Mastiffs Meet the Breeder Article - Originally Published in the Mastiff
Club of America Journal
Written by Donna Bahlman
It was 1974 and my husband
had just graduated from pharmacy school in Richmond, VA. We decided
that we wanted to live in the country and we found a very unique old
school that had been converted to a home in rural central Virginia--and
we fell in love with it. That "old school house" has been
our home ever since.
My husband worked very long
hours in town and I was left alone a lot. We had a German Shepherd that
was getting older so we decided to get another large dog for my protection.
We had seen a picture of a Mastiff in a dog book and were resolved to
try and find one. We were very fortunate to find a breeder in Maryland
(Lorraine Hall, Nanjemoy Mastiffs) through an advertisement in the Washington
We knew absolutely nothing
about Mastiffs other than the picture from the dog book and had no idea
what we were getting into. Hannibal's litter and his mother were the
first Mastiffs we had ever seen and we were very impressed! Hannibal
stood out to us because he was a beautiful apricot brindle that we thought
looked like a tiger. We had no clue that this dog would become such
a big part of our lives.
We joined a local obedience
club, but soon decided that it was not something we wanted to pursue.
Hannibal learned everything by the end of each class, but everyone always
made fun of him because he did everything in s-l-o-w m-o-t-i-o-n. I
know now that laconic personality is one of the Mastiff's traits that
I consider to be a huge plus!
Since obedience was not
our thing, Lorraine suggested that we show him in conformation instead.
That was the true beginning of Old School Mastiffs. Hannibal won Winners
Dog at his first show--despite his handler. I had no clue what I was
doing, but with that first experience I was hooked! I don't think Hannibal
was. He never really liked to show, but I think he did it just to make
me happy. Also, he always enjoyed the attention he got outside of the
This dog became such a big
part of our family--he helped raise our children. I could write a whole
book about Hannibal! Our German Shepherd gave him nothing but grief
his whole life, but Hannibal was so considerate and patient with this
cantankerous old dog. Hannibal was supposed to be our guard dog but
he didn't have a mean bone in his body. What we learned from him is
the lesson that Mastiffs don't need to be mean to be effective "guard
dogs". Their size and body language are enough to deter any potential
confrontation. Case in point: One day while I was out doing yard work
with Hannibal sitting out in our front yard with me, a man came walking
down the road in front of our house. The moment that man saw Hannibal
he immediately climbed a tree faster than I could believe and he refused
to come down until I put Hannibal in the house. Hannibal never barked,
he just sat there with a curious look on his face, but that's all it
Because of our wonderful
experience with Hannibal we were very impressed with the Mastiff breed,
so we began to research these wonderful dogs to learn as much as possible.
I began by looking at pedigrees and contacting all the Mastiff publications
I could find. Through my research I encountered many people that were
wonderful and eager to help me. Patricia Hoffman was especially helpful
and considerate. She helped me learn a great deal about the dogs in
Hannibal's pedigree, including Ch. Threebees Friar of Copenore who sired
Am.Can.Ch. Tiberias of Kisumu, a very famous English import and Hannibal's
sire. Hannibal's mother came from Berngarth and Peach Farm lines.
After much research I decided
that the Havengore mastiffs had the look I liked and that I wanted to
try and help preserve this wonderful breed. That's when I began the
search for a female that would complement Hannibal. He had his faults
(there is NO perfect dog, all a breeder can do is try their best to
strive towards that goal, and it hasn't happened yet) and we kept them
in mind as we searched for the right complement. We saw a dog we really
liked at the Old Dominion Kennel Club show, Ch. Grand Duke O'Fern owned
by Mrs. Fontaine of Le Mars Mastiffs. He was an amazing dog. Marie Moore
was judging that day and when her eyes fell on "Captain" I
could tell that there wasn't a dog in the ring that had a chance against
him that day. After the show we talked to Mrs. Fontaine and leaned of
a litter due by Captain out of a bitch that went back to Hannibal's
sire Tiberais. We resolved to wait for a puppy from this litter but,
as happens so often in Mastiffs, it was not to be. The breeding did
not take and we were referred by Mrs. Fontaine to Massalane Kennels.
This is where we purchased our foundation bitch Mistress Julia of Massalane.
Julie's pedigree went back to Threebees and Havengore lines and we were
very fortunate that she matured into the perfect complement to Hannibal.
Julie and Hannibal had some
exceptional puppies that we mostly sold into companion homes. We made
a lot of friends through the puppies we sold, and--if you want to call
this a sad part of breeding Mastiffs--we have been breeding so long
that we have had quite a few repeat buyers. From Hannibal and Julie
we kept an apricot brindle female that we named Old School Trouble.
I found the dog to breed Trouble to at another dog show. Dog shows are
the perfect place for breeders to do hands on research for their breeding
program. I saw what exceptional dogs Hannibal's littermates (Ch. Nanjemoy's
Kareem, Ch. Nanjemoy's Etasha, and Nanjemoy's Badness) turned out to
be and we had a much better idea of what we really had in Hannibal.
