Here is an article I wrote for Dog News magazine in April, 2012.
I have been a breeder of Mastiffs for more than 20 years. It is important for me to show that this breed can be quite versatile, and not just a big couch potato. They seem to have a reputation of being fat, lazy and just lumbering around. Fat is not healthy for man or beast.
I show my mastiffs in the breed ring, obedience, rally, carting, canine good citizen tests, and now tracking. Several have been Therapy Dogs, and one was a wonderful Service Dog.
I believe the Mastiff can be successful in various dog sports because of his good nature, and the ease of motivating him with food. Training a dog without any real drive for either a toy or food is very difficult. My dogs have never missed a meal, so working for kibble makes them easy to train.
It is true Mastiffs are usually harder to train than, say, a Golden Retriever, or Border Collie. But, for me, that makes it more rewarding. When folks ask me if a Mastiff is smart, I can say they are rather like people in that regard. Some are brilliant, others not so much. They do not like repetition, or drilling over and over on one thing. With any intelligence at all, who would enjoy that? Short training sessions are the key, with lots of praise and an upbeat attitude. The most difficult to train for me, has been the heeling with total attention for several minutes at a time, with distractions. Boring! Once the dog has the basics down, going into the different venues is a snap. For instance, training for the draft test was made easy once my dog knew basic obedience. I took the necessary steps to get her used to pulling a cart, and how to turn with the shafts along her sides. I had already taught her to walk along with me, and follow my movement, either slow or fast. I had to teach her not to automatically sit when I would stop. Since I had done carting with a horse, I used “whoa” to ask her to stop and remain standing. She already knew ”stay”. Backing up is part of the draft test, and she already had to learn that for Rally Excellent. When I ask her to back, I needed a command that would sound distinctive. So, I use, “Beep, Beep, Beep” like a truck. When we did that at the Mastiff National Specialty Show, a man came up to me afterwards, and said, “Lady, when you did that Beep Beep, I nearly fell off my chair!” Always glad to entertain!
The first time I was going to show my girl, Ivy, in Rally Novice, I had a time conflict in another ring, I asked the judge if she would let me go last, and wait until I could get there. When I came dashing in later, she took one look at the dog on the end of my leash, and she remarked, “Oh, you are showing a Mastiff?”. She looked so disappointed she had waited for this big failure. Well, that made me more determined than ever to do a good job. We went through her course without a hitch, and got a perfect score, the fastest time, and the blue ribbon! She commented what a nice go we had.
Years ago, I took an obedience class from a local instructor. She was used to working with big tough dogs, and she made the mistake of thinking that just because my dog was big, he must be tough as well. She put a pinch collar on him, which is normally fine, but she wanted to show me how to really make him pay attention. She jerked so hard he just fell to the ground. I was shocked, and it made me so sad I let this happen. Never again! If someone wants a big tough dog, a Mastiff is not the breed for them. I quit that class, and it took me a long time to gain back his confidence. I do train now with a pinch or prong collar, but it must be used correctly, and gently. With a dog as big as a Mastiff, they must be taught early not to pull into the leash. So, for training, this works so much better than a choke chain. They must learn when they feel a slight pressure, they must give to it, and not pull like a sled dog. Then, I can switch to a flat buckle or snap lock collar. I try to train a few minutes each day, and “taking it on the road” is necessary. This means training in new places, with different distractions.
The greatest challenge the Mastiff breed faces today is becoming too popular. Indiscriminate breeding results in inferior dogs, with no regard to screening out the health problems we have worked so hard to eliminate. Temperament should be the most important quality, then, of course, hip and elbow dysplasia, and eyes Cerf. People need to be educated to buy from reputable breeders who want to improve the breed with each generation.
The Mastiff Club of America encourages versatility by offering three Working Dog Awards. You accumulate points in each of the categories to qualify for these Awards. My girl, Ivy has accrued enough points for the Working Dog Excellent Award, and next year we will shoot for the Supreme Award.
Her registered name is Kingmont’s Sierra Poison Ivy, call name Ivy.
Her titles to date are : Rally Novice, Rally Advanced, Rally Excellent, Beginner Novice, Companion Dog, Canine Good Citizen, Draft Dog, Draft Dog Open, and International Champion. She also has 12 AKC conformation points.
Ivy's most proud of her last litter. Bred to Ch Watney's Kingmont Red Barrel, she only had two puppies, but both now are in the show ring, and doing great. In Woodland, Ca May 12, 2012, Kingmont's Amazing Journey took WD, Best of Breed over 5 Specials, and made the cut in Group. His sister, Kingmont's Quest for the Q was Winners Bitch for 2 points that same day. Way to go!