Judging the MBT

By Anita Bartell

In contrast to many newly recognized breeds, the Miniature Bull Terrier presents a relatively familiar face to the dog show fancy.

Essentially, the Mini is a smaller version of the Bull Terrier, and those who are thoroughly grounded in the salient features of that breed should have little difficulty in readjusting their sights for size. (Consequently, AKC Bull Terrier judges are automatically eligible to judge Minis). Aspiring judges less well versed in the nuances of type will find attendance at specialty shows and educational seminars (both Mini and Standard Bull) enlightening. Successful breeders and experienced judges are a good source of information, and nothing beats hands-on contact with quality dogs. The standard provides clear guidelines; it covers the fundamentals concisely, does not bog down in forgettable minutiae, and can be referred to with confidence. It may be helpful, though, to elaborate on several key points.

Correct breed type evolved through painstaking selection for desired traits; in the Mini, it has been difficult to achieve and even tougher to maintain. Promotion and preservation of type, therefore, is of the highest priority and should be the guiding principle behind every judicial decision.

The standard focuses considerable attention on head. As with the larger Bull Terrier, the Mini’s head is its trademark. Admittedly, even a superb head cannot “carry” an otherwise unworthy dog but, without solid virtue in this area, a Mini is not competitive no matter how sound or showy.

The components of a good head, in profile, are downface, the unbroken, convex arc from occiput to nose; Roman finish, the added downward turn of the nostrils; depth; and strength of underjaw. From the front, a good head requires fill, the pack of bone under the eye; width, continuation of strength on through the foreface to end of muzzle; level or scissor bite; and expression, a function of eye and ear properties.

The head is frequently compared to an egg, a useful analogy, not only in reference to contour, but also as descriptive of the requisite smooth, full, unblemished surface. The egg-shaped bone structure of the head provides the framework for expression, which is the essence of breed character. The small, dark, triangular eye, deeply and obliquely set; and the thin, pointed ears held erect and close together atop the skull, combine to create an aura of good-humored mischief. Proper expression has been variously described as keen, wicked, piercing, varminty, and inquisitive. It is all of these. A scissors or level bite is highly desirable, especially since undershot jaws and crooked teeth are not unusual. But, as one illustration of the principle of type priority, an excellent head with an off bite will take precedence over a mediocre one with a scissors.

A first-class head is a valuable commodity and should carry significant weight in the decision-making process. Bull Terrier guru Raymond Oppenheimer summed it up when he wrote, “Don’t forget the necessity to preserve head quality. It will vanish like a dream if you do.”

As important as head is in defining type, it is still just one part of what must be a harmonious whole. Another famous breeder, noting the emphasis on heads, reminds us that a dog also has “two ends and a middle piece.” The body must be sturdy, smooth in outline and well knit. Each part flows evenly into the next in a series of complementary curves from the proud arch of neck on through a well-laid shoulder and firm topline to a slight rise over the loin and down again through the low-set, finely tapered tail. The curves continue in the underline with a hint of forechest, followed by depth of brisket, sweeping back into a gentle tuck-up. Muscular hindquarters and tight, round cat-feet complete the symmetry. Viewed from above, there should be a slight but definite “waist” dividing the capacious spring of rib from the hindquarters.

Oblique shoulder and pelvic angulation create the impression of a short back which, along with moderate length of leg, give a Mini the required square appearance, a very important point. Far too many dogs today are long in back and short on leg, a configuration that lends a dumpy, dwarfish air entirely foreign to the compact, stylish ideal. Upright shoulders and straight stifles, common problems in the breed, are major culprits contributing to the long-backed look. They also affect movement, since they restrict reach and drive. Generally speaking, the well-constructed Mini will move well for, in the matter of gait, function usually follows form. Certainly, movement is the final exam for construction and a point-worthy dog should pass with honors.

Size is the primary factor which sets the Mini apart from his “big brother.” Recommended height at the shoulderi
is between 10 and 14 inches, and every effort should be made to reward typey Minis that conform to these limits. There should be few, if any, debatably undersized adults, but a number of the better contemporary specimens stand at or near the 15-inch mark. Since there is no height disqualification, a certain amount of flexibility is allowed. Once again, correct type is a priority. Thus, a superior 14 1/2- to 15-inch Mini should defeat a mediocre dog whose most outstanding virtue may be its height. This flexibility must be exercised with discretion and only when the larger dog is the best available. Incidentally, it is vital to fine-tune the eye to the nuances of size, as there will be no in-ring measurement.

One of the pitfalls attending miniaturization of a larger breed is loss of substance often accompanied by a tendency towards toyishness. The appeal of the Mini stems in great part from the fact that it is a “little big dog” which packs the heft and vitality of the Bull Terrier into a pint-sized frame. Bone should be relatively heavy, and the body robust and muscular. Naturally, substance will be in proportion to size, but a delicate, fragile looking dog is atypical. You may be able to scoop a Mini up with one hand but when you do, you’ll know you’ve got an armful! Substantial, however, is not a euphemism for coarse. In his original incarnation as a busy varmint hunter, the Mini needed quickness and agility as well as strength. In professional sports terms, he is Air Jordan, not Fridge Perry.

Unlike the Bull Terrier, Minis of all colors will be shown together, and there will be one representative in the Terrier Group. At specialties, Open classes may be divided into colored and white. Colored Minis come in a rainbow of hues; brindle, red fawn, tricolor, and black brindle are the most common. Symmetrical white markings on a colored are flashy and aesthetically pleasing, but solid colors are equally acceptable.

In whites, color on the head and skin pigmentation are allowed. Excessive type is the bottom line. Coat texture is smooth and harsh, with a healthy gloss. The skin should be a snugly fitting jacket.

In this era of widespread anti-dog sentiment, sound temperament is the one element of the Mini’s makeup that is not negotiable. Beauty these days must be more than skin deep. The average Mini has a cheerful, outgoing, fearless, emotionally stable disposition, qualities that make him a good citizen and a great companion. A vicious, aggressive, nervous, or timid dog ought not to be considered for placement. His sense of humor and natural ebullience can sometimes lead to clownish antics in the ring but any “acting up” should always be completely good-natured. Minis just want to have fun!

One breed idiosyncracy deserves mention. The Mini is given to low, throaty vocalizations as a form of greeting and communication. This should never be mistaken for a growl. The fact that the sound is usually accompanied by vigorous wagging, not only of the tail, but of the entire body, should help dispel any anxiety on the part of the uninitiated.

Miniature Bull Terriers look their best when exhibited on a loose lead and free baited. With proper training and encouragement, they will stack themselves. It is to be hoped that a recent trend toward stringing them up by neck and tail will be nipped in the bud.

Point status has been a long time coming for the Mini. This year will indeed be a Happy New Year for fanciers as the breed enters regular competition. We are sure the dog world will find this active little dynamo a delightful addition to the Terrier Group.

This article first appeared in the January 1992 issue of the AKC GAZETTE and may not be duplicated without permission.