In Search of the Ultimate Working Dog (Part I)
(Dog Sports Magazine 5/98)
This will be the first in a series of articles comparing the top working breeds in different categories. In order to accomplish this feat, I interviewed breeders in both "camps." Each has appeared with their dogs on the video "Dogs That Protect," and both are professional trainers with 20 plus years experience.
Land of Giants Kennel (LOG), located in Athol, MA, has established a worldwide reputation for breeding top quality APBT'S for many years. Many of their dogs have appeared in books, on videos, as well as won conformation shows. But the mainstay of their breeding program is supplying personal and business clients with the ultimate family guardian: the protection trained APBT. I interviewed Ken Buzzell, owner and trainer at LOG, for this article, and we will see how his dogs measure up against the Malinois.
The K9 Center, located in Ronkonkoma, NY, has been the east coast home of the Belgian Malinois for many years. Professional trainer John Brown has been training and breeding the Belgian Malinois for the past 2 decades. His specialties are the Belgian Ring and personal protection. He has extensive experience with both breeds and some of his comments may surprise you.
JD: I have heard that the APBT is hard headed and hard to train, even in obedience. How do you respond to that?
KB: That of course depends on where you got the dog and who is training them. One of my favorite traits of my dogs are their ease of training and their clownish personality. And as far as the protection training, my dogs have what I call a switch; if the man (decoy/agitator) is threatening, the dog will respond. If he is not, the dog will relax immediately. Some working breeds are so hot that if the agitator stops, the dog may spin and nail the handler or take awhile to settle down. For this one reason, I feel the APBT is the top dog to own for home protection.
JB: In my experience I would say the Malinois is more of a thinking dog, the APBT a reacting dog. To compete at a high level, such as the Belgian Ring, the dog has to be a thinker. I really don't think the APBT would do well in the Belgian Ring. I'm not saying there aren't select pit bulls with that potential, I just haven't seen them.
JD: It is well known in training circles that the Malinois is just too much dog for the average owner-handler, its almost if they're labeled "caution: do not open."
KB: I've worked with a few of them and I think they are just awesome animals. My only question is that can they be good house dogs or just sport dogs? This is one area where my dogs excel, great protection dog-great family pet.
JB: I don't know where these rumors get started. Remember there are Malinois from different countries and different bloodlines. My dogs are imported from Belgium. They are calmer and easier to handle than some of the French dogs. I've sold dogs to little old ladies with no experience whatsoever and there was never a problem. Of course there are dogs of any breed that are not for the average person or even the average trainer, but these, in my experience, are an exception.
JD: This should be a tough one. I've seen Malinois go through a wall of flames to get the decoy, and I've read accounts of APBT's being shot by police officers and keep on fighting. Which one is tougher?
KB: This is another area where the APBT's reign supreme. You really can't compare being hit with a bamboo stick or whip in competition, to a real life encounter against a 200 lb. assailant. In my experience with some of the European breeds, most can't take the punishment that a game bred APBT can.
JB: One problem I see with the pit bulls are that when they grab on to someone, tunnel vision sets in, and its very difficult to make them release. Sometimes you have to correct them so hard to get them off, they don't want to go back (on the man). In Belgian Ring or any protection type training situation, its is important to have immediate control of the dog. This goes back to the intelligence factor. A good Malinois handles stress better than any breed I've ever encountered. If you think a pit bull can handle the stress of any type of Ring Sport, why aren't they out there?
JD: Okay. I didn't want to make this a sport dog vs. street dog interview. That's a topic for another article. Lets get back to some basics in our protection work comparisons. How do you compare their natural prey drives, and which if either needs more prey drive development to have the proper balance?
JB: That's a difficult question to answer. As a general rule I would say that the Malinois are more offensive than defensive, even though either could be brought out in training. The APBT on the other hand, to me is a purely offensive animal. This goes back to handling stress. Not that you couldn't train one to have that balance. But I'm saying its a small percentage compared to the Malinois.
KB: I can only speak about my own line of dogs. This goes back to what I said about my dogs having a "switch." They wouldn't have it without that balance. As far as the Malinois goes, what I've seen seems to be purely offensive (or prey) drive.
