The most satisfying time in a breeder's life is delivering puppies; the most difficult time is selling them. It is then that his estrangement from the normal world is most pronounced. The approach varies with the breed. Traditional shepherd people, plagued by the overproduction of certain inferior kennels, grow defensive and surly. Bouvier owners, who have no such problem, enthuse like missionaries. Doberman breeders are as disdainful as their dogs. Bull mastiff people are naturally inquisitorial—and the most difficult to deal with. This comes as a shock to the innocent purchaser who, understandably, considers that his willingness to spend at least $200 for a pet and up to $500 for a puppy with show potential rates him a respectful reception.
Of late, the tight little fraternity of guard dog breeders has been confronted by the irksome realities of life in urban America, specifically the escalation of terror in the streets. With the rise in crime rates has come a brisk demand for dogs that can run a mugger to ground or tree a sex offender until the cops come. Though much of this new market is being supplied by specialists in the so-called "attack" dogs, which may cost up to a couple of thousand dollars, many people are willing to settle for the equally fierce-looking, but less lethal, guard animal. Inevitably, the greater demand has upped the price of dogs and lowered somewhat the standard breeders supply to potential buyers. It has also brought some fast-buck breeders into the picture, who are less interested in your Gessel and Ilg rating than they are your Dun & Bradstreet.
But there still remains the unreconstructed, rock-ribbed variety of guard dog breeder who will not sell one of his precious beasts to just anybody. And, if proof were needed that these owners are a haughty breed of entrepreneur, one could find it quickly in the interrogations to which potential buyers are subject. Sometimes the questions seem merely nosy: What time does the husband get home in the evening? How many hours a day does the wife spend in outside activities? Bull mastiffs, the buyer is informed, are gregarious beasts: they pine away when left by themselves too long.
Sometimes the demands seem outrageous, especially when there is a possibility that a dog may be allowed to run free. "That damn woman told me I had to fence in my entire property or else move to an apartment," said one nonplussed suburbanite. "And she won't release the pooch till she sees the fence or the new lease."
Always the buyer's children are viewed with suspicion, guilty until proved innocent of being puppy teasers and maulers. "I had to go home and bring my 7-year-old for inspection," recalls another purchaser. "An interview with the Princeton board of admissions couldn't have been more tense."
Finally—the ultimate test. It is not at all what might be expected, for the ordinary prejudices—income, social position, race—play no part. (Dog people are not human racists, only species racists.) What is really crucial is the potential buyer's reaction to bull mastiff horror stories. There are the little confidences that comprise the small talk at club meetings and shows: the meter reader who spent five terrified hours in the basement, cornered by the dog; the nearsighted auto thief who mistook the bull mastiff for a blanket and put his hand through the open window—his wrist, or what was left of it, was still in the dog's mouth when the police arrived; the bull mastiff who went for a stroll in the countryside—and killed a cow.
There is a right way and a wrong way to react to such tales. The proper response is to shake the head, fondly, helplessly, as at a mischievous child who will raid the cookie jar. "Those dogs are a caution," says the true fancier. After a particularly blood-drenched story, he might go so far as to ruminate, "I don't quite like that—still, I'd like to hear the dog's side of the story."
If the potential buyer blanches at the horror stories, he is told that he would probably be happier with a nice collie. But if his interest kindles, if his eyes light up admiringly at the tale of the new guest demonstrating a judo hold on the breeder's child who suddenly finds himself flat on his stomach with a bull mastiff muzzle jammed against the back of his neck—then he passes the test, he has whatever it takes to become "one of us"—a fully participating member of a fighting guard dog breeders club.