Preface: I am inclined to write this due to a rise in popularity of a dog type I am passionate about. This type has suffered from misunderstanding and horrible representation in Hollywood/ Social media, and has been a victim of the lack of standards in the training industry. Of course this is true of all dogs, however, my heart is labeled “Molosser” so I wanted to give a brief explanation of the type without bias (though I fear the bias is clear). I am assuming that those reading this want to abstain from attempting to use intimidation and violence in their interactions with their dogs. I do not classify a subdued or scared dog as an obedient or “submissive” dog. Also as stated below not all dogs (or humans) will accept this treatment, some will self advocate and fight back. That is why I am writing this, so we can better understand these dogs and become handlers that exist in a fourth dimension of dog handling, education and practice. Our war dogs deserve it.
What is a Molosser Dog?
The Molossus were dogs that were developed (the history prior to this is muddled and basically left to interpretation of cave drawings) for ferocity and hard work by the Molossians. The lines evolved and were bred for war, guardianship of livestock, and catching large game or killing large predators, and were utilized and purposefully bred by ancient Grecian and Roman military and royalty. The evolution of their aesthetics varied to meet geographical and cultural needs. Molosser dogs are the father of all of our mastiff breeds and flock guardianship breeds that we know today.
Popular Molosser Breeds Remembering the Lineage is Well Developed:
Mastiffs (inclusive of all regions)
Bull dogs (Terrier influence should be noted)
Cards to lay on the table.
“Good Temperment” is a fluid term as humans have very different ideas for what “good” is. For example, I like aggressive dogs that self advocate and who are of a more difficult temperament. Some people like dogs that are more tolerant. It varies. While all dogs DESERVE respect and predictable handling some dogs do ok when we do everything wrong. Others don’t. Just like humans. Some children can go through very tumultuous upbringings with no positive parental input and thrive. Others, in the same scenario, end up suffering and acting out as victims of their environment. Temperament is very important to consider. If a breeder is highly focused on producing a tolerant, NATURALLY social, and biddable dog, it can be done, and puppies that don’t pass temperament tests would be culled or placed with capable handlers. Unfortunately, most breeders are breeding for money and aesthetics. Health and temperament hit the back burner and TEMPERAMENT reverts to the most default genetic tendencies for the breed.
It is important at this juncture to remind ourselves what dominance is. Dominance is the first right to limited (or desirable) resources. Food, resting places, toys, affection (and control of who gets affection). Dominance is designed to reduce conflict. If everyone knows who makes decisions and who everything belongs to there is LESS conflict than if everything is constantly up for grabs. AGAIN, some dogs (and humans) care about dominance and some don’t.
Dominance is NOT: alpha rolling( flipping the dog or rolling the dog on his back, or making him lay on his side), scruffing, winning a physical battle, having your head higher, or being big and loud. It’s also not to be confused with obedience. A dominant dog (or person) can be obedient if it wants to, especially if he sees value in doing so. Dominance conflict can be prevented by practicing fair and violence free leadership and dominance while practicing management.
Default settings for a Molosser dog:
Suspicion:this dog will not naturally welcome change, strangers or new environments, may evolve into fear aggression without appropriate human intervention. This dog will often start new people off with an “F” and they shall earn their “A”. Valuable trait for a dog who’s job is to defend livestock, possessions and homes against predators, violence, and intruders.
Fight drive: as a response to conflict, threat, or pain this dog will respond prepared to fight. Valuable trait for a dog hunting large game, defending property, practicing protection, or war.
Naturally dominant: this dog will naturally assume that he has first right to resources and will notice ANY and all holes in family structure and fill them.This dog will NOT naturally accept discipline from outsiders or family members who he does not have an appropriate relationship with. This dog may also view “innocent interaction” as challenges and/or threats/conflict IE: lingering eye contact, leaning over them, kissing them (being in their space uninvited), strangers addressing them, strangers or family member who don’t have the appropriate relationship giving them orders or preventing them from getting something they want, affection between humans, touching their stuff. Valuable trait for a dog that is designed to independently make decisions about family possessions, livestock and safety that could ultimately result in the loss of his life.
