The History of the
The Bullmastiff breed, as its name
suggests, is a combination of the Mastiff and the Bulldog. It was created in England
in the mid-1800s; the only guarding breed to originate in England.
At the time of its creation, there were many large estates in England, the
owners of which frowned upon the game in their estates being poached. Gamekeepers
were employed to oversee and protect the game in the estates and they needed an able
assistant; the poachers being a rather dangerous lot since punishment for poaching was
hanging. Mastiffs were tried but found to be somewhat slow and to not have the drive
necessary to down and hold a man. Bulldogs (a quite different type that we see
today) were tried, but the bulldog of that era was very ferocious and tended to tear the
poacher up too much.
So, crosses were made of the Bulldog and Mastiff until a
ratio of 60% Mastiff/40% Bulldog was achieved. This type of dog, eventually called
the Bullmastiff, served the needs of the gamekeeper very well. The dog could track a
man in the forest at night; work quietly; and, when close enough spring to a hard charge,
knocking the man down and holding him there until the gamekeeper arrived. This was
no mean feat since the poachers used every trick and tool at their disposal to escape,
knowing that they faced hanging. The Bullmastiff had to be very brave and tenacious
and more than one suffered death at the hands of a desperate criminal. But, the
breed was exactly what the gamekeeper needed and they did their job well. There is a
story about one highly trained dog name Thorneywood Terror who toured England with his
owner putting on demonstrations for crowds. The owner would muzzle the dog; give a
volunteer 10 minutes head start into the forest; and be any takers that his dog would
catch the man. Thorneywood Terror never failed to catch, down and hold his man and
made much money for his owner.
Such tenaciousness (stubbornness if you will) is still a trait of the breed and makes
them a challenge for the novice owner. You absolutely must not let them take an
inch, for they will surely make it a mile!
However, they are also docile, easygoing, very loyal and devoted to their family,
intelligent, and accepting of strangers welcomed by their owners.
Bullmastiffs are large dogs, although not truly a giant breed. The AKC Standard
of the breed calls for males to be between 25 and 27 inches at the withers and 110 and 130
lbs. Females to be between 24 and 26 inches at the withers and 100 to 120 lbs.
Many rescue dogs are small compared to the Standard. Colors are fawn, red and
brindle; all having a black mask which covers the muzzle and extends up over the eyes.
Brindle is black striping over a base color of fawn or red. Brindle was the
desired color of the original dogs used in England; it being very hard to see in a forest
However, as the large estates were broken up and the need for the services of
Bullmastiffs dwindled, they were bred for home and family companions and the brindle color
fell out of favor to the fawns and reds. Color is a personal preference, and all
good Bullmastiffs are a joy to own. Their coat is short and smooth.
Downsides of the breed are: short-lived (8 to 10 years); slobbery; stubborn;
expensive to acquire if buying from a breeder; expensive to maintain. They are beset
health problems such as hip
dysplasia; elbow dysplasia; interdigital cysts; entropian and ectropian (eye problems);
and early death from cancer.
Upsides of the breed are: mellow and easygoing not
requiring a great deal of exercise; intelligent; quiet; loyal; guardy, yet not vicious;
sensitive and willing to please. They take their cue from their owner in a
situation, accepting those people their owner accepts, and standing down those people the
owner doesn't accept.
A typical Bullmastiff action would be: you go to answer the
doorbell; the dog accompanies you and stands beside you to see who is there. If you
welcome the person and let them in, the dog welcomes them. If you do NOT welcome the
person in, but the visitor tries to open the door and come in anyway, the dog will put
him/herself between you and the visitor and do whatever is necessary to change his/her
mind about entering your home.
Generally, there isn't much discussion about it as most
people respect the countenance of a 100 pounds of muscle who is not in a welcoming frame
of mind. And, yes, they will bite. Some people think that since they are able
to down and hold a person using their very muscled body, they won't/don't use their mouth.
That is somewhat ridiculous since I'm sure they used whatever they needed to do
The reasons Bullmastiffs end up in rescue
is as varied as there are situations. Interestingly, I've never had one surrendered
by an owner because it got bigger than they anticipated. Usually, it is because
owners are moving and can't (won't) take the dog; divorce; can't have in apartment but got
one anyway and now need to get rid of it; and, from shelters where they wind up after
being picked up as strays. Generally, as with nearly all breeds, because of stupid
In placing a Bullmastiff I look for adopters who have had experience with large guard
type dogs, but who are NOT macho types; who have some dog knowledge and common sense and
are willing to learn; who preferably have a house with a fenced yard, but I will consider
a responsible person in a townhome or apartment. Interestingly, Bullmastiffs do not
make bad apartment dogs if the owner is willing to walk them on a leash religiously.
They do not have a high energy level and are quiet dogs.
They get along well with animals in their own household if they are socialized to them
early on, but as adults are generally dog aggressive with dogs strange to them, especially
in their own territory. As with all dogs, early socialization is essential to having
a well adjusted, easy to live with pet. Bullmastiffs need a strong-willed, dominant
owner who is consistent in his/her expectations and can bestow discipline and love
Linda Thompson of Gemstone Bullmastiffs
The following article was written by
Linda Thompson of Gemstone Bullmastiffs and premiered in the ABRN
Newsletter. Linda Thompson has trained and shown numerous
Bullmastiffs in Conformation and currently teaches obedience at Blue Springs N Katydid Dog
Training Center in Englewood, Colorado. She is the current President of
Breed Rescue Network, Inc. in Denver, Colorado and a past
Rescue Chairperson for the American Bullmastiff Association. Her kennel name is Gemstone.
and white photo was sent to me by a reader a while back. So I have no
idea where the photo originated from. If anyone knows, let me know and
I will gladly give credit. Update:
The black and white is from the 1947 AKC Book of Dogs and
Standards. Thanks Duan for letting me know!
Color photo was contributed by
Linda Thompson of Gemstone Bullmastiffs. She was bred by Pam Kochuba
of Shady Oaks and her registration name is "AKC CH. Shady Oaks Days of