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Get to Know the Bullmastiff: He’s Got Your Back!

The Gamekeeper's Night Dog, as he was once known, is happy to guard his family and be their companion these days.

Caroline Coile  |  Mar 7th 2016


Developed as a watchdog supreme, the Bullmastiff is brave and biddable, devoted and dauntless, but he’s also affectionate and affable with his friends and family. He has a rich history and is currently among the most popular of the mastiff family breeds.

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Bullmastiff by Shutterstock.

More interesting things about the Bullmastiff

  • Dogs from the Mastiff family were used in Ancient Roman times as war dogs and gladiators, fighting bears and other wild animals. The Mastiff breed comes from these Roman Mastiffs.
  • The Mastiff of Sir Peers Legh became famous in 1415 when the dog stood over his wounded owner for hours during a battle, protecting him from the enemy. Though Legh later died, the dog became famous and founded a kennel influential in forming the modern Mastiff.
  • Mastiffs were crossed with Bulldogs (actually a breed that more resembles today’s Olde English Bulldogge, so not quite as short and wide) in the late 1800s to produce a dog who could sneak up on, catch, and subdue (but not maul) poachers on English estates.
  • The breed was dubbed the Gamekeeper’s Night Dog.
  • Dark brindle was preferred because it blended into the night.
  • Fawns later became popular with estate owners who wanted a flashy looking Mastiff-like guardian.
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Bullmastiff by Shutterstock.

  • Bullmastiffs were later used to guard diamond mines in South Africa.
  • Bullmastiffs should appear to be 60 percent Mastiff and 40 percent Bulldog.
  • They weigh between 100 and 130 pounds.
  • The color is either fawn or red, and it can be solid or with brindle markings. The dog usually has a dark muzzle.
  • The Kennel Club in England recognized the Bullmastiff in 1924; the AKC recognized the Bullmastiff in 1934.
  • The dog is a member of the AKC Working group.
  • The Bullmastiff has competed in the Westminster dog show since 1934, but has only won the Working group once, in 1992.
  • The Bullmastiff is the 45th most-popular AKC breed, down slightly from 42nd most-popular five years ago.
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Bullmastiff by Shutterstock.

  • A Bullmastiff named Swagger is the team mascot for the Cleveland Browns football team.
  • Bullmastiffs appear in the movies Rocky, Rocky II, and License to Wed.
  • The Bullmastiff in Rocky was Sylvester Stallone’s own dog. The dog was named Butkus, after the football player Dick Butkus. He got the part in the movie because trained dogs cost too much and Butkus came free! Among the tales Stallone recounts of misadventures with Butkis is this one: “On our way from New York to Hollywood to seek our fortune, the heat became so intense that we had to pack old Butkus in cracked ice for two days. I promised him that if we survived, he’d someday get treated like a king. But I almost changed my mind when he practically got us killed in a wildlife preserve. An exceptionally large ostrich decided to peck him to death and attacked the car. Rather than being diplomatic, Butkus jumped out in a counterattack, and I practically got slaughtered trying to separate them. By the time I got him back in the old car for a quick escape, the thing stalled and a herd of unhappy buffalo descended and attempted to upset the car with us in it. In the middle of all that confusion, Butkus jumped in the backseat and went to sleep.”
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Bullmastiff by Shutterstock.

  • Bob Dylan had a Bullmastiff named Brutus in the 1960s. When he lived next door to Katherine Hepburn, Brutus used her flowerbeds as his bathroom.
  • Mike Tyson had a Bullmastiff whose breeder heard the dog was being neglected. She stormed over to his house, made her way inside, spotted the dog tied up in the kitchen, and marched out with him. Heavyweight fighters stand no chance against protective breeders!
  • Owners include Sylvester Stallone, Bob Dylan, Christina Aguilera, Gary Larson, Mike Tyson, and Shannen Doherty.

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About the author: Caroline Coile is the author of 34 dog books, including the top-selling Barron’s Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds. She has written for various publications and is currently a columnist for AKC Family Dog. She shares her home with three naughty Salukis and one Jack Russell Terrier