History of the Breed

The Bullmastiff – The Gamekeepers Night Dog

By David Hancock (U.K.)

Mr. Burton of Thorneywood Kennels brought to the show one night a dog (not for competition) and offered one pound to any person who could escape from the securely muzzled dog. One of the spectators who had experience with dogs volunteered and amused a large assembly of sportsmen and keepers who had gathered there. The man was given a long start, and the muzzled dog slipped after him. The animal caught him immediately and knocked him down with the first spring. The latter tried bravely to hold his own, but was floored every time he got to his feet, ultimately being kept to the ground until the owner of the dog released him. the man had three rounds with the powerful canine, but was beaten each time and was unable to escape.

This fascinating cameo of a man vs. dog contest appeared in The Field on August 20, 1901. With poaching (especially deer poaching) on the increase again, with human staff costing so much nowadays, and the law of the land almost favoring trespassers — especially those apprehended as poachers who plead “trespass” as their only offense — it is suprising that the “gamekeepers night dog” isn’t more widely used.

The “night dog” referred to is of course the Bullmastiff, the only British breed ever specifically produced for guard duties and from two of the oldest, purest and bravest breeds. Technically created in modern times, it existed for centuries in the form of the lighter Mastiff when used as a hunting dog, and then the bigger, faster Bulldog when used for bull-baiting. It can be argued that the Bullmastiff is a truer descendant of the original Bulldog than the modern breed of that very name.

Not recognized by the Kennel Club as a breed until 1924 — but used previously by gamekeepers — these dogs have the Mastiff instinct to pin their quarry rather than to bite, and to attack a man and throw him to the ground every time he tries to get to his feet, without ever using their teeth to savage him.

Mr. S. S.Moseley, from his Farcroft kennels, stabilized the modern breed after many previous trial crosses of Bulldog and Mastiff. There are similarities with the French equivalent, the Dogue De Bordeaux and the Neapolitan Mastiff, indicating a breed type in history, perhaps together with the Brazilian Guard Dog, the Tosa — the Japanese Fighting Dog — and the new extinct German Bullenbeisser.

What was being sought was a “gamekeepers dog”. Just as the poacher needed his “Lurcher” to locate, chase, kill and retrieve game silently and slickly, so the game-keeper required a powerful, well-disciplined dog to find, seize and detain the poacher. This was not a task for a light, nervous, noisy, fidgety, ill-disciplined dog, but for the strong, silent type, able on command to knock down then hold down a young, healthy countryman, possibly after tracking him or quietly observing his acting illegally.

The requirement decided, the end product was then designed for the purpose in mind. Undoubtedly, more than two components were involved, the Great Dane and the yellow Labrador type of gun dog, which was beginning to emerge about that time, being likely ingredients. But in essence it was a cross between the Bulldog — tough, tenacious, fuss less, brave and with silent self-reliance — and the Mastiff — immensely powerful, trustworthy, fearsome in appearance but stable by nature, loyal and brave, which produced the Bullmastiff — 27 inches at the withers, some ten stones of muscular guard dog. From these carefully selected ancestors — specifically purpose bred — came a strapping, fearless, superbly proportioned, imposing-looking animal, combining the massiveness and sheer pugnacity of appearance of the age-old beautifully natured Mastiff breed, with the famed courage and proven endurance of the renowned Bulldog.

These two famous breeds gave the modern Bullmastiff three priceless qualities, ideal in combination for a guard dog; superb temperament — even tempered, level headed, magnanimous and never excitable — a silent, steadfast, almost arrogant bearing; and most importantly, the instinct to pin the quarry rather than to bite. The powerful Bullmastiff doesn’t savage its target or “worry” the arm of the standing “wanted” man. He has all the necessary strength to use his inherited impulse to pin his victim to the floor or a wall. But before the action even begins, there is the considerable deterrent value of the Bullmastiffs sheer physical size, pugnacious, black masked face and his impressive, almost regally impassive composure. He really looks the part.

Capable of quite astounding speed off the mark, immensely strong and — although large and heavy — an essentially active dog, the Bullmastiff has superb self-reliance. He stands as if he owns the ground he stands on, looks you in the eye as an equal and yields to no one. Don’t expect subservience from this breed. However, gain the confidence of one, together with his respect, and you have the best guard-companion of all dogs.Not to be chained up in the backyard or confined to a small run, the Bullmastiff must be made a member of the household and ideally taken to a training class to get used to other dogs. Well-trained from young puppyhood, they are the most trustworthy. With his keen hard expression and well-arched neck, a young Bullmastiff is very proud and full of himself. This admirable self-assurance has to be utilized to good effect by firm, consistent training so that he becomes equally proud of his self restraint.

This formidable dog is well-behaved with children, never loses his temper and tolerates endless teasing. He is responsive to training, intelligent and faithful by nature. Used as a guard dog in such widely separated situations as the Mau-Mau emergency in Kenya, in the Kimberley diamond mines in South Africa, and on John D. Rockefeller’s huge country estate in New York State, the Bullmastiff is now used mainly by discerning private owners as companion/guard.The Bullmastiff doesn’t snap or nip and seldom barks. He can track as well as guard, is easy to train and control, and tolerates — perhaps more than any other breed — children. On duty, he does not savage his prey but silently and effectively detains it. That great, powerful head with the ferocious, scowling, black mask and the lasting impression of physical power, make the Bullmastiff a formidable, commanding figure for any wrongdoer to confront. A loyal, faithful, even-tempered, noble breed, Bullmastiffs make superb companion-guards and do not have that restless energy which demands a vast amount of exercise.

When all is said and done about the various breeds available as guard dogs, the Bullmastiff is the professional. He was bred for the part. After all, who would employ a shepherd as a night watchman when a security guard is available? And which would you prefer to be guarded by, a lion or a wolf? The Bullmastiff is the lion of the dog world. He is massive, arrogant, powerful and brave, a truly underrated, undervalued king among dogs.

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