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Interview with Thomas Mount

The All Purpose Dog magazine #1

interview w/ Thomas Mount (U.S.A.)

(March 2015)

 

Dr. Thomas Mount is an apprentice of Gallant's legendary E.C. Ringold, the owner of STCA and Westminster Winner Ruffian Don's Rebel of HarWyn and breeder of Gallant dogs. A keen observer of the AmStaff world for decades, he's now a promoter of the breed's true type, constantly unearthing interesting and relevant breed memorabilia for the world to see.

 

Q1. You got into the world of AmStaff when you were very young and your dog Ruffian Don's Rebel of HarWyn went on to become STCA and Westminster winner when you were in your early 20's. Considering such an early success, how was it all set in motion? Were you interested in the breed and did a lot of research beforehand, or were you simply looking for a companion at the time?

 

  I went to E.C. Ringold's house at 13 years old and was face to face with the most magnificent dog I had ever seen before. He was the 1962 STCA National winner named CH Gallant Kimbo. From that point on my world would never be the same. I became a student of the breed. Mr. Ringold, who was STCA President spent a lot of time teaching me about the breed for years. He gave me old Dog World magazines from the 40s, 50's and 60's to read and study, as well as Bloodlines and Your Friend and Mine Journals from those periods to study where the breed came from. After school for a couple of years I went to his house and worked with Kimbo. I wore out the sidewalk in front of his home and driveway gaiting and stacking Kimbo. I studied his conformation, structure, movement, and temperament. Mr. Ringold wouldn't have an amstaff that wasn't game. That is part of being a terrier. I studied old hand pedigrees with him. He had large stacks of them, with some going back to the 1800's. After two years of studying the breed, meeting old breeders and going to shows watching the best standard dogs in history compete, I finally got a pup from Peggy Harper of Harwyn Kennels in San Antonio, Texas. He grew up to win the STCA National Specialty in 1969 and BOB at Westminster. It didn't just happen, but it took a lot of work, learning and patience.

 

Q2. What exactly do you perceive gameness to be? How was it asessed back then and how do you think it can be asessed now?

 

Gameness is courage, and fearlessness. It's the readiness to willingly do what is asked. Gameness was bred into the breed for well over 200 years. It is character and flawless tenacity. It is never aggression toward humans, unless rightfully called for in order to guard or protect. Fear biting was never tolerated in the past. Dogs who bit people out of fear were put down. An amstaff should never exhibit fear ever. A well bred AST does not know what fear is. All terriers should be game. They were bred to drag badgers and other animals out of holes in the ground. Gameness is in essence talking about heart. The ability to never give up. It is a very good and admirable trait. The vision of the old great breeders that I talked too was to put game, solidly bred AST's in the back yards of people who wanted more than just your average dog. They wanted the Grand Old Breed to be bred according to the official standard with the traits of intelligence, love, courage, and loyalty. In other words a well bred game dog. An intelligent and loving dog that could read situations well. They also knew this breed was not for everyone. Especially not for those who want to change it. But it belongs to those people who understand it and appreciates it for it's admirable qualities.

To sum it up, a game dog is an emotionally stable and level headed dog. They are especially good with families and children. Gameness in an AST should never be confused with aggressiveness. There are plenty of aggressive dogs that are not game. Gameness will not necessarily make an AST aggressive; but if the dog has no other choice but to fight, a game dog will fight until it wins or dies trying.

Today our only vehicle to assess gameness is temperament testing. In these tests the AST should never display fearful behavior at all. He should face every situation or confrontation with the attitude of "here I am, what do you want!"

  In other words, we can not truly test for gameness as in breed history. However, we can test for proverbial courage through temperament testing.

 

Q3. Speaking of temperament, how did you pick Rebel out of his litter? And what made you choose that particular litter?

