Friday, April 14, 2017

Spanish Mastiff or Pyrenean Mastiff? Spanish Livestock Guardian Dog Breeds - Which One is Best for You?

A tough call!  Here's a few words about their similarities - and differences -
from an experienced, forthright rancher/breeder who has owned, raised and uses both breeds as livestock guardians, since 2009.

© Copyright 2017 
by Brenda M. Negri
Cinco Deseos Ranch Livestock Guardian Dogs
Winnemucca, Nevada, USA

"I have to say she speaks the truth. The Spanish Mastiff is not a dog for every one. 
They do better as livestock guardians than as pets."  --- Norma Roman-Ortiz 

I bought my first Spanish Mastiff in 2009.  In just eight short years, I've seen the breed in the USA go from being what one would consider fairly rare in this country, to practically an overnight sensation, now numbering well over 1,000 specimens (we'll not include the crossbreds, there are plenty of those out there too).  Forget what Jan Dohner claims in her glaringly less than accurate "Farm Dogs" book about there "only being 300 specimens of SM" in this country.  Good God, whoa, Nellie - we passed that mark eons ago, are you asleep at the wheel or what....  Whereas in 2009 you could count "SM" breeders and pseudo/wannabe breeders on one hand - now - they practically crop up every week - kid you not.  I use the term "breeder" here loosely as most of them are people you have never heard of before, backyard binge/fad buyers trying to cash in on a craze.  For example, there's one newbie who just got a male and a female puppy in California, and they are already calling themselves a "quality SM breeder".  Oh, really?  Not so fast, kiddo.  You have some major dues to pay first, and you haven't even raised your SM to adulthood yet…take a number, and get in line at the end of it - where you belong.  Or, in another glaring example of smoke and mirrors marketing, they've just put out their very first purebred SM litter (after producing litters of SM 3/4 crosses and even 6 breed LGD crosses) - and yet they're making out like they're on purebred SM litter no. 10….uh, no so fast.  Kiss our collective asses, guys….

If you, dear reader as a buyer, scrutinize people like this, their stories fall fast when you dig into what they really have or haven't been doing.  It takes work but it's worth it in the end.  More on vetting out LGD breeders, at the end of this post and in my next post.

I will say the Pyrenean Mastiff scene is somewhat similar in it's popularity surge, because again, when I started, you could count PM breeders in the USA on one hand and I was the only one breeding them for LGD work - guarding livestock.  Now, there are many more breeders.  Most breed for pet and show but there are a few out there dipping toes in the working PM market too.  A breeder in CA is the one who first brought the  PM to the USA in the 1990's and she still breeds today.  The breed almost went extinct in it's native country at one point in the 1970's and that is when concerned aficionados in Spain got together to save and preserve the PM.  It has slowly gained attention and fans here in the USA now to where there is more interest - although overall, it thankfully is not as crazed as the SM fad has become - yet.  My observation over the past few years is that those people getting into breeding or raising "PM's" seem to be a little more sophisticated, more serious and intelligent overall, than some of those jumping into SM's, and most - not all but most - are not as fad-driven.  Oh, trust me, there are exceptions lurking out there that scream "bad backyard breeder" - dubious places trying to pass off dogs as PMs who are really something else - I've publicly shamed and busted two of them in MT and AZ on Facebook pages.  Overall however, the PM scene so far has not gone into total backyard breeder meltdown mode I think, as much as the SM scene seems to be doing at this time.


"AHOY!  Can you hear me now?" :)  PM puppy and SM puppy at my ranch

These two Spanish breeds share much in common - their land of origin of course - Spain.  They are so close in lineage and purpose, back in the day, some were even shown as both breeds - in dog shows:

Which is better, A or B?  A PM that was shown as an SM.
He was also called an SM - and - that's right - shown as a PM….

The purpose of this post is not to detail each breed's past history or get into depth on how they came to be - you can research that yourselves.  This is purely for comparison - today's "SM" compared to today's "PM".  Lots in common, and a lot of differences.  Hopefully this post about their temperaments, size, attributes, weaknesses and strengths, will assist any of you who may be considering either breed in the near or distant future.  I love them both. I also seriously recognize as any dog breed - they both have their good side and faults, too.

