Sunday, October 23, 2011

Evaluating the structure of the Spanish Mastiff

I am re-posting this topic and have added some photos to illustrate. I briefly touched on the subject of structure issues we are facing here in my 10/3/11 post about the Spanish Mastiff in the US, but it's a subject I have been vocal about for at least 7 years...

Due to many calls and e-mails requesting more information, I decided to talk a little more about structure as well as the benefits of using puppy structure evaluations as a tool to help determine which pups should be sold as potential breeding dogs and which should be sold to non-breeding homes. Not every pup produced is breeding quality, and such pups, for the good of the breed, should be taken out of the breeding pool. Structure evaluations help determine which pups that should be.

It has been proven that what you see at 8 weeks is an accurate snapshot of what the puppy will be as an adult. The evaluations are done in a strange place when the puppies are eight weeks old, and are done by someone who is unfamiliar to the puppies. They compare each category (head, body, ears, front, rear, etc) to the standard. 

To date, there is only one or two of us that have actually raised pups we've produced to adulthood and so been able to evaluate the 'finished' dog. So in all honesty, there really isn't a single owner or breeder in this country with enough practical Spanish Mastiff experience to accurately evaluate the structure of their litters without professional assistance at this time. The fact is that any breeder will have a variety of quality within any given litter (regardless of the parents!). It's what a responsible breeder does about that variety (ie: selling pups as breeding or non-breeding) that will help determine the future of the breed here. 

Common sense tells us that for a giant breed dog of any type, structure would be critical. For a giant WORKING breed, it is even more so! There is alot of weight that must be supported by the dogs frame and if the frame has faults such as cow-hocked legs, lack of angulation in the rear legs or poor top-lines, the dog will naturally try to compensate and thus put added stress on other parts of the body. Problems arise when one part has to overwork or compensate for lack of balance, injury or weakness in another. 
It would be similar to a human with a foot or leg injury shifting their weight away from the offending limb and then complaining of back and hip aches!

The Spanish Mastiff is better able to disguise the impact/affects of some of these structural problems simply because of their muscle mass and their high levels of pain tolerance, but it doesn't mean that the problems don't exist and won't cause the dog to breakdown eventually.

The structure issues below are readily apparent to evaluators by the time a pup is 8 weeks old and as breeders we can use this information to place our puppies in the correct situations and homes.
It's really up to the potential puppy buyer to educate themselves on what to look for in any breed of dog, but in the case of the Spanish Mastiff, they are at a disadvantage due to the amount of misinformation that is still out there on the web concerning this breed.

Cow hocks can occur either because of a slight turning out of the entire leg from the hip (as was the case with my first SM), or because of twisting of the hock and stifle joints. Cow hocks are an indication of weakness in an area that requires great strength. At the end of the stride, the entire propulsive power of the dog is transmitted through one hock joint. At a run, both joints direct the force together, but the force is much greater. When jumping, even more energy is required to lift and propel the body, and the hocks bear it all. Cow hocks can pre-dispose a dog to hip, ankle and stifle problems. Bottom line, a cow hocked dog is jeopardised. It may give the appearance of agility to an untrained eye, but it won't hold up well over time.

Lack of rear angulation is an area that needs work in our breed. Rear angulation is determined primarily by the amount of angle from the pelvis to the spine and how much it will rotate between attachment points. The photo at left (courtesy of Carlos Salas in Spain) shows ideal rear leg angulations. You can see from the illustrations exactly how those proper angulations support the frame. As Carlos stated in a post today "This harmony enables efficient swing mechanics effortlessly with every stride." A dog that is under-angulated in the pelvic region simply cannot move his rear end properly or bring the rear forward far enough in the 'stride' simply because the pelvis can only rotate so much. 

