Richard F. Stratton – More Questions and Answers


Curiosity is one of the permanent and certain characteristics of a vigorous intellect. – Samuel Johnson

For a time, I wrote a question and answer column for Bloodlines Journal. In my first book, I devoted a chapter to some of the questions asked and my responses because I knew that a lot of other novices would have the same questions. Now, for the same reason as before, I am including additional questions and the answers I gave.

Question: Hypothetically, if you had a game Staff, would you still consider it a separate breed?

Answer: In my opinion, it should still be considered a separate breed, because statistically its progeny would not be game. I know that some people are having a hard time going along with the idea of a Staff being a separate breed. However, the definition of a breed is (in part) “having consistent inherited characteristics,” so from the point of view of APBT enthusiasts, the Staff is a separate breed. The Staff people, on the other hand, think in terms of appearance alone, and consequently, regard the APBT as a Staff.

Question: Tell me, would you consider breeding a Pit Bull that you knew was not game just because the dog had good looks and conformation?

Answer: Absolutely not!

Question: Are choke chains bad for a dog’s throat?

Answer: Probably not; however, they are dangerous to leave on a dog if he is tied up because the choke collar can hang in the “choke” position! Careful owners do not even leave the choke chain collars on their dogs even when they are running loose, because there is always the remote possibility that one of the rings of the collar could get caught on something. (Just for the record, I have a definite prejudice against choke collars!)!

Question: Regarding your article on Dibo: I thought Heinzl had bred Dibo since he was out of Hubbard’s Bounce and Heinzl’s Bambi, but you said a man named Smith bred him. Could you explain this? Why wasn’t the breeding of Bounce and Bambi repeated after it was learned how Dibo produced?

Answer: 1. Smith was a novice breeder who had happened to obtain some good dogs. He either got Bambi from Heinzl or Ed Ritcheson (former partner of Heinzl’s), and bred her to Bounce who was a son of old Hubbard’s Gimp. All of these dogs were down from an Old Family bloodline that had been preserved by Con Feeley, and later, after his death, by men who had known him. 2. By the time Dibo’s quality and his great prepotency had been recognized, Bounce had been shipped to Joe Corvino, and we also have to take into account that the dogs were fairly old by this time, too. Bambi produced a number of good dogs bred to dogs other than Bounce, and Bounce produced some good ones bred to other bitches too – like Rascal (to name just one!).

Question: Granting that inbreeding is a valuable breeding tool in the hands of an expert, why is it ever necessary to make an outcross?

The main justification for an outcross is when we have lost something in our basic strain (i.e., stamina). The outcross is the price we pay for not having been sufficiently selective with our stock.

Question: Should the ears of an American Pit Bull Terrier be trimmed?

This is all a matter of personal preference. I am inclined to prefer the natural ears, but I have seen many dogs that I thought looked good with trimmed ears; however; I am one of those who does not mind diversity of appearance, as I have also seen dogs with docked tails that I thought looked pretty good, too! (Just for the record, though, most fanciers cannot abide a docked tail in the breed, but they are all fairly tolerant about ears). I have heard people justify the cropping of ears on the curious basis that it is prevented ear cankers. Unfortunately, there apparently is no scientific basis for such a claim. The truth is the only justification for the cropping of the ears is the appearance that it produces, and you’ll have to make your decision on that basis alone.

Question: Since Bob Wallace was primarily renowned as a breeder of the Old Family Red Nose bloodlines, I was wondering where the brindle dogs came from (i.e., Wallace’s Toney)?

Actually, Wallace maintained two basic strains, his original Wallace line and the Old Family Red Nose strain. Wallace’s original line was based on Searcy Jeff (a brindle dog but the son of an Old Family Red Nose sire), Toney (a brindle and white dog), Penny (a Shipley bitch that came down from straight Corcoron blood), and Centipede (one of the original Old Family Red Nose greats). The old Wallace dogs were brindle, brindle and white, and occasionally red. Bob kept the Old Family Red Nose dog as a line to utilize as an outrcross for his main line. In the latter part of his breeding career, Wallace also maintained the old Feeler line for us as an outcross, but he never found the need to utilize it.

Question: Your theory about the origin of the American Pit Bull Terrier makes sense, and most of the evidence supports it. One thing, however, troubles me. That is the variation of the appearance in the breed. It seems to me that a breed that has had no outbreedings for hundreds of years would have a more uniform appearance.

