In Search of the Ultimate Working Dog (Part III)

The Exotics: Of Bandogs and Dogos

(Dog Sports Magazine ’98)
Anyone wishing to contact John may do so at the following address:
Beyond Obedience K9 Training
15 Cliff Court
Succasunna, NJ 07876
(973) 927-7387
Copyright © 1998

This will be the last installment on our series of breed comparisons. So unless any of our readers write in and want to see certain match-ups, this will be it. I’ve received a lot of positive feedback on the previous two, and hopefully we’ve all learned a great deal about not only training, but choosing a particular dog to fit our needs. This one should be especially interesting, due to the fact that these two breeds are relatively unknown to not only professionals in the field, but to the general public.

In the early 60’s an American veterinarian by the name of Dr. John Swinford set out to develop the ultimate working/combat dog. He began crossing the APBT with the Neapolitan Mastiff, and the finished product was to be known as the Bandog. Unfortunately, Swinford died at an early age, and his creation was never really perfected. I was lucky enough to locate a serious modern day Bandog breeder who was willing to talk about this rare breed, and hopefully put to rest some of the myths surrounding them.

Also known as the American Mastiff or American Bandogge Mastiff (ABM), there have also been attempts at crossing the pit bull with an English mastiff and even the Bullmastiff. So in addition to our usual topics, we will find out if the ABM’s breed true, and which crosses have been more successful and why.

On the other side of the world in the 1920’s, Dr. Antonio Nores Martinez and his brother Augustin also set out to develop the supreme hunting/working dog. It was to be used on the most dangerous game, such as wild boar, the puma and the mountain lion. As a base, they used the Cordoba fighting dog, which was produced by crossing the Spanish mastiff and an old time fighting bulldog. Then they gradually blended in 9 other breeds to suit their purposes: Pointer to increase scenting ability, Boxer for intelligence and trainability, Great Dane for size, Bull Terrier for fearlessness, Bulldog for chest width and valor, Irish Wolfhound for hunting instinct and speed, Dogue de Bordeaux for jaw strength, Great Pyrenees for size and white coat, and Spanish Mastiff for power. The finished product, known as the Dogo Argentino, took 27 years to perfect. In addition to being a supreme hunter, he also wanted the Dogo to be unsurpassed as a family guard/protection dog. Although many European and American breeds would bark, lunge and even bite an intruder, he wanted a breed that would give its life, fight to the death if need be, for its master. This quality, he felt, was lacking if not totally absent in any other working breed of that time. We will examine this fine breed, see how it measures up to our tough standards, and find out why not one, but both of our interview subjects would love to keep these exotic breeds in the “rare breed” category.

Working Class Kennels (located in Yucca Valley, CA) is owned by Joseph Lucero III. He has been breeding the American Bandogge Mastiff for the past 10 years. I must say that in my years as a trainer, I have yet to speak to anyone more passionate about their dogs. When he talks about his dogs, stand back and take cover, because this guy is serious about them. And although he specializes in personal protection training, he also does public demos of advanced obedience. In addition he shows the true qualities of his dogs, such as being great family and companion dogs, and if the called upon to defend owner or property, would prove to be every intruders’ worst nightmare. We will delve into its’ history, study its’ past, and see exactly how it stands up to other more popular working breeds.

Thunder Mountain Kennels (located in Indiahoma, OK) is owned by Karolyn Harris and husband Chris Wike. Chris is a nationally certified French Ring decoy with regional ranking, and has been involved with this breed for over a decade. Karolyn is a professional trainer with a decade or so experience under her belt, and between them have the distinction of training the first 2 Dogos in the world to French Ring titles. In addition to her training experience, Karolyn was chosen to judge the largest Dogo conformation show in history, and was on the Board of Directors of the Argentine Dogo Club. Strictly speaking, the lady knows her stuff. We will examine her training methods, learn a lot more about the Dogo, and as I’ve tried to do in the past, bring out different aspects with respect to training and temperament, that have never been written about before.


JD: Okay Karolyn, one of your clients has hired me to train their Dogo. What should I know about them?

KH: They are an extremely intelligent breed and do not take well to hard corrections from their owner. A heavy-handed person would quickly ruin a Dogo. They definitely need to be obedience trained and have an extremely strong hunting drive. They are not a dog with a high retrieve drive, but are highly motivated by playing tug, or by food. They can also become easily bored, so the training has to be varied. They are very sensitive to their owner’s needs, and are definitely one family dogs. For this reason, they do not make good kennel dogs.

JD: I saw the video of Gator in his French Ring II trial. He made it look like a game, like he wasn’t even trying (Gator, now deceased, was the first and only Dogo in the world to attain a FRII title. If any of you get to see the video, believe me, FrIII would have been a walk in the park).