 

 I actually didn't pick Rebel. I asked Peggy Harper, founder of Harwyn Kennels to choose the pick male for me and ship him from San Antonio to Atlanta. She had bred Gallant Don Juan, a CH Gallant Kimbo son with CH Ruffian Miss Muggins of Harwyn. She was a CH Ruffian High Ace of Harwyn and Belle of Louisville daughter. I knew Bell went back to CH Gallant Ruff and CH Jolly Scamperpuss. CH Knight Crusader was his great grandfather on Don Juan's side. Ha had a very solid pedigree and I wanted the pick male from that litter. Miss Muggins gave birth to only two male pups in that litter.. Rebel's brother Ruffian Hal of Harwyn never was shown to my knowledge. He had no sisters. I would definitely say that he was the true pick of that litter. I think he even surprised Peggy Harper when he won the 1969 STCA National Specialty. He competed against two famous Harwyn dogs, CH Sky King of Harwyn and CH Ruffian Hercules of Harwyn in that 1969 National show.

 CH Sky King of Harwyn and CH Ruffian Hercules of Harwyn were great dogs in their own right.

 

Q4. The internet is full of articles and advices about choosing a pup based on temperament but they all seem to contradict each other. You've bred or been involved in other litters later - what did you look for in a keeper, regarding temperament, and at what age did you usually make your picks?

 

 I was taught by the old school breeders long gone. Mr. Ringold and others gave me a short list of four things to do to temperament test pups. These things are not the only way to test temperaments, but they do seem to be effective in determining if they have good temperaments. 1) Take a pup to a room that they haven't been in yet and put them down. on the floor. Observe quietly if they begin to investigate the room and look around courageously. If they freeze up and look uncomfortable or begins to whine that is not a good sign of temperament. 2) Someone can hide around the corner and suddenly bang and clang pots and pans together. If they become alert and come towards the sound to investigate, that is good.3) Toss a ball about four feet. If they go for it, that is good. If they run away, that is not good. 4) Clip a nail close to the quick, if it yelps but does not snap at you that is good. If it snaps at you trying to bite, that is not good.

 The pots and pans can be substituted for the nail being clipped. I understand that many would not do that and it is not necessary if they show courage with the other method. I believe that pups need to be with their mother and need socialization up until homed at 8 weeks. Pups need to play, scrap, and chew at each other to be properly socialized. They need to experience different environments, be with their mother, and have human interaction as well. By spending time with pups at an early age, you can tell what types of personalities they have.

 My main concern is to let people know that AST's should never know fear. They are totally courageous. If a pup shows fear it would be put down or neutered and not bred.

A breeder recently asked me if they should breed their dog that showed fear to one who is fearless. I told them no. They should only breed fearless to fearless.The breed standard states it should have proverbial courage. That means legendary, famous, traditional, time honored courage.

 In my opinion, no AST breeder should ever sell or place a bad temperament pup in a home. In the best interest of the breed, no bad temperament dog should ever be bred. It is very important that we as caretakers of this great breed represent it with quality breeding and selection. There should be no fear biting of judges in the show rings. The breed standard calls for proverbial courage.

 

Q5. Rebel went on to have a great show career handled by Mrs Michele Billings. You mentioned also practicing handling Kimbo back when Mr. Ringold started mentoring you. What made you choose an established handler for Rebel instead of showing him yourself? Having also met Mr Jack Payne and other reputable AmStaff handlers back then, would you say there are differences between what handling was and what it is today?

 