First of all, I would like to clarify that I would never want to claim that there have been absolutely NO outcrosses at all – ever! Breeds are only pure in a relative sense, and we can’t make the claim that there have been no outcrosses whatsoever for any breed. I do challenge the idea that there have been any outbreedings that were deliberate and of significance to the breed. There are always rumors and stories, but I think we can safely disregard them. It is always easy to start rumors about a breed or strain. A recent one that I find particularly amusing is that the “Eli” line was founded by a cross to a Labrador Retriever! As for the disparity in appearance, we much remember that we get what we breed for, and there has been very little attempt to breed for a particular type in the American Pit Bull Terrier breed. Consequently, whatever features the APBT has that gives it a “type” are functional features (e.g., a large head to provide large and powerful jaws). Obviously, these features are fairly flexible and can be compensated for by other traits (also functional and variable). These variables and functional features dog give appearance – but within broad parameters. It should be noted that some of the most valuable and highly respected performance breeds (Border Collie, Queensland Heeler, etc.) have a variable appearance, but they are much more highly bred than most show dog breeds.

Question: Doesn’t the very name of the American Pit Bull Terrier confirm that the breed was formed by a cross of the Bulldog with a terrier of some sorts?

Not really. The Bull Terrier was a “top hat” that was used for our breed in print only for many years because shows dogs were called that. But they were still known as “Bulldogs” among people that raised them. The readers may be interested to know that the breed was simply called “Bull Terrier” by people that thought the English Bull Terrier was the show version of our breed. Later, “pit” was added to distinguish the breed from the “bench type” (which was actually the English Bull Terrier – a separate breed). Still later, “American” was added to further separate the two breeds in people’s mind, partly because the Bull Terrier folks started to refer to their charges as “Pit Bull Terriers”, too.

Question: Why is the “pit” in the APBT name placed in parentheses?

At one time, the American Pit Bull Terrier was formally referred to by three separate names: Bull Terrier, Pit Bull Terrier, and American Bull Terrier. Finally, the three names were incorporated together, and the “Pit” was placed in parentheses to show that it was optional. Personally, I am in favor of dropping the parentheses, as they are cumbersome to use. Also, since no one seems to be using the name “American Bull Terrier” any longer, they no longer have a valid function.

Question: I notice a tendency among some APBT breeders to breed very large dogs, 70 and 80 pounds or more. I also know that most of the really game old time imported dogs from Ireland were small, in the 30 and 40 pound class. Do you think it is possible to retain the gameness while increasing the size?

Generally speaking, the larger dogs do not run as game as the smaller ones. Gameness is not really related to size, per se; however, the most reputable and capable breeders have usually had a definite predilection for smaller dogs. Hence, the smaller dogs have usually been better bred.

Question: My wife and I are fairly new to the APBT scene. We now own two APBT’s and want to get into showing them. We would appreciate, as I’m sure others would, known what the majority of judges look for in the show dogs. We would also appreciate some clarification of the breed standard. Thank you.

Those who read my column regularly know that I am the wrong man to talk to about dog shows! I would suggest you contact the Golden State Pit Bull Club, P.O. Box 5186, Buena Park, California 90620. In spite of my rotten attitude about dog shows, this organization has seen fit to honor me with a life membership, for which I sincerely thank them. They also have considerable experience at showing dogs, and I am sure that they would be most willing to be of help to anyone that is interested in that area of endeavor.

Question: I got your book and loved it! It has really whetted my appetite for other books that have been written on the breed. Are any of them available?

Walter H. Patton Hr., who puts out a bi-monthly newsletter for the American Staffordshire Terrier Association for Fanciers, lists the following books:

1). The American Pit Bull Terrier (Colby) – $13.00
2). Memories of the Pit (Meeks) – $14.00
3). Pit Rules – $8.00
4). The Dog Pit (Fox) – $8.00

Question: What are the physical differences between a Staff and a Pit Bull?

(Sigh!) Generally speaking, the APBT is higher stationed, has a slightly more narrow head and has a slightly looser (and tougher!) hide than the Staff. However, to be perfectly candid, there is no foolproof way of distinguishing the breeds by sight alone that will be effective one hundred percent of the time.

Question: Do you have a second favorite breed?

Yes, I think that probably either the Redbone or Bluetick Coonhound would be a second favorite dog for me. Also, in the running would be the Border Collie, the Labrador Retriever, and the Brittany Spaniel. Although, most of the dogs I selected are hunting dogs, I am not a hunter. It is just that I appreciate dogs with unique abilities more than I do dogs that have exotic appearances.

Question: Could the APBT survive in the wild?

