Pit Bull Informational Pages
by Diane Jessup 

Part III

The Absolute Importance of Type
by Diane Jessup

Read carefully the words of wisdom:

My main “warning-cry” concerns itself with the direction of the breed, which many breeders – many novices – still subscribe to, a direction that would lead us off the beaten path, far off of our breed goal; toward breed ruin. In all my articles, lectures, and judges reports of the last few years, I have desperately tried to point out that we must cling to the breed standard of the working dog, and I gave reasons why we must do so – as it was once laid down, as a model of the breed’s design. I have emphasized over and over again that we should not get overly engrossed in details of outward characteristics, even if they are ever so attractive, when, for the breeding value of the dog, he must be based entirely and decisively upon the totality of hard constitution, good health, endurance, authentic working structure and stable temperament. The vision, the understanding of this standard, is thus sometimes lost. Many young fanciers have unfortunately hardly ever seen correct conformation in respect to these dogs. They become intoxicated with appearance which so often has so little in common with the working dog as he is supposed to be. In this case, the only thing that helps is trusted faith in the system, until one’s pondering leads to eventual understanding. The belief in what is well meant – the thoughtful suggestions and guiding principles – are for the welfare of the breed’s future.

These are words which any serious student of our breed should study, and hang on the refrigerator door! They are that important. They were written in 1929 by Max von Stephanitz, the “father” of the German shepherd dog. This man is worth listening to. Almost single handedly, and with foresight, dedication and understanding not equaled by any breed founder before or since, he brought the German shepherd from a homely, little known farm dog to become the top working breed of the past several decades.

It was done with German discipline and attention to detail until quite recently. And then a serious split occurred; the dogs exhibited at shows begin to be bred along a specific fad, while the "working dogs" continued to be bred to the original standard. While Americans will never embrace the discipline necessary to breed as the European working dog breeder does, still, much can be learned from a study of their successes.

The show bred German shepherd dog (GSD) is a mess in America and in Europe. Bred along the system warned about above, these GSDs are laughable caricatures of what the German working dog system produces. So called "show-line" American and European German shepherds are shunned by all in need of serious working dogs. Police departments must import their dogs from working kennels in Europe. The "show-line" German shepherd in America and Europe, has been bred to fad standards – not the enduring standard – and now stands as the primary example of how poor breeding can “split” a breed.

What has this to do with our bulldogs? Everything.

Von Stephanitz was a wise man. His primary concern was not only to preserve what he had worked so hard to bring together but also to put in place steps intended to continue to improve the breed far into the future. The German system has worked until very recently, though it too, faces an eternal struggle with faddist as well. Even though two distinct types now exist in Germany, at least the show dogs must earn a working title to be considered for top honors.

Because character is seen as much a part of a dog’s “conformation” to standard as physical appearance (as well it should) the German system insists on working titles for all “champions” and breeding dogs. There are classes for non-titled dogs, but those dogs are given scant attention and can never obtain the highest honors. But why the Germans continue to produce superior working GSD is so much more than just this intelligent inclusion of character testing of breeding dogs. The primary reason for its success has been a strictly enforced breed standard, and the insertion of “breed wardens” into the mix.

Consider a world where our bulldogs were judged in a similar fashion to how GSD are judged in Europe. At the Seiger shows (Seiger and Seigerin are the top male and female of the year and dogs which are destined to make an impact on the breed for years to come) there are the usual classes for young dogs, but with a twist. No young dog may earn a “V” rating (the highest) only “SG” (second best) for the simple reason the dog is not mature. Wins in this class are considered only a way to present a promising young dog to the world and say “watch for me in the future!”

So, first off, consider the improvement if no bulldog could obtain a breed championship at the ludicrous age of 6, 7, or 8 months of age. Better yet, no immature dog could be judged worthy of a “Grand Championship”. How can one know what the final temperament and conformation of the mature dog will be? You cannot. And to not address that issue is a serious mistake.

The OFA will not certify hips on a dog before it is 24 months old—so how do we reconcile that with a 12 month old “grand champion” being used as a stud? The Germans certify hips at one year of age and require good hips for a dog to become a champion.

