"Deep night, dark night, the silent of the night,
The time of night when Troy was set on fire;
The time when screech-owls cry and ban-dogs howl,
And spirits walk and ghosts break up their graves..."
- William Shakespeare, King Henry VI
Summary of #1 - We know restrained, released, & catch.
Summary of #2 - We believe somewhat mastiff like.
Summary of #3 - Historical bandogges were not necessarily "of mixed breed."
Historical documents clearly illustrate the term "bandogge" as a working title earned by dogs that fulfilled the duties of particular combative tasks, and does not specifically refer to cross bred dogs comprised of specific breed foundations. People who describe bandogs as Molosser crosses display their lack of knowledge on this topic. While bandogges were typically described to have traits seen in some old world Molossers, the focal points of the term "bandogge" throughout historical context was not about breed origin or breed composition. Instead, the focal point of the term "bandogge" addressed the tasks, demands, and capabilities of the bandogge, and referenced the traits displayed by "bandogges" as they fulfilled their duties.
The word "bandogge" predates William Shakespeare's use of the term, and the historical context consistently describes a dog restrained ("banded") by chain or leash, yet released during combative tasks to catch various types of quarry. Depending upon the need, the bandog's quarry may have been man or beast. Quality bandogges worked as sentry dogs, protection dogs, or as hunting dogs for catching dangerous game, and many bandogges performed so well at such tasks that the bandogge earned legendary status as a gladiator. Today's bandogs should not just be mere shadows of the bandogges described throughout history, but instead should remain healthy, capable dogs that may live and work for 10-15 years.
The extraordinary courage possessed by these dogs is hardly believable. Bred from a long line of fighting ancestors, the dogs produced were of such ferocity and courage as to seem almost insensible to pain. In Mr. Edgar Farman's book (1900’s), the specialist in Bulldog History wrote:
William Harrison, in his description of England (1586), mentions the word “bandogge” explaining that “many of them are tied up with chains and strong bonds in the day time for doing hurt abroad," and further describes the dog to be "a huge dog, stubborn, uglier, eager, burthenouse of bodie, terrible and fearful to behold and often more fierce and fell than any Archadian or Corsican cur." Dr. Caius (1576) states that, among other characteristics, the “Mastiff or bandogge is serviceable against the fox and the badger, to drive wild and tame swine out of meadows, and pastures, to bite and take the bull by the ears, when occasion so required.”
During such times, owners could only afford to keep dogs that displayed great loyalty, stability, confidence, exceptional physical performance, efficiency, tolerance to the environment, durability, malleability with working temperament and drives, and excellent bonding characteristics. Accurate investigation about the bandogge will clearly illustrate that the bandogge's greatness is not a product of hype or unproven claims, but instead results from the bandogge proving its performance by displaying an unwavering ability and fearless determination to subdue their quarry. A well bred bandog may even display no concern for its own well being when working, yet meanwhile it may display extreme concern to please its family or to complete an assigned tasks. Bandogges have been around a long time, perhaps since the development of civilization, as such dogs fulfilled a need and served man very well when it came to putting food on the table or protecting our families, homes, and other valuable assets.
Beware of those that do not work their dogs and only show pictures of them just playing, standing, sitting, or laying around. Bandogs are largely defined by their character, not just their appearance. Many times breeders of cross bred dogs parasite off the bandogge's legendary working history and performance. Bandogs are defined by their working ability, malleability, train-ability, temperament, drive, stability, and structural soundness. Some breeders try to impress potential buyers by referring to their dogs as "registered bandogs" yet use a registry that does not confirm working ability. Dogs do not read papers. Once the definition of bandog is understood, it is rather clear that a registry cannot honestly refer to dogs as "registered bandogs" without some type of performance measures being part of the registry requirement; therefore, any "Bandog breeder" that tries to use any such registration as a "stamp of authenticity" should be suspect of fraud. Before being impressed with "papers," check to see if the registry requires a demonstration of working ability.