Probably not, for two reasons. First, the short coat would not provide adequate protection from the elements. Second, most APBTs would waste valuable food gathering time and expose themselves to danger needlessly. But other domestic dogs would have similar problems. For example, a hound would also fritter away its time by trailing animals continuously, a retriever would carry around sticks and perhaps waste his time swimming, a sheepdog would herd antelope, etc. The point is that all of our domestic functional breeds are specialists of sorts. The wild canines are basically eating and procreating machines. We have added and extra example, a Border Collie finds great joy in herding sheep and will often even ignore a female in heat when so occupied. A retriever is fascinated by flying things and has an irresistible urge to retrieve objects that fall from the sky. A bird dog thinks that birds are absolutely the most fascinating things in the world. And a Pit Bull thinks that dogs are! Now these extra dimensions may provide added pleasure for the breeds involved, but they are obtained only by a program of selective breeding that frees that animals from the demands of its natural environment, and in turn places new demands on it. To put the idea of any breed’s surviving in the wild into perspective, it is instructive to note that even wild canines removed from the wild for a period of time may not survive if returned to their habitat because of interrupted social interaction and the possible modification of essential learned behavior patterns.

Question: Is it true that the United Kennel Club intends to deny registration of inbred dogs? If so, I certainly do protest!

It is my impression that the United Kennel Club is discouraging inbreeding by amateurbreeders, and with good reason, for inbreeding has its pitfalls. However, expert breeders in many areas (hunting dogs, guide dogs and herding dogs) have utilized inbreeding extensively as an invaluable tool for fixing desired traits. Inbreeding can also be utilized to purify a strain of undesirable characteristics and diseases.

Question: I would very much appreciate any information about the different bloodlines, or any advice on getting American (Pit) Bull Terrier that is not game.

It is difficult to be of much help here, as for all bloodlines have their good and bad dogs. And the popularity of the strains that are rich in tradition and quality are allowed to become extinct, unfortunately. Such was the fate of the Diamond Dick and Henry bloodlines. Right now, the Corvino line is riding the crest of current popularity. In the next decade, it will probably be some other strain. I know for a fact that some of the advertisers in the Bloodlines produced some great dogs. I can testify to the quality of dogs coming from the strains of Boudreaux, Heinzl, McCaw, and of course, I have my own personal preference for the Wallace and Old Family Red Nose strains. One thing I can guarantee, however, regardless of the strain you select, you will still get plenty of the kind that are not too game!

Question: At our club shows, the Staffs, since they are bred for conformation, usually win over the American Pit Bull Terriers. Obviously, this is a bad situation, but what is the solution? Should the standard be changed?

The problem with a standard is that, regardless of how well it is written, it can be interpreted or “bent” enough to go along with the style of the moment. The current style with Staffs overemphasizes a heavy head and a blocky build. That doesn’t mean that some very fine Pit Bulls don’t come that way, but generally speaking, the good ones are much higher stationed. The long legs provide for superior leverage, agility, and heat dissipation. The old Pit Bull is far and away the very best in his area of specialization, and for that reason, it is patently absurd to think of improving him in terms of a standard. The only answer at all to your dilemma that I can think of is for your club to select a judge who is thoroughly familiar with the APBT, and is not Staff oriented.

Question: If your book does not discuss important dogs such as Dibo and Rascal, who should I buy it?

The books was not intended to be an encyclopedia. It merely has sections which are intended to provide glimpses of the breed for those who are not too familiar with it. Some outstanding dogs were covered, but many outstanding and significant individuals were neglected out of necessity. While the book is not intended to teach or instruct those who are already thoroughly familiar with the breed, it has received high praise from some old timers, and was ordered by some of the most reputable breeders in the country.

Question: Do you think the ears of an APBT should be cropped?

That depends on the time of day, the angle of the sun in the sky, and my mood of the moment! Seriously, although I fluctuate as to whether to trim the ears or not, I learn slightly towards natural ears.

Question: Regarding the gameness of the American Staffordshire Terrier, I have a Pit Bull, but I sold a Staff to a guy who uses him for board hunting, and he really goes after those hogs. Isn’t that gameness?

Okay, one more time around the mulberry bush on this one! I have tried to stress that the American Staffordshire Terrier should be considered a different breed because of a difference in expectations in terms of deep gameness. Fighting a boar or a bull (or a lion for that matter!) does not necessarily test deep gameness. Now, of all the things I have written, I think saying that the American Staffordshire Terrier is the thing that has upset the most people. But, it is hardly a novel point of view. For over thirty years, the most reputable Pit Bull breeders have held the same opinion. However, both the United Kennel Club and the American Dog Breeders Association register Staffs as APBTs. And to be perfectly frank, I don’t find the situation to be more than mildly alarming. The top breeders usually will not even breed outside their own strain, let alone to a Staff! So, it is difficult to see the harm in it all. I have stated the facts as I see them for their academic interest more than anything else and I am not on an anti-Staff or anti-show campaign.