KH: It’s true. These dogs were originally bred to hunt down and kill wild boar and mountain lions. I think you’ll agree that a decoy with a bamboo stick isn’t exactly their idea of a threat.

JD: Mountain lions?

KH: Yes. There have been many stories of Dogos killing mountain lions and wild boar single-handedly. The Dogo is similar to the wolf in that they consider other animals food, and will kill and eat them. In fact in Argentina many owners do not feed them dog food. They simply share the prey with their Dogo.

JD: Alright Joe, I’m training an ABM from your kennel, what should I know?

JL: They are similar to the Dogo in that they are sensitive to corrections from their owner, but only in obedience. During bitework they are so focused, you have to correct them a little harder to get their attention. They are an extremely loyal breed, and as long as they’re a member of the family, they’re happy. It is therefore doubtful that you would have an ABM that is dominant towards their owner, like a lot of other breeds.

JD: Give us a little background on how you got into breeding the ABM.

JL: I was formerly very heavily into Rottweilers, but they were lacking in the qualities that I required. So after extensive testing and researching EVERY working dog you ever heard of, I was sold on the ABM.

JD: Why?

JL: Well first of all, the Neapolitan Mastiff is THE ultimate home protection dog. Their temperaments are phenomenal, they are loyal beyond description, and if anyone dared tried to come in your house, its over. We’re talking about a 150 to 200 pound dog with DRIVE. There is no better natural protector in the dog world, although I could do without the drool, extra skin, and great lack of endurance. But you take that dog, cross it with a good APBT (whose physical attributes and tenacity are no secret) and you’ve got a personal protection dog extraordinairre.

JD: Why the Neo? Why not the Bullmastiff or English Mastiff?

JL: They are both non-athletic, and have no drive at all. I’ve tested both, and I couldn’t get them to do anything but bark. An alarm dog, yes. But as a home protector, no way. The Neo is the most tenacious of the mastiff breeds, the cream of the crop. None other can compare.

JD: How do you compare your line to the Swinford Bandog?

JL: Although I have never seen any of his dogs up close, I would leave the comparison to the fact that our goals were the same. But going by pictures, they look very similar, with the exception that mine seem to be a little more robust.

JD: How do you answer to the accusation that you’re messing with mother nature? That the ABM should not be recognized as a purebred dog.

JL: In reality, there is no such thing as a purebred dog. I don’t go by what some no-name organization says. Just about every breed of dog we have today has been created by man for a certain task. My dogs happen to have the task of protecting the family (pack) against any intruder, man or beast. This dog has recently been developed, and that it closely looks similar to some existing rare breeds that only promise to have the temperament that my dogs deliver, this is what upsets people….too bad!

JD: At present, do ABM’s breed true?

JL: Oh yes. I would say after about 5 generations of selective breeding of the ABM, you would have close to a finished product, which I am very proud of. But I will never have the final product because you must always strive to advance with every breeding!!! But it takes a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, if you know what I mean.


JD: Since they take on mountain lions, I would assume under tenacity, you would give your Dogos a 10?

KH: Oh yes. Many other breeds such as the APBT or the AB, are also used to hunt wild boar, but they have to be taught. The Dogos are NATURAL hunters. Which is also one of their drawbacks. If you own a Dogo, you don’t let them run free, or you will be in for problems with other animals.

JD: How about tenacity against humans?

KH: Well, let me just say that this is a very PRIMITIVE breed. Unlike many American or European breeds, this dog was created to give its life for its master. I cannot stress this point enough. There are many breeds that will bite a decoy or an intruder, but when stressed enough they will show avoidance. There are many cases of Dogos defending their masters, sometimes with tragic results. This is why we are very selective as to who we sell to.

JD: How about the ABM?

JL: Off the charts!(laughs). Lets put it this way. The ABM is the only working breed in the world that was bred specifically for combat against a man. Don’t even compare them to some of the other working breeds. This is a fighting dog. No comparison. I’ve tested them all. I have an open invitation to anyone to come over and work my dogs if I can work theirs. And don’t wear those flimsy bite suits either. I design my own bite suit with extra padding and they still hurt. They are the most punishing dog on the planet. Period.

Quality Dogs

JD: Tell us the main differences between local and imported Dogos. Also are there different bloodlines?

KH: In my experience the Dogos that are imported are much more aggressive. Remember in Argentina there is very little sport type training. The Dogos are either boar hunters or guard dogs. I feel that although we are ahead of Argentina in training knowledge, we are behind them in conformation. So due to the fact that there is very little control work there, we end up with much more aggressive types. Also there are 3 main bloodlines in Argentina. The El Tumi and Los Medanos are the taller, more aggressive dogs with better head structure. The Agallas bloodlines have the smaller, quicker, more agile dogs. I prefer to mix the El Tumi and the Agallas, with the result being a more balanced all-around dog.

