Interview with Matt Boyd of Boyds American Bulldogs

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This is the fourth in a series of online interviews with some of the more influential breeders within the American Bulldog community. This breeder is Matt Boyd of Boyds American Bulldogs

1) Q: What is the biggest challenge facing your yard?

A: I am very happy with the quality of the dogs we currently are working with. I believe they are the best we've ever had. The biggest challenge currently facing my yard is my own busy schedule. Raising three young boys, being involved in church and with extended family, and working full time afford little of the time I used to relish socializing, training, and traveling with the dogs. Without that time, I simply cannot bring my young dogs to their maximum potential.

2) Q: Name the two or three most influential dogs in your scheme?

A: The majority of my current breeding program is based around four dogs: Symmes' Rip N' Woody, Dailey's Tug O' War, Boyd's/Hines' Moleque, and Boyd's Elsie. Every dog I am now using descends from, or is directly out of, two or more of these dogs. Historically the stud dogs Woody, Dozer Bruno and Country Boy had the most influence on my kennel. Ironman Tyson also has made a significant impact on our breeding program over the years. When all is taken into account, the best male I have ever owned is Mikie and the best female I've ever owned is his mother, Moleque. No other dogs have as much direct influence on our kennel as the two of them.

3) Q: What is the biggest mistake people make when they start their own yard?

A: The biggest mistake for would-be-AB-breeders to make is to 1) buy dogs from irreputable breeders, or from unproven stock, and 2) to start with a male. The first point needs no exposition, the second probably does. Start with a good female from proven stock (in whatever area you wish to work towards) and breed her to the best male you can find. The male will not be the pup you purchased because there is always a better male out there somewhere. Select your puppies, then, from your own litters.

4) Q: What are the major challenges we face as breeders/owners of ABs?

A: The biggest challenges owners of AB's face are first, properly socializing their dogs, or working with dogs that have been poorly socialized, and secondly, dealing with or training to prevent dog aggression.

The greatest challenge for breeders of AB's is finding appropriate homes for their puppies, especially the high-drive or very dominant pups. Mistakes in this area will result in an increasing number of AB aggression incidents, and I believe, will eventually lead to the breed being black-balled by the media in a growing number of localities.

5) Q: What are the most frustrating and rewarding experiences you have had with the breed?

A: The most rewarding experience I have had with American Bulldogs is to watch puppies grow up to be as good, or better, than their parents. To see excellent specimens of the breed who have resulted from breedings we have done is the "high" I keep coming back for. The most frustrating experience I have had is dealing with the public who, in many cases, make their decisions on their dog of the next 10 years (if they're lucky) based on patches, shortness of muzzle, size of parents, and sales pitches, rather than on soundness of temperament, health, and structure, and the breeder's dedication to reproducing these in the puppies.

6) Q: What are your goals for the next 24 months? 60 months?

A: My goals over the next few years are to do some line-breeding within the stock that has worked best for me, with the goal of more consistently producing that "Country Boy" type of dog: blocky, compact, athletic, well-balanced, and very hard on the working field. I have increased the amount of Johnson blood in my dogs to increase the bone and type and get away from the houndy-type dogs we have seen fairly often in the standard pedigreed dogs. I am considering in several years going back into some Scott- or Bama Boy- bred dogs to maximize performance/sport type characteristics. In the meantime, expect more line-bred Moleque, Mikie and Tug O' War bred litters from us.

7) Q: List the ten most important attributes a bulldog must possess to be in your program?

A: Most Important Attributes:

a. Physical Soundness - clean skin and coat (no demodex, allergies, ichthyosis, long coats), clean eyes (no entropion, ectropion, runny, crossed eyes), clean joints (hips, elbows, stifles, patellas, cruciate ligaments), and healthy body functions and endocrine system (thyroid, immune system, strong stomach).

b. Temperamental Soundness - social (likes family, friends, children, are trustworthy with all of these), quiet around the house (have an "off" switch and are laid back inside), dominant, civil, and hard on the working field or in home protection, non dog-aggressive ( a goal which may never be reached while maintaining the above), environmentally stable (not noise, object, or surface sensitive).

c. Structural Soundness - straight front and rear, well-angulated, correct proportion, compact and dense, good bone and substance, intelligent expression, large, correct teeth.

8) Q: How do you test for these attributes and how are results evaluated?

