Q: I've never seen a community of dog owners with a higher percentage of backyard breeders than the AB. What can we do to keep the AB from being devoured by puppy millers?
A. A. Very few members of the AB community seek AKC affiliation. There has always be a sense that this breed was destined for something other than traditional American show breeding and puppy milling. History has shown that all working guardian breeds have been forced to rely on protection sport to develop. The American Bulldog is no different, it can only dodge the fate of AKC dogs by relying on a system of sport titling. And the sport does not have to be a protection sport, it does not have to be a clone of Schutzhund. Arguably, the most correct historical work for ABs is catching wild boar. Since I have written so many articles on protection sport, let us ignore this part of the AB community and examine whether a European titling system would work to create large numbers of ABs genetically suitable for hardcore catch work.
Old boy diehard hog hunters are supposedly the loudest group of bulldoggers opposed to using catch titles as breed suitability tests on the European model. But these objections are a chimera. Most real hog men that are devoted to the AB appreciate the value of establishing a nation wide European caliber breed organization with European discipline but geared toward hog/cattle catching. That's why the most devoted among their ranks have already set up titles and the rudiments of a European style Catch Dog breed association in the US.
The two major Catch Dog associations are well-oiled machines. Lem Miller and Art Parker aren't putting all this effort and time into their organizations to put sub standard Catch Dog titles on Bulldogs. The one catch trial I've seen so far in person featured formidable hogs. The day before the trial I was wandering among the hog pens and bumped a fence. A feral boar charged me fiercely and tore a chunk of wood off a fencepost. That boar was not fooling around. He would have cut me up if it weren't for the fence. The next day, over half the dogs failed the test. It was tough and it was rigorous. And the dogs that passed have just begun to prove themselves by the rules of the Catch Dog Association. These dogs still have to pass their CD II and CD III, catching big boar in deep brush and covering miles of terrain. There is no question that if breeders were able to stack up several generations of CD III only pedigrees, the American Bulldog would be as well bred for hog hunting as the best sport line of GSDs are for Schutzhund. This should be the goal for a broad spectrum of breeders and the two CD Assoc. should be the primary tools to get to this goal. Seems like a no-brainer, right?
Yet a small segment of the experienced hog hunting crowd is against Catch Dog titling. And there is a huge, mouthy, segment of hog hunting pretenders that are opposed to Catch titles because they will be exposed as frauds. It is an unholy alliance. Let us address the concerns of the misguided but experienced hunters. Many of them supposedly say that the CD I is too easy. Though, this argument is probably made more often by the pretenders and it is hard to tell them apart on message boards. It is a familiar if tired refrain to any bulldogger involved in a formal titling process. When I was involved with WABA, all I ever heard was, "the BST is too easy." Now that I am promoting Irondog, the same complaint is aired unrelentingly, "Irondog is too easy, I'd compete but it is just so damn easy, no challenge. My dog would make all your dogs look lame. So I'll give you a break and not compete."
The counterargument is simple, if the BST is too easy, then pass it and take the BST II, then pass that test with the highest scores ever recorded. If Irondog is too easy, enter your dog and become the national champ. If the CD I is too easy, enter your dog in a CD I trial, breeze through this 'easy' test and then go on to earn a CD II and CD III, catch the largest and toughest boar in the woods for your advanced titles, show us how easy it is, don't tell us. Talk is cheap.
A little analysis of my counterargument combined with a modicum of common sense will allow an astute person to realize that the 'too easy' argument is being made mostly by pretenders, not a handful of experienced, yet skeptical, sportsman. The experienced yet skeptical hog hunters are reluctant to get their catch titles because they think that by joining a European type breed organization they are letting someone tell them what to do. These experienced guys mostly agree with the working tests that the CD Associations have put together, they are just uncomfortable in granting authority to a person other than themselves or an organization that they aren't totally in charge of. A national organization is too formal for some of the good old boys, it is an alien concept that they just can't quite come to terms with.
For this reason none of the organizations that grant working titles to American Bulldogs are truly structured along European lines. If you want to make the BST a cornerstone in your breeding program than you personally must make sure every dog you breed has this title, because WABA will not send a breed warden to your yard for inspections and they will not deny you the right to breed whatever you want. If WABA were based in Germany, they would force you to get the BST on all your bloodstock, there would be no options. But here in America, WABA is a strictly voluntary organization.
The Catch Dog organizations are structured like WABA. They are completely voluntary. All they do is offer breeders a chance to prove publicly and formally the gameness and ability of their bulldogs for a nominal fee and politely suggest (hat in hand) that this information be used to help make better breed choices. Like WABA, the CD organizations do not send breed wardens to your yard. The big guns at WABA lead by example, they get WABA titles on their dogs and go even further and get advanced Schutzhund titles as well.
Inspired by this example, legions of bulldoggers have gotten off their butts and put protection titles on their Bulldogs. Art Parker and Lem Miller are cut from the same bolt of cloth as the WABA guys and lead by example. Under this inspired leadership, scores of people have gotten Catch Dog titles. Art and Lem are getting some numbers under their belts. Soon there will be hundreds of ABs with catch titles. Numbers are important, large numbers mean a wide genetic pool to breed from. If numbers are important, then the 50,000 ABs snoozing on porches in urban America are important. Some of them can become great Catch Dogs, most can't cut it.
The CD organizations make it possible for suburban bulldoggers to rely on hardcore hog testing for a breed test. If catching ability and gameness are valuable traits that should be bred for, then the CD Assoc. have the potential to enlist vast numbers of urban bulldog owners to their cause. A city slicker with a few bucks can pay someone like Don Matthews to put CD III titles on a male dog and a bitch, take the breeding pair home and whelp puppies in their Manhattan apartment overlooking Central Park, assuming the breed candidate pair cut the mustard in Florida. Puppies with parents that have passed a hardcore test like this will have a genetic predisposition to retain these desirable traits, whether the puppies are raised in New York or central Florida. Each successive generation of breed candidates from New York must be placed with Don Matthews and tested in order for the traits to continue to be passed down.
Many readers will glance at the above sentence and will think about the sauce commercial on TV where a group of Texas cowboys scream, "New York City?" in outrage. Ah yes, rural snobs, as bad as any other kind of snob. Here we have the principal motive why some southern rural hog hunters feel disdain for the Catch Dog titles. To them, it just doesn't seem right that someone could live in Manhattan and potentially breed a line of great catch dogs. Old prejudices dating to the Civil War are enflamed. Yankee Yuppies with catch dogs? Doesn't sound right. Almost seems to go against some sort of natural order or something. But if we are concerned about the good of the breed, not our own egos and prejudice, then a nationwide network of breeders that use catch titles as a tool to breed better dogs is more than right, it is terrific. Anyone that attacks Catch Dog titles is doing the breed a disservice.
©2000, Dave Putnam
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