The History of the Bullmastiff
By Linda Thompson of Gemstone Bullmastiffs
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 at night.
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 with various 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 their job.
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 owners.
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 equally.