The Bullmastiff was initially bred as the ideal gamekeeper’s dog and now comfortably takes pride of place in the family environment. Here David Cavill puts the spotlight on this gentle and faithful breed.
The Bullmastiff is the gentle giant of working dogs. Loyal and dependable, this versatile breed can make a great guard dog or a loving, cuddly addition to any family. The Bullmastiff breed is a combination of 60 per cent Mastiff and 40 per cent Bulldog and was recognised by the Kennel Club (KC) as a pedigree dog in 1924 – although records show it was being bred as early as 1795. In the 1920s, as opposed to today, only three generations of recorded breeding to a standard were required for a new breed to be registered and accepted into the Stud Book. Today this takes much longer but challenge certificates were immediately available at the 1928 Crufts show.
The Bullmastiff breed was founded to help deal with poaching problems during the 18th century. Due to the terrible poverty of the time, landowners had to employ gamekeepers to protect their stock. Many used Lurchers and Mastiff-types as their canine companion of choice but the search was always on for the perfect dog. Gamekeepers needed a strong and silent dog, able to run down and knock the poacher to the ground. But they also wanted a breed that wouldn’t maul the poacher and only hold him until help came from the gamekeeper, who would deliver an undamaged miscreant to the local magistrate. Many crosses between Mastiffs and Saint Bernards, Labradors and Great Danes were tried but, over the years, it was the Bullmastiff, with his power, trustworthiness, fearsome appearance and loyal nature that eventually fulfilled their needs.
The Bullmastiff’s look has altered little over the years although, in the 1930s, the breed was shorter than those seen today. The Bullmastiff is distinguished from the Mastiff by his smaller size and more compact face. However, he is still a big, heavy dog. At the shoulder dogs stand between 63.5-68.5cm (25-27ins) and weigh in at 50-59kg (110-130lbs). Bitches stand between 61-66cm (24-26ins) and turn the scales at 41-50kg (90-110lbs), which is heavier than many human females! The breed’s powerful, purposeful gait and tight, catlike feet enable him to move quickly and quietly, meaning he didn’t alert the poacher of his approach. His wide, deep, muscular chest once enabled him to knock down poachers and pin them to the ground until the gamekeeper came within reach.
The breed’s dark nails provide better protection on rough terrain than lighter ones and his short weatherproof coat protects from extreme weather and doesn’t allow for sticks or debris to become caught and slow or inhibit him during his working life. The Bullmastiff’s large, square head is broad and deep with well-filled cheeks. The breed standard describes the breed’s skull as large, square when viewed from every angle with a degree of wrinkle when the dog is interested, but not when in repose. The nose is broad with widely spread nostrils, there is a pronounced stop and the muzzle is short – the distance from the tip of the nose to the stop is approximately one third of the length from the tip of the nose to the centre of the occiput (the bony protuberance at the back of the skull). The Bullmastiff’s muzzle is broad under the eyes. It keeps its width to the end of the nose, which is blunt and cut square, forming a right angle with the upper line of the face. The under jaw is broad to the mouth and the flews should not be overdone, never hanging below level of lower jaw.
Exercise and family life
The Bullmastiff is not a highenergy dog. One longish walk every day is usually enough but play sessions, trips out and other highlights should be incorporated into his life – otherwise boredom may set in. Walks should be paced so the dog is tired when he gets home, not halfway round. Youngsters should not be overexercised as this may lead to joint damage in later life. A Bullmastiff can be very content in the town so, unlike some breeds where almost unlimited exercise is essential, they are suited to town or country dwelling.
They seem to tolerate being left alone for reasonable lengths of time so long as they have lots to stimulate them. Many owners leave a radio or television on for company and this is a good idea for any breed. Providing good groundwork is done as a puppy, a grown Bullmastiff will fit into a family where both parties work. A puppy, as with any breed, requires much more attention as he will become destructive if left to his own devices.The breed’s protective instinct, combined with his great size and natural wariness of strangers, means early socialisation is essential and must be ongoing. Bullmastiffs don’t always get along well with other dogs, and females in heat occasionally don’t get along with other females. The Bullmastiff is very affectionate with children. Still, parental supervision must be maintained because the breed is large and may accidentally knock a child down.
Case Study “She gave so much pleasure and fun” Keith Davis fondly remembers his Bullmastiff, Briar. Keith says: “Briar was a loving dog and didn’t have a bad bone in her body. She had this habit of waddling across to people to say hello but this sometimes frightened them by the way she would ‘huff’ with a noise that seemed to come from her boots and then insist they fussed her. “Over the years we would take in waifs and strays from rescue. Briar would take these dogs under her wing and give them the confidence to enjoy life. If they were too big for their boots, Briar dealt with them swiftly, by taking gentle hold by the neck. The newcomer quickly recognized his place. “To me, Briar was the epitome of the Bullmastiff breed: big, strong but also gentle and loving. She fitted into our life without a care in the world and gave us many years of pleasure and fun – especially the day she walked into the kitchen dressed up with a hat on her head, a pair of sunglasses on her muzzle and a shopping bag over her neck. “We had many a happy year with Briar. She brought a lot of happiness to the family and it was a very sad day when we lost her to illness at the wonderful age of 10.”