Also, do not be fooled into having faith in a breeding because you see the names of some good dogs way back in the pedigree. If traits are not tested each generation, then performance is quickly lost. If a breeder does nothing with their breeding stock, there is no significant reason to think a dog from them would be able to perform. Breeding on pedigree alone and without using performance criteria quickly turns winners into losers, and all that remains are shadows of what once was. Every dog in the pedigree should be able to work and work well. Can their "bandogs" live up to the names way back in the pedigree? These dogs are legendary only because of what they have accomplished, and for no other reason. Winners in all forms of competition are not made by making claims. They are made by proof. Actions speak louder than words, so see what these "bandog breeders" can do before you just take them at their word.
John Bayard Swinford, DVM, passed away in November of 1971 before completing his goal to create the greatest of all modern companion guard dogs; however, by using performance selection methods, he and some friends developed the Swinford Bandog/Bandogge. His vision resulted in the creation of several large, powerful, athletic, high drive, stable minded dogs that most importantly were truly functional companion guard dogs.
John's vision developed somewhat from seeing that many traditional working dogs suffer from poor selection. At one time canines had to earn their keep by effectively performing certain tasks. The modern "working Mastiffs" were no longer functional and had become only shadows of what they once were. The dogs once known to be working mastiffs had lost balance, lacked structural soundness, lacked the necessary mental drives (unmotivated to work), and were generally lazy. Many even exhibited many behavioral problems.
Show breeders were placing cosmetic appearance over the functional aspects that defined the various working canines and, in some cases, even before the general aspects of health itself. To awaken these lost abilities and to improve the effectiveness of the modern protection Mastiff type dogs, John desired to recreate the working Mastiff dog by once again selecting on performance over all other criteria, just as had been done for centuries before.
John's performance measures required dogs to be completely stable within the family, and also required certain gladiator characteristics. Swinford Bandog had to be completely safe, trustworthy, and stable within their home environment, yet also fear nothing. For this reason, John selected game dogs (specifically the APBT) to play a major role in awakening the functional working mastiff type dogs by improving their stamina, drives, athletic ability, confidence, and overall health. Pictured to the right is John Swinford, DVM, with Bantu who was the most well known dog from the Swinford Bandog program.
By using performance selection, John carefully selected various types of sound, protective mastiffs (primarily the English Mastiff) and bred them to performance proven "Bull-n-Terriers" (APBT) to produce the original Swinford Bandogs. Bantu, the dog pictured with John (above) was a first generation Swinford Bandog produced in the 1960's from the breeding of a proven "bull-n-terrier" stud (Kelly's "Bobtail Buddy" 2xW, not pictured) to an exceptional English Mastiff bitch known as "Octavia" (pictured below with young Bantu and litter mates).
One can clearly see the mother is an English Mastiff as has been reported in the Sporting Dog Journal. Swinford's most famous Bandog known as "Bantu" (pictured here as a pup with his mother) though was not actually the first Swinford Bandog nor was he even the first "Swinford's Bantu." Earlier John Swinford bred them previously and produced the first Swinford's Bantu; unfortunately, the first Bantu died from a car accident. After John Swinford's death in October of 1971, the second Swinford's Bantu became rather famous as a result of being published in both the July-August 1972 issue of Jack Kelly's Sporting Dog Journal and in Carl Semencic's first book.
Legendary dogman Pete Sparks also owned a Swinford Bandog named Toro (pictured on the right with Mr. Sparks), which was bred by Dr. Swinford. Like the majority of Swinford's Bandogs, Tora's genetic foundation was composed exclusively of English Mastiff and game bred APBT origin.
Hopefully this information will clear up some of the questioning about Swinford's actual Bandog breedings, for in Semencic's book the breeding of Bantu was not described, yet the breeding of some other Bandogs were. This incomplete information has mislead a number of people. Accurate reports of how Swinford's Bandogs were bred were reported in the Sporting Dog Journal but that was a very limited publication and was much harder for the general dog enthusiast to get a hold of.