In my opinion, the single best feature of the European fashion dog show is the written critique. Each dog is given a report on what the judge saw that day. It notes the dog’s size, color, and remarks about strong and weak points. These reports are listed by breeders when advertising studs or puppies. It helps the serious breeder chose a stud or future brood bitch which will compliment or hopefully improve his animals.

Imagine for a moment an American pit bull, or American Staffordshire or Staffordshire bull show where each competitor is handed a paper upon which is written the critique of an experienced, dedicated breed expert. Not someone who has written a book, not someone who is an old time dog fighter, not someone who owns a registry, but a person who has proven themselves to be dedicated to that breed and have sound knowledge of correct structure. Someone who has put in their time, studied under other, experienced judges, and proven their knowledge. Imagine those critiques are openly advertised. Hard to imagine, isn’t it?

Why? Because as Americans, we value our “freedom” more than our stewardship of dog breeds. Imagine putting enforcable regulations in place to stop backyard breeders from producing unsound, substandard animals? Something as simple as mandatory microchipping of puppies so dogs in shelters could be traced back to their breeders. When it has been tried, in a very limited way, it has met with hysteria from nearly everyone.

American’s do not want to be told what they may, or may not do. They do not want a breed warden to tell them who to breed to, or which puppies to cull. It is unimaginable. And, because of this, our dog’s “type” is in a crises state.

Imagine a world where the “Seiger” pit bull must have some working title (weight pull, obedience, you name it), hips rated Good or Excellent by OFA, and a written critique from a legitimate judge handed out. Imagine a show where the judge does not give out simply first, second, third, and leave you wondering if perhaps she thought these dogs the best of a bad lot. The German system allows the judge to rate the dogs. “VA” is outstanding—above excellent quality, “V” is excellent, “SG” is very good, and from there is goes to “satisfactory” and unsatisfactory. And, better yet, within these ratings, the judge can now rate her dogs “VA1, VA2, V1, V2, etc. What this allows is a complete rating which shows the competitor and the fanciers exactly what she thinks of this dog – regardless of where it placed in the winnings. So, in a class of 8 animals, you might have results as follows: VA1, V1, V2, V3, V4, V5, SG1, SG2. It is so much more than “first place” and “second place”. It tells the competitor, ‘hey, your dog may have been in second place, but it was still a really worthy animal’, or, in some cases, where you might see only SG1, SG2, ‘hey, there were no really exceptional animals presented to me, and even though you got second place, your dog is not “V” worthy’. Judging like that takes guts. And it produces results.

More from Von Stephanitz:

As with so many breeds, sport and fad breeding led to more severe evidence of natural traits, and therefore to bad breeding situations that had nothing more in common with working ability. This may seem nice to the faddist, however, for the true lover of Nature, who doesn’t engage in matters based on eye appeal, it appears as a strange caricature.

Over-sized, massiveness, height, racing ability, straight front or tucked up racing dog body would be for the shepherd an adverse perception leading to the death of the breed. And actually, some of our dogs and especially those who receive applause among the novices resemble the racing dog type in his over-sized, narrowness, tucked up appearance and effemination. The Borzoi, who hunts the wolf on the Russian prairies does not look like this; he is still a correct, rugged fellow. He who looks around at dog shows, pages through dog magazines, will find often enough that there are still a few other breed’s destinies which are threatened, that is, they are about to step out of their breed type because they are not bred upon a breed goal, but rather upon an imaginary “beauty concept”.

Wow. Written in 1929, these words echo hauntingly in the ear of those who have watched the breeding practices of the American pit bull over the past three decades. How true that the show ring and "street sales" are all about fads. In the 1980’s in response (conscious or not) to the ever increasing size and bulk of some registry's winners, rival registry's took on the opposite look: skinny, tucked up, racy looking little dogs were the fad. The cry was “athleticism” but the result was the same as von Stephanitz predicted; the dogs diverged from breed type to satisfy a fad.

Twenty years later, the fad has changed – as fads always do. This is why it is imperative that a breed standard stay unchanged through the fickle trickle of time. To not do so leads a breed to be swayed back and forth, ever changing, ever at the mercy of faddist breeders.