A: As far as testing for the above criterion, other than health issues which are veterinarian-diagnosed, we evaluate the dogs subjectively ourselves. In the past we got working titles on a number of our dogs. Our efforts in this area did not result in a larger number of our puppies going to working homes. Our belief that this is an objective evaluation of working ability and temperament was not shared by most in the American Bulldog fraternity, and so we are not currently devoting as much energy in the pursuit of working titles. We would like to do more again in the future.

9) Q: Why do you breed Hybrid ABs rather than a pure Performance line or a pure Johnson line?

A: We breed hybrid AB's because we like characteristics of both types of bulldogs. I love the agility, the athleticism, the endurance, and the working history of the standard bulldogs. I also love the density, blockiness, sociability, and hardness of the Johnson dogs. I breed hybrid AB's with the goal of producing blockier working dogs, or more athletic, healthier Johnson dogs. I don't like the houndy, terrier, or Great Dane - looking bulldogs, and so we use a fair amount of Johnson blood for type. I also like the working temperament of the Johnson dogs, but have encountered more dog aggression and Rottweiler-type dominance problems as we've worked with a greater variety of Johnson strains. And I will not put up with the health problems and sloppy structure of most purebred Johnson dogs.

10) Q: Should a strain of Hybrid ABs move constantly away from the original Johnson/Performance cross, or should fresh Johnson or fresh Performance blood be reintroduced from time to time?

A: I am still trying to figure out what is the best way to consistently reproduce the type of dogs I like, so I don't have a good answer on this question. Kyle Symmes would be the best one to ask on this question because of his years of working with hybrid bulldogs. My strain of bulldog is different than most other hybrid AB's because of my use of White English rather than Sargent Rock blood for the standard component, and Dozer x Ruby, in addition to the Woody, for the Johnson component. I've tried other combinations but have been less pleased with the results. (See # 6 for additional information on this topic.)

11) Q: Why do you favor Schutzhund as a protection sport for ABs rather than a more street or civil oriented sport such as NAPD? Is Schutzhund a good breed test for bulldogs?

A: I favor Schutzhund over NAPD and other street-oriented sport for several reasons. First, when we started, Schutzhund had a large international following, and was an objective way to evaluate working ability. I like it because it is a well-established and respected sport, and is structured with safety in mind. I am very uncomfortable with taking a dog that is civil to begin with (like Mikie) and working him in a civil situation. I believe it makes them more ready to bite when surprised. Because of recent fatalities, and a number of less serious aggression incidents, I am not interested in winning the "Most Likely to Eat the Mailman" award with my dogs.

On another note, Schutzhund seems to have slipped in popularity in recent years. I believe this is a result of the demise of the Rottweiler, the aging of the Baby Boomers, and the advent of the internet, which provides people another chance to talk about dogs instead of spending time with them.

12) Q: German breeders that rely on your bloodline are using Schutzhund as a primary breed test. What kind of bulldog will emerge after several generations of this sort of breeding? Are the Germans pleased with their progress?

A: Using Schutzhund as a primary selection should have the effect of increasing prey and civil drives, endurance, trainability, and durability to correction, or hardness. Truly, selection in this manner has not yet happened because of the small number of Schutzhund-titled AB's in the world. I can possibly count on one hand the number of breedings of two Schutzhund-titled bulldogs (several in Germany, two by us, plus one upcoming) in the history of the breed. There is simply little to no market for for AB pups out of Schutzhund or Ringsport titled parents. So much for selection based on Schutzhund!

13) Q: Is the show ring a good tool for breeders to utilize? What are your opinions on the so called total package breeders that seek working titles, hip scores and show championships on their breed candidates?

A: The show ring is primarily a tool for puppy-buyers and people who are trying to get a start in the breed. What I mean by this, is that the conformation show ring provides an objective (or as close to objective as possible) means of evaluating a dog's structure and physical qualities. Conformation judges are trained to thoroughly go over dogs, looking at the obvious externals, as well as the more subtle characteristics of a dog, such as teeth, bite, eyes, coat, feet, and temperament. Very often the dog that is the most physically appealling over all, may lose to a less impressive specimen because a judge noticed a crooked bite, small or missing teeth, an umbilical hernia, splayed feet, a hitch in the gait or a weakness in a leg, or a flawed temperament. Dog shows provide a basic temperament screening that prefers dogs that are social, outgoing, alert - a uniform selection for all breeds. Please note: If shows are the only temperament selection, all breeds converge on an unnatural, common show temperament - cocky, self-assured, hyperactive, bait-oriented. Still, a champion dog has been affirmed by a number of different judges and has passed a test of basic physical and temperamental soundness.