 I learned well from Mr. Ringold on this one. Yes, I worked with, practiced stacking and gaiting CH Gallant Kimbo for two years before getting Rebel from Peggy Harper. Mr. Ringold believed in having very competitive and standard dogs, as did I. He also taught me to have someone handle the dogs that will set them up with excellence and pull the very best out of them. A great handler will have that special quality that knows how to get 100 percent from a dog even when the dog doesn't feel like giving it. Rebel was a complete showman. He loved the show ring. Judges told me over and over that his gait and conformation were excellent, but on top of all of that, he had that intangible factor that gave him the edge. He enjoyed immensely showing off for each judge. He won them over. I knew when I saw him perform in the ring that I needed a top handler to do him justice. So I hired Michele Billings. She was an excellent handler. Rebel took to her immediately and they developed a strong bond as well. Before Michele past away, we still talked on the phone and told Rebel stories and laughed. He was a truly special dog. Mr. Ringold used Aubry Daniels, and Leo Schelver for CH Gallant Kimbo. After Rebel won the National Specialty in 1969, Michele Billings retired from handling and became an AKC All Breed Judge. She was excellent at that as well. Jack Payne did the same training at Mr. Ringold's that I did. He was a very competitive man and developed that gift like Michele had. He loved handling and won the 1981 National Specialty with Rebel's great grandson, CH Benchmark Chaka of LXL. Jack moved to Atlanta in 1979 and won the National just two years later. Mr. Ringold mentored us both. He mentored me 18 years before Jack, however, Jack carried on the Gallant tradition by winning the National as well. Back in the old days, judges judged on the breed standard. If all the dogs meet the standard in the ring, they would look at the intangibles. If a dog loved to be there, he had the edge over a dog that didn't care. However, the winner had to line up with the official breed standard in conformation and gait.

Back then, judges chose the dog closest to the breed standard with the least faults. If 2 dogs were even on that score, they would choose the one that was best stacked and gaited. If they were even on those points, they would choose the one with the best personality, that showed off for the crowd. They never judged a dog by who the handler was. The handler is showing the dog, not the dog showing the handler.

Q6. How about nowadays shows? You now have another young male, Esoteric's Brindle Ruff, which has also been shown, this time not by a professional handler but by your wife. What are your plans for him and what made you choose to have him ''owner handled''?

 

 His nose hasn't full covered, so I made the decision to pull him from the show ring until it does. Michele Billings in the past truly had a love for dogs and handling. She did it out of a passion that she possessed for all breeds of dogs. I see that same passion in Rozlynn that I saw in Michele .Billings. Jack Payne critiqued Rozlynn and helped train her to handle dogs, and he told me that she remembers everything he taught her in the ring. All of the techniques to present the dog with excellence. He said that she will soon be a force to be reckoned with in the show ring.

 

 Q7. You do tracking with Ruff - do you plan other work activities with him, maybe getting him some official work titles? Were AmStaffs working back in the day? Can you tell us more about what activities Gallant dogs were involved in?

 

 Ruff earned his CGC title at 5 months old. The AKC said he had to be one of the youngest in the breed to earn it at that age. We possibly will get a few more titles on him. I feel he is ready for a CD. My 1968 litter of Rebel and Golden Girl produced the most winning obedience dog back at that time, CH Gallant Tally, UD.     I sold Tally to Ralph Davis, and he and Dick Pascoe were great friends. They did obedience with their dogs together for years.

     CH Gallant Tally, UD was dam to CH Gallant Titan, who was the first amstaff SCH11 title holder in breed history. Titan produced the second SCH11 title holder in amstaff breed history.

 CH Panda's Gallant Spartacus was the 2nd SCH11 winner in breed history. His sire was CH Gallant Titan, and grandmother was CH Gallant Tally, UD. Roy and Marilyn Brubaker did a great job working titles on the dogs. Sparticus's titles were CH, TD, CD, SCH11, AD, VB.

 The Brubaker's dogs came from CH Gallant Tally, UD, who was from my breeding of CH Ruffian Don's Rebel of Harwyn to CH Gallant Golden Girl in 1968. Ralph Davis and Dick Pascoe did obedience competition in the early 1970's. About 1971-1975 with CH Gallant Tally, UD and Lancer's Silver Smoke, UD. At that time, they were the top scoring amstaffs in breed history.

 CH Panda's Gallant Ruffian was also from Tally and held many titles including the world record in weight pulling.     Other titles he held were CH, CD, SCH1, VB, AD, U-CD.

 

Q8. What is your view on AmStaffs and protection work, considering human aggression is considered faulty in the breed? Does an IPO AmStaff still get to have a regular show and pet life - was this considered a problem back when you started?