Question: Last September, our son flew in from San Francisco bringing a treasured gift, an American (Pit) Bull Terrier. Without a doubt, this dog is the most affectionate, joyful, and energetic pet we’ve ever owned. We are concerned about her encounters with other dogs. In the event of a fight, how do we break her hold to keep her from killing another dog?

First of all, not all Pit Bulls (especially females) develop an urge to fight – especially if you avoid confrontations with other dogs. If you don’t want your dog to be a fighter, the cardinal rule with a Pit Bull is not to let him get a taste of it. If your dog develops the urge to fight other dogs (even without encounters), then you simply have to keep your dog on a leash and separated from other dogs. Now of course, it is possible to “condition” the Pit Bull not to fight by the use of an electric stinger. In the case of our breed, this amounts to malconditioning, and you usually end up with an unhappy animal. To break your dog’s hold, you can choke her off or use a breaking stick. The latter is the preferred and humane method.

Question: For those of us looking for a stud dog, what is the best dog in the country to go with a female?

Well, that partly depends on the female and her breeding. As for picking the top stud dogs, I can only recommend the ones I know something about, but going in alphabetical order, I would recommend the following: Alligator, Alvin, Art, Barney, Boomerang, Bull, Drummer, Gringo, Hank, Jeremiah, Jessie, and Roger, to name a few.

Question: Which is most important in transmitting gameness, the stud dog or brood bitch?

They both transmit an equal number of genes

Question: What strain of the American Pit Bull Terrier is the best?

No strain is the best, but the so-called Dibo line is obviously the most popular now.

Question: What is the difference between the Old Family Red dogs and the Old Family Red Nose dogs?

The terms are generally used synonymously, but strictly speaking, they are not the same. There are three designations to get straight here: (1) The Old Family refers to a strain of the old Irish dogs, gernally small, very highly bred, and reowned for their gameness. (2). The Old Family Reds were a segment of the Old Family that consisted of generally red dogs or red and white dogs. They weren’t bred for color, but the dominant colors (brindle, black, etc.) had been lost in this closely-bred strain. (The Gashouse dogs stemmed, in the main, from this family.) (3) The Old Family Red Nose is a segment of the Old Family Red strain that tended to show a red (or copper colored) nose.

Question: You spoke of the Dibo and Heinzl strains. Wasn’t Dibo a product of Heinzl’s breeding?

Yes. However, it is common practice to speak of certain segments of strains by using the name of an individual dog. Dibo is particularly significant because of his prepotency as a stud dog. If the technical definition of a strain is a “variety within a variety”, then I suppose a segment within a strain would be a “variety within a variety within a variety!”

Question: Why do people inbreed if it is such a bad thing?

Answer: Well, I certainly challenge the notion that inbreeding per se is a bad thing. All the great successful projects in history from guide dogs to herding dogs have utilized inbreeding extensively. What inbreedings does is to give the breeder more control by closing off and reducing the size of the genetic pool with which he is working. In such a situation, there is a slide toward recessive traits, because the dominants, once discarded, are lost. Some recessive traits are desirable and some are not (certain mental and physical disorders being the most notorious of the undesired traits). It should be of interests here to note that it is actually “outbreeding” that perpetuates nearly all of these undesirable recessive traits, even though they turn up only rarely. In an intense inbreeding program, the breeder should expect some bad characteristics to show up, but if he is consistent about culling them out from his breeding program, the breeder, after a few generations, will have a strain that is purified of all these undesirable traits. I believe that the emphasis should be on selection in any selective breeding program. There is a vast difference between the haphazard breeder who breeds daughter to father merely out of convenience and the systematic breeder who makes the same type of breeding, but after years of careful selection and planning.

Question: Is it true that hounds are better kill dogs in the hunt than a Pit Bull?

Answer: No. Hounds are marvelous animals, but their specialty is trailing and giving voice on the trail. All knowledgeable dog men are aware that the Pit Bull is the fighter deluxe and absolutely fearless regardless of the size of the animals. Now, many gentle people may wonder what on earth other folks (many of us gentle people, too!) would want with such a fighting machine. The truth is, of course, that the APBT has other qualities, too. But, let’s be honest, we all appreciate the APBT’s ability. The point is that there is no need for the APBT to be a thread to innocent animals if he is owned by a responsible person. No one should expect a dog to be discriminating about an overwhelming inborn urge, although, amazingly, some of them are! As a boy, I had been given a “schooled-out” pit dog, and he never bothered a dog that didn’t bother him.

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