Introverts and Screwballs

Introverts and Screwballs
by
Richard F. Stratton

People in the show dog community and the public in general tend to think of shy dogs as having been abused. They don’t realize that it is an inherited tendency. One reason for that is that show dogs don’t win if they demonstrate any shyness, so the show breeds are universally pretty much lacking in fear of people. The trait of shyness is inborn, and it varies in its intensity. It is more common among dogs such as Border Collies and even Pit Bulls. That’s because shyness toward people—and that’s what we’re talking about—would not be a serious hindrance to those two breeds, as well as other performance breeds, such as trail hounds.

I must confess that I was very disheartened when I saw my first shy Bulldog. I was not aware that they came that way. I had been around show dogs before that, so I certainly didn’t want any shy dogs. Besides, Bulldogs had seemed so fearless to me, afraid of nothing, and I thought the entire breed should be that way. It took years and Bob Wallace to change my viewpoint in that respect.

Bob called shy dogs “introverts,” as that term, along with “extrovert,” was very common in the popular press in those days. An introvert was a more or less taciturn person, not very communicative, and it was assumed that their focus was inward on their own thoughts. Bob was impressed with how many good dogs were shy or “introverts.” He didn’t necessarily want them that way, but he had pretty much based his strain on trying to reproduce the great dog Searcy Jeff that his strain was based upon. Bob said that Jeff didn’t want anything to do with people he didn’t know, but he would kill your dogs for you as quick as you could put them in front of him. That might have been a slight exaggeration, but Bob speculated that the shyness trait might be linked somehow with intensity, the kind of intensity and skill that was demonstrated by Searcy Jeff, a dog that was generally considered the greatest dog of his time.

After a life time with the dogs, I’m not convinced that there is any connection between intensity and shyness; however, if a dog is a pit artist, dog men aren’t going to avoid breeding to him. Now, he is only going to be successful in the pit if he is not spooked by the wash or by the crowd. If that’s not a problem, a shy dog may even encourage people to give his handler odds, so from a gambling perspective a shy dog could be advantageous.

You might be surprised to know of some of the shy Bulldogs, from mild to severe shyness, as they number among some of the great pit dogs of all time. White Rock was mildly shy, for one thing, and he was always on everyone’s top ten list—or top three! Grand Champion Hope was mildly shy, as was the great Art, a truly great dog. Champion Tonka, a son of Tombstone, was mildly shy, and he was an absolute dynamo in the pit. The thing about the shy dogs, usually, is that if they have a dog to concentrate on, any aspect of shyness seems to leave their bodies. Maybe that’s why Bob pondered if it might be an asset for such dogs, allowing them to focus their energies with greater ability. Although he was an important mentor of mine and one of the most knowledgeable of all Bulldog men, I think he was wrong in this particular instance.

Not all the great pit dogs that were shy made it to the pit. I am thinking here of Wallace’s Peggy. She was a granddaughter of Searcy Jeff, so she came by her shyness naturally—and perhaps her unreal ability came from him, too! I saw her rolled twice. The first time was when Bob wanted to show me just the kind of ability that she had. I was duly impressed, as she was absolutely phenomenal: athletic, intense, a great wrestler, and a hard punisher. The second time was when Leo Kinard and George Saddler brought a dog that they later matched, and she won best in show, too. I believe her name was Sandy. She had pretty much destroyed all the dogs that they had rolled her with, and they were honest with Bob about that. She was about Peggy’s size, perhaps a bit larger, but Bob wasn’t worried about Peggy.

Bob had a seven-acre place, but it might as well have been a hundred acres, as the land back of him was government land, designated for the Air Force. In any case, Bob had an open air pit up the hill, past all the dogs on cables, and surrounded by trees. In about twenty-five minutes Peggy had Sandy down, ready to kill her, so George picked her up. The main thing I remember about that day was George carrying Sandy down to the car in a blanket and Bob walking Peggy back to her cable spot on a leash. She was hardly winded!

Knowing how good Sandy was, Leo and George were quite impressed with Peggy, so much so that they talked about her among dog men so much that Bob would have had trouble ever matching her. However, that didn’t matter much, as Bob said that he had nothing but trouble trying to get her acclimated to strangers and strange places. “She may have been the greatest I ever bred,” he said, “But she will never be shown to the public, as she is just too much of a goon to get acclimated for a contract fight.”

