if the public perceptions were more accommodating, there'd be a very different picture that would likely change a few opinions somewhat. I don't see public/government policy changing, if anything I see dogs becoming increasingly rare in operational contexts that involve potential for 'biting'.

"Since I have seen these dogs work at some level and think that I wouldn't mind seeing them get over that weird nerve, or even worse their high thresholds.

Plus, too many people spew out the word "sport" as if it was a bad thing.........and many of these people have dogs that couldn't do basic levels of these sports, and that is what makes it so bad.

When bandog and mastiff people can come up with their own version of a test, then maybe the rest of us "herder" people will at least listen. Until then, it is not going to be taken seriously.

Almost all sports are breed-biased. The folks that love GSD's in Sch for example, will find that they (GSD's) are not competitive in say KNPV and ring sport vs. Mal's/Dutchies, or events like OB and agility which are both
dominated entirely by working sheepdogs (though there are a couple of lines of Terveruns that can compete on level pegging), a breed that increasingly is dominating even in Working Trials here and that includes the bite work in the PD stakes because after some hesitation to partake in PD that enthusiasm and desire to almost obliterate all breeds from all sports has taken over. I kid you not, some of the best bite-work dogs out there are collies and the only thing they lack is size, which is being addressed in some lines, just as collies were bred down to dominate in smaller group agility. Best to best, the working sheepdog is a better dog than a GSD in sport terms. May not do Sch better, but across the board they are even more versatile, even more precise in their OB etc. I'm not a Sheepdog person, but that is the way it is. I don't see it as sensible to say therefore, that we should only use Working Sheepdogs or that all other breeds are useless because they aren't as good.

In the UK, you will not see sport or PP getting a 'public face' it is kept as far from the public eye as possible, because the public are by and large too ignorant to comprehend either and too susceptible to the influence of mass media. The only established 'protection' Sport is Sch, which is still dwarfed here by Working Trials, which are more demanding and more applicable to real life. They incorporate as much precision as is necessary for work without diminishing the overall affects. In the OB stakes, the routines can be anywhere, you can be healed off a manicured lawn, straight into a wood or a marsh even if it happens to be there and you see pure 'OB' dogs try this and the polish suddenly rubs off very quick. In the PD stakes, you have PSA style tests with multiple helpers, objects, distractions and such like on top of the usual Sch style exercises and the breeds that do well, are those with dedicated owners and individual breeders not 'x' or 'y' breed as a whole.

The breed tests for the bull and mastiff breeds in the UK began in the 1870's, well before any of the modern sports which have drawn heavily upon these original 'BSTs' in terms of tracking, Agility, OB, suit and muzzle work. These tests however, fell away for three reasons:

  1. The war devastated the UK, killing-off not just the dogs, but the people behind them too (gamekeepers, young aristocrats, etc.)
  2. Public perception of bite-work and increasing industrialisation saw diminished 'need'
  3. Animal Cruelty became a public consciousness issue and the BSTs became viewed as "barbaric" to many; e.g. there were no padded sticks, they used real Ash or Birch to test the dogs and there were no guidelines on where or where not to strike a dog, so long as the intent was not to do permanent damage.