 

  An amstaff must have prey drive to do IPO. He/ she should never be fearful but confident. A true amstaff should be able to read situations well and understand what they are doing. A dog doing sleeve work should know the helper is not an enemy, but someone to work with. An amstaff should always believe that if he never gives up he /she will win the contest. Face it, IPO is a sport. There is no problem if the amstaff is fearless and intelligent. Dogs back in the day had a normal home life and when in Work Mode would perforn in the show ring or IPO contest well. They were intelligent enough to distinguish between the two,and it was not a problem.

 Many dogs today appear to be less fearless that they used to be. A dog that cowers with it's tail between its legs is not a good temperament amstaff. Fear biting of people means a bad temperament. An amstaff should be fearless beyond measure and intelligent.

 One example was Marilyn Brubaker and CH Panda's Gallant Spartacus. He won CH, SCHH1, U-CD, TD, AD and VB titles and was not people or dog aggressive. He never backed up or backed down if challenged, but he was also an ideal family dog.

 

Q9. Socializing dogs from a very early age must be a very important step too. Nowadays there's a lot of talk about so called ''big kennels'', that alledgedly do nothing with their dogs but take them out to breed and show, which increases temperament issues in the breed. However, from documents and letters from the '60's, '70's and so on, we know that, back then, there were also kennels with a larger number of dogs than today's average. How was everyday life for dogs in important kennels, in general, and in Gallant kennel, in particular, back when you began in the AmStaff world?

 

 In answering this question, you must first understand that back in the 60's the american staffordshire terrier / american pit bull terrier was virtually an unknown breed. There were a small group of breeders, and no AST's outside of the USA. Back then, breeders bred for the love of the breed. It was old school. It was not about money. I never made a dime from dogs. Our goal was to produce dogs that conformed to the breed standard. Breeding programs were judged by peers as either meeting the standard or not. If you showed your dogs, they would not win if they weren't standard. The show rings were filled with standard dogs. Now, to answer your question. Times were different.  There was no pressure from the world to socialize your dogs. People worked and had a small kennel in their backyard, or built a kennel for more dogs, but generally worked until retirement. The dogs who were raised together became a pack. Those in kennel runs were even less socialized, and would be prone to get into a scrap if around a dog they didn't know. Mr. Ringold gave CH Gallant Kimbo the run of his back yard in the 60's. He had a female in a run in the back of the yard. Later, after Kimbo died, He let CH Gallant Pistol Pete and Gallant JR run together in his back yard. They were raised side by side from a puppy, so they were a pack. They would scrap/ fight with a strange dog but not each other. True ast's are game. They are courageous and fearless. Today, with the way society has eroded the last 30 years, you have to hyper-socialize your dogs to get them familiar with a million situations. People take their dogs everywhere, and expose them to sensory overloads regularly. Because of the times we live in, it is very important to socialize your dogs from an early age today. I personally would never let two males run together.

 In my yard CH Ruffian Don's Rebel of Harwyn and CH Gallant Golden Girl ran together from puppyhood. They were a pack and best friends. They would not allow anything in the back yard that wasn't a pack member. If it came in, it would not go out.

 Rebel was not dog aggressive. He was a perfect show dog. But he defended his property and had no fear.

 The old breeders that I knew didn't socialize their dogs very much. But they didn't need too. There was no gang culture around the breed, and no BSL. You almost never saw the breed in a shelter. Today, 3,000 are euthanized per day in the USA. The breed was much fewer in number and It was a completely different world in comparison to today.

Q10. Speaking of BSL. In many European countries, BSL comes alongside some generic anti cruelty against animals laws that forbid cropping. Nowadays there are a lot of dogs cropped because of non-desirable ears. We have very few examples of non-cropped dogs in the US before the breed came to Europe. What was the primary reason for cropping and were non-conforming ears an issue in breeding? Do you think these laws against cropping will ever be an issue in the US, and if so, do you believe selection for standard intact ears would have an impact on the evolution of the breed?