JD: Wouldn’t it be nice if someday trainers overseas were bragging about their “American” import?

KH: It would be very possible if people weren’t so money hungry. Most Dogo breeders here do not work their dogs at all. They sell mainly conformation champions. So anybody could buy a pair of nice looking Dogos, start breeding them, and claim to have the ultimate guardians. Don’t forget too, that more and more charlatans are getting into rare breeds because they can get more money for them.

JD: That is interesting. I was going to base the premise of this article on the fact that rare breed people are more dedicated than those breeding a popular breed, because lets face it, you’re not going to sell as many Dogos, as say, Rottweilers.

KH: Not really. These people do their homework. They advertise in dog magazines and are on the show circuit. They may be breeding without purpose, but they’re making $. They’ll jump from Dogos to Tosas to whatever the hot breed of the month is. So while it is important to do your research when buying any dog, probably more so for a rare breed.

JD: Joe, when you started, did you choose any particular bloodline or the APBTs or the Neos?

JL: No. I look for temperament first. I want to see that natural protectiveness, but I also look for that bond with the owner. If the dog will leave its masters’ side and flee when threatened, I don’t want that. I want a dog that will keep its’ master in check. If the threat ceases, fine. And this is without training.

JD: Was size a factor in either breed?

JL: Not at all. I like to use an average size Neo, and an average size APBT. Remember I focus on temperament. So the Bandog is bred for function, not appearance.


JD: You mentioned one of their drawbacks is their extreme hunting instinct. Anything else?

KH: Probably their main problem is that they are extremely dog aggressive. Sometimes a male and a female would get along but I would never leave them alone. And in the case of 2 males, forget about it. Possibly if you have a submissive non-working type dog in the same house with a Dogo you’d be alright, but I would be 100% sure before you left them alone together. They also do not tolerate cold weather very well. Another drawback, if you want to call it that, is that adult Dogos do not transfer ownership well. That is why we stress in our literature, if you want a Dogo, you keep them for life.

JD: Why is that?

KH: Its the flock guardian in their bloodline. However it’s not as pronounced in the Dogo as in other flock guarding breeds. With many of them (Kuvasz, Anatolian Shepherd, Akbash, etc.) if they lose their original master, they will just lay down and die. So an adult Dogo could take some time to readjust.

JD: Is that why they wouldn’t make good police or military dogs?

KH: Well I know the military rotates handlers frequently, and this is a very bad situation for a Dogo. After an adult Dogo loses its original master, they will never be the same. They will start to distrust all humans, and can go a bit insane. For the police units that allow the same dog and handler to remain together for life, the Dogo would be a good dog, and possibly superior in hot climates, because they tolerate heat very well. And although they have been trained and certified as SAR dogs, they do take some extra training and proofing with animal distractions to overcome their strong hunting instincts.

JD: Any drawbacks with the ABM, psychological or otherwise?

JL: One problem is that they do resemble a large APBT. In some areas where there are problems with pit bulls, they risk the possibility of being banned also. Another problem, like the Neo, is that due to their longer jowls, they tend to fang themselves during bitework. Sometimes after a training session I’ll notice that their lips are slightly punctured, but not always. But it is my firm belief that their main drawback (not to me, but to the novice owner),is their willingness to commit to a confrontation. I cannot stress this point enough. This is not a dog that doubts himself! Some people can’t deal with that. They want a dog for protection, but when something happens, and the dog nails the bad guy, they’re like, “holy….!!!” But they are like a professional bodyguard. They are invisible until needed.

JD: How about their endurance? I know the Neos have some problems in this area. Any carry over?

JL: Obviously due to their size, their endurance would not compare to a Malinois. But this is not a sport type dog. Although people have begun to train them in French Ring Sport and Schutzhund to show their versatility, this is not their main function. So I do recommend that owners do some type of conditioning work with them to kick them up a few notches in that area. But how much endurance does a dog need? It can still catch any human on 2 feet. I would say that they have better endurance than a Rottweiler. So it should not be a factor.

Health Problems

JD: Are there any particular health problems with your breed?

KH: Obviously we have to watch for Hip Displasia (HD). But the main problem has been congenital deafness. We have them BAER (Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response) tested at 5 weeks of age, to determine if they are normal, unilateral (deaf in one ear) or bilateral (deaf in both ears). And it’s not something you can test for in your backyard. It is done with a very expensive piece of equipment that not all veterinarians have access to. Also some skin problems, like any animal that is all white could get. But they are very durable dogs. A Dogo could have a problem but you would never really notice it, since they wouldn’t tend to complain about much. And we don’t really know what problems the Dogo has because they have only been in the USA for about 12 years.

