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The Bullmastiff's History

The Gamekeepers Night Dog

Bullmastiff Head (Black Mask)

Called the Gamekeeper Night Dog, the Bullmastiff is gentle, quiet and devoted to those he loves,  but if threatened, he turns fearless.   At upwards of 130 pounds or more, this powerful dog is confident, stubborn yet calm and gentle. 

But what makes their history so unusual?

The breed's development is a relatively modern day story of how people solve problems by putting dogs to work.

A Look at the Bullmastiff's History

Even though the Mastiff is one of England’s oldest breeds, the Bullmastiff is a relatively recent addition to the dog world. 

The word Mastiff is derived from the French word “mastin” meaning accustomed to the hand.  Mastiffs are a group of dogs that were once called Molossians, and any giant breed regardless of their appearance or the type of work that they did was classified as a Molossian breed. 

Many of the original Molossian dogs are from Asia and have been around since antiquity. 

But the Bullmastiff is only about 60% Mastiff, the rest of his genes comes from the English Bulldog, but not the Bulldog we recognize today.  Rather the 19th century bulldog was a vastly different looking dog than today’s version. 

The modern day Olde English Bulldogge is believed to be the closest recreation of what was used in the development of the Bullmastiff.

The documented history of this breed begins around the end of the nineteenth century, or 1860 to be exact.  Large, wealthy estate owners were having problems with poaching on their lands. 

This landed gentry had massive estates that included forests teaming with wildlife.  The wildlife was needed by the owners to put meat on the table and provide meals for their hundreds of servants. 

Without the security systems we now take for granted, nineteen century gamekeepers needed something that could protect the animals that roamed in the forests they were supposed to be protecting.

Poaching at the time was a capital offense, and the Gamekeeper was responsible for catching those that poached on the landlord’s livestock.  Poachers could easily take out animals but they also put gamekeepers’ lives in danger. 

Poachers would rather kill the gamekeeper than risk being apprehended and turned over to the law enforcement of the day.

Estate owner’s gamekeepers’ lives were also endangered and they needed a courageous dog that could be quiet, and attack on command if a poacher approached, subbing but not mauling the intruder. 

The nineteenth-century version of the English Bulldog, who was more ferocious than today’s version of the breed, was not large enough and the Mastiff was not fast, active or aggressive enough, so breeders of those days crossed the two to create a dog that could do the job.

There is also some suggestions that gamekeepers used other breeds such as the Great Dane to add size to their dogs. 

But before a breed can be accepted into a kennel club such as the Kennel Club in Britain or the American Kennel Club, they must breed true.  By this, I mean that the new breed must be bred to itself without the help of any outside breeds.  It takes generations until this happens.

Rather than continually cross the two breeds, breeders put forth efforts to create a pure strain.  These dogs had to work at night, so a dark brindle colored hair was preferred to help the dog blend into his environment.  They became known as the Gamekeeper's Night Dog.

The Bullmastiff is the result of 60 percent mastiff and 40 percent bulldog.  As poaching decreased, the dogs were used as guards.  Owners reminiscing of the English Mastiff’s fawn color demanded a lighter colored dog and breeders accommodate such requests.

Rather than continually cross the two breeds, breeders put forth efforts to create a pure strain.  These dogs had to work at night, so a dark brindle colored hair was preferred to help the dog blend into his environment.  They became known as the Gamekeeper's Night Dog.

The Bullmastiff is the result of 60 percent mastiff and 40 percent bulldog.  As poaching decreased, the dogs were used as guards.  Owners reminiscing of the English Mastiff’s fawn color demanded a lighter colored dog and breeders accommodate such requests.

By 1924, the breed was pure and was recognized by the British Kennel Club.  The American Kennel Club followed in 1933.  Today, they are listed as number 44 in popularity in the United States by the AKC.

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