As a responsible dog breeder, it's my job to vet out potential customers and help them decide which breed might suit them best - not always easy as some folks have their minds made up on the wrong breed, and can't be convinced otherwise.  By helping them decide it means I have to be forthcoming and truthful about the good, the bad and the ugly of each breed.  Less than honest breeders will try to stuff their respective choice down a customer's throat come hell or high water. They are in for the sale, and could care less, frankly, if the breed really suits you best or not.  Just hand them that check and clear out for the next sucker.

So let's dive into it.  Both breeds shine in the department of stability and loyalty in temperaments.  Less edgy and intense than some other LGD breeds such as some Turkish breeds and Eastern Bloc country breeds.  The good (emphasis on good) specimens are calmer, thinking dogs not prone to knee jerk reactions.  Highly intelligent. The PM shows more inclination to follow direction and commands than the SM.  The SM can be highly independent and thinks on it's own.  I've had some who were more malleable in terms of training than others.  I've also had those here who I would try to call back from the far fence line, and they'd tune me out.  You want me to do what?  When?  Go fly a kite.  On the other hand, all of my PM's have shown inclination to respond quicker to commands and call backs.  They seem less distant and more willing to please their master.  They are rarely stubborn, and respond quickly.

 Here adult Spanish Mastiffs and Pyrenean Mastiffs mingle with Pyrenean Mastiff pups 
'learning the ropes' and meeting my sheep.

Both breeds are huge and can take years to mature - up to four for the SM and I've seen 4 1/2 year old dogs still filling out and growing.  The SM will typically but not always tower over the PM - but I've seen and bred some PM's myself who are giants.  Both breeds can top 200 pounds.  The SM typically is heavier of the two breeds.  Getting "bumped" by my giant 38" tall stud Furiano del Puerto Canencia or 220 pound Aneto (Patron) del Viejo Paramo, can easily put a grown man on the ground.  And let's talk about power.  Keep this in mind, millennial aged buyers out there, as you contemplate bringing home a cute, fawning SM puppy around your toddler babies.  That puppy is not going to stay small forever and can pose a formidable danger to babies and kids who are not trained or schooled in dog etiquette by their young and wet behind ears parents.  Respectful kids around both of these giant breeds is a must have.  By nature both breeds are gentle and patient with tiny tots. Don't abuse that.  Well meaning giants like the SM or PM can accidentally topple a child onto the ground, and God forbid it's a cement floor and suddenly your rambunctious child has a concussion - or a cracked skull.  Again, these are giant dogs.  Not big, not large.  GIANT.  Proceed with respect and caution.  They are not to be teased or rode like ponies by children.  Make sure your kids are taught to respect these dogs, and they will return that respect with nurturing and protection.  They are not toys.  Don't treat them like one….

A male SM has a crushing bite and a maw that can do considerable damage.  Just ask me.  I was breaking up a rare free for all dog fight one day on my ranch, and got between my huge SM stud Furiano's mouth and the other dog.  Oops…"my bad" as they say.  Thankfully - and here is where the stability and intelligence of the SM breed kicks in - the nanosecond he realized he had bit me instead of the other dog, Furiano sheepishly and quickly let go of my arm.  I can't find the photo of my arm on my computer or I'd post it  - and maybe that's a good thing - it's pretty sobering.   The doctors in the ER room that day were blown away and awestruck: "You are lucky, if he'd closed down on you, your arm would have been shattered in a 1,000 pieces" - they told me they'd never seen a bigger spread of teeth on a dog bite in their careers.  I got lucky, alright.

With all that heavy weight comes added stress on joints and skeletal structure.  The SM breed suffers from HD and ED and thus, it's always advisable to buy from a breeder who OFA's their stock - and I mean really gets the X rays certified, not just peeked at by one vet, which basically means a big fat nothing in the professional dog breeding world.  I still hold the American record for SM in the OFA database, and probably will hold on to that record forever as no one else breeding them in the USA seems to be doing the hip X ray thing "right". In other words, they have one vet look at one x ray and say it's okay - where as with OFA - three vets ascertain the x rays and then rate it.  It's publicly posted on the OFA site.  My website has the links to it.  The PM can suffer health maladies as well however HD and ED do not seem to plague the breed (as of yet) nearly as badly as the SM and I have never had or heard of a PM with HD yet.