Dogs that have straight rear legs (photo at right) have less shock absorption, while well angulated dogs would not transmit as much of the movement stress to the hip joint, as more of the trauma is absorbed by the hock and knee.
You will also note that dogs with poor rear angulations will invariably have a rump that is substantially higher than the shoulder. 
A dog with poor rear angulation requires nearly twice the force of movement than a dog with proper angulations. That is not efficient in a working dog. If we are to preserve the working ability of the Spanish Mastiff, lack of angulation and cow-hocks must be taken more seriously! I am not saying that a dog with poor rear legs can't work for a time, but they will not work efficiently and they will break down at a younger age. A dog needs lots of strength and power in their rear ends. That's their engine! A weak rear in a dog is like putting a go cart engine in a truck and expecting it to haul big loads.
In evaluations they actually measure the angles of the pelvis to the spine and the ground. They do the same with the shoulder area, using their hands to feel and measure the angulation.

Some of these are issues that we are seeing too often in the Mastin Espanol and I truly believe that more emphasis needs to be placed on improving or breeding these faults out. Structure evaluations are an excellent tool to help us do just that.
All three of these mentioned above (Cow-hocks, poor angulation and high rumps) are all considered serious faults according to the standard.

I am not necessarily saying throw the baby out with the bathwater, but anyone considering breeding must be aware of the issues and plan their breeding's accordingly, using only dogs that excel in those areas that your dog lacks. Breeding two dogs that both have issues with their rear ends (even if they are different issues) will only perpetuate the problem! Breeders have to be honest about the strengths and weaknesses of their own dogs and not downplay or make excuses for them.
It sounds like basic common sense, but when we have such a lack of genetic diversity in this country, some might be tempted to use what they have available, regardless of faults, and hope for the best. 

For those of us that have had dogs with any of these leg issues, watched them struggle to get up as they reached maturity and arthritis set in to those joints (as young as 3 years old), or spent thousands on pain meds or surgeries, not adding these dogs to the breeding gene pool was a no brainer!
I was very heartened to see discussion on this subject from Spanish breeders this week as well! It's a positive step!

Lois Jordan


  1. Great illustration.
    If your dogs have higher hindquarters, you have no business breeding them for this reason. To say they can "outgrow" this is delusional.

  2. It's a problem that many seem to not talk about at all, or attempt to make it seem like it's not as important as it is to the long term health of the dog. Whether that is because of ignorance or lack of care, I don't know.
    I had a dog with legs like this and it was sad to watch his struggles when he was still in his prime.

  3. Congratulations on your work Lois. I think you are right. The lack of rear angulations in the Mastín Español is the most common and most harmful for health and functionality. The strength of ligaments in general is another thing to select priority in Spain also. Best regards from Spain
    Carlos Salas

  4. But how do you defend some of the dogs you have produced some of whom lack any and all semblance to a Spanish Mastiff.......

  5. There is no need to defend the dogs I have produced. The photo's of my dogs and positive feedback I receive says it all! :-)
    If you were to look at photo's of any of the litters I produced, they all bear a striking resemblance to the dogs in their eastern EU pedigrees in particular. All pedigrees (with photos) are available on my website.

    It sounds like you have been drinking the Kool-aid in NV LOL and have bought into the garbage that the pathological liar there has been spouting. I assume you are referring to a photo that this joke put up on FB of a (then) 10 month old pup I produced from my A litter (though it was claimed she was from my B litter). I find it interesting, but not at all surprising, that in a deliberate effort to deceive, this person lifted the photo of the immature dog, but didn't bother to take the other photo of Abigail at 2 1/2 years old that was posted at the same time by her owner that shows Abigail to bear a striking resemblance to her sire at the same age (a son of CH Ulises de Babia). Showing the second photo wouldn't have suited this person's purposes though, and since honesty and integrity are completely foreign to her, she chose to only lift the photo that would suit the latest story she was 'creating'. And boy oh boy, has she created some doozies LOL!

  6. Wow; I thought there was something OFF about that one's website...most breeders don't attack other breeders like that. Red flags all over the place.