Friday, March 25, 2011

The Italian Job

Scanziani's flyer advertising his old kennel and his new breed.

Look through the back of any dog magazine, and you will find dog dealers hawking "testosterone" dogs to young men.

The list of dogs includes the "Olde English Bulldogge" along with the Old English Bulldog, the Original English Bulldogge, Olde Bulldogge, the Campeiro Bulldog, Leavitt Bulldog, the Catahoula Bulldog, the Alapaha Blue Blood Bulldog, the Aussie Bulldog, the Victorian Bulldog, the Valley Bulldog, the Olde Boston Bulldogge, the Dorset Old Tyme Bulldog, the Ca de Bou, the Banter Bulldog, and the Johnson Bulldog, to say nothing of the Alana Espanol, Cane Corso, Bully Kutta, and the recreated "Alaunt."

These new-age molosser breeds are sandwiched between the English, Tibetan and Bull Mastiffs, the Rottweilers, the Dogue de Bordeaux, the Dogo Argentino, the Fila Brasileriro and, of course, the English Bulldog.

And then, of course, there is "The Italian Job" -- the Neopolitan Mastiff.

What does a Neopolitan Mastiff have in common with a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel?

Actually quite a lot.

For one, both dogs were created at a dog show, based on a sample size of one.

Both dogs were invented by show ring people anxious to create a breed that looked like the pictures they had seen on a wall. 

In the case of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Roswell Eldridge was trying to breed a dog that looked like those seen in the paintings of van Dyck.  

In the case of the Neopolitan Mastiff, Piero Scanziani was looking to breed a heavy "gladiator dog" like those he saw in the mosaics at Pompeii.

Scanziani, to set the record straight, was not Italian, but Swiss.  Born in 1908, he was one of those young wanna-be-tough-guys who are so often fascinated by molosser breeds.  Starting in 1930, at the age of 22, he began breeding Boxers, English Bulldogs, and Dogue de Bordeaux.

After Italy's ignoble defeat at the end of World War II,  Scanziani, now the editor of an Italian dog magazine called Cani, had an idea.  Why not create a heavy-bodied "Italian dog" that would harken back to the greater glory that was Rome and perhaps revive the nation's flagging sense of self?  

Scanziani cast about for a mastiff that was large enough and imposing enough to do the job, but he came up blank until October 12, 1946  when he attended the Castel dell'Ovo dog show in Naples, which was the first dog show to be held in Italy after WW II.

There Scanziani met a gentleman who owned a massive dog by the name of Guaglione, but the dog had already been sold to another man by the name of Carmine Puolo. 

Undeterred, Scanziani eventually bought Guaglione from Carmine Puolo in 1949, and that same day he also acquired from Puolo a bitch by the name of Pacchiana. 

Scanziani declared that he now had the foundation stock for his new breed -- two dogs of pedigree unknown which he had acquired on the same day!  

Within a few months, Scanziani had written up a standard for his new breed based on Guaglione's appearance, and in 1951 Guaglione was made the first Italian "Champion" of the breed. 

Wow, what a dog man!   He buys a dog, invents a history for it, writes a breed standard based on a sample size of one, and makes the dog a champion!

Welcome to "the Italian Job" -- the Neopolitan Mastiff. 

This is a breed created by dog show people for dog show purposes, and it has never strayed too far from that path.  This is a dog forged in the fire of fantasy.  It was never a dog designed for work because there was no work for it to do.  A gladiator dog?  It's to laugh.  The Roman coliseum was in ruins the day this dog was created, and it still remains a ruin! 

Today the Neopolitan Mastiff is shown in the ring as a "working" dog.  But working at what?  No one can say.  There are no Kennel Club-registered mastinos working as guard or police dogs at any military, police, or corporate security installation in the world.  This is a dog that is simply too heavy too move, and too plagued with health problems to invest time and energy into training.

Which is not to say that there are not working molossers in this world; there certainly are! 

American Pit Bulls are used for police work, guard work, and pig-catching work around the world, as are various cross-bred bandogs.

But a cross-bred bandog is not a Neo, is it?  By definition, a Neopolitan Mastiff is a registered dog bred to a standard that allows not a single drop of outcrossed blood.

Now, to be clear, there is nothing uniquely bad about Neos. 

Are they hideous freaks fit only for Harry Potter movies?   Sure, but so are a lot of Kennel Club dogs, from Chinese Cresteds to Pekingese and Italian Greyhounds.