At the 1979 M.C.O.A National Specialty I saw a dog named Deer Run Florister
Rufus that really made an impression. I don't think he ever finished,
but to me he was what a Mastiff should be--huge bone, lots of body and
a huge beautiful head--and his pedigree was a perfect match with Trouble's.
Rufus' mother was Hannibal's sister and Rufus' sire, Ch. Deer Run Noah
of Massalane was a littermate to Julie's mother. This was the actual
beginning of our line breeding practices. We could have bred to any
number of the more popular studs of the time but it was my impression
of Rufus in person, and my understanding of his pedigree, that led me
to choose him for this breeding. I have always looked for studs in this
manner. First, I see a dog I really like, and then I look at his pedigree,
and if possible, look at what he has been producing with different bitches.
It is not always the most popular stud, or the top winning studs that
will bring the best things to your breeding program.
This breeding of Rufus to
Trouble produced 2 puppies, one being Ch. Old School's Ursa Major and
the other being her sister Bell. We sold Bell to a very nice couple
that had a home on the way to Nags Head, NC where we vacationed every
summer. We got to visit Bell every year and watched her mature into
a beautiful apricot bitch with a wonderful and loving home. We began
to show Ursa and she finished very quickly. We decided to bring her
1983 M.C.O.A. National Specialty in Memphis, TN. Never in our wildest
dreams did we think we could win Best of Breed at a National Specialty.
Ursa won Best of Breed that year, breeder/owner handled under English
breeder/judge Betty Baxter. At the time, it was the most memorable experience
of my life, except for the birth of my children.
We chose to breed Ursa to
Ch. Deer Run McMunger, who I had seen at a dog show and liked. When
I looked at his pedigree I found out why. His dam was sired by Hannibal's
brother, Ch. Nanjemoy's Kareem. We had our trials and tribulations with
breeding Ursa. Our first breeding with McMunger left Ursa with pyo and
with us crushed. It was Jackie Guy (Peersleigh Mastiffs) who saved us
from spaying Ursa. She told us about an experimental treatment for pyo
at the University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School. We tried the treatments
and were very fortunate that they were successful. Our next breeding
to McMunger took and from that we ended up with our beloved Ch. Old
School's Panama Red.
Red, like Hannibal, was
no great show dog, but he was everything you would want in a Mastiff.
Every morning my husband would ask Red if he wanted to go to work, and
if he did, he would get up and go to the door. Red entertained all of
the children (and adults) that came to the pharmacy. People would look
in the door and ask if Red was there, and if he wasn't they'd just leave.
I suppose our most famous
dog came from the breeding of Ursa to Ch. Deer Run Ezekiel. Ezekiel's
sire, Ch. Deer Run Ivan, was one of my favorite dogs, and his grand
sire was Captain from the Le Mars kennel and went back to the bitch
that I originally wanted to get a puppy from that went back to Tiberias.
Ezekiel was so impressive when he moved and he had a wonderful front
and lots of reach and drive. We did 2 breedings of Ursa to Ezekiel.
From the first litter we kept Ch. Old School's Sergeant Major and Ch.
Old School's Majestic Major. Sarge was the mascot for my son's soccer
team. My daughter's horse Maggie was his best friend and I think he
thought she was a dog (I think she did too) and he would follow her
around (I think) waiting for her to come into heat! Major liked to play
soccer and ruined many soccer balls (and any other kind of ball) in
the process. From the second breeding of Ursa and Ezekiel we kept Ch.
Old School's Primo Remo Major and Ch. Old School's Mitra Major. Remo
was probably one of the best dogs we have ever bred. He had size, bone,
body, topline, nice rear, nice front, beautiful head, excellent pigment,
and excellent movement. He was not a flashy, showy dog, but he finished
with three 5-point-majors in a row and went Best of Breed out of the
classes each time. He won Best of Breed at the 1988 M.C.O.A. National
Specialty under Kenneth Buxton and he helped us to win the Breeders
Cup that year along with his siblings Mitra and Major. (Flying 3 Mastiffs
from Virginia to Washington State and back is another story
was one of the first Mastiffs to win both an All-Breed Best in Show
and also win Best of Breed at the M.C.O.A. National Specialty. Remo
spent a lot of his time away from home with his handlers who he loved
(Pam Mosesian and Damara Bolte) but he adjusted well to his retirement
back home with us. His sister Mitra won an Award of Merit at the 1998
Specialty and went Best of Opposite Sex at the Specialty the following
year. She was a beautiful dark brindle bitch with amazing structure,
beautiful movement, and excellent type. We learned great deal about
the good will of the mastiff community during a terrible experience
when we lost Mitra during a thunderstorm and she was missing for several
weeks running loose in the country near our home. Cathy Babbins, Pam
Mosesian (now Reid), and Charlie Boyer came down to help us search for
her. They provided practical help and moral support during a very difficult
time, and in the end, Mitra ended up finding her own way home.