Territorial: this dog is very aware of his home. He will innately and intensely defend it. Unbridled territorial aggression naturally results in a fight to the death. He will unabashedly defend his home. He should not be unsupervised if this behavior is unwanted. Valuable trait in a dog designed to act like a 24/7 home defense system.
Tenacious: this dog (although HIGHLY intelligent) will not readily accept rules, training, or tasks as absolute truths. They need repetition, consistency, and predictability (especially during their formative years through sexual maturity). They will test boundaries, fortitude, and the constitution of their handlers. All of the above will regress rapidly if handling, environment, or leadership becomes unpredictable or waivers. Valuable trait for a dog designed to make independent decisions in the absence of supervision, under stress, or as a protector, that could ultimately result in the loss of his life.
Work Ethic: this dog is highly motivated and fulfilled by having a purpose true to his genetics. IE: physical labor, guardianship, personal protection or a physically productive training, activity, and mental stimulation routine. The tenacity mentioned above will be readily translated into performance at work. They thrive with predictable expectations, meaning if they know what their “job” is and how to do it right they will give 100% IF the relationship with their handler is appropriate. This dog needs a physical and mental outlet. Walking around the block will not satisfy his drive to work and be successful. He needs to be challenged physically and mentally to thrive and be happy. Valuable trait for a dog who is designed to be alert, and physically taxed, while remaining steadfast for hours, days, and over a lifetime.
Relationship driven: while this dog is fully capable of having multiple, nuanced, and fulfilling relationships, they often will “latch on” to whoever is actively practicing provision, leadership, and engaging with them. It is common for this dog to view family members who do not practice the aforementioned as a threat to the relationship with the one who does. They are fiercely loyal and have been called “a one handler dog,” or “a dog with eyes for one human.” This can certainly become the case without proper education and a family effort to understand and provide for this breed. Valuable trait in a dog designed to endure physical hardship to please his master, day after day.
The traits above hopefully make a few things clear: This dog should never be put in a position to self- advocate. He should not be unsupervised with new people, children, or be allowed to approach or be approached by new people or dogs in public. He should not be manhandled, or engage in rough play that includes physicality (slap boxing, wrestling etc.) He is a capable and powerful dog who prefers to have his personal space respected, but may invade yours. He is a hard worker who will gladly give his life for the ones he loves if he has the right relationship.
Now would be a good time to remind ourselves WHY we got a dog and specifically why we got this breed. We got a dog because we wanted a relationship. I can’t speak for everyone, But, I chose a Molossoid because I wanted wreckless love and loyalty, fierce protection, and because I ENJOY the standard of respect, relationship, and technical handling that they hold me to. Relationships are a two way street. Here is the perfect place to segue to CYNOPRAXIS: The lifestyle, training, management, and long term expectations should benefit the handler AND THE DOG “honestly”. I say “honestly” because one cannot be truly happy and fulfilled if they are not able to be in touch with their passions, talents, and drives (drive is something we are BORN with).
If I am a naturally driven musician and my family insists I become a mathematician this is not Cynopraxic. If me being a mathematician makes them happy, they could do 1 of 4 things: A) they could trade me in for a mathematician and find me a home full of musicians, B) they can incorporate music into the math that we sometimes do, C) they can realize that music is the key to my heart and ditch the math and be sad. D) they can ignore my inner musician and spend their days trying to make me a mathematician. Which is Cynopraxic? A and B are Cynopraxic because both parties, dog and handler, are happy and fulfilled.
In conclusion: proactive breeding can alter temperament “default settings” some…but if our goal is to have a dog who is a social butterfly, that needs little input to handle, or that will naturally accept unpredictability in their relationships a Molossoid is not for us. As humans who love dogs it is our job to educate ourselves so that we can be responsible and effective handlers for our war dogs.
Things to bank on if you own a Molosser Dog or are thinking of getting one:
This dog will require work, dedication, and respect for who he is, from his handler
This dog will challenge rules, people, environments, and training.
It is not all in how we raise them. Genetics are a key contributor to animal behavior.
This dog will protest against a willy nilly, unpredictable relationships, and environment (side note: do we like unpredictable relationships? Do we enjoy hanging out with people who we don’t know when they will be happy, mad, sad or what we did to influence their reactions? NO! It is understandable that a dog wouldn’t either)