Today we see the opposite fad. In small part due to interest in weight pulling, in large part due to the typical American “bigger is better” mind set, the breed is now threatened by those who breed massive, faulty structured and over-built animals which more closely resemble a lame mastiff or show type English bulldog than a working pit bulldog. The standards call for a “medium” dog—not overdone in any area. But “medium” is not exciting. It is not sexy. And it does not attract the novice buyer. So, fad breeders advertise dogs with incorrect extremes as if they were somehow better than dogs which meet the standard. “Widest!” “Shortest” “Biggest” “Biggest head!” These "breeder’s" ads are shouting from the rooftops: “There is nothing ‘medium’ about my dogs! They are bred strictly for fad. Their shoulders, rears, and size render them incapable of any meaningful work, but I don’t care; to hell with the standard - I am making money!”

What is “Type”?

Type has two meanings. First, type is what makes an American Staffordshire an American Staffordshire, and not a golden retriever. That is breed type. Second, there is a more subtle type, that which marks dogs of a well established line. For instance, the dedicated fancier may well be able to look at a dog and say, “She is from the White Rock line”, or “That looks like a Fraja dog”. That would be identifying line type.

In a world full of backyard and short term "breeders", breed type suffers, and line type is almost impossible to find. Can a person who buys two or three dogs, puts up a website, breeds three or four litters be called a “breeder”. No. These folks are, almost without exception, out of the breed and onto a new scheme to make money within three to five years. If you doubt it, take a look at the ads in a pit bull magazine from five years ago, and see how many are still around.

Dog World magazine used to be an interesting place to keep tabs on long term breeders. Through the fifties, sixties and seventies, you would see consistent ads from breeders who were staying the course. They were always there, month after month, year after year. These were the breeders who, for the most part, developed dogs with line type. Pick up Dog World today and you see a very different picture. It has become a tragic showcase of fad breeders and puppy mills. Each American pit bull ad screams louder than the next “My dogs are not medium working dogs! My dogs are cripples, but they look cool. I’m proud my dogs don’t meet the standard! I am here today to breed for fad size, fad color, fad stockiness, and I don’t care! I will do what I want despite the damage to the breed.”

At a show today, be it AKC, UKC or ADBA, you will see a huge variation of breed type. Many people think this is fine, and that it represents a mythical “variety of type” from which the breed was founded. They will cite examples such as Colby’s Pincher, who was a large dog at a pit weight of 56 pounds, and Colby’s Spring who fought at 22 pounds.(1) Variation in type is certainly to be expected when a breed first comes to have a standard formulated. And, the legitimate written standard of the day – and to this day – give room to the fancier for variation in size, and line type, but not in breed type.

For instance, a Sorrells linebred pit bull placed beside a White Rock linebred Am Staff, would both show differences in breed type; they are, after all, today two separate breeds. However, they would both be recognizable as fitting within the original written standard. They would both be “medium” in structure, showing an athletic and supple body. They would both fit within the minimum, maximum weight standard. Their forelegs and hindlegs would fit the proportions outlined in both AKC and UKC standards. Their necks would be strong and supple, not overly short and thick. Both dogs would also display line type, which is made up of both the good points and poor points that any line will display. There would be no doubt in any educated observer’s mind which dog was which, and it is this variation in type which is acceptable and even admirable to have within purebred dogs. It keeps things interesting. And, the breeds are not harmed.

There is room for the correctly built 35 pound pit bull. There is room for the correctly built 65 pound pit bull. There is no room for dogs which are intentionally bred with disregard for the standard. There is even less need for any registry which changes its standards for the whim of fads, or worse, for the sake of sucking in money from the very people whose callous disregard for the stewardship of the breed damage our dogs so.

Speaking of type in regards to the judging of German shepherd dogs, Ricardo Carbajal, Chairman of the USA Breed Advisory Committee stated: “When referring to breed type the main characteristics in question are harmony and proportion. These must always follow the standard and be in total balance. Anything that tends to be exaggeration violates type and must be penalized. It is the emphasis on these exaggerations such as excessive rear angulation or size that lead many top German breeders to conclude that ‘American’s don’t know what type is.’”