JL: Due to their size they are prone to hip displasia. Also OCD in the elbows. But they seem to be pretty free of other problems because they are still in the infancy stage. But once more amateurs start breeding them, they’ll be in for more problems down the road.


JD: Lets talk about the protection phase of training. Are Dogos more prey or defense oriented? Also about what age do you start them?

KH: They seem to have a good balance of the two. We try not to do too much civil in-your-face defensive work with our Dogos, due to the fact that they become so mad that they start going for hands and faces. Seriously, we had a special bite suit that was made for Gator, and the decoy even wore extra padding. Well guess what? Gator would puncture his forearm or biceps right through the suit if he started working him too seriously. We also have a bitch named Cuda (the first and only female Ring I Dogo in the world) who is even feistier than Gator. And the list goes on. So we do try to keep it a game for them in training, but I have no doubt if something really happened, they would happily rise to the occasion. And as far as when we start them, I would begin imprinting them at around 6 weeks. If you don’t imprint the Dogo puppies to view humans as prey, then as an adult he would not generally exhibit serious prey drive towards a human. To a Dogo, prey is food. Unimprinted Dogos raised with humans don’t view us as prey (thank god!), but they will exhibit the same aggression toward humans as they would towards other dogs (survival, dominance, displacement, territorial, food, etc.). So for these reasons we recommend you keep the training a game.

JD: How about threat display. Is it prevalent in the Dogo?

KH: Depending on the individual dog of course, they are pretty quick to respond if there is a threat, but very laid back otherwise. The bitches tend to have a quicker trigger than the males, but that can be true in many breeds. If I had to compare them to the dogs in your previous article, I would say that they’re not as quick to react as a GSD, but not as laid back as an AB either. It depends of course on the quality of training they’ve received too. I’ve have seen many Dogos ruined by poor training methods, such as too much civil work. Then the dogs are just too aggressive.

JD: How about cross training?

KH: This comes very easy for them because the sport aspect is realized as a game. Whereas most dogs that are used for sport and as home protection dogs could get confused doing both, the Dogo takes this in stride. As long as the training is done properly, you would have no problems cross-training them.

JD: Are ABM’s more prey or defense oriented?

JL: I would not even call it defense. I would say that they have a good balance of prey and fight drive. Defense comes out due to fear. Fight drive is confidence. These dogs are very laid back, and I believe it is because they are very secure.

JD: Any differences between males and females besides the obvious?

JL: Not really. The males have a bit more fight in them, and the females are easier to control.

JD: Are they quick to respond to a threat? Or is threat display, or lack of, a signature of the breed?

JL: They have a good balance. But again, when they commit, they’re on you. I would say that their fuse is somewhere between a Rottweiler and an APBT. But they are very territorial.

JD: Any comments or predictions on the future of your respective breed?

KH: The breed could be in trouble if breeders don’t diversify and work together. It is very difficult to have a breeding program without diversifying the gene pool. I try to blend in the 3 bloodlines I mentioned, but one person doing this is not enough. I just hope that the people involved with this breed put them before the almighty buck, or it could spell trouble for the future of the Dogo.

JL: I would hope that they would continue to grow and develop. Possibly get involved in some sport work to show versatility. But more importantly, have serious breeders get involved with them, and keep the show community as far away as possible.

The Aftermath

I truly hope I do either of these fine breeds a disservice by writing about them. The last thing we want is for dogs like the American Bandogge Mastiff and the Dogo Argentino to become popular. We have learned that any breed that has made its’ way to the U.S. has become two things: popular and substandard (in that order). Despite our efforts to keep our working dogs “state of the art,” there are always amateur breeders out there who ruin it for the good ones. One of my favorite sayings, “oops, my bitch is pregnant, I’m a breeder,” describes these people perfectly. Here’s a couple reasons I predict this will not happen with these two breeds: First, to someone who has never seen one, a Dogo resembles a large white pit bull terrier. So to the charlatan breeder wannabe, this is a pit bull imitation. Good. These geniuses don’t want an imitation. They want the real thing, right? Good again. And since Dog Spots Magazine only caters to die hard dog people, it is doubtful this article will get out to the general public. Secondly, with the American Bandogge Mastiff, it would take YEARS of breeding and lots of money for some lame brain to cross APBT and Neos and come up with a decent product to peddle to the public. Too much work. Good. My advice to the phonies: stick with show dogs. My advice to the serious breeders: raise your prices, and be very selective in selling to the general public.

Anyone wishing to contact the interview subjects of this article:

Karolyn Harris & Chris Wike
Thunder Mountain Kennels
P.O. Box 156
Indiahoma, OK 73552
(580) 246-3550

Joseph Lucero III
Working Class Kennels
56925 Yucca Trail (Suite 225)
Yucca Valley, CA 92284
(760) 364-4576