INTERPRETING THE BREED STANDARDS – DOUGLAS OLIFF.
Whether your interest in the Breed Standard is that of a breeder or of a judge, there is a guiding principle which should be clear at the outset. The Neapolitan Mastiff must not be judged on the same lines as the Mastiff. In many respects the Neapolitan Mastiff is both physically and mentally unique. Much of the lengthy FCI Standard is self-explanatory and needs no extra comment, but there are some aspects, which English-speaking owners do not always understand and they would, therefore, benefit from a few simple explanations.
‘Massive, powerfully built, strong and of majestic appearance with body longer than height at the withers, of heavy substance, and proportionate’
It will be noted that the Standard is not asking for a tall dog or one of light substance. The specification is for good body length and massive build. The Standard also requires the animal to be robust, courageous, not aggressive, and ‘an unsurpassed defender of persons and property’. As a working guard breed, any exaggeration likely to diminish its abilities to act satisfactorily in the capacity for which it was developed is to be deplored. One should particularly not the word ‘proportionate’ under general appearance.
We must have all seen specimens with heavy bodies hanging with loose skin, and disproportionately short legs which may have massive bone but so often carry deeply wrinkled skin, looking as if the animal was wearing ‘loose stockings’. Because of these disproportions, the movement can only be described as a waddle. At the other extreme, one has the ‘Dane’ type – tall, narrow, lacking in rib and body-depth and without the requisite amount of loose skin to be typical.
One sees both of these extreme types being awarded prizes, yet the Breed Standard is quite clear on what is required, and both the extremes are incorrect. One is aware that the FCI Standard with its multiplicity of percentages and geometric angles, is not the type of document with which British or American breeders and judges are normally acquainted, but it is a comprehensive description of the type for which we should aim, both as breeders and judges.
The specific requirement that ‘the skin is not adherent to the underlying tissue, but is copious, with lax connective tissue all over the body, especially on the head where it forms wrinkles and folds, and a dewlap on the neck’ is important.
In almost any other breed such features would be penalised and considered coarse and untypical. This requirement of loose skin makes the Neapolitan a distinct breed. One should be able to pick up handfuls of loose skin on either side of the neck. The reason for this goes back to the breed’s history as a fighting dog. When fighting, an adversary would grab a mouthful of skin at the neck instead of getting at the vital windpipe or jugular.
The somewhat precise geometrical requirements need deep study and almost require geometrical drawing instruments to correctly measure the requisite angles. The most important requirement, which makes the Neapolitan head quite distinct, is the statement in the Standard, which specifies that ‘the longitudinal axis of the top of the skull, and the top of the muzzle, are parallel’. In the Mastiff this axis is quite curved. In the Neapolitan, the top of the skull between the insertion of the ears should be quite flat. In many of the modern dogs one sees a definite curve where there should be flatness.
The muzzle / skull proportions are that the muzzle should be one-third of the total length of the head. The muzzle is quite distinctive. When viewed from the front, the side face of the muzzle are parallel and the front face is deep, as well as wide, thus giving the requisite overall square ness.
The lips should be thick, copious, and heavy. If viewed from the front, the upper part of the lips join to form an inverted V: this is important. The line of the top of the nose should be a continuation of the line of the muzzle. The nose should be large, with large, well-open nostrils, black in black dogs, dark in other colours except mahogany, where it must be brown.
The FCI Standard speaks of the ‘labial commisure’ of the lips. This is the lowest point of the head profile, where the upper and lower lips join in a fold. The mucosa (in layman’s terms the inner surface of the point of the juncture) should be visible. The frontal lower profile of the muzzle is shaped almost as in a closed semicircle.
Two types of bite are permitted, scissors or pincer. An overshot or undershot lower jaw is considered a fault.
‘Small in comparison with the size of the dog.’ Before the law prohibited the cropping of ears, ear size was unimportant as, after removal or cropping, the evidence of ear size was removed. It is strongly rumoured that in the reconstruction period, a dash of Bloodhound was introduced, chiefly to assist in giving the necessary loose skin on the head. There is no proof that this actually happened, but it would account for the breed’s considerable scenting abilities. In my experience, the breed uses its nose far more effectively than its eyes. There are still some houndy ears on some otherwise good Neapolitans, and one sometimes senses something of the hound in their tail carriage and facial expression.
‘Not showing entropion or ectropion.’ One sees the occasional case of entropion but the condition is rare as compared to the number showing ectropion. Again, if there was an introduction of Bloodhound at some stage, it is not surprising that descendants show ‘haw’ (ectropion). What I have found is that, where a dog shows slight ectropion and the animal is unwell, or in a stressful situation, the amount of haw greatly increases. Too much haw spoils the intensity of the true Neapolitan expression.
The Standard calls for heavy hanging skin on the eyebrows (almost as if the animal is wearing spectacles). Most owners of the breed would agree that, while the long sight of these dogs is good, their close sight is suspect in many specimens. This could be due to their overhanging brow, which gives the appearance of the eye being only half-open. You will note that the breed frequently gives a slight backward tilt to the head when looking for something in close range, rather in the manner we humans do when wearing bifocal spectacles. It may also be the reason why Neapolitans use their powers of scenting, as they find this quicker than focusing their sight. This is personal theory based on watching the breed over the years. As far as I am aware, it has never been scientifically investigated.
‘Short and stocky, muscular, with the lower line of the neck having much loose skin to form a dewlap which must be divided into right and left sides.’
It is not often that a Breed Standard does not ask for a long, clean neckline. In most breeds a neck as specified by the Mastino Standard would be considered to be a bad fault. I have known judges condemn it as ‘coarse’ and penalise the exhibit for what is an essential feature. To some it may appear coarse, but it is a requirement of the Standard and must be appraised as such.
The FCI Standard is quite clear about the body, chest and ribcage and these are the standard requirements for any of the Molosser group, but there is special requirement for abdomen. The bottom line of the abdomen should be practically horizontal, i.e. there should be no (or very little) tuck-up of the flank, which is the usual feature of most breeds.
‘Long, slightly sloping, with long, well developed muscles, which should be clearly divided from one another.’ It should move freely. The scapulae (shoulder blades) should be fairly well separated from one another and tend toward the vertical, to the plane of the body.
Well adherent to the body for the upper three-quarters of its length, and endowed with strong, well-developed muscles. Its angle is 55 to 60 degrees from the horizontal, and its length 30 percent of height at the withers. Its direction is almost parallel to the median plane of the body.
Very heavily boned, straight and vertical to the ground.
It is here that there are again differences from the accepted norm. The elbows must not be too close to the ribcage, but must also not be too far out. The point of the elbow to be in a line drawn from the caudal (bottom) edge of the scapula (shoulder blade) perpendicular to the ground.
Because of the overall ‘looseness’ of construction, the breed has a characteristic movement, which is rarely understood. It has been described as like that of a bear.
A correctly constructed Mastino has the walking style of a stalking tiger with a precise, long and ponderous stride, while the legs appear to be moving very slowly, the distance covered with very little effort is great. The same applies to the breed’s characteristic steady trot. It rarely gallops. They sometimes ‘pace’, which is not considered to be a fault under most of the experienced judges.
I would conclude this brief survey by emphasising that one cannot assess the quality of the Neapolitan Mastiff by judging it on ‘normal’ principles. One must study this highly individualistic breed by its own standard, and not attempt to apply inappropriate criteria.
Source: The Ultimate Book of Mastiff Breeds 1999 – Edited by Douglas Oliff