By: Lee Connor


‘Douglas B Oliff’s Wyaston Captain Cuttle wearing antique war dog’s collar.’

Back in May (May 6) there was a wonderful feature on the Bullmastiff and Mastiff in Dog World and, tucked away at the very back of the paper, was a piece written by Christopher Habig celebrating 70 years of the Welsh and West of England Bullmastiff Society and the visionary who helped shape the club’s progress, the late great Douglas B Oliff (Wyanston).

  I well remember Mr Oliff from when I first started reading Dog World back in the late 1980s (halcyon days with luminaries such as Peggy Grayson and Stafford Somerfield onboard) when his Bullmastiff breed notes were a ‘must read’. These notes didn’t just confine themselves to what was going on within the Bullmastiff breed but also featured so many other subjects, such as his ‘alternative’ approach to dog feeding (long before it became fashionable). Here was a man who wasn’t afraid to advocate change when others were comfortably settling with the status quo, as Christofer Habig  eloquently writes, ‘he wasn’t afraid to question modern trends when others were only too ready to accept them as ‘natural progress – Douglas’ voice has certainly offered a lot of food for thought over the years.’

  I always read his informative words avidly and they have certainly shaped my own approach to dog feeding, upbringing and caring. His book on the Mastiff and Bullmastiff also helped shape my opinion on a number of other (somewhat contentious) subjects. Take this piece on inbreeding for example where he made an observation that is widely ignored, that of Inbreeding in nature.


This is the method used to stabilise type, and reduce breed variations. Not only will it give physical similarity, but it has every chance of giving a far more consistent genetic make up.

  Inbreeding cannot produce any new abnormality as the method cannot introduce any characteristic that wasn’t already there. What it can, and will do is to expose weaknesses being carried genetically by the stock but previously masked by outcrossing. If you really wish to know what faults are being carried within your line, inbreed for a couple of generations and the mysteries will soon be revealed. It is this which makes the average breeder avoid inbreeding, and to blame the method for the abnormalities and faults which are produced. It is not inbreeding which has produced the fault; the fault was already there. Inbreeding revealed it, not produced it.

‘Douglas B Oliff’s Wyaston Henry Tudor.’

  What we lack today, possibly due to economic stresses, is the willingness to cull stock.

  Nature herself inbreeds, but Nature also culls. If we take a herd of deer for instance (and living on the edge of Exmoor, in the thick of Red Deer country, I have witnessed this first hand) the stag who heads the herd has won his position by battle, and is therefore anatomically sound and physically fit. He mates his hinds, and fights off any male who tries to usurp his position. Those of you who know the wild Red Deer will recall the Stag’s defiant ‘belling’ as he warns off any other male with his awe-inspiring battle cry. He will head the herd for a few years, probably mating his own daughters and then he will eventually be challenged and beaten by a younger Stag who has followed the herd at a safe distance and is a son of the overthrown ruler. This youngster will repeat the process but there is one fundamental difference between this and our breeding of dogs. Any weakling, or malformed progeny thrown up by this level of inbreeding will either die or be killed. Nature’s formula has been followed; inbreed and cull.

  All too often, and in too many breeds, we have by cossetting and medication prolonged the life of animals which, if left to Nature would have died and their weakness died with them. We have bred from such animals. How often at the ringside have we seen lame dogs, or dogs of a shambling gait due to anatomical malformations which make a mockery of a working dog, yet these animals have been, and are being used in a breeding programme.

‘Mrs J Clark’s Ch Wyaston Tudor Prince, bred by Douglas B Oliff. Sire: Wyaston Captain Cuttle. Dam: Wyaston Tudor Lass. This photograph shows the correct depth of brisket and overall substance which many lack today.’

  These words were written in 1987 but are equally relevant today. Sadly we have lost (and are continuing to lose) a lot of the ‘voices of common sense’ along with those, like Douglas B Oliff, who were also prepared to think ‘out of the box’.

To borrow once more from Christofer Habig’s beautifully written piece;

  ‘Thinking out of the box can stimulate new paths and bring things effectively forward – particularly in our world of dogs, where today we seem to need some more independent leadership, and not just followers. And what might be most needed is a kind of thinking which encourages dog breeders not to give up their beliefs, but to ‘elevate and transform’ these beliefs so that they can help build a safe future for our passion.

  In addition, it would also bring fresh and positive air again to some of todays breed specific milieus where ‘layers’ of established circles often make it very difficult for qualified people as well as for new quality dogs to get appropriately acknowledged.’

Amen to that!