5 Bullmastiff facts
the breed was developed to suit the gamekeepers’ colour choice, which was always brindle. This is because the striped flecks blend into the background darkness, making him less likely to be spotted by a poacher. Dark eyes also enabled him to blend into his black mask and not be seen.
2. Wrinkled brow
it’s said that the characteristic wrinkling on the Bullmastiff’s forehead when he becomes alert was used as a silent warning signal to alert the gamekeeper. Therefore, a breed with an excessive wrinkle which didn’t recede when relaxed was deemed unworthy of being a working dog. of them, refusing to let them pass. Bullmastiffs become intensely attached to their families and do best when they can live indoors and be close to them.
the Bullmastiff is a short-haired dog with minimal shedding. The brushes that work best are the rubber palm brushes used in a circular motion to lift out dead hair and bring the oil to the surface, followed by a slicker brush to trap the hair. A grooming session, once a day, should be sufficient to keep the coat in good condition – and to help show you are the one in charge. Remember that all droppedeared dogs need to have their ears cleaned regularly too.
4. Protective instinct
the breed has a strong, protective instinct and will defend his owners against anything he perceives as a threat. However, he will not normally attack to protect and instead knock the intruder over or stand in front
Bullmastiffs come in any shade of brindle, fawn or red and may have a slight white marking on the chest.
Case Study “Bullmastiffs are a devoted and faithful breed” Cynthia and Cliff Hughes wouldn’t be without their Judamar Bullmastiffs… Cynthia says: “The Bullmastiff is a real gentle giant. They are a very intelligent, easy to train breed with so much love and affection to offer – they love to please their owners and family. “They are cute and comical as puppies and don’t lose these characteristics as they grow. Our Bullmastiffs have more visitors than us and many people call us to see if they can come along to meet our dogs when they are thinking of becoming an owner of a Bullmastiff. “We believe they are a faithful and devoted breed.”
Getting a puppy
Unless you’re lucky, you will probably have to wait for a Bullmastiff puppy – but the wait is well worth it! Reputable breeders seldom breed and usually only when they have a waiting list. This is a good thing because, if they have a waiting list, it probably means people respect their breeding lines. Expect to pay between £700 and £900 for a pup and try to see the puppies with their mother. Ask about the mother and the father’s genetic background. Having lots of champions in the pedigree is no guarantee of genetic quality – the quality and health of the dogs in the pedigree is a much better guide. Visit the KC’s puppy referral pages at www.thekennelclub.org.uk for more information on Bullmastiff breeders.
Case Study “our Ojo’s a real family dog” Phil Dickinson and his family have owned Ojo since 2002 when they bought her as a puppy. Phil says: “When I saw Ojo I knew she was the one for me. She’s a brilliant family dog with our two young children, who’ve grown up with her, although she’s not keen on other dogs. This is despite going to socialisation and training classes as a youngster. “Ojo is happier being an outdoor dog. Sometimes she’ll stay in on a cold night, particularly if she gets comfortable and decides she won’t budge. She weighs over nine stone and no amount of cajoling, pulling or pushing will shift her! “Ojo is very much her own dog. She’s very protective of her family and home and, while she is smashing with people she knows, I doubt a burglar would think the same! “Sadly, Ojo was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer a few months ago but a course of chemotherapy seems to have sorted it out.”
Bullmastiffs are prone to the following hereditary conditions:
Hip dysplasia – where the joint is loose or distorted.
Elbow dysplasia – abnormalities of the elbow joint.
Entroption – where the eyelids fold inward.
Hypothyroidism – insufficient production of hormone by the thyroid gland.
Lymphoma – cancer. Progressive retinal atrophy – a group of genetic diseases characterised by degeneration of the retina.
These hereditary conditions are primarily the result of breeders trying to achieve size in the body and the distinctive massive square/cube head. Although the conditions are not uncommon, this does not automatically mean the puppy you buy will have any, or even some, of them. Today’s breeders are doing their best to reduce the incidence of such conditions. The breed also has a high pain tolerance and will not complain about discomfort until the condition is quite bad.
You can get further information on Bullmastiffs from any of the six breed clubs that operate in the UK:
British Bullmastiff League: T 01543 318600
Bullmastiff Association: T 0151 546 1087
Bullmastiff Society of Scotland: T 01236 421772
Northern Bullmastiff Club: T 01924 257106
Southern Bullmastiff Club: T 01992 892079
Welsh and West of England Bullmastiff Society: T 01283 217890
About the author
Show judge, author, writer, broadcaster and founder of the Animal Care College, David Cavill is an advisor to manufacturers, breeders, retailers, conference and exhibition organisers and show managements. With his wife, Angela, he owns one of the UK’s most successful breeding prefixes for Finnish Spitz.