 

Back in the 1960's I never saw an amstaff that didn't have cropped ears after approximately 3 months of age. All of my dogs had cropped ears, all of the major breeders cropped their dog's ears. I never saw an amstaff in the show ring without cropped ears in those days. It has been an american tradition to crop this breed's ears. I saw a lot of pups back then. I never saw non standard ears back in those days. Pups generally had half rose or pricked. The official Breed Standard approved in 1936 states cropped or uncropped, the latter preferred. Yet I don't believe a dog with uncropped ears has won the STCA National Specialty since the early 1940's. That was approximately 70 years ago. I personally love the clean, majestic look of a standard amstaff with cropped ears.

The early dogs that came to the USA from the UK had cropped ears. The purpose was so that their ears would not get mangled when fighting in the pits. So the later 1800's dogs had a function for the ear cropping. In the 60's we understood that this is what the breed came from. We bred game (fearless or courageous) AST's. However, as times changed, ear cropping became a cosmetic procedure for the show ring. The dogs with the clean lines of a good ear cropping accented the dogs face in a dramatic way. So for sheer looks it was preferred. The AST lines that I was close to did not have any non-conforming ear issues. That is not to say they didn't exist in other lines. I always had my dogs ears cropped by a vet. So did the old breeders. Only Theo Raborn that I am aware of, cropped his own pups ears. He was a master ear cropper and even cropped a National Specialty winner's ears as a pup.

I  believe that you should breed for correctness in the breed. Whether cropped or uncropped, this should not be an issue. It is personal preference and is cosmetics. It does not hurt the dog. I do not like the word evolution. What is evolution of the breed.  Eithert you breed correctly and responsibly to conform to the breed standard, or you evolve away from the Official Breed Standard. The standard is the target to aim for. Anything else is faulty and incorrect. The old breeders knew this and and understood the function and purpose for the breed.

Back in the 60's, the breed was still influenced by men who understood the nature and purpose of the breed, and that conforming to the Breed Standard created dogs that were perfection personified. Today, I am shocked how many breeders do not know anything about breed history or are in complete denial of it. I had a breeder of 20 years ask me the other day if amstaffs come from american pit bull terriers. Only when you understand the history of the breed does the Standard start to make complete sense.

Producing standard dogs will have a positive impact on the breed. Not just correct ears.

I believe you should not select stock for breeding that doesn't reflect the Official Breed Standard. That used to be easy in the 60's with the relatively small number of breeders compared to today. Very few line breed anymore. Instead of selecting standard dogs to represent the breed, judges have picked non-standard dogs for many years. Popularity breeding has replaced line breeding it appears. This has hurt the breed in my opinion. It would not be an issue if the show winners today were all standard and moderate as they were in the 60's.

 I do not fault the judges as much as I do the breeders from the past 30 years. The rings have been filled with oversized, non-standard dogs. I spoke to my old handler about this a couple of years ago who had been an all breed judge in the AKC for 40 years. She stated that the younger judges have hardly ever seen a standard dog. Many who have judged 20 years have not seen one either. That is a sad statement for this breed.

Q11: Where there many, so to speak, ''career'' show dogs before, as opposed to dogs that were shown just until they completed their AKC championship? FCI regulations sometimes change, especially in some of its countries, did the AKC title requirements change in time, and if so, do you think the changes were positive? We have just watched the Westminster Kennel Club Show and witnessed a rather small (but good quality) number of entries, that has many explanations where exhibitors are concerned. How was your Westminster experience with Rebel, so many years ago?

 

  As I stated, I retired Rebel after the 1969 National Specialty win. He had won Best of Breed at Westminster in 1967, and had nothing left to win. I did not go for repeat wins. I felt that was overkill. Mr. Ringold won the National in 1952 with CH Gallant Ruff and in 1962 with CH Gallant Kimbo.

CH Ruffian Dons Rebel of Harwyn winning BOB at Westminister

He instilled in me that once you win there is nothing to prove by repeat entries. It is each owner's decision on how long you show your dog. I simply had no reason to enter Rebel in another Specialty. What's funny is Richard Gray thanked me for that. His dog won the next Specialty.