Many of the misconceptions pertaining to Swinford Bandog's breeding program originate from Semencic's book perhaps because a Bandog named Thor was described as a first generation Bandog produced from a Neapolitan Mastiff and an APBT. This is true...and there were others with similar projects, but what was not mentioned by Semencic was the fact that Thor and many of these other types of Bandogs were not actually from the Bandog Swinford program. That should have been clarified, as it misled a number of people.
Pete Sparks with his Swinford Bandog
If you obtain a copy of Semencic's book, you can see on the acknowledgment's page the names Martin Lieberman and Kevin Covas. Martin, Kevin, and I have discussed the history of these dogs on many occasions...too many hours to count. Martin Lieberman was very familiar with Swinford's work and played a role in the development of the original Swinford Bandogs. Kevin Covas owned a Bandog named Thor. Thor was produced from a breeding of Neapolitan Mastiff and APBT, but as stated earlier, Thor was not produced from the Swinford's Bandog program. Kevin himself was not involved in the original Swinford Bandog project; however, he was aware of it and was able to validate some of the other Bandog projects in existence at that time. Thor actually came from a totally independent breeder that was found in a newspaper add. He was from unrelated stock and was purchased several years after John Swinford's death. That said, it is correct that Thor himself was the product of a Neapolitan Mastiff and APBT breeding.
Thor really liked running the treadmill and was in Semencic's book largely for this reason, but again he was not a Swinford bred Bandog. Today, Kevin currently owns a Swinford like (an American Sentinel Canine to be specific) from our program. When he owned Thor, Kevin was heavily into weight lifting and he desired for his dog to exercise with him. Kevin also knew how to weld and made two treadmills to make exercising his dog more convenient. For several years I owned one of the mills that Thor used to run on, but I finally chose to get rid of it since I had little use for it. Martin Lieberman owns the other mill that Kevin designed. They were rather crafty in design being able to handle dogs over the 100# mark. Thor's mill, which I owned, can be seen here.
In the July-August 1972 issue of the Sporting Dog Journal, Jack Kelly wrote a brief story about Swinford Bandogs, which was the "cover story" of that issue. Some 30+ years later, Kelly again wrote a brief article of Swinford's work in a book. In both cases, Jack Kelly acknowledges the use of the English Mastiff being bred to game APBT dogs. In his book, Mr. Kelly states, "John was intent on establishing his very own breed of dog by crossing his English Mastiff to an American Pit Bull Terrier." In the 1972 July-August issue of the SDJ, Mr. Kelly gives reference to the English Mastiff, the APBT, and also refers to some of the other foundation breeds used. It is in this journal that Mr. Kelly states, "John's ideas of breeding these dogs was to try and take the desirable qualities of each breed and through selective breeding to produce an all-purpose guard dog that was a game fighting dog." Mr. Kelly also gave reference to Swinford to the fact that even though Swinford himself did not keep pit dogs, he did love all dogs. He further described Swinford as a person who was always willing to offer his services to do whatever he could as a veterinarian for various dogs and dog clubs.
A photo of Bantu presented in Carl Semencic's book along with a brief description of an altercation between Bantu and a Rottweiler is largely how many people became aware of Bantu. Although this book gives some reference to Swinford's Bandogs being developed as guard dogs, it is not the best source about the Swinford Bandog breed as the book unfortunately focused on many fighting breeds and such activities. Within this book it was reported that Bantu was matched against a Rottweiler known for extreme ferocity, yet Bantu overpowered his opponent with a level of force and intensity so great that the the Rottweiler quickly quit and couldn't even be forced to look at Bantu, while Bantu showed extreme determination to pursue. It was also reported that the match was constructed primarily to prove the Rottweiler was not a true gladiator breed. Unfortunately, this book did not make an effort to illustrate Bantu's and the other Swinford Bandogs' most notable abilities as athletic and powerful guard dogs.