I believe that experienced breeders need not place as much emphasis on the show ring for their own breedings. The reason for this is that experienced breeders look at many things and can evaluate a dog's structural soundness by themselves. For example, many of the dogs I have used for breeding are correct structurally and otherwise, but have not done well in the show ring because of a preference for a certain look of dog that I don't necessarily like.

The "total package" breeders that seek to get working titles, conformation championships, and hip evaluations on their breed candidates are on the right track. While their dogs may or may not be better than the breeder down the street who has done none of these, the titles and scores provide evidence of the former. The more objective proof of a dog's qualities, the greater the chance that it really is "all that," and thus the greater chance that it will produce puppies of similar quality. Otherwise it's all about connections and salesmanship.

14) Q:What are the pluses and minuses of basing a breeding program to one degree or another on Sure-Grip dogs? What have been your experiences with these dogs?

A: I have only had one Sure-Grip dog, Tomahawk Cleaver of Sure Grip. He was a great dog, but I wasn't as happy with his offspring out of bitches of Sure-Grip breeding. Over the years, I have gotten almost completely away from Sure-Grip bloodlines. Initially, I did so because I wanted to be able to have dogs that could be bred back to Sure-Grip dogs without excessive in-breeding. Most AB's in California eight years ago were Sure-Grip bred, or out of two Sure-Grip parents. I also loved some of Kyle's dogs (like Freddie, Gator, Seizer and White Fang) and wanted to be able to breed to them in the future without excessive in-breeding.

Sure-Grip was possibly the first kennel to consistently produce large, athletic, high-drive dogs selected to work in an urban setting. I have, to a large degree, modeled my breeding schemes after Kyle's, with the exception of not using the Maxwell's Lady line of dogs. Kyle has had more success with this breed than most of us could probably have in a lifetime.

One additional reason that I have worked away from the Sure-Grip dogs is the poor success I had with the health of the dogs I was working with. The dogs I had were heavily linebred on Red Machine and Sargent Rock/Maxwell's Lady, and would not produce "clean" litters. My experience with bad hips, demodex, crossed eyes, long coats, and splayed feet caused me to stop using certain dogs I had. Again, these were not Sure-Grip bred dogs, but dogs heavily line-bred through Sure-Grip parents or grandparents.

Where I have had success is in taking a good Sure-Grip dog and breeding it to an unrelated, or distantly related line of dogs, such as Hines, Koura, or Farnetti.

15) Q: Does the trend of increasing the typiness of ABs, moving more toward a Johnson look, help avoid the Pit Bull stigma? Is this a good direction to take the breed? Will it avoid breed specific legislation? Will it hurt working ability?

A: The breed does seem to be moving towards a bullier look. This may help educated people distinguish them from Pit Bulls, but the general public will still have no clue. Years ago I owned a Bullmastiff, who, at 110 lb. was still a Boxer or a Pit Bull to most people on the street.

I like a blocky look to my bulldogs, but dislike the breeding to extremes that tend to exaggerate American dog breeds to the point of uselessness and no resemblance to their working forbearers. I guess I still like the blockier working-type dogs, or the more athletic Johnson-type dogs. I have never had an English Bulldog, a Pit Bull, a Boxer, or a Dogue de Bordeaux, so why would I want my breed to turn into one of them?

Without a doubt, English Bulldog appearance characteristics are associated with English Bulldog health characteristics. As the breed moves toward the EB type, it is already encountering many of the problems that would have kept me out of the breed, had I known they existed in AB's. Physical performance also is compromised with bully dogs. When was the last time you saw an EB, Bordeaux, or an extreme AB compete with Greyhounds on the track or German Shepherds on the Schutzhund or Ring Sport field? It is like trying to stock a dairy with Bison or longhorns. By the time your dairy gets half the milk production of your neighbor's Holstein/Freisians, your neighbor will have retired and be touring the country in his RV. Extremely bully AB's will never be serious contenders in the working sports that require endurance, but they can make great pets and household protectors.

Thank you,

Matt Boyd

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