It was a supreme thrill for me when Rebel won Best of Breed at Westminster Kennel Club. I was thrilled when I received the letter inviting him to participate, but the win was something I will always cherish. He was a special dog and he taught me many things. He was fearless and loyal and loved with a big heart.

New York and Madison Square Garden was bigger than life and an awesome experience. I will carry with me the memories always.

Back in those days, dogs were judged by the standard and there was no campaigning of dogs like today. There were no co-owns that I was aware of, and fanciers/ breeders did it all for the love of the breed. I miss those days.

 

Q12. You've been mentored by Mr. Ringold back then - if you were to mentor a young, aspiring breeder, how would you advice them to start a new, responsible breeding plan?

 

I would first do what Mr. Ringold did with me. I'd make sure that they understood the history and function of this breed. He had me study articles on the breed written by the founding breeders. I recently had an amstaff breeder of 20 years ask me if amstaffs come from APBT's. I was amazed at the lack of knowedge that many breeders today have. Also, back in those days everyone bred standard dogs. Males were on the average 18-19 inches tall and 60- 65 lbs. Today, many females are the size of standard males of the past. Today, males are far too big, tall and overdone. Back in the 60's breeders developed lines and line bred. Today, people scatter breed. Most do not understand the concept of breeding standard line bred dogs. I would instill into them to never breed non-standard dogs, but to choose a standard male and a standard female to breed. Then start your own line with them. I say this because there are so few lines left today. They have almost all died off. I would stress the importance of breeding fearless males to fearless females. Temperament testing is a good gauge to check a pup's temperament.

What I am stressing is that if standard AST's are not chosen for breeding today, we run the risk of not having standard dogs in the future. There are a small percentage of standard AST's today compared to the majorityof stock worldwide. Richard Gray told me that his estimate of standard AST's is around 7-8 percent worldwide. Wayne Brown told me today that he thinks it's less than that figure.

 

CH Gallant Kimbo, STCA Nat Specialty winner 1962, EC Ringold, owner, Aubrey Daniel, handler

Q13. What about AmStaff health issues - before, as well as now? Obviously, most health tests are fairly recent and, back then, selection was perhaps more rigorous than today. Still, how do you think this aspect developed over the years, through breeding as well as environmental changes (I'm thinking diet, exercising and living conditions)?

 

Back in the 60's- 70's we had no health testing. It wasn't available. I am sure some dogs carried ataxia as 30% of dogs carry it now. We just didn't know about it. People would call it the staggers. None of my dogs ever had it because they lived to be 13-14 years in good health. You could never tell until the dog got to be 6 or 7 years old. I believe health testing for ataxia is imperative today. As far as OFA goes, it is good in my opinion except for thyroid. That is ridiculous.

A dog could pass and then get thyroid disease the next day. Heart, hips, pasterns and elbows are all good. Pin Hip is better in my opinion in finding hip dysplasia. You can also test puppies and not wait until they are 2 years old.

 As far as the overall conditioning of dogs today, show dogs as far too fat. They appear overfed and under exercised. Back then, dogs were mainly yard dogs. Today, many lie around indoors. Dogs were bred standard and line bred. Today there is very little line breeding. The AKC Judges seem to like fat overdone dogs today which is directly opposed to our official breed standard that they are to judge the breed by. I think that the show ring today is the only place that you pay someone who knows less about your breed than you do to judge your dog.

 

 Q14. Do you plan to remain involved in the AmStaff world, and if so, how do you think your knowledge would be best put to use? Thank you for your time and sharing your experience with our readers! Finally, if there are any other things you feel should be added, please do so.

 

I have been asked by several people to write a book on the amstaffs of the golden era and the breeders that I knew then. I am gathering data for that and have begun writing. I also try to make myself available to those serious breeders who are trying to breed according to the official breed standard and desire to learn from someone who lived through that great era.

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