How sadly true for all breeds. When breed and all breed magazines carry ads displaying dogs which do not resemble breed type, how can the novice learn what is correct? When registries change their standards to include animals different from what was ever intended by breed founders, how can the novice know what is correct? When judges refuse to withhold ribbons, and worse, put up unsound, shy, and untypey animals, how can the breed be saved?

There have been sporadic attempts to come up with breed suitability tests, working registries, and other ideas which would help. Sadly, all have failed to take hold. There is not enough interest from breeders; not enough interest in stewarding our breeds through to the next generations as the founders wanted them. The current generation must never assume they are wise enough, or experienced enough, to change a breed standard. But each generation sure tries, always to the detriment of the dogs.

The biggest problem at this time is unique to our breed and to our time. ‘Fad breed’ overpopulation is not unique, but coupled with breed specific legislation (BSL) aimed at our dogs, it is. America is drowning in bulldogs. Once considered rare, they are now the single most popular breed in the U.S. Doubt that? Consider that there are three registries for the pit bull/Am Staff. And that is not even counting Staffie bulls, considered by the public as “pit bulls”. Consider further that most “pit bulls” are not registered. Consider that just one registry registered more pit bulls in 2003 than the AKC did Labradors. When you add in the other registry, the number is greater than AKC Labs and golden retrievers combined. Take a look at Petfinder.com, or at your local shelter. The highest number of abandoned animals are pit bulls.

Because of this, the problem becomes: ethical breeders are not going to be producing dogs simply for public resale at this time. They understand and empathize with the sad fact of the daily killing of hundreds of bulldogs in American shelters. And yet they know that responsible breeding must go on to keep the breeds from extinction; more so now than ever, since “pretenders” have almost taken over the breed. If all responsible breeders shut down, in ten years the pit bull would be extinct, and in its place a hybrid animal no more like the athletic, “medium” dog who earned the name, than a dogue de Bourdeaux or French bulldog.

The answer to saving our breed is three pronged. First, everything possible must be done to discourage and halt novice, back yard breeders and “big name” puppymills from dumping thousands of puppies a year into unsuitable homes. These animals and their breeders are "the problem", that threatens our breed. "Breeding bans” are of questionable help since they cannot be enforced, and play into the hands of anti-pet activists. But it is time for the dog fancy to police itself - before others do it for us.

Second, every serious breeder must study the AKC or UKC standard (dependent on their breed) and understand it. If the standard is not to their liking, then they must find a breed which fits their ideal, and breed that. If you want a mastiff, there are many fine mastiff breeds. If you want a misshapen dwarf of a dog, sadly, there are already breeds that fit that bill. The bulldog is a medium, athletic breed - period.

Added to this, the serious breeder must understand that a win at a dog show or schutzhund trial or any event is hardly the only criteria to be used when deciding if a dog is good enough to be bred. Hip and health checks are a non-negotiable part of today's ethical breeder's program. They do not make excuses about bad hips; they suck up and deal, and move on.

Ethical breeders understand that sound and “typey” temperament is just as important as meeting the physical standard of the breed. For this reason, they understand what bulldog temperament is about, and they never breed a dog who fails to represent it. They do not make excuses: “she is just a little shy”, or “he doesn’t like men”, or “she was abused”. These dogs are too powerful to have unsound temperaments.

Third, serious, ethical breeders should work together to produce a system similar to the European style which has produced such outstanding breeds as the Doberman, boxer, rottweiler and German shepherd. A system which gives merit to those animals who are outstanding. That encourages the breeding of our “medium” built dog with its characteristic good temperament and heart.

Serious breeders must sacrifice and work hard to come through this most devastating of times in the history of the breed. This is done by limiting breedings; serious buyers will find ethical breeders, they always have, and they always will. To produce a litter and have no waiting list of clients, to offer pups for sale in the paper, or over the internet is unacceptable at this time. To not cull poor specimens—as hard as it is - is to give the breed another black eye.

The next ten years are probably the most important in history, for our bulldogs. Will the tough-as-hell, friendly-as-hell, medium, athletic pit bull become extinct through breed bans and fad breeders? Or will they persevere, as they have for so many hundreds of years? Each of us holds the answer on the end of our leash, and in our heart.

(1) The American Pit Bull Terrier, by Joseph L Colby

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