Friday, March 25, 2011

Real Work for Spanish Mastiffs

I pay attention to people who work their dogs. These are the folks who put their terriers or dachshunds to ground, who shoot more than 200 rounds over their bird dogs a year, who put their running dogs out on hare and fox and coyote, or who herd sheep for a living.

And, of course, it includes folks who use guard dogs to protect their flocks because they live in an area where wolves, coyotes, lion, black bear, and grizzlies live in some abundance. Cat Urbigkit is one of those people, and she recently traveled around the world to look for better guard dogs for wool growers in the Intermountain West. She came back with Spanish Mastiffs. Compare and contrast with the non-working fantasy dog called the Neo! Another excellent post on the same topic on the same blog by Cat is Living with Livestock Guardians (Anatolians, Akbash, Aziats, Kangal, Karabash, Ovtcharka, and Great Pyrenees).  Not much fantasy here!


Seahorse said...

Patrick, you were very helpful to me a while back when you dropped me the link to this blog. I've read everything Cat has written there, and on her web site, about LGDs, and have been subscribed to a couple of LGD groups since. I think I've narrowed my search to an Italian breed called the Maremma. For my purposes I believe that may be the breed most suited to my future needs, both in temperament and health. There is much to know!


Jenny Glen said...

I've been paying attention to the Spanish Mastiff ever since Cat came back with favorable information on them. Of course, as soon as I start paying attention, I hear about them more often. I got a note from a woman who said she had one as a guardian dog and sent me the link to her breeder. I was surprised there was a breeder of them in the US but when I looked at the website, they didn't look much like the ones Cat had shown. They were heavier and didn't look like they would be very effective at repelling wolves or bears.(they looked plodding) As I looked a little closer at the site, I noticed that the breeder started talking about the breed "standard". That gave me my answer. How can you have a standard on a working dog?

Fall Creek Farm Spanish Mastiffs said...

My question would be, how can you NOT have a standard on a working dog!?
The FCI standard for the Spanish Mastiff still has it's focus on working ability and structure. Any working dog MUST have the correct structure and temperament to function. Period. Just as with any breed of dog, it's up to the breeders to keep that focus on working ability and without correct structure (especially legs), how can the dog do the job they were bred for? They can't.

Invariably, it's the breeders who completely disregard the standard for the SM or minimize aspects of it, that are breeding or producing the train wrecks.

My own dogs are large and still very agile and have proven themselves effective against wolves, coyotes, bear and Mtn. Lion. I want to see that body mass (tho not exaggerated) and strength that enables these dogs to lift a coyote and snap it's back (which I have seen happen here)!

PBurns said...

Form is not function.

Function is function.

Form is form.

Look at bird dogs -- every color and shape and lots of sizes, but it hardly matters as the FORM is nonsense. The function is what matters, and the true judge is not in the ring, but in the field and it has feathers, with perhaps a secondary judge behind the gun (he or she has shooting glasses and earplugs).

The same is true for guarding breed dogs -- lots of types, colors, sizes, etc. and it's all just FORM, which does not speak to function. Function speaks to function, and the true judge is not in the ring, but in the field and it has large canines and tends to move at night, with perhaps a secondary judge behind the visor in the truck counting the tally of woolies left in the field in the morning.

The same is true for working terriers -- lots of types, colors, sizes, etc. and it's all just FORM, which does not speak to function. Function speaks to function, and the true judge is not in the ring, but in the den pipe underground, and it has large teeth and a slashing bite and an ability to get into very tight spaces, with perhaps a secondary judge with a shovel in hand and a locator box in his hip pocket.

I could go down the line for running dogs, sled dogs, herding dogs, and the like, but it's the same. Form is form, and function is function. Show me what a dog DOES, and under what circumstances, and I will tell you what it is. Pretty sure color of coat, color of nose, name of breed and the "lay" of the shoulders (whatever that is!) does not have much to do with it.

If I was looking for a working bird dog, I would be looking for a man who has been shooting for 20 years and has guns and trucks and crates for that -- he will know form is form, and function is function. No confuson.

If I was looking for a working terrier, I would be looking for a someone with locator collars and shovels and an album of picures taken in the field, not the ring. He oe she would know form is form and function is function. No confusion.

And if I was looking for a guard dog, I would look for someone with more than 300 sheep who is grazing those sheep on unfenced pasture where big predators are thick on the ground. No confusion there. The good news is that there are a lot of places like that in the U.S., and there's more than one breeder of true livestock guarding dogs in the U.S.


Fall Creek Farm Spanish Mastiffs said...

My point is that without correct structural "form" a working Spanish Mastiff (or any breed of LGD) cannot "function" well enough to successfully repel predators. The will to do so will not be enough when that dog comes up against a pack of wolves or coyotes.
A working guardian must have the will, the intelligence, the stable temperament and correct structure to enable them to do their jobs.

You are correct that there are many, many LGD breeders throughout the US and people have the option of going to any one of them, but if that breeder down plays or disregards structure by blowing off the standard when it comes to their breeding program, that farmer will have a potential train wreck on their hands. A dog that they rely on to protect their stock that won't have the agility and strength to do their job or will break down long before their prime.

I don't show my dogs and never will, but I do know that since I breed for correct structure and have watched my own Spanish Mastiffs working effectively with livestock full time for 10 years, there is much to be said for the aspects of the standard that address structure and temperament.

PBurns said...

