Bullmastiff---The Dog For Me??? - rev 03/10 by: Ron Drozdick (mailto:Rjdroz@MTAonline.net)

Bullmastiffs are a very unusual type of dog. They are not for everyone. I have limited experience, having had one large male. My first large dog. Before him, I never had a dog over 35# or trained a dog to do anything. After, I have handled him in dog shows and shown him to a championship. And I am happier with him than I had ever thought I could be.

Please note that all dogs are different. What I say here is based on my experience with one dog and what I have learned from others.

What does a bullmastiff look like?

They are large and exceptionally heavy dogs. Powerful rather than graceful. Males run 25-27 inches at the shoulders and 110-140 pounds if they don't get fat. Females are an inch or two shorter. Probably their most distinctive feature is their head. The dog tends to be wide. The head is too. The head is massive, with a muzzle that is about 1/3 the length of the head. The neck is almost as big around. My dogs collar is around 27" (his height too.) That would fit over your head easily. Ears are folded. The dog always has a muzzle and ears darker than the base body color. The darkness and extent of the mask will vary. Fur is short and can be any color of fawn (tan) as well as a red fawn. The dogs can also be brindle or 'tiger striped'. There is often a bit of white on the chest.

What were bullmastiffs bred to do?

They are one of the very few dogs bred to be a guard dog vs. people. And they are a very special kind of guard dog. They were bred to catch poachers in England. At the time poaching was a 'capital' offense. That meant the dogs were expected to chase a desperate (and usually armed) man down, knock him down and keep him there until a gamekeeper could come and arrest him. Without seriously injuring him. The dog was bred to be big, strong, and, independent. These dogs were not intended to chase the offenders away, they are intended to detain the offender. You don't often see them in action, since most people stay away from them. They rarely bark except when they want out to investigate a noise.

Have they changed?

Of course. They are bigger, more powerful, and have shorter and more massive muzzles. These things make them less suited to endurance running. This is not a dog to get as a multi-mile jogging companion. They have not been bred recently for their original purpose, since poachers are no longer hung by the neck until dead. If a given bullmastiff has all the right instincts is hard to judge. Effective temperament testing methods do not exist. Probably never will, because the bullmastiff temperament is very difficult to test. Most bullmastiffs will not exhibit guarding behavior unless THEY think it is required. They are not hair trigger dogs, and usually evaluate a situation before acting. Most 'tests' involve a person acting aggressive around the dog. If they are not convincing, the dog may ignore them.

What kind of a guard dog is a bullmastiff?

They are a very good family guard dog. Suitable for a place with a few acres of land, or even an apartment with regular walks. They usually exhibit the following classic characteristics:

1.) Friendly and easy going. They should NOT show aggressiveness unless there is a good reason. They should not eat the neighbors kid on a whim.

2.) Territorial and protective. If there is a good reason, they should be willing to protect what is theirs.

3.) Dominant. They should consider themselves to be in control of most situations. If something is wrong, they take steps to correct the situation.

4.) Independent and discriminating. They make their own decisions. They do not go into guard dog mode unless THEY feel it is warranted. On the other hand, they may not listen to you if they feel the situation warrants it.

5.) Intimidating. They should make anyone think twice about messing with you.

Still they are NOT typical guard dogs. If a bullmastiff has the 'right' instincts, he will not bark much. He will rarely snarl or snap or put on an aggressive, threatening dog 'show'. He will wait to see what develops and act accordingly. The bullmastiff may tend to knock down and 'detain' an intruder. They are not 'biters'. (My dog has a remarkably 'soft' mouth.) The (hearsay) stories below illustrate the temperament:

1.) Meter man jumps fence. (No one home.) Owner comes back a few hours later. Meter man sitting in corner of yard. Dog staring at meter man. Meter man 'physically' unhurt.

2.) Intruder breaks window. (No one home.) Puts hand inside to unlock latch. Patiently waiting bullmastiff grabs arm and holds. Owner comes home. Calls police. Dog eventually releases, intruder not seriously hurt.

3.) Intruder breaking into house. (No one home.) Bullmastiff waits until man inside. Chases him and knocks him down. Repeats multiple times. Neighbors hear noise and think a fight is going on and call police. Door opened, intruder runs out, dog sits in entrance grinning.

While I have not had a similar instance, my bullmastiff barks whenever there is a noise he thinks comes from outside. (We don't worry about listening for the doorbell.) When the door is opened he investigates. (Or tries to, when it is someone at the front door he wants to go out and see, but we don't let him unless it is someone he knows. Not because we think he is dangerous, but for the mental well being of the visitor.)

What kind of a watch dog is a bullmastiff?

Adequate. They should let you know if something is happening outside. Possibly knocking over a small table in the process. They may sleep through minor noises. There are much better watchdogs out there. Usually small, active dogs who are light sleepers. On the plus side, they won't bark so often, that you end up ignoring them.