Bob had a special feeling and sympathy for shy dogs, and I do, too. But I still much prefer that my dogs not be shy. It is not just the image of the fearless Bulldog that concerns me. It seems to me that life must be more difficult for shy dogs than for the others. But would I have bred to White Rock or Searcy Jeff, or taken a pup out of Peggy? You bet!

Screwballs

This was the term that used to be given to dogs that were aggressive to all other animals except humans. But that is the case with over half of Bulldogs, I would estimate, so I don’t think the term fits in that regard. I think this trait is from the prey drive that was desirable in hunting dogs. After all, the breed is still used for hunting wild boar today, and that was probably the beginning function of the breed, but we can only speculate. For whatever reason, we should realize that our dogs may have the urge to “hunt” cats, horses, and lions, too, if they get the chance!

A better use of the term is for dogs that are untrustworthy around people. Let me first make the point that I don’t think any powerful dog should be around an infant or even toddlers unless they were raised with them from puppyhood. The problem is that the dogs may not recognize them as people—as humans!—and so the prey drive may kick in. After all, all dogs are predators—and Bulldogs are even more so because of their hunting history.

It used to be that dog men considered people-mean dogs to be curs. However, there were occasional examples that proved that such was not necessarily the case. I think Howard Heinzl explained the situation best: “If you take a hundred Bulldogs, only an average of one is likely to be mean with people. Given the fact that most Bulldogs can be stopped, the odds are not good for the one being a game dog.” In other words, there could be a game dog that was people mean, but it would be rare—rare to the vanishing point!

I have always recommended the game-bred dogs for disposition toward people. That is counter intuitive among most people, but it is true that the game-bred dogs have more trustworthy dispositions. That’s because pit dog men don’t want a dog as a guard dog, and they most assuredly don’t want a dog that would scratch to the referee, rather than the other dog!

On the other hand, neophytes, the ones with the junk-bred dogs, think Bulldogs are meant to be mean dogs, and they will pick out their dogs and breed them based on that concept. And the newcomers are the ones who want big dogs, too. So it is perhaps not mere coincidence that the few real Pit Bull attacks are done by some large Bulldog that is most assuredly not bred to be game.

But there were some pit dogs with questionable dispositions. These were the type that you had to sweet talk to get off the treadmill. When in a very excited state, these types of dogs might actually bite a person. But they, too, are rare. One of the most famous was Bullyson. He was a very excitable dog, as Bobby Hall made clear in his book. However, Gary Hammonds told me that Maurice Carver had a simple solution to the problem. One major problem with the dog was that he was so excitable that if he wanted to get at another dog, he would turn around and bite his handler on the leg to get him to turn him loose. Maurice simply got a long leash, so the dog didn’t have him close by to rail against when he couldn’t reach the other dog, and that worked like a charm. Bobby Hall detailed how he mainly handled the dog very carefully, pretty much sweet talking him all of the time.

It is worth remembering that Bullyson did fail to scratch during his match with his son Bennybob. James Crenshaw, the man who bred the wonderful litter that the famous Jeep was part of, told me that Maurice gave him Honeybunch (Jeep’s mom), saying, “Since Bullyson quit, I won’t be able to sell her, so why don’t you guys take her?” Well, not only did she win several matches herself, but she produced the most famous litter of all time!

I should emphasize here that even the most questionable disposition among pit dogs, just involved a snappy attitude toward strangers. I know of no Bulldogs ever that would attack a person like it would attack another dog. Ralph Greenwood once speculated about how dangerous such a dog would be. “The biggest of men couldn’t withstand such an attack,” Ralph said. “The dog would very likely bore in, grabbing a man by the chest and proceed to shake out the hold. The heartiest human would immediately go into shock, possibly dying.” Any dog that would do that would almost certainly be shot, so it is not surprising that such dogs aren’t found among pit dogs.

Now, I would like to go on record as saying that I don’t want Bulldogs that are introverts or screwballs. However, I would happily have taken Peggy or Jeep! I suspect that I am not alone in that regard. And that’s one reason these traits are likely to continue in our breed. But it’s something to be conscious of and to work against.