That is not to say the PM don't have their share of problems too.  I have lost an entire litter of purebred PM pups here to toxic shock syndrome that neither my vet and the labs at UC Davis in California we sent bodies to for autopsies, could ascertain the cause of; likewise, my trusted and beloved PM stud Troy simply died one night from what appeared to be a seizure of sorts; again, autopsy results were frustratingly inconclusive and offered no answers.  However, he lived a healthy, happy, robust life for five years here up until the very moment he died.  His healthy progeny from many litters still work on many ranches and farms and keep homes and families safe from harm, and his son Bobo is here to carry his dad's torch.

I've likewise lost SM's here to internal bleeding injury, bloat (which can plague this breed unfortunately), pneumonia (in the pup's defense, he suffered from the flight from Spain and succumbed to congestion), and in another recent loss, an older female who battled chronic infection in her elbows, which was only worsened after she was attacked, bitten and severely traumatized by a lowlife, law breaking neighbor's pit bull at my ranch front gate.  A hard winter did her in as well as Troy, and perhaps the worst shock of all, my 1 1/2 year old SM female who simply laid down one night and died in her sleep.  Why?  We don't know.  Finally, I have my SM poster child for the dreaded fatal EPI disease, Patron, who, by the grace of God, and a vet's correct diagnosis, lives healthy and happy with enzyme therapy.  EPI strikes many LGD breeds - so again, this is not anything the SM alone is known for.  Read my Patron and EPI page on my website to find out more about this disease and read about all the other LGD breeds coming up with it, too.

These kinds of things can happen to any LGD breed, so they should not be taken as 'red flags' against PM or SM.  Its a fact of life - this stuff happens to ALL breeds.  Losing dogs, when you breed and own dogs on the scale I have for almost 9 years now - happens.  If you have livestock, you'll eventually have dead stock, as the rancher says.

Food intake.  Both breeds can put the groceries away but hands down the PM breed overall seems to take the cake when it comes to consumption - they have a high food burning metabolism and require plenty of good quality groceries, whether it be good, grain free kibble, raw, or a combo of both.  Note however, I must say: I've also had big eating SM here too that kept pace with my heartiest PM eaters, but again overall, the PM seems to be a bigger eater.  Both breeds require top quality dog food - not filler or junk - to keep healthy.  You feed garbage to these dogs and it will show and you'll pay for it.  I buy my dog food from and highly recommend them for quick delivery and usually unbeatable prices.

Drooling.  Both breeds do it, often in copious amounts.  If you can't handle spittle tossed up on your ceiling and walls of your house, look for another breed - these guys salivate in their water, on their food, on you, your guests….etc.  They shed and leave hair in the house, too - both breeds.  A way of life.  It means nothing to me - I live with it.  If it bothers you, look in to a Mexican Hairless breed...

Racists.  Yes you read that right.  Both PM and SM show marked preferences to hanging out with heir own kind.  The average guy is not going to notice this but in a large mixed pack of breeds such as mine, it's quite distinct.  I'll have the PMs on the back porch some days, holding court, barring all others from entry.  I look out in the cattle and the SM will all be flopped down in a big ball together.  Yet they interact well as a team and work together.

Territorial.  Both breeds are territorial to an extent although the PM seems to be even more possessive of his people, his porch, his sunny spot, his sheep, etc.  I've also had a couple of older SM females here, now retired and living the high life in Michigan - Pia and Zaca - both of whom would lunge, mouths gaping, at anyone coming through my door without me being there first.  "It's Pia's world - you just live in it"…..

Let's talk about suitability as pet/companions.  I no longer sell SM pups to pet homes; I've done it a few times and it's backfired on me.  Let me put it this way: because I breed pure working bloodlines and even the ones crossed with show/non working bloodlines come out with an intense work ethic, I have found the seriousness of the working lines pretty much makes them unfit for living in some suburban SoCal backyard as a status fad yard decoration posing as a "guard dog/family pet".  Without adequate exercise the SM can suffer structural issues and being cooped up in a tiny yard don't and won't cut it.  Without a mission or a job, they can become bored and perhaps even cranky or less forgiving.  The SM overall is a serious breed.  Working lines are not jovial clowns prone to laughter and happy romps through the daisies, okay?  They are on the job, protecting you and stock from harm.  They'll trifle some, and granted engage in play time (I've posted many videos of some of my SM playing on my kennel Facebook page).  But overall?  They are quiet, devoted, serious, sometimes almost sullen and nobly aloof in stature and nature.  They'll tolerate being picked on by another male dog and then one day, suddenly, the perpetuator is flat on his back seeing stars with a 220 pound SM standing over him quietly giving him "that look".  Although Furiano could easily kill or lethally maim many of my other males here, I'm always struck by his unwillingness to do so - their magnanimous bearing is an amazing and gracious trait.  They don't need to prove what they are capable of doing.  I realize there are many pet SM being bred and sold in Europe but again, I raise dogs to work here - and in my world, they must have a job, a mission, a purpose, and simply being cooped up in a backyard in Southern California for days on end, does not cut it.

