The bullmastiff as a
Mona Lindau-Webb, Ph.D., Alpha Dog Training, Los Angeles
The bullmastiff as a breed was
developed in England in the late 19th century to help gamekeepers catch poachers. There
was a need for a powerful, fast, rather silent dog that could work as a team with the
gamekeeper and take care of both the poacher and the poachers dogs. The foundation
for the breed is a cross between the mastiff and the 19th century type of bulldog.
The behavioral heritage of this breed contains a strong affinity for family members and
their friends, as well as a strong guard instinct. The breed was developed to work closely
with a small group of people, so this is a people dog. A bullmastiff
needs to belong to people and live with people, and the dog needs his family to take
leadership over the family pack.
The combination of affinity for people and a strong guard ability makes for a dog
that is excellent in discriminating between friend and foe. The bullmastiff is a good
judge of people and good at identifying people who are up to no good. This makes it
important to expose a young bullmastiff puppy to lots of different people when the puppy
is very young, so that the puppy learns all about good guys. Then, when
maturity and guard instincts appear later, the dog will automatically identify
bad guys. Typically, a bullmastiff displays very friendly
behaviors to family members, and tends to be a bit off standish and moderately friendly
tostrangers. When the dog gets suspicious, he typically takes the time to investigate
before deciding what to do about it.
First and formost the bullmastiff is a guard dog, and it is a type of guard dog that is
more protective of territory than anything else. The typical sequence of bullmastiff guard
behaviors include running up to a suspicious character, maybe slam the front feet into the
ground, and take a stand, maybe growling and/or barking, thus threatening the perceived
danger first. Typically, the dog then takes a moment or two to evaluate the problem before
taking further action. A bullmastiff exhibiting a threatening posture is usually enough
for any person with malicious intent to decide on a hasty departure rather than
confrontation. When confronted and threatened back, the bullmastiff will use his
weight to shove, and/or bite to take care of the perceived problem. Thus biting is
the last in a sequence of guard behaviors of the bullmastiff, and it happens rarely.
This type of guard behavior is quite different from that of herding breeds, like the
German Shepherd, and the Belgian Malinois. The typical herding breed guard sequence
involves a chase and catch and bite part, with the shepherd jumping and biting and letting
go and running around and biting some more.
In order to better understand these behaviors it is useful to look at the evolution of
dogs and the behaviors that underlie guard behaviors in todays breeds.
Over the course of thousands of years since the domestication of the wolf to a dog, the
dogs guard behaviors developed from the predatory behaviors of the ancestral wolf.
Wolves exhibit a chain of behaviors in hunting for food: eyeing the prey - alert - stalk -
chase - bite - kill. This sequence was tapped in developing herding dogs, where the
kill part was selected for extinction and the bite part was
selected for softness and control. Herding thus involve selected predatory behaviors.
These breeds are also good guard dogs, and their guard behaviors are like a predatory
chain without the final kill: being aware and vigilant - alert by barking -
stalk - chase - bite. They show a strong prey-drive and they tend to like retrieving
The guard behavior of the bullmastiff is quite different from that of herding dogs. Their
guarding is closer related to that of the large flockguarding breeds, like the Maremma,
and the Kuvasz. These dogs tend to stay with the livestock, and they do not prey on
livestock. They also protect their flock from predators. Their guard behaviors do not
involve chasing and catching, as much as interrupting the predators behaviors by
interrupting and deflecting. These dogs have a low prey-drive, and they are not
interested in chasing and catching objects. They tend to stand their ground to protect
their territory and to prevent a predator from getting close to the livestock - or the
Looking at guard behaviors this way gives us an understanding of aggressive behaviors in
different breeds and why uncontrolled aggression is more serious in a flockguarding type
of dog than in a herding type of dog. The herding dog tends to bite quicker and at a lower
level of provocation. When they bite, the bite tends to be of the slash and run type. A
flockguarding type of dog tolerates more provocation, and makes more use of threats before
he bites. When this type of dog does bite, there tends to be a lack of inherited and
inbred inhibitions, making these bites more serious
One important conclusion is of course the necessity of early socialization to people and
places and strong obedience training later for any type of guard breed. Anybody who
chooses to acquire a guard breed would be advised to understand this, given todays
Early socialization involves taking your young 2-4 month old puppy out to meet people and
see places, Obviously, take care not to expose the puppy to unknown dogs. But the lack of
vaccination cannot, in my opinion, be an excuse for using common sense in exposing the
puppy to selected places and people.
Obedience training a guard breed should involve a lot more than just a basic obedience
class. In addition to the basics, the guard dog needs to be taken to a more advanced level
of obedience, where the dog listens when off leash, has solid down-stays, sits anywhere,
comes when called under distractions, and pays attention on demand.
When a guard dog is properly socialized to todays society, and properly obedience
trained, they will be under control and pose no threat to the general public.They do not
go into guard mode unless provoked, and their size alone tends to act as a deterrent
against bad guys. They are typically friendly to family and friends, and
excellent family companions.
Evolution of Working Dogs by Raymond Coppinger and Richard Schneider. In
The Domestic Dog: its evolution, behaviours and interactions with people.
Many thanks to Mona Linda Webb for allowing me to include this article here!
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