Screaming Fury and Silent Intensity
Richard F. Stratton
I enjoyed reading about Siega in the last issue of SDJ, and I have no doubt she is a terrific dog, and I would love to own her. However, I have seen a lot in my long life, and I have noticed that often the winners are easy going dogs. It took me a long time, but I eventually began to prefer these types of dogs. I well recall that Gary Hammonds and I were interviewed together about the dogs, and one reason is because of Gary’s reply about the type of dog he preferred. I couldn’t have said it any better, and I agreed with him completely. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised because, between the two of us, we had over a 150 years of dog experience (a little more than that now).
I can’t quote him exactly, but he said something to the effect that everything else being equal, he preferred a high-stationed dog that was smart and had a versatile style. The kind of dog that figured out the other dog’s style and used it against him. I immediately thought of dogs that were just like that: Billy Sunday was famous in that manner, and Grand Champion Hope fell into the category, as well as Rushin’ Bill’s Thirty-five, to name just three.
There is an advantage also to a quiet steady dog. I have often heard Earl Tudor quoted something to the effect that the wild screaming dogs didn’t worry him much as opponents, but the quiet intense dog that obviously knew why he was there, but was quiet in the corner, maybe licking his lips, caused him great concern. When you think about it, there are several advantages to that type of dog.
For one thing, those types of dogs aren’t wasting energy during the time in the crate on the trip to the site, or during the weigh-in or wash, not to mention the wait in the pit while the other dog is being washed. Even conservation of energy in the pit before the matches and between scratches is of value. Nevertheless, nearly all of us liked the wild, crazy dogs in the beginning. It’s not that we ever become disgusted with them, but we do come to value the easygoing dogs that are quiet, as long as they are intense when the time comes. Such appreciation comes with experience.
It also seems to be the mark of a beginner to also prefer the specialists. These would be the dogs that always want the stifle or the shoulder or the chest. I think most of us prefer a dog that drives forward. This type keeps pressure on the opponent, and it seems a more honest type of pit dog. At least, I have heard dog men say that, and I know what they mean. I like those kinds of dogs myself, but I am aware that they can often be defeated by a dancing type of dog that stays on the head, on the ear, or the muzzle. (The old-time dog men often mentioned how deadly a nose dog could be.) I have seen it go both ways, but in the main, I think the defensive dogs have the edge. Some famous examples are Going Light Barney, Corvino’s Braddock, and Greenwood’s Strider. But the main point here is that the specialists have their disadvantages.
The versatile dogs are the ones that just seem to know where to go to wreak the most havoc. I believe Kenny Allen’s famous Tornado, the winner of ten matches over quality opponents, is usually thought of as a destroyer, and she was, of course, but she wasn’t the screaming or driving type. I have studied films of her matches, and she always kept her opponent in front of her. She could do defense and offense. She obviously enjoyed her work, as a great Bulldog should, but she was one of those smart versatile dogs that could solve any style. I never talked with Kenny, but I did get a chance to speak with one of her trainers, and she told me that she was the smartest dog that she had ever seen—and not just in the pit. Of course, she had powerful jaws, but she also knew exactly how to work a hold—and she had a vast repertoire of them!
As we get more experience, we learn just how complicated these dogs are, as is the pit dog game. I thought of this while listening to two guys who got back from two months in China at the behest of a Chinese dog man. I had known that China had been evolving away from a communist economy toward an authoritarian capitalistic society. It hasn’t helped the peasants much, but it has created some billionaires, and some of them are dog men. In any case, my two friends, who both knew a lot about the dogs, were frustrated about the situation in China.
From what we know, the Chinese are fairly new at this, but they do a lot of things right. For one thing, they quickly made the switch from Tosas to Bulldogs. They certainly get some points for that. What frustrated my friends was their blindness in evaluating good dogs. It seems they valued chest or throat dogs almost exclusively. Well, that’s okay because they would eventually learn to value all the dogs, with all their various styles. Only, there’s a problem.
It seems that they have changed the rules to favor that type of dog. For example, an out-of-holds handle is called if a dog is being held out by a head or ear dog. Then, breaking sticks are actually used in the pit to break the dogs apart. Then, the holding dog has to scratch. This obviously handicaps the finesse type of dog, whose strong point is defense. According to my friends, the defensive dogs still win their fair share, but they are poorly regarded even when that happens with the rules stacked against them.
Almost all of us started out that way, as I said before, but if you are quite wealthy, it is easy to disregard other opinions—even if it is that of an expert you engaged to tutor you in the dogs. But my friends were quite frustrated with the intransigence. Perhaps it is not that way in all of China, but as I said, these advisors did spend two months there.
I recall that several decades ago Ralph Greenwood and I were invited to Taiwan, but I was tied up and couldn’t make that trip. I was eager to hear about it when Ralph returned, and he told me that they were using breaking sticks in the pit, and he advised them not to do that. Again, Ralph had been invited as an advisor and had been treated like royalty. Unfortunately, they may not have listened to him in regard to the breaking sticks. This is all conjecture, but I suspect the mainland of China may have gotten some of their ideas from Taiwan.
The point is that it is easy to fall in love with a particular style, and that’s especially the case if your first good dog is one that uses that. If I had started out with Boomerang, it would have taken me even longer to appreciate that there is more than one way to skin a cat. This kind of knowledge only comes with experience . . . if you have an open mind.
The problem in this particular situation is with the very wealth of the dog men. If you made a lot of money being smarter than the next guy, it is probably going to be hard for you to think that anyone else knows more than you about Bulldogs.
One of the things I’ve always loved about our breed is how much they enjoy their craft. Their enthusiasm spills over into other areas, and that makes them good at a lot of other things. But my intention in this little piece is not to praise the breed, but to put in a word for the quiet, easy going dogs. I’ll take the others, too, but some of the best are the ones who are so quiet and unflappable that it is hard to believe that they are pit dogs. For that very reason, it takes a dog man of experience to appreciate this type.