What kind of an attack dog is a bullmastiff?

Very good, I understand. BUT they are hard to train for this purpose since they are very independent. A VERY good trainer is required.

Who should NOT own a bullmastiff?

A person who wants to have a high activity dog who will chase a Frisbee for hours. A person who intends to keep the dog outside chained up in the back yard. A person who wants an aggressive, growling, threatening, snapping dog. You can turn one into that kind of dog, but he will be out of control and a danger to everyone, including his owner.

Who SHOULD own a bullmastiff?

A person who is looking for a family pet who can double as protector. Who wants a dog that is a couch potato most of the time. One who is willing to do some formal training so that the dog will at least usually do what you want him to. One who is willing to do a lot of socialization. The last is easy but critical. The dog should meet, on friendly terms, a wide range of people in his first year. This will insure that the dog reacts to actions and intent, not appearance, when evaluating a situation. Please remember, you cannot control a bullmastiff unless he lets you.

Can A bullmastiff be an outside dog?

Partly. A bullmastiff likes people and needs contact with his family. They like physical contact and are usually very affectionate. They don't like to be alone. They may develop temperament problems if isolated too much. This dog is also not suited for very cold or very hot weather. If the temperature is going to be in the 90's, and the humidity high, he can easily become heat stressed. Dogs cannot handle heat as well as people. And dogs that are large, stocky, and/or have short muzzles have more problems than average. If you plan on this he will need shade, water to drink, and a kiddy wading pool to cool off in. In cold weather, temperatures well below freezing can be a problem WHEN STAYING OUSIDE FOR A LONG TIME. The short coat does not give a lot of protection. They should be inside in very cold weather. That said, I am now in Anchorage, Alaska. The dog is much happier here than he was in Houston Texas. When active he prefers fairly cold temperatures. Being a large heavy dog, he stays warm as long as he is moving. Loves walks when the temperature is in the 20's. When he goes outside to fertilize the yard he does not really rush his business until the temperatures are below zero.

Can a bullmastiff be an inside dog?

Very definitely. They should all be inside at least part of the time so they bond with people. They can even be kept in an apartment if they get daily walks to fulfill their exercise requirements. The dogs have lower energy than most dogs and are less destructive. They tend to sleep a lot, and like to lie down near their people. There are some negative aspects:

1.) Shedding. While they do not go through periods of massive shedding, there is a lot of dog there. And a lot of hairs.

2.) Tripping hazard. Yes, they lie down a lot and often near you.

3.) Knocking things over. While they don't tend to move around a lot, when they do there is a tendency to knock over things at tail level, to stand up under coffee tables, and to nudge end tables. Breakables should be placed with this in mind.

4.) Shortened life of springs. Bed springs, couch springs, etc.

5.) Chewing. Lots of attractive chew toys (not raw hide types, my dog did not chew, he ate them.) will be needed during the teething stages. And I recommend his own towels, bed spread, old sleeping bag, or what ever. These dogs tend to have undershot jaws and the small front teeth (incisors) usually do not meet. Our dog will nibble on an old bed spread for hours without doing any damage, other than wetting it a bit.

6.) Swallowing things. Like middle school kid's socks and wife's knee highs. Fortunately he passed them all easily. Recommend making a special effort to keep such things out of reach.

What about DROOL?

This warrants a separate section. It will likely be there. Dogs with short muzzles usually have saggy lips that don't contain drool well. Drool occurs primarily in two instances. Exercise generates drool as the dog salivates to control body temperature. Fortunately, he should not exercise much indoors. Drool also occurs after drinking as existing deposits are thinned and start to flow. Gross, huh? We do no consider it much of a problem IF you do certain things.

1.) Keep drool cloths (we use white shop towels from SAM's) available for a quick wipe indoors and always carry one with you on walks.

2.) Put slip covers on couches and chairs. Even if the dog is trained to stay off, the cushions and arms will be at mouth level. I recommend a special arrangement with separate covers for the cushions and a 'pillowcase' type covers for the back and arms. Throw type covers will migrate rapidly if the dog is allowed on the couches.

How are they with visitors?

IF you have socialized them well, they should be fine. They will usually accept anyone you bring home. The main danger is that they may want to play. Most people DON'T want to play with a full grown bullmastiff. Even if the person does want to play, it will be an experience. These are big heavy dogs with a lot of weight on their front legs. My dog has knocked over (in play) my female (not petite) vet and a woman who had experience with wolf/german shepherd crosses, female mountain lions, and asian honey bears. BTW, drool can be a problem, since your dog will want to sniff the visitors and may leave a 'snail trail'.

How are they with kids?