For Ursa's final breeding
we chose Ch. Autumn Rivers Big Ben owned by Bonnie Korn and bred by
Virginia Bregman. Ben was a very impressive brindle dog with an amazing
rear and a super temperament. I don't know how many times I made the
trip to New York to Virgina Bregman's (Lazy Hill Louth) the Coursey's
(Tullamore Bandit O'Lazy Hill) and the Korn's (Ben). I was determined
to get a breeding with one of the Lazy Hill dogs. Everyone talked about
what an excellent dog Ch. Dawnwind Romulus (Stinger) was, and said that
he was what was contributing to the qualities that I admired in the
Lazy Hill dogs. I also really liked Ch. Greenbrier's Shambeau and felt
certain that this was the outcross I needed to make for my line. It
was with the breeding to Ben that Ursa finally got pregnant and we kept
an apricot bitch from the litter, Old School's Autumn Ben Major. Butter
(as we called her) brought in the outcross we needed to our line. Whenever
we do a breeding, it is because we want a puppy from that breeding to
keep for our line. Every breeding is carefully planned, with concern
for where the line will be going for several generations in the future.
We may have 3 generations of breedings planned before the 1st generation
is even born.
It is the 4 litters out
of Ursa that really established the foundation of the Old School line.
From there we began to bring these lines together, and we then introduced
other lines along the way that contributed a great deal to our breeding
program. LaVelle Knight of Blacknight Mastiffs used Red with 3 of her
bitches and we took a pick bitch from one of the bitches that went back
to Hannibal and Stinger. Ch. Blacknight Victoria O'School was Reserve
Winners Bitch from the 9-12 Puppy Class at the 1982 M.C.O.A. National
Specialty and her daughter Maddie (the pick puppy we took from her breeding
to Red) was a very typey girl with a wonderful temperament and massive,
square rear. The Blacknight line contributed very broad bodies and wide
square rears to our line. Another line we brought in through a stud
puppy was the Banyon line (which was also founded by linebreeding on
Tiberais). Mike McCalister of Tintagel Mastiffs bred Ch. Tintagel's
Oreo to our Sarge x Butter son Sagar and we took a pick male from the
litter, Old School Tintagel's Blake. The introduction of this line brought
us massive, square heads, large bone, and beautiful black brindles,
and combined with the Blacknight lines gave us one of the most beautiful,
sweet, and typey bitches we've bred, Ch. Old School's Drucilla. Dru
finished with all majors, 2 of which were 5-point-majors at supported
entries under breeder judges (Richard Thomas of Bredwardine Mastiffs
and Jim Zellen of Banyon Mastiffs) and Best of Opposite Sex out of the
classes. Another Blake daughter, Ch. Old School's Panache finished with
a 5-point-major under Betty Baxter of Farnaby Mastiffs at the Bucks
County supported show, and she also took and Award of Merit at the 2000
M.C.O.A. National Specialty under Eve Olsen-Fisher.
I was looking for a long
time for some English bloodlines to add to our breeding program, but
I wanted something different from what was around. I saw Sw.Den.Fin.Nor.Ch.
Alvedor's Aragorn at the 1995 M.C.O.A. Specialty in Tennessee. Gorn
was very inbred with Eng. Ch. Hollesley Medicine Man. I never saw Medicine
Man in person but I did see photos and a video of him and he was an
incredible dog. Bill St.Clair (who had imported Gorn from the Ohman's
of Alvedor Mastiffs) was kind enough to let us keep Gorn for a while
and breed to him. We drove from Virginia to St. Louis to pick Gorn up,
and he sat between the front seats with his head on my husband's shoulder
all the way back to Virginia. I was very happy with the puppies we got
from Gorn, especially their type and huge round bone.
Our breeding program continues
on today as we strive to combine all of the lines that we have brought
into our breeding program. After 30 years of breeding we have had so
many wonderful dogs and I don't have space to mention all of them. They
were all dearly loved and I can see characteristics of all of them in
the dogs we have today. Ch. Old School's Surprise Truck (Mongo) was
a huge typey boy with an amazing head, but the most important thing
about him was his impact on our lives. His beautiful, intelligent, goofy,
sweet temperament touched our hearts and because of him we have Junior
(Ch. Old School's Junior). Anyone that has been to our house or who
has met Junior at a dog show knows what I am talking about when I say
that Junior is unique. He is a Mastiff--or as Richard Thomas put it
in his critique of Junior at the Somerset show in 2004 "Every inch
a mastiff" and I wouldn't have him any other way.
I don't plan on breeding
very many more litters but here are a few words of advice I have for
any breeder starting out today that I've learned through my experience:
Sit down and read the standard.
Closely. Carefully. Understand it. Then write down your goals as a breeder.
When I started out as a breeder, I made a list of what was important
to me and I put it on my bulletin board in the kitchen so I would see
it all the time. This helped me stay focused and it kept me from getting
off track. Don't let dog shows or the opinions of other breeders affect
your decisions as a breeder. Stay true to the standard and stay true
to your goals. I am asking breeders to keep their breed the way they
were meant to be. Let the standard be your guide. Do not let anything
else influence you.