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How it all got started
John Bayard Swinford, D.V.M., worked diligently in efforts to create the greatest of all modern canine companion guardians. As a result of his commitment, he and some friends developed the Swinford Bandog (Bandogge) over 40 years ago by using performance selection. This vision resulted in the creation of several large, powerful, athletic, drivey, 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. 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. The traditional working Mastiffs had become only shadows of what they once were as they had lost balance, lacked structural soundness, lacked the necessary mental drives (unmotivated to work), and were generally lazy. Many even exhibited many behavioral problems. At one time canines had to earn their keep by effectively performing certain tasks. 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. He desired his guard dogs to be completely safe, trustworthy, and stable within their home environment, yet also fear nothing. For this reason, John selected game dogs (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 one of the most famous original Swinford Bandogs.
The foundation breeds
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 Bandogsg 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 Swinford Bandog program. That should have been clarified, as it misled a number of people.
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...probably over a 100 hours over the years. Martin Lieberman was very familiar with Swinford's work and for a number of years was partner with Swinford in the development of the original Swinford Bandogs. Mr. Lieberman's involvement included not only keeping various Swinford type Bandogs and arranging various Swinford Bandog type breedings. 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. Thor came from a totally independent breeder, was purchased from a newspaper add several years after John Swinford's death and from unrelated stock. 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. 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. Today, Kevin currently owns a Swinford dog from Chimera Kennels. 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 that I owned can be seen on the conditioning page of this website.
As recorded in the Sporting Dog Journal
In the July-August 1972 issue of the Sporting Dog Journal, Jack Kelly wrote up a brief story about Swinfords 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 referrence 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.
Bantu - another documented report
Although I don't condone the actions and beliefs of many of history's people, neither do I believe in judging people of yesterday by today's standards. For example, most of us can appreciate the positives contributions and civil liberties acknowledged and protected by the founding father's that developed our country, but certainly wouldn't condone the double standards they practiced towards others (women and minorities at the time). People in different times were raised with different belief systems and saw things differently than a lot of us today, and therefore they shouldn't be judged by our standards. Times change. Morality and belief systems change as well. Now, right and wrong may not change, but beliefs about what's right and wrong certainly do. We can't change what they did right or what they did wrong anymore than they can change what we do right or wrong.
That said, unfortunately, a photo of Bantu presented in 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 referrence to Swinford's Bandogs being developed as guard dogs, it is not the best source about the Swinford Bandog breed as the book unfortunately focussed 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 Rottweilers 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.
Current views within the SSDA
Rolling dogs is a brutal and inhumane activity that it is completely unnecessary. We only reported the above to address some historical information. These references are not being stated to condone such activities. If you need guidance on appropriate measures of evaluation, we will gladly share with you our training methods that are not only legal and more appropriate, but also totally humane if done properly. Measures of performance selection used today may not measure gameness in these dogs in the same sense as it was measured some 40 years ago, but modern and more appropriate measures of performance selection can indeed be very revealing about the quality of the dogs being tested. The SSDA only condones the use of humane measures of drives and resistence to stress by combining various testing measures of physical endurance (pre-exhaustion), mental endurance, and committment to various threats as they can be applied in protection training scenerios for guard dog work.
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 when it is in many ways easier to simply work with a breed that is currently established. Because the Swinford Bandog breed is still now recreated and indeed a work in progress, the SSDA is currently an "open registry" and does accept new "foundation dogs" based upon the successful completion of the performance requirements and foundation guidelines outlined within the Swinford Breed Suitability Test (SBST) and Swinford Standard. Although we are not interested in publicly sharing the Swinford Breed Standard in its entirety prior to it being published, you may click on the links here to see the SSDA registration form (Side 1, Side 2).
Today, the Swinford Sporting Dog Association (SSDA) now refers to SSDA accepted and SSDA registered dogs as "Swinfords" and has dropped the “Bandog” (“Bandogge”) portion of the name. This was done to differentiate SSDA registered Swinford K-9's from the large number of random, non-registered, crossbred "Bandogs" that are produced without strict performance selection requirements or inconsistent breeding goals. If you are interested in these dogs, be aware of the differences between SSDA accepted breedings that earn SSDA registration through their performance selection and the increasingly popular "Bandogs" that are being bred without performance measures or even specific goals and standards. The SSDA uses guidelines from a revised Swinford Standard to accept suitable breeding stock. These guidelines are a written work of nearly 40 years of careful study. The Swinford Standard establishes guidelines of breed selection based upon the grounds of performance measures including physical athleticism, mental determination, and protective performance in a Swinford Breed Suitability Test, SBST. The guidelines within the Swinford Standard place performance above all else, but there are also guidelines of breed foundation (APBT and Mastiff type) as well as desired anatomical preferences described within the Swinford Breed Standard. The only way a dog can be SSDA registered as a "Swinford" is to pass the performance and type guidelines written within the SSDA Swinford Breed Standard.
If you are interested in obtaining more information about the SSDA, feel free to email me at email@example.com. Breeders that register their dogs in the SSDA 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 Swinford Breed Suitability Test and an understanding of genetic principles, the SSDA hopes to continue the development of John's work, the performance bred Swinford canine.
H. Lee Robinson, M.S.
Founder of the Swinford Sporting Dog Association