They are usually very tolerant with kids, and will take a lot of abuse. One kid we have never seen before (the friend of a friend of our son's) came to visit. He weighed less than half as much as our dog. When he came in, he looked at our dog and said 'I'm afraid of big dogs'. We reassured him, and left the dog free, and watched. By the time the kid (of another racial/ethnic background BTW which can be a problem if the dog is not socialized) left, he was repeating 'I like that dog'. The key is supervision. The main danger is if the dog thinks the strange kid is attacking. This can happen when kids play and the bullmastiff may try to protect. A minor danger is that the dog may knock the kid down (or step on them). (VERY easy for your bullmastiff to do in play or accidentally.) My son would occasionally go to a small enclosed playground/park with a few of his friends and play run away from the big dog. The bullmastiff would chase them, trip them and lick them when they were on the ground. (The soft grass covered ground.) Be careful with rough play or and active play especially over hard surfaces. Always supervise.

How are they with other animals?

Bullmastiffs do not seem to have a strong prey instinct. They usually seem react to other animals with curiosity. Of course they can accidentally hurt small animals. They do have some prey instinct and may try to catch your parakeet as it flies by. When familiar, they usually get along fairly well.

How are they with other dogs

This varies. Socialization is recommended. In my experience, they seem to assume they are the dominant dog, and don't try to prove it. They usually react to challenges. Put another way they usually don't look for fights, but don't run away from them either (and could do a lot of damage quickly if they want to). If properly introduced, they should be OK with other dogs that do not try to push them around. The main problems occur with other same sex unneutered dogs. BTW, it seems that most other strange dogs do not like my dog. IF they come close, they seem to take his very existence as a threat. One (about 30#) dog in my neighborhood occasionally gets loose. Every time he sees my dog he charges and attacks. A few cuts have resulted. My dogs response is to reach down, try to grab the other dog by the neck. He then holds the other dog still for a minute or so and then release. It's like he is disciplining a puppy. On the other hand, when he (on rare occasions) meets my next door neighbor's 20-30# neutered male who he has known off and on since a pup, they have a great time. They chase each other around. My dog NEVER opens his mouth even to play bite with his friend, at least since he was a pup.

Are they trainable/smart?

Yes, sort of. They can learn fast so they can be easy to teach. They are so independent that they are hard to train. They tend to get tired of doing the same thing again and again. So don't do long training sessions. And don't expect them to fetch the stick 500 times. If the dog likes and respects you, he will do what you want (especially if there is a treat involved). He will be willing to cooperate, but hard to program. They are usually not falling over themselves in an effort to please.

Can I walk them safely?

Depends on the degree of training and the size of the person doing the walking. SOME training is required!! I weigh at half again as much as the dog and have a hard time stopping him if he really wants to go somewhere. (And I have to have good traction to have a fighting chance.) My dog is semi trained. He is usually very polite does not pull when I walk him. However, very now and then he decides to test things out.

Any special considerations?

Yes, never spank the kids or beat the wife, at least in the dog's presence. If you are prone to do these things DON'T get a bullmastiff. And DON'T use physical punishment on the dog. You will:

1.) Teach them that force is an acceptable option in pack affairs. For the dog as well as you. (You are teaching the kids the same thing.)

2.) Get their protective instincts going. With you as a potential target. DON'T think because YOU think you are the boss, the dog will always agree. They can have a way of deciding they can run things better.

What about medical problems?

As with most breeds there are several problems that can affect them more than average. There do not seem to be any problems that are 'rampant'. Minor (non fatal or debilitating if treated) problems include.

1.) Eye lids drooping and turning in so that the eyelids contact the eyeball. This occasional problem can be corrected by minor surgery before any vision loss occurs.

2.) Thyroid levels can be low causing a depressed immune system making it harder for the dog to fight off infection. I have heard that low normal level may indicate a problem with bullmastiffs.

Major problems

1.) Hip displasia is an occasional problem that often runs in specific breed lines. The results of this can be minor to crippling.

2.) Gastric torsion or twisted gut can be fatal rapidly if not treated FAST. This is an infrequent problem that occurs with large bodied dogs and horses. It seems to be random. The stomach twists and pinches off blood supply.

3.) Cancer can be a problem. A type called 'lymphoma' or something close to that may be increasing. It is inherited and seems to be found in certain lines.


How long do they live?

They should live to 10 years with luck. The average is closer to 8. My dog is close to 9 and in pretty good shape so far. They die of various old age related causes.



A list in development. Books that might be of interest if you can find them include:

Bullmastiffs by Mary Prescott,

A Practical Guide to the Bullmastiff by Carol Beans and Adele Pfenninger (Paperback - 1990)

Bullmastiffs Today by Lyn Pratt,

Mastiffs and Bullmastiffs Handbook by Douglas Oliff


More Questions?

More Questions? If you have any more questions drop me an e-mail by clicking here.