American Bulldog Articles
The American Bulldog Pyramid
by Steve Wolfson
Correct breed type is disappearing!
The powerful bone substance and definitive masculinity of the American Bulldog we once apprized is now hard to find. Replacing these traits are pinheads, fine bones, distilled facsimiles. Not only is breed type on the decline, so is correct working American Bulldog temperament. In its place we now have, shy, soft, little to no “willingness to work” temperaments. Few American Bulldogs in the show-ring and outside it could make the transition from that to the working arena.
At the conformation/working spectrum, with rare exception, what we encounter are the extremes; they are beautiful show specimens either with no working temperament or on the working side, great working temperaments with poor structure and marginal breed type. How did this happen?
When enthusiasts decide to purchase a new puppy or a breeder selects breeding partners for their future litters, they draw conclusions and evaluate their choice from a narrow perspective using only a specific aspect of the breed as their criteria. For example, some breeders only seek to use the construction of the American Bulldog as their mark of excellence. They demand only the best angulated, the most correct fronts and rears as their guide for breeding partners omitting other important aspects that comprise the whole picture. Some only use health certifications as their guide. They will only breed or keep dogs that have attained all the necessary certifications such as OFA, heart and CERF clearances, dismissing from the formula, breed type, construction and gait. From a long-term breed viewpoint, this single-aspect criterion is myopic and disastrous. Is there a guide to facilitate a comprehensive approach to the breed without sacrificing one aspect for another? The answer is yes.
Euclid, the Greek mathematician, stated in his axiom, “the whole is equal to the sum of its parts.” Despite this being of mathematical relevancy, we can apply this statement to help guide us in a more complete understanding and evaluation of the American Bulldog. By using a “American Bulldog Pyramid”, where each element of the American Bulldog is prioritized in a hierarchal order of importance, Breed Type, Temperament, Construction, Locomotion, one can view each part on its own merits. Once a thorough understanding of these related elements is achieved, a complete and balanced picture results. It should be the goal of every breeder to incorporate all of these aspects into a breeding program.
(Note: For this essay, I have distilled the topics down to their basic, large block ideas. I also have omitted health clearances from the pyramid, since they are a prerequisite for breeding, showing and training. It would be foolish to pursue a show/sport career with a dog that possessed dysplasia or other serious health issues further than as a personal companion)
1. Breed Type
Number one in the pyramid is Breed Type. The description of it comprises 85% of the standard, its major and defining aspect. Its correct understanding is the foundation of any breeding program, evaluation for judgments in the conformation ring and the first rung on the ladder for the complete understanding of the American Bulldog.
In this area, some prefer to take shortcuts by reinterpreting the standard and taking liberties with its translation, instead of traveling the more difficult path by reading and completely understanding its blueprint. Without a thorough and broad perspective about breed type (or any other segment of the standard), one can only build a house of understanding that is incomplete. This argument, that many do not understand or know what “correct” breed type is, can easily be proofed with the fine boned, narrow muzzles, pinhead, absence of masculinity exhibits we now encounter in the show ring and obviously on the street.
An excellent and easy test for “knowledge of breed type” is asking the simple question, “What is Breed Type?” Many have great difficulty with the answer. When asked this question exhibitors and owners have articulated breed type as “excellent gait”. Some say it is “correct temperament”. Yet others define it as “performance on the working field”. None are correct. Breed Type should be defined as “the essence of characteristics that distinguishes it from others."(1) In simpler terms, it is the appearance of the breed, which separates it from others. Is that not what first attracts us to the American Bulldog?
In the show ring, where we should see only the best examples of type, save for a small percentage that is not, we see the lack of correct breed type abundantly demonstrated. Currently here in the states, many exhibits do not possess the minimum essentials in head and body type. In fact, many heads and bodies are at best, only sufficiently correct and do not possess the implied masculinity of the breed. The most defining aspect of correct breed type, the American Bulldog head, the breed’s icon, should have great prominence. The standard devotes detail to its description with its “Broad between the ears, broad muzzle at the base, moderate arch of the topskull, pronounced stop, zygomatic arch and specified 3 to 2 skull to muzzle ratio.” In essence, the head is powerful, substantial and impressive. Yet, so many exhibits now possess
the opposite of what is correct, a long, soft in appearance narrow muzzle, shallow zygomatic arch and stops. This creates a head type, which recedes in to the body having no prominence. The power and strength specified in the standard for the muzzles and topskull is not there; the heads are hound-like.