You have simply repeated your previous comment, but now "form" (whatever that is!) has moved down the stack below Will (which is not form), Intelligence (which is not form) and Temperament (which is not form).

You cannot find too much "form" in common between genuine livestock guarding dogs and breeds, other than a certain size common to the larger molosser dogs.

Akbash, Spanish Mastiff, Anatolians, Pyrenees, Kuvasz, Kangals, Maremmas, Tibetan Mastiffs, Caucasian Shepherds, etc. They all have different forms, don't they? None of these are running dogs, are they? They are sit, mingle and and watch dogs for the most part. What do they share in common other than a certain minimal size, and a bond to the herd (which is not form), and a desire to engage in a determined and serious way anything that threatens the herd (which is not form)?

Pyrenees, for example, do not have a "form" problem, but they often have a drive or desire problem (or "aggression to serious challenging predators" if you prefer) which is NOT form is it?

Ten years, you say? That's not the life span of one dog, and I have to say your post sounds a lot like a dog dealer's pitch, which is underscored when you say you are the only breeder of Spanish Mastiffs, which is simply not true.

You live on a 24-acre farm in extreme southern Wisconsin, so you are hardly running too many sheep in an unfenced world surrounded by real packs of coyotes, wolves and bears are you? You are surrounded by plowed farms with thin strips of woods, not the deep woods of Northern Wisconsin. This is a hobby farm not a true working spread running 1,000 sheep on unfenced land where packs of coyotes roam next to wolves and grizzlies. Your dogs are less likely to be guarding from wolves and bears than they are guarding from drug dealers out of Sun Prairie!

So would I be looking to you if I were in need of a LGD? I have to say, I would not. See my previous post about what to look for in a working dog breeder if you seek to avoid confusion about what is important in a working breed!

PBurns said...

Here a post profiling real sheep people with real problems on real open land. Not a lot of talk about form! More about attitude (which is not form) and collars. See >>

Fall Creek Farm Spanish Mastiffs said...

An effective LGD needs to be a 'package', if you will, of all the qualities I mentioned in my previous post (Structure, intelligence, temperament, will, etc. in no particular order).
I was pretty clear that when I referred to form in my second post (after you brought the term into your own), that I am talking about structure. I stand by my statement that without correct structural form (particularly in the legs), the dog will not be able to work effectively. That is both common sense and experience (my first SM had poor structure). Are you trying to say that you believe that a structurally compromised dog can be an effective LGD?
Your comment that LGD's "are sit, mingle and and watch dogs for the most part", is true, but only as far as it goes, but if you are actually dealing with predators, those dogs eventually need to get up and engage. My dogs can and do.

I'm not sure how you were able to translate "there are many, many LGD breeders" into "I am the only SM breeder"...Nowhere in my posts here or anywhere else have I said that I am the only breeder of Spanish Mastiff's, I said that my own have been effectively working full time with livestock for 10 years. In those years, I've seen the difference in the working abilities of dogs with correct structure as opposed to those without.

I never tried to claim that I am running my livestock and dogs on open range. If that is your own criteria for selecting an LGD, you will have to avoid the SM, since there is not a single breeder that is doing so. I listed the predators that are in my own area, that my dogs have dealt with over the years. Do you think that predators don't cross crop ground, follow rivers or prey on pastured farms?
Sun Prairie is too far away from my farm for me to worry about visits from drug dealers, but thanks! ;-)

PBurns said...

I have come to believe you might be a bit thick. Are you? A working dog is defined by the work. Is this so complicated that you cannot understand that?

Since your dogs are on a very small hobby farm in an area in southern Wisconins deeply plowed, and with few real predators, they do not see much real work do they? For that reason, I suppose, you breed to a theory, marketing your dogs with bits of puffery. I have seen the business model before.

I cite your own web site for the puffery: "I am the only actual Spanish Mastiff breeder in the USA whose dogs are working with
livestock full time." Nonsense, and you know it.

As for predators, I know a bit!

That said, if I wanted to know more, and especially about Livestock Guarding Dogs and predators, I know where to turn -- folks who are running dogs on big spreads on BLM and National Forest land where real livestock predation is a serious concern. In my own stateof Virginia, I only need shoot off an email to a friend who runs sheep in a county running thicks with bears, coyotes, bobcats, and the occassional feral dog. He writes: "Our farm lies between 186,000 acres of uninhabited national forest and 36,000 acres of State Game Commission land." He understates the facts. His farm is actually surrounded by much more national forest land than that (he has not counted all the forests) and it sits in valley that has more sheep than people. Does he have livestock guarding dogs and herding dogs too?" Yep.

As a general rule, the more folks talk about "structure" when it comes to working dogs, the less work their dogs are actually doing. Someone who has real working dogs is not selling structure -- they are selling the work.

Adios. I have no more time to waste on this.

Cinco Deseos Ranch LGD's said...

"As a general rule, the more folks talk about "structure" when it comes to working dogs, the less work their dogs are actually doing. Someone who has real working dogs is not selling structure -- they are selling the work. "

Amen to that. From a 'real' breeder of WORKING (not shown, not bred for conformation, or 'structure evaluations' (bullshit), down and dirty Spanish Mastiffs raised with SHEEP (not show ring Nigerian Dwarf Goats...), in the desert of Northern Nevada, where we have lion, feral dog packs, and coyotes up the wayhoo. Thank you for putting the show ring SM breeder in her place. Brenda M. Negri Cinco Deseos Ranch LGD's