Semencic's book, although it attracted a lot of interest in the breed was in many ways a set back for the breeds intended purpose as a true guardian breed...as the breed gained considerable recognition as a fighting dog being produced from outstanding quality game dog stock. Although many of the original Swinford Bandogs were much more physically and mentally capable in comparison to other traditional guarding breeds their primary purpose according to the developer of the breed, John Swinford, DVM, remained that of a family guardian or protection dog. I can not speak for Semencic as to why he chose to focus on the fighting ability more so than the dog's capabilities as a protection dog, but I suspect that, like the media, he was in pursuit of the "shock and awe" effect in order to gather attention on the breed. Unfortunately, it was the wrong type of attention since the breed was first and foremost produced as a family protection dog and home guard dog, something that should have been more clearly illustrated about the breed in Semencic's initial publication.
The American Sentinel Canine Registry supports testing their dogs with protection work or legal hunting, but does NOT condone any illegal activities and certainly takes a strong position against dog fighting. That said, the activities that John Swinford participated in with Bantu occurred approximately 50 years ago, and we certainly cannot go back in time to prevent such events. The ASCR considers dog fighting as a brutal and inhumane activity that it is completely unnecessary when it comes to testing the abilities of a gladiator type dog. We only reported the above to address some historical information, and the activity of dog fighting is certainly not condoned. Please do your dogs a favor and do NOT participate in such events. If you need guidance on appropriate measures of evaluation, we will gladly share with you our training methods that are both legal, more appropriate, and totally humane. Measures of performance selection can be very revealing about the quality of the dogs being tested. The American Sentinel Canine Registry (ASCR) only condones the use of humane measures of drives and resistance to stress by combining various testing measures of physical endurance (pre-exhaustion), mental endurance, and commitment to various threats as they can be applied in protection training scenarios for guard dog work or for catch dogs that are used to hunt dangerous game. It should be noted that anyone involved in dog fighting or animal cruelty is permanently banned from registering dogs with the ASCR as well as banned from participating in any events held by the ASCR. Although John was very successful in his efforts of developing the Swinford Bandog, unfortunately he passed away in October of 1971 before the breed was truly established, and his original work died out a number of years later. Creating a new breed requires extensive work and most people are simply not willing to put forth the effort required for creating a new breed, especially since it is much easier to simply work with a breed that is currently established.
The ASCR is currently an "open registry" and does accept outside dogs into the registry based upon the successful completion of the performance requirements and foundation guidelines outlined within the ASCR Breed Suitability Test (BST) and ASC Standard. Although we are not interested in publicly sharing the ASC Breed Standard in its entirety prior to it being published and property copyright protected, you may click on the links here to see the ASCR registration form should you be interested in an application.
The ASCR chose to use the name American Sentinel to differentiate our program from the other “bandog” programs out there. This was done since the American Sentinel bandogs is proven to much higher standards than are the majority of "bandog programs" out there that lack strict performance selection requirements and have inconsistent breeding goals. If you are interested in these dogs, be aware of the differences between ASCR accepted breedings that earn ASC registration through their performance selection and the increasingly popular "Bandogs" that are being bred without performance measures or even specific goals and standards.
The ASCR carefully reviewed the original Swinford Standard before producing the American Sentinel breed standard, and there are some similarities between the two; however, the American Sentinel breed standard is certainly superior. The guidelines of the ASCR are a composite of carefully written works comprised of decades of careful study. The ASC Standard establishes guidelines of breed selection based upon the grounds of performance measures including physical athleticism, mental determination, and protective performance in a ASC Breed Suitability Test (BST). The guidelines within the ASC Standard place performance above all else, but there are also guidelines of breed foundation as well as desired anatomical preferences described within the ASC Breed Standard. The only way a dog can be registered with the ASCR as a "American Sentinel Canine" is to pass the performance and type guidelines written within the ASCR Breed Standard.
If you are interested in obtaining more information about the ASCR, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Breeders that register their dogs in the ASCR are expected to take no short cuts. They are expected to search for the best and model the breeding philosophies of the best. Combining this with the ASC Breed Suitability Test and an understanding of genetic principles, the ASCR hopes to continue the development of John's work, the performance bred American Sentinel Canines.
H. Lee Robinson, M.S.
Founder of the American Sentinel Canine Registry