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The Working American Bulldogs by David Putnam Q: Isn’t protection sport just a game? Shouldn’t we be breeding “real” dogs?

A. The prospect of breeders using sport protection titles as a primary means of evaluating AB breed candidates is a confusing prospect to some people in our community, a frightening one to others and a threatening one to the rest. Breeding Bulldogs in this manner is a new thing. In fact it is a goal that is so far unrealized. There is yet to be a Bulldog breeding where several complete generations of sport titled dogs can be found in a single pedigree. Despite this fact some of the old timers are busy issuing dark warnings about the consequences of breeders eventually succeeding in stacking several generations of hip certified and sport titled dogs. Most of the propaganda and warnings are garbled second hand information winnowed by folks that do no sport work from admittedly knowledgeable trainers that focus on personal protection and K-9 police work. The personal protection experts tell us that a dog can become dependent on a sleeve or a suit and if trained enough on equipment it is possible that some dogs will only bite equipment, even if threatened by a real bad guy. Some (by no means all) sport dogs can become dependent on routine and geographic location.

There can be a ‘racquetball vs. tennis’ effect when a dog is highly trained in sport protection and is called upon to do personal protection. Racquetball is close to tennis yet different in subtle ways, training for tennis can hurt an athletes performance in racquetball. And this can happen with some sport dogs that are called upon to do personal protection. A K-9 officer told me recently that she could take a good hard dog with a Schutzhund I title and train it to be a police dog. But the same dog with a Schutzhund III could actually make a worse candidate, because it has worked with the equipment too long in a certain routine and geographic location. The fact that training for one activity might screw up performance in another does not mean that a human athlete with lots of ability in tennis does not have a fantastic aptitude for racquetball. It is also the case that a dog that is naturally very good at sport protection probably has natural ability at personal protection. He just needs to be trained differently to bring this potential to the surface. And this natural ability for either activity is mainly genetic.

Many of the routines in sport protection are designed to be temperament tests. The bark and hold after a bite in Schutzhund tests a dog’s nerve and courage but it may not be the best way for a dog to guard a bad guy after a street bite and an out. Some protection sports are closer to real world scenarios than others. This does not necessarily mean that they are better breed suitability tests for producing puppies that are real world protectors, merely that the training required to earn the title is more applicable to street bite situations. For instance, the protection sport, KNPV, issues a basic title called the Politiehond I (PH I) or Police dog one. While a dog that has earned a Schutzhund title needs to be retrained to do street work, a dog that earns a KNPV title is ready to jump in the back of a patrol car and work a beat. But there are strains of Schutzhund bred dogs that will produce puppies that have the genetic ingredients to be superb police dogs, certainly from a temperamental point of view.

Perhaps one somewhat legitimate complaint about certain protection sports is that the physical testing can be less than satisfactory. Many people believe that the physical ability of today’s Schutzhund bred dogs is less than it was a few generations ago. Other sports do feature harder testing on a physical level. In KNPV it is not unheard of for decoys to be carted off the field and sent to hospital after charging dogs in courage tests. But the reason for physical decay in some sport lines is actually closer to what I wrote about in my last article, many Schutzhund breeders ignore the physical requirements of their sport test and listen to the siren song of show breeding. So once again we can’t blame the sport. If the breeders would simply breed for the sport and ignore show conformation requirements, their dogs would not lose physical ability.

As the culture of sport testing digs itself deeper into the American Bulldog community the objections to it become more numerous and more bizarre. The most common objection is that the breed was developed primarily to catch wild boar and that breeding for man work violates a sacred historical covenant. The same argument could have been made in late 19th century Germany. Breeding the German Shepherd for man work destroyed its ability to herd sheep. The European sheep industry has gotten along okay despite the rupturing of the GSD’s sacred role as a herd dog and the world has benefited from the creation of the most versatile working guard dog in modern history. Maybe in the 21st century the AB will supplant the GSD, but right now the European dog is still king of the hill. So are we depriving the world of a means of eradicating wild boar or are we creating the next great guard dog? It is still an open question whether catching wild boar and doing man work are incompatible. But the most optimistic assumption would relegate catch work to the role of a mere tool in the arsenal of a breeder interested in producing a better man dog, a way of testing a dog’s pain tolerance and physical ability, but not and end goal in itself.

After this argument we find objections that become increasingly bizarre. It has been suggested quite seriously that breeding for sport titles will weaken a dog’s immune system over time and that sport dogs are pampered creatures that require expensive food. With time their digestive systems will be unable to process anything except filet mignon and caviar. Objections on these lines can go on and on endlessly. They center on the vast panoply of things that sport work does not test for. We could say that after a mangy dog is a year old his skin condition usually clears up. If he gets a sport title then we have done nothing about his mange. Therefore sport titles allow for the breeding of mangy dogs. Examples like this are literally infinite since there are an infinite number of potential genetic defects that sport titles will not eradicate. The rebuttal is simple, sport titles are not a panacea for everything that can go wrong with a dog. Breeders have a responsibility to eliminate genetic defects whether they are breeding for sport, show or catch work.

Is there really a conflict between hog catchers and sport protection enthusiasts? American Bulldog Resources recently did a pole to find out what was the most common working activity for our breed. Protection work won by a huge margin even though someone or some group of people tried to cheat and inflate the votes for farm utility dog. The number of American Bulldogs actively being bred for catching wild boar is a tiny fraction of one percent. And the number being bred for protection work is still a minority though a much larger number. Most American Bulldogs are being bred for no functional purpose at all. Hog hunters can take care of themselves, protection breeders need to convert the non functional breeders into their camp with the fever of crusaders. Protection work is the wave of the future.


©2000, Dave Putnam
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