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The Working American Bulldogs by David Putnam Q.Will breeding for conformation ruin the American Bulldog?

A. The other day I was talking to a friend of mine who is not only a canine officer on a tough inner city beat, she also breeds and trains police dogs. I asked her why she was switching from German Shepherds to Malinois, was it temperament or physical ability? Without hesitating she said it was pure physical prowess. If anything, top working Shepherds might have a slight edge in temperament. The Shepherds she has worked with have always been pillars of courage, judgement and strong nerves. One of her German Shepherds has become a legend because of his heroism. One incident involved the lady cop and her partner under intense gunfire. Her partner was struck and killed. She was hit in the seam of her bulletproof vest and incapacitated. The fire kept pouring in. Her only hope of survival depended on her Shepherd taking out the bad guy. The GSD charged into blazing gunfire, reached the shooter unscathed, leaped upward, ripped his throat open and killed him.

Despite the proven valor of certain lines of German Shepherd my friend is a complete convert to Malinois and will not risk her life with any other breed. The reason is because they are up to twice as strong as a GSD, faster, healthier and able to absorb more punishment. My cop friends measure strength in a way that I too have been preaching lately. They judge the dog by how hard it can hit. They look at bruises that arise under the bite suit after a work out. According to my friends, the Malinois can produce bigger and nastier bruises than any other breed that they've tested. This extra physical ability can mean the difference between life and death out on the streets.

At one time Shepherds had this ability but that time is fast fading. Even working Shepherds have fallen prey to conformation breeding. The short legs, sloping rear end and extreme angulation that German Shepherd conformation experts insist on are designed to produce an animal that can trot for long distances. The working German Shepherd is no longer a herding breed and should have a sprinter's build. Even with that said, the sloping rear end and angulation aren't even good for long distance trotting. It just looks good.

All the European protection breeds except the Malinois are currently deteriorating under the pressure of show breeding. Mals are bred for pure functionality and they are rapidly replacing the other breeds for all military and police applications. The primary breed test for Malinois has been Ring Sport. Unlike Shepherds, Rotties and the rest, there has been no coupling of Ring Sport to rigid and artificial conformation standards among Malinois breeders. Ring Sport is different from Schutzhund in several ways but the most fundamental is the jumping requirements and reliance on stopwatches to time many of the activities. Ring Sport is like a track meet combined with a protection tournament.

There is not yet such a thing as a show bred American Bulldog line. We haven't been at it long enough to stack up generations of show champions. This is one of the reasons why our current crop of show winners are mostly good working Bulldogs with tons of sport titles and a high degree of functionality. Also there are many different standards and AB show judges have a wider interpretation of these standards than judges from any other breed. Ninety percent of American Bulldog owners consider this a travesty. They hunger for uniformity and rigid adherence to a single standard. Because Bulldoggers are so quarrelsome they can't agree on one standard and genetic diversity continues unabated. This is a blessing in disguise.

Working American Bulldoggers can admire Malinois breeders and learn from them, but we don't have to create skinny flop-eared dogs that look like short haired Mals. The phrase form follows function is uttered as a platitude but seldom taken seriously by us Bulldoggers. We need to pick the form that we like best and then select a function that will produce that form. This function should be a primary bred test. If a powerful, muscle bulging, form is desired then a breeder needs to figure out what canine sport will produce that physiognomy. Obviously we're talking about weight pull. The muscular show dog and the muscular weight pull dog won't look exactly alike, perhaps the muscle bound show dog will in some ways look more powerful. Human esthetics are notoriously bad at making such judgements. Based on looks alone, we always make the wrong choice. We need to avoid falling into this trap. To use a human analogy, which athlete looks more powerful, Mr. Universe or an Olympic weight lifter? Probably Mr. Universe. But of course the Olympic weight lifter is much stronger and still looks great. We need to produce canine Olympic athletes, whether sprinters, weight pullers or marathoners or a combination of all three, but not canine Mr. Universes with trimmed whiskers and jeweled collars. Many of our show champions are potential Olympic athletes, let's test them and separate the wolves from the sheep.

Dave Putnam, ®2000
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