  • In the modern age, Bull breeds in the UK are tested in purely Operational context, including those dogs that don't actually work for a living but for whom the breeders want to assess overall consistency. Do you get 100% workers in litters? Not likely at all. 80%? Possibly in the very best of the best. 60%? Quite frequently.
  • In the Operational arena, all breeds are appraised equally and compared together and this includes dogs from a sport background. It is patently false to state that Sport dogs can perform in the real world just because they can title in sport, though certain sports/programs (e.g. KNPV, NVBK) do produce very high ratios of operational-capable animals (whereas Sch provides very few directly, but does produce lines/dogs that go on to produce operational dogs). The number of weak dogs in Operational training comprises as many, if not more sport dogs as those dogs/breeds with no exposure to sport. There are many possible reasons as to why this is the case:
  • Sport has become about personal ego and points, and far less about proving dogs
  • There is more emphasis upon precision as a differentiator than there is upon hardness and combativeness
  • Sport (and to be fair much of operational PD / Military work) puts dogs to work earlier which is great, but doesn't always afford the dog the mental maturity to deal with real pressure unless it is presented in the familiar, patterned context of their sporting environment
  • Many sports almost make a friend out of the helper
  • Many sports place a huge amount of emphasis upon the use of equipment
  • Many sports allow you to title on your home field; and with your home helpers (obviously this isn't the case at high (national) levels)
  • Many sports decree so much precision obedience, that it inevitably leads to dogs learning that man is to be 'respected' - I'm not wording this one well, but I'm sure someone like Dominic Donovan can more clearly express what I'm getting at here
  • Many dogs immersed in Sport are used to different sorts of pressure which whilst no doubt heavy, is regimented and structured (out of necessity to make competition, i.e. points-scoring consistent) and is developed with extensive use of prey development topped-off with defence work. In contrast, Operational work normally requires older, more mentally advanced dogs that are trained predominantly through their defence and fight drives with prey utilisation to address specific issues in bite or to recover dogs that are overloaded and starting to show signs of avoidance
  • Some sport dogs require a great deal of direction because for example, their scenting has become so regimented that they need a competent handler to focus them, rather than say a WT-certified dog that has learnt through practical trialing and training, when it needs to ground scent and air scent, when to quarter or to pursue a scent directly etc.
  • Sporting dogs have become more usable by PD's in many countries due to liberal laws that put the onus upon protecting the well-being of the criminal, despite the fact that they have been caught in the act of committing a crime/refused to comply with instructions
The last Operational session I worked, the weakest dogs there all came from sport backgrounds and all were Shepherds. There were one or two examples of decent GSD's and with sport backgrounds, but they were the rarity. In fact, one of the better bite-work dogs there was a WT-trialed Labrador. He didn't have a punishing grip like the bull mastiff breeds, but he was enough to be effective, had sound nerves and had enough bond with his helper that his desire to protect her helped overcome defensive work that was very foreign to him. All of the better dogs at this session were also older, as the extra time afforded to mature proves to be much more valuable in operational work than it does in sports where you can start doing a lot of things very early on. The outright best operational dog was a Presa, but he was also the least suitable dog for exposure to the general public or to perform flashy OB routines. Most folks would not be willing to invest the time or effort into a dog like this, especially if it were not conducive as he was, to ensuring the handler's well-being.

Do the bull and mastiff breeds being bred and tested for operational work have weaknesses? Of course they do. Some as per the example above are just way too actively aggressive and dominant for most situations. However, far more likely is too high of a stimulus threshold. The "sport breeds" if you will have been bred to emphasise both use of "voice" and threat display and also been taught that this has a positive effect upon 'bad guys'. Operationally, many bull breeds lack in this area, but also do in the cases where they are trained in sport. Yet, some of the higher echelon sport dogs out there are also bull breeds like AB's, at least in Europe. So again, to assert they can't perform is naive.

More commonly, the criticisms leveled toward alternative breeds come from trainers who feel they are expert within their small sphere of competence, usually working with specific breeds in specific sports, who despite their being 'experts' cannot translate their methods to other breeds and are too inflexible to adapt. Another case in point is how easily such trainers can spoil the potential of bull breeds without even realising it. For example, in teaching the escort, many trainers will 'reward' loss of focus or attention on the helper with a rap on the head/body of the dog with the padded baton. With the shepherds, this regularly has the desired effect for many reasons (low stimulus threshold, re-direction of aggression and sensitivity to equipment stimuli) but for many bull breeds, it has adverse effects; the dog doesn't see it coming and interprets it as being a correction from the handler, who they are so eager to please and cannot understand what's going on. Many helpers are frankly uncomfortable working incredibly defensive, fight-driven breeds even with equipment let alone as is common with operational training, relying purely upon skill and ability to work the dog civilly.

To this end, many serious bandog breeders don't want to be good at sport, because they see it as undermining the suitability of their dogs for their functional purpose. Many are happy to make comparisons across breeds, countries and continents using professionals that can provide accurate and constructive feedback to drive improvement. The big weakness of this is that unlike sport, it doesn't have any public/mainstream exposure and so provides no credibility to the breeder. People interested in such dogs need to do their own ground work is what this means and this is quite foreign to many when they are used to just going on the Internet and downloading some trial footage or what have you. It's funny, because a number of people didn't understand Barbara's dog initially, but seeing her development are now saying, 'that's a nice dog'.