In correlation with the details of correct head type, are the details of correct body type. The standard specifies, "His bone and muscle mass must be sufficient to balance his frame, giving a compact and very powerful appearance." The standard is direct with its specifications on body type with the key words of compact, powerful and muscle mass. The bone should be ample in proportion to the size of the body, the muscles mass should be strong and well defined and the body length should appear to be short and compact. There should be not doubt in appearance concerning the amount of bone mass, muscle mass and compactness of the body. However, what we encounter are fine and spindly bones, long bodies, little to no muscle mass and definition.
The underlying theme in the standard for the American Bulldog is masculinity. Correct breed type requires it. The standard does not specifically mention this word; it is implied. Even the bitches should possess power and substance without weakness. Softness, slight in build, refined, feminine are not words to use when describing or having a mental picture of the breed.
The second tier on the pyramid and essential aspect of the standard is temperament. Without correct temperament, all other aspects or traits, even if they are of superior quality, have little value! It is important to understand what correct temperament is and how to evaluate it. From the standard, “The American Bulldog is basically a calm, confident, courageous dog… A American Bulldog is self-confident and responds quietly and with a wait-and-see attitude to influences in his environment. He has an inherent desire to protect home and family, and is an intelligent dog of extreme hardness and adaptability with a strong willingness to work, making him especially suited as a companion, guardian and general all purpose dog.”
What is correct temperament? How can we recognize it? We must take our template from the standard. Ideally, he is a calm, confident, courageous dog of extreme hardness and adaptability with a strong willingness to work. Few American Bulldogs fit the ideal of the standard, which can demonstrate all of its positives. More likely, they measure up or down in differing levels. Because he is working dog, we must test and evaluate these differing levels of temperament through his work.
Albeit, the show ring is largely popular here in the states and in the international community, many rely solely on a dog’s behavior within the show ring as a demonstration of temperament. This is dangerous because it does not give us any keen insights to the complete spectrum of temperament; its main purpose is to evaluate conformation. Some would say that the show ring does give us a window into the dog’s nature. However, exhibiting and gaiting in the conformation ring can only demonstrate the extreme problems in a dog’s temperament, such as the inability to stand for an examination, shy, nervousness or viciousness. It has extremely limited value when assessing the complexity of temperament.
The Germans use the term “Belastbarkeit”, a dog’s capacity, whether high, medium or low, to sustain its drive, tractability and nerve under the conditions and pressures of work. In Germany, they place a high value in the dog’s level of courage and its ability to deal with stress. There, the minimum test is the Zuchttauglichkeitsprufung (breed suitability test where the dog is tested for its courage and stress level); one cannot breed their American Bulldog unless it has passed the “Ztp”. They also believe that the attainment of a working title is a demonstration of Belastbarkeit.
By putting a American Bulldog through its paces in its attainment of a working title, be it a CD, CDX, Tracking, Sch, etc., we gain valuable information about the strengths and weakness of its temperament. In some countries, the attainment of a working title is so highly prized, that a conformation championship title is only awarded when a working title has been previously achieved. Assessing character, the dog’s ability to deal with corrections, stress, and its level of enthusiasm while working, tells us much about its mind-set. Without this knowledge of temperament, one cannot have a complete picture for a breeding program.
Third in the pyramid is construction, a balanced, harmonious musculo/skeletal system in accordance with the blueprint of the standard. Understanding the construction of a American Bulldog is analogous to the building of a house. The builder (breeder) must adhere to the architect’s design (the standard), maintain a stable foundation and alignment of walls (the skeletal system), while creating continuity so that all the segmented parts of the house work together harmoniously (the locomotion of the dog).
As a breeder, owner or exhibitor, it is important in the complete understanding of American Bulldog construction, to acquaint oneself with the skeletal anatomy of the dog.
