I am always the first person to criticise Kennel clubs, breed standards and show breeders for the damage and role they have played in ruining many great breeds over the years. What many forget, including myself is this modern attitude by dog owners and dog fanciers of wanting the biggest dog they can find. There has been an increase in size in many dog breeds across the board but the size increase is a lot more evident in the mastiff types.
I see adverts all the time of breeders promoting their dogs weighing 200lbs and sometimes 200lbs plus… This is absolutely crazy and completely unnatural as these types of mastiffs were much lighter when they were still working breeds in years gone by. Breeds like the Neapolitan Mastiff, Boerboel, Bullmastiff, Cane Corso, Fila Brasileiro, Dogue de Bordeaux and the English Mastiff seem the most effected by breeders constantly breeding for larger and heavier types.
In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, Bullmastiffs weighed between 85lbs and 112lbs, Dogue de Bordeaux’s weighed between 100lbs and 120lbs and the English Mastiffs weighed between 120lbs and 130lbs. These weights are taken from a variety of sources from that time describing the size of these breeds. Its unfortunate, that you would be hard pushed to find an example of one of them breeds today that weigh in-between the weights stated above.
The well known ‘Caporal’ aka the “The invincible” was a fighting Dogue de Bordeaux in the late 1800’s. He weighed around 108lbs and was 25 inches tts. His battles with a variety of wild animals in France are well documented in the history books.
Mr Bigg’s ‘Osmaston Grip’ was a highly rated Bullmastiff that was a winner at the night dog trials in the UK. He only weighed 100lbs. There is two more well known Bullmastiff’s from the early 1900’s, ‘Thorneywood Terror’ and ‘Osmaston Viper’ and both of them weighed around 90lbs. Both of these dogs were considered to be two of the best Bullmastiff’s in Britain at the time.
Even as recent as the 1970’s and 1980’s there were good working Cane Corso’s in rural Italy. There was a well known dog called ‘Bruno” from Foggia in southern Italy that was used by his owner as a farm dog and to hunt big game. He weighed a mere 88lbs but was a true working Cane Corso that proved his worth for years on his owners farm.
When the first Fila Brasileiro standard was written in 1946, before breeders added Bloodhound, English Mastiff and Great Dane blood to create a larger dog. Most working examples were between 88lbs and 110lbs, there were not covered in wrinkles and loose skin and were expected to control semi wild cattle and protect their owners farms from man or beast.
The modern Boerboel was heavily influenced by working Bullmastiff’s that were imported into South Africa in the 1920’s and 1930’s to protect the mines. As I said above, the Bullmastiff in the 1920’s was a lot lighter compared to todays examples. Therefore, it’s crazy to see how the Boerboel has also ended up looking the way it does today. Most couldn’t do a days work if their life depended on it. A 200lb Boerboel could not do the breed any justice in its original function and any owner that thinks otherwise is only lying to themselves.
These huge sloppy messes that we see today being called mastiffs, did not exist in days gone by. The dogs were lighter, more agile, functional and healthier as their owners required a dog that was able to work and carry out their original purpose. I think the other key factor that works alongside this modern attitude of bigger is better and is that many of the breeders, owners and fanciers of these breeds have never lived the life that these breeds were created for.
They have never lived on a working farm with livestock, their dogs have never had to protect their home from wild animals or intruders. They have never had to go hunting with their dogs for their dinner. I have lived that life and have seen what it takes to live that life. I have seen the dogs live on a working farm day in, day out. Sleep with the chickens, the sheep, the cows and the pigs. I’ve seen what a dog requires both mentally and physically to be able to carry out its duties, come rain or sunshine and be ready to go everyday all day.
I know for a fact that many of these huge so called mastiffs wouldn’t last a day working on a farm and most couldn’t even be trusted among livestock or to differentiate from friend or foe. Todays mastiffs are a long away from the real mastiff of gone by years, thanks to modern mentalities and to people who don’t really understand what these breeds were bred for.