Are almost 100% born cesarean?  Sure, but how is that different from a lot of Kennel Club molossers, from English Bulldogs to English Mastiffs?

Are too many burdened with cherry eye?  Of course, but if we start counting that as a defect we won't have Basset Hounds, Bloodhounds and Saint Bernards, will we?

Do too many of these dogs die painful deaths from gastric torsion and cancer?  Well sure, but how is that different from Irish Wolfhounds, Scottish Deerhounds, and Great Danes to name just a few breeds with similar problems?

No, I am not outraged by the Neo's health problems. 

I am outraged that this dog is in the "working" dog class when this dog has NEVER worked, cannot work, and does not work.

So what is my solution?

I propose a new class for Kennel Club dogs -- a class that Piero Scanziani himself would have saluted. 

You see Scanziani was a writer of religious science fiction.

Is not the Kennel Club a religion that operates independent of science and which professes things that its adherents are told to believe based on faith alone?

It is!

And are not a great number of Kennel Club breed histories little more than science fiction?

They are!

So let us create a Kennel Club class for Science Fiction dogs. It will be a big and diverse class.

It will have in it the terrier breeds that are terrified of a mouse and that are too big to go to ground on a fox.  

It will have in it the "herding" breeds never seen in the hands of commercial sheep men -- the Bearded Collies, the Lassie Collies, the Old English Sheep Dogs, and the like. 

It will have in it the running dogs that trip over their own hair, and the German Shepherds with hocks as collapsed as Hitler's bunker.

And, of course, it will have in it all those molosser breeds which, like the Neopolitan Mastiff and the English Bulldog, have devolved into cartoons and caricatures.

Fit for function?  Of course!  They are fit for the function of science fiction!

7 comments:

Donald McCaig said...

I have seen several working Bearded colliexBorder Collies (one qualified for the US Team at the world trials) and one more or less purebred imported Bearded Collie that came 3rd at the old Blue Ridge Trial. That said, they look like ratty, mustachioed Border Collies not like the big dopey KC Beardies. I have no idea how one would find More or less purebred Bearded Collies and have never seen one working or trialing in the UK.

Too bad, really. A fine trainer handler told me they are better with the big mobs (500/1000) of sheep than the Border Collies.

Donald McCaig

David said...

I agree with most of this but not quite sure about the Italian Greyhound. Perhaps the few I have been aquainted with were exceptions but they seemed very healthy, clever and actually engaged in very enthusiastic and regular squirrel patrol around the bird feeders

PBurns said...

Oh, I'm not saying the dog is unhealthy or miserable (provided the weather is warm enough), but this is a roach-backed dog which seems to perpetually have its tail between its legs and to walk as if its feet are being burned by the sidewalk. Pretty freaky and not too pretty -- same as for the Bedlington terrier, might I add (another roach backed dog).

Cassandra Was Right said...

You might be pleased to know that a horse trainer I know east of San Antonio (in serious copperhead country) keeps a JRT who is not only darned cute but who lives to kill snakes. The family never worries when their two small children are playing outside; the JRT plays with them but keeps a sharp lookout as well, and has been known to excuse himself politely from a game of catch to go slaughter an approaching rattler ten times his size. He patrols constantly, and regularly decorates the back porch with fresh six-foot-long corpses that he drags home in triumph after a battle. Another kind of working dog.

PBurns said...

The lethality of copperheads to human is *greatly* exagerated, but a rattlesnake is a different matter. Unless it's a dry bite (about 30% are), it's going to be curtains for that dog at some point. And NO, the venonm vaccines don't actually work.

P

Steve Bodio said...

I'm with Donald on beardies, Patrick. David Hancock used them with working greyhounds and Borders making his lurchers,and my old Plummer, in his day a star and one of the two best running dogs I have ever had, was part (a mysterious percentage I grant) bearded collie. So were Teddy's lurchers.

PBurns said...

Stee -- you are not saluting Beardies, but CROSS dogs, same as Don.

Whatever those are, they are NOT Beardies, and none of the dogs you mention are even used to tend sheep. In fact, with Hancock you can count on him using a non-KC Beardie to start with, I suspect -- one of Brian Plummer's attempts to create a working Beardie through outcrossing (a project that had less success than his terriers, I believe).

As Don says, he has never seen a KC-registered Beardie working or trialing in the UK. I think that tells you quite a lot and exactly matches my point.

P