The standard dictates how the proportions and ratios, angles and layout of the skeleton should be so that the American Bulldog can gait with the highest efficiency in harmony with its breed type. This insures that its architectural design will best suit the American Bulldog for its task as a multi-purpose working/guard dog.
A house must have structural integrity. Walls must be plumb, materials used in the construction must have strength to withstand ware and tear, and parts must work. This applies to the American Bulldog as well. Front and rear legs must be balanced, strong and straight, the back must be firm but flexible, angulations must be ample enough to support proper reach of the front and drive of the rear. There should be symmetry and harmony of the working parts as well as a defined amount of muscle mass to support the skeletal frame.
Like temperament, correct construction is the by-product of a thoughtful, careful, breeding program. A American Bulldog cannot develop good construction from within. With the exception of building stronger or larger muscle mass via a weight gaining and conditioning program, when a dog possesses an incongruity or imbalance in the skeletal system, it cannot be corrected. A short upper arm, long in the back, shallow sternum, east-west feet, low pastern, poorly angulated croup, etc. impedes efficiency. These problems are inherited from the pedigree.
We have often heard exhibitors and breeders say, “Don’t worry, he’ll out grow this or grow into that.” Unfortunately, ugly ducklings do not become swans! Problems related to the skeletal structure are indelible and take many generations to improve or correct. The most direct path for correct construction is to breed with pedigrees that possess it.
Fourth in the pyramid is locomotion. Because the American Bulldog was used for driving cattle, its modality for locomotion is demonstrated in the trot. Unlike the other aspects in this pyramid, construction and locomotion have inexorable linkage in that; exemplary gait is the result of outstanding structure. When a American Bulldog is correct in construction, according to the blueprint of the standard, this balanced skeletal architecture produces an unrestricted, harmoniously flowing powerful gait.
Unfortunately, few American Bulldogs possess construction with such a high degree of balance and harmony that they move with this ideal effortless grace. Similar to the levels of temperament, locomotion has differing levels of efficiency dependent upon the correctness of construction or conversely, the amount of imbalances within the dog. The more “imbalances” or incorrect construction the dog possess in its angulations and ratios, the more impedance occurs to free flowing gait.
The best perspective to assess locomotion is to view the dog, going away, coming towards and in the side gait. When the dog moves going and coming, we assess its lateral displacement, which has influence on the lateral center of gravity. A correct front and rear assembly stabilizes the dog and prevents him from excessive side-to-side movement, similar to the effect of torsion bars in a car. Incorrect construction such as, out at the elbow, east–west feet, crossing over, moving wide and fiddle fronts etc., destabilizes the center of gravity. These incongruities produce impedance, which requires more energy, puts stress on the bones and muscles and leads to fatigue.
In the side gait, we assess all the moving parts working together. Once in the trot and at a reasonable speed, not to fast or slow, the mechanics of the musculo/skeletal structure is set in motion. Here, we can observe the reach, the drive of the rear, spring of step, amount of ground covered, and temperament in the dog’s “willingness to perform,” an important element. Within the side gait, we observe many examples of locomotion from exemplary to the unharmonious.
Occasionally, we encounter a dog that appears to be sound in structure when standing still, but during the examination of the side gait, they show a short stride of the front legs and rear legs, or a mix of this with a correct front stride, but short rear drive. Here, a problem may exist that does not easily reveal itself. That is why gaiting in a small ring or by moving the exhibits once around does not do justice for the complete assessment. Adding to this mixture is the exhibit that is pushed or cajoled around the ring. Outwardly, the dog appears good in construction and theoretically should gait correctly but for some reason it has “no willingness to perform.” This is one example of how temperament plays a factor in gait.
The field of canine gait is complex and requires a good knowledge of anatomy, mechanics, breed type and purpose. It is important for the concerned breeder and student of the breed to gain at least a proficient knowledge of these topics to understand American Bulldog locomotion.
1. The Priority of Breed Type in the American Bulldog, Wolfson, Steve, Steve Wolfson publisher, 2003
2. The Dog in Action, Lyon, MacDowell, Howell Book House publisher, 1982
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