A whole lotta dog.  Certainly far more stable and trustworthy in manner and temperament than many other fad LGD breeds being brought into this country from non-livestock guarding backgrounds, still; not for the faint of heart - a quality, well bred male SM is huge and powerful.  Period.  In inexperienced or irresponsible hands, with a non-confident owner, it can add up to a bad match.

The PM on the other hand has a more forgiving, impish, playful side to it, combined with an increased interest in listening to their owner and doing his bidding.  Although I hear some PM people saying their's can be stubborn, I don't know about that - mine seem to respond at the slightest request, and are happy to oblige quickly. That is why, I have PM's working as therapy dogs, doing Certified Emergency Response, and providing companionship as pets in non-ranch/farm homes, in addition to working on commercial and hobby ranches and farms all over the USA.  Don't kid yourself: the PM still packs a punch, and fears nothing.  I mean NOTHING.  Outsized and outnumbered, I have seen my male PMs take on all comers and hold their own in a mix-up.  The females can turn into rabid, screaming banshees at the sign of a threat and both of my girls, Sally and Atena, are regularly the first to the back fence line to ward off neighbor's stray dogs and coyotes - and this includes them passing and blowing by Pak and Pala, my two farther ranging Anatolian/Maremma brothers.  Sally is short by standards and plump, but she calls the shots around here more times than you can shake a stick at.  If you are another female dog bent on one-upping or pushing limits, don't push her; you'll regret it. The PM may lack the size of a full grown SM but both genders have the heart of a lion - and that goes a long way in a confrontation.  Don't mess with a pissed off PM - you'll lose.

Safe and sane.  What both breeds share is a still solid, steady and trustworthy temperament.  Neither breed is continuously pushing others around or trying to prove this or that.  They don't need to.  Occasionally I'll have the standard fence fight - you know, put a fence between two males and watch them go from being big buds to roaring enemies.  But open the gate and allow them to mingle - and voila, instant friends again, licking ears and wagging tails and all is well.  Not all LGD breeds are capable of that.  My PM and SM males are and it is a very endearing quality about them.

Grooming - let's talk about that hair and coat stuff.  Obviously the SM lacks the longer coat of the PM which in turn means less grooming requirements.  They do shed however - and it comes out in short but profuse tufts. And keeps coming.  And coming.  I usually start the days long process by pulling it with my hands, like plucking a chicken, with my SMs.  When I really get motivated of course, I drag out the combs and brushes and have a pile of hair two feet high.  The PM of course is more work with it's longer coat. But I've noted an intriguing trait on my PM's: when they finally let go and 'blow' their coat, it seems to conveniently come out in long tracts of hair with hardly a pull; like it almost falls off of them.  However, there's the 'deep grooming' that always has to be done and that means some serious combing…and a lot of it.  The PM's feet also have very long hair sometimes in between toes.  They can pick up a lot of stuff - foxtails, goat heads - and I find come summer time their feet are best shaved and or closely trimmed to remedy this problem.  The SM on the other hand with his short hair around his feet, is much less prone to picking up those troublesome weeds.  If you live in heavy brush country, the PM may not be the most prudent choice for you just because of the chance that the coat will pick up more stuff, and there will be more grooming involved.

Ear stuff.  Both breeds have heavy, flap ears that seem to be magnets for dirt and yes, infections.  I see my share here in both breeds, so I would not say either one trumps the ear stuff either way.  These breeds and many other flap/flop eared LGD breeds can all suffer from this.  Best recourse is to keep ears checked and clean and use non-toxic stuff to try to stay on top of infections.  The Zymox products are my favorite and they come in many varieties.