JD: I've heard that when training the APBT for protection, one should be careful not to "overtrain" them because they take the training too seriously, and can become out of control or have too quick a trigger.
KB: I've seen that in some APBT's but also in other breeds. I would say it comes down to the trainer working the dog properly so this does not happen.
JB: Anyone who has seen the Malinois in action would agree that the APBT just does not compare, in prey or defense. The bottom line here is that comparing these two breeds is like comparing apples and oranges. They were designed for 2 totally different purposes. The Malinois was engineered to be a working dog extraordinare. And they are. The APBT was engineered to be a combat dog. And in that arena they are unbeatable. But in the field that we are talking about, its not a fair comparison. Its only recently people have been training them for protection or sport. True, some have excelled in personal protection or schutzhund, but its a small percentage. And I don't see many in French or Belgian Ring Sport.
JD: I've also heard that most APBT's don't even need bite development work (puppy tug, etc.), that most of them will hit the sleeve right "out of the box."
KB: Its very true. I've seen many that would hit the decoy without going through any type of training whatsoever. And I've seen dogs that you just could not put into avoidance no matter what you did. And that's without training.
JB: Just because a dog will bite a sleeve or a suit does not mean he is confident in his work. I've seen many APBT's do this too. But they're snarling and growling on the sleeve, a sign of insecurity. The Malinois is "smiling" while he is working, a sign of calmness and confidence. In my experience, most people who purchase pit bulls have no intention of training them whatsoever. That's where all the problems begin (attacks on people, other dogs). The Malinois, being somewhat of a rare breed (in some circles), has less of a chance of getting in the wrong hands. Therefore you have a more "serious crowd" owning them.
JD: Okay. Which would you rather meet in a dark alley. I think the APBT takes this one hands down. What do you guys think?
KB: I agree. There is no more intimidating breed on earth. I've heard of trainers refusing to work with them. They are the strongest breed pound for pound in the world. If they can handle bulls or wild boar, do you really think a 200 pound man would worry them? A good home protection dog should also be a deterrent, so anyone who knows you have an APBT will not even consider your home as a target. I don't feel the Malinois has the ability to intimidate on site alone.
JB: Remember something, its not what the dog looks that makes it effective. We're talking about a confidence level here, not just physical appearance. True the APBT is much more muscular and powerful looking. But I've seen many a super strong looking pit bull back down from a threatening decoy. Dogs, or people for that matter, that can handle themselves don't have to flaunt it.
JD: One more question for each of you, then we're finished. Ken, why do you think that APBT's do not excel in French or Belgian Ring Sport?
KB: I would say that most people that buy pit bulls have no desire to compete in any type of competition. They are used mainly for home and personal protection. Not that you couldn't train select APBT'S to that level, its just not being done at this time.
JD: John, do you think you could train an APBT to a high level in Belgian Ring?
JB: I don't know, but I would like to try.
JD: Thank you both for a very informative interview.
The Aftermath (Summary)
The goal of this article was not to have a winner or loser, but to give us a better understanding of both breeds. I think what we learned was that the Malinois is, and shall remain a serious working dog for serious enthusiasts. It seems more likely that anyone with a Malinois knows how to train and channel their intense drives, and will probably never have a problem. On the other hand many people buying pit bulls have little or no experience with dogs, let alone a "gladiator" type dog, and have no intention of training them whatsoever. Its the macho dog of the '90's and I've got to have one mentality. I would say that reason the APBT is having so many problems (media, newspapers, etc.) is split between inexperienced owners and amateur breeding practices. Hopefully, people will stop buying $50 pit bulls from backyard breeders and put them out of business (sic). Luckily, most people I have spoken to about having "killer dogs" have never even heard of a Malinois. Good. That much less chance exists to mar this fine breeds' reputation. Men like Ken Buzzell and John Brown are rare indeed. Dedicated to their breed and their craft, continuing to educate the public, and setting an example of what a true working dog should be.
Readers wishing to contact the interview subjects of this article:
Mr. John Browne
The K9 Center
1645 Pond Road
Mr. Ken Buzzell
Land of Giants Kennels
RFD #1, Athol, MA
[Other articles by this author]