Barking - ah yes, the sound of the dog language.  PMs bark more than SM's - generally speaking - however - HOWEVER - let me tell you, I've had SM's here over the years who barked as much ore more than my Pyrenees - gasp! - yes, there's a real eye opener for you.  My PM Sally is as vocal as they come and frankly, loves to bark.  And bark.  PM's Atena and even her sister Alma on the other hand - less noisy.  It's a toss up. I can't even pin it down to bloodlines, frankly; I'm inclined to think this is purely an individual quirk, if you will, of each dog.  I've had SM here who were like silent Sphinx's - and others who pushed my patience to the end, they barked so much, and seemingly at every noise or reason.  So again, I think it's an individual thing.  Overall however, they generally - again, generally - are less vocal than some other LGD breeds known for excessive barking.

Let's talk about guarding style.  Both breeds don't meander off miles from livestock and that is the main reason I now raise only them, and not more far ranging breeds.  I like my dogs to guard tight and close.  I don need a dog to travel 20 miles down the highway - like the Anatolians belonging to the rancher down the road from me.  Both PMs and SMs - if from good lines and raised right - bond strongly with livestock - it is common to see them licking faces, ears and butts. I like that!  It shows me that my SM and PM love their stock.  Meanwhile my two aging yet still ball busting, hard charging Mafia Brothers, Pak and Pala - Anatolian and Maremma crosses - do the outside circle if something goes down, and I've seen them literally run off and chase back my SM and PM youngsters if they try to leave the stock and join them.  Nope, kiddo, it's like they're saying "get back next to those sheep and heifers where "your kind" belongs and leave the meeting the threat at the fence to us big bad ass White Boys……"  It is common to see SM and PM lying content near stock.  That's what they do, and that's what I like, and want.  Both breeds in my opinion, based on experience, are equals at this.

Close, calm, confident and curious.  Just what I want to see in both PM and SM pups and adults. My litters are allowed to mingle with stock in big areas, encouraging travel, curiosity, and building confidence and promoting fitness.  Photos above and below show both PM and SM pups doing a great job at sheep introductions and getting acquainted, and close guarding adults.

I have sold both PM and SM to larger commercial livestock operations with equal success.  I've also placed both breeds with smaller homesteads and hobby farms.  They run equal in those areas; climate is always a factor, and if it is hot country, I typically steer clients away from heavy coated breeds so they don't suffer in the heat, and that is where the SM is better off - as long as they have access to shade and plenty of water, of course.  Likewise, I've turned down far north, extremely cold country homes who wanted short haired SM's - even though they can tolerate a lot of cold, in the long run, they suffer more than a heavy coated breed.  Remember the breed came from the sunny warm climate of Spain. Why make a dog suffer needlessly?  The PM grows a huge, abundant coat and thrives in cooler climes and is one of the most cold tolerant breeds I have ever owned.  Common sense in both instances….

When first time LGD owners come to me for their first LGD and are at a loss as to which breed they should pick, I typically steer them towards the PM which overall I feel, is a little more forgiving as a breed, as a whole, than the SM.  Having said that, I've also sold many SM pups to first time LGD owners with success as well.  

Not all SM are made alike.  Not all PM are made alike.  So much of how they turn out rests on the bloodlines and how they were raised.   That is a huge factor.  If raised badly, or sloppy, well, you may be in for a shock. The good ones however, are wonderful.

Keep that in mind for both breeds as you decide - don't just focus on the breed, you are shopping for an integral, honest and transparent breeder, too - one who does not lie about their supposed accomplishments and their dogs and what they are or have produced.  You are looking for one who has a proven track record of producing good dogs, and who offers you support, health guarantees and above, all who has integrity and honesty - not blow hard cover ups and wild claims that fall flat.

As for what breed is for you - it's a tough call for some - for others, not so hard. I love them both equally and that is why, I raise and own both.  Because my father was Spanish/Mexican, these breeds are part of my heritage, and I am proud of them, and honored to have been allowed to import the dogs I have over here from good breeders in Europe.

As for finding a good breeder of PM and SM, I'll be putting a post right after Easter about what to look for in LGD breeders, and how to choose good over bad so your LGD choice is a win, not a loss or a regret.  

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