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Judging the Bullmastiff

Breeder-judge Denise Borton offers keys points of breed type

The AKC Bullmastiff standard describes the physical impression of the Bullmastiff under General Appearance: a strong Working dog that places emphasis on the structure (nearly square, substantial, powerfully built, symmetrical with great strength, endurance and alertness) and the purpose for which it was bred. 

The Bullmastiff was developed in England by gamekeepers who managed the estates of the wealthy, nobleman and royalty for protection against poachers. Animals that were hunted or poached during those early times belonged to those that owned the land. Therefore, it is understandable that those resources were closely guarded, especially during times of hardship.

On first impression, the Bullmastiff should have a nearly square appearance. Looking at the dog in profile, the length of body from tip of breastbone to rear of thigh exceeds the height from withers to ground only slightly. Additionally, a dog should be deep in body, with approximately one half of its total height from withers to elbow and from elbow to ground. This gives the impression of balance, symmetry and power.

The headpiece of the Bullmastiff is its crowning glory and a crucial element of breed type. Indeed, the majority of the standard is devoted to describing the head. 


Correct male head.


Without the correct proportion of one-third muzzle to two-thirds skull, the Bullmastiff could be identified as any other Molossor breed. The muzzle is broad and deep, which is one-third the length of the entire head, from tip of nose to the occiput.  Muzzle width should be the same as the length, a square that is attached to the square head.

A broad, shortened skull, inherited from the Bulldog ancestry, lacks a backskull. The occipital bone is set between the ears, rather than behind them.

Be mindful that the Bullmastiff should never have so little or so much wrinkle that the pattern of it is unchanging when the dog is alert. This wrinkling of the headpiece was a form of prized communication between the dog and the gamekeeper when sight/sound/smell detected the presence of an intruder.


Correct bitch head.


When examining the bite, only the front of the bite needs to be considered. Observing for complete dentition or counting of teeth is unnecessary,; simply look at the placement of the canines (both upper and lower) for width and to ensure the bite is not wry. The width of the canines contribute to the depth and strength of the underjaw and add to the deep, square muzzle conformation.

Bite should never be considered as a preference for placement. There are far too many other crucial aspects of judging that should take preference such as correct front/rear assembly, topline or tailset. Assuming that the bite is within the range of level or slightly undershot, the most important concern is that the upper and lower canines are set wide apart. 

A degree of leeway may be given to a dog with a bite that is less than level or slightly under due to the Bulldog ancestry. Mentioned in the standard is,  "Lack of foreface with nostrils set on top of the muzzle is a reversion to the Bulldog and is very undesirable." Muzzles that approach the one-quarter rather than the one-third length are undesirable and also are a reversion to the Bulldog. Small or pinched nostrils can result in restricted and loud breathing.  

The muzzle is dark, typically black in all colors. Brindles should have the same pigment, dark mask and dark ear as their self-colored counterparts.

The dark and medium-size eyes contribute to the alert and intelligent expression. The rims should be tight and the eyes should not protrude so as to be injured by vegetation, man or animal.

The medium-size, dark, V-shaped ears should be in balance with the rest of the head and give a square appearance to the skull. Set on wide and high, they are carried close to the cheeks and level with the occiput and cheeks. Long ears or flews presented the poacher with an opportunity to grab and hold during an altercation. 

Being slightly longer than tall (at the withers), the Bullmastiff should give the presence of power and stamina to work all night with the gamekeeper of old. Its skeletal structure should be sound and accompany a substantial musculature without compromise to health. A powerfully built Bullmastiff has a short/level back, tail set on high and have matching moderate angles fore and aft. The tail is to be set on high as an extension of the spine, trailing or straight out, never carried hound fashion.

Cow hocks and splayed feet are the serious faults addressed in the standard and should be severely penalized. The medium-size feet should have well-arched and tight toes, black nails and thick pads.


A typey bitch. Note the correct short, straight hocks, among her other many virtues.


There are three acceptable colors: fawn, red and brindle. The early gamekeepers preferred the brindle color as it was camouflaged in the darkness of night but today's Bullmastiff should be judged equally regardless of color or sex. A small white spot on the chest is acceptable, while more invasive white markings on the toes, throat or feet should be penalized according to the degree of the deviation. The Bullmastiff has a short, dense and double coat that provides protection from the elements.

The gait of the Bullmastiff is to be free moving, powerful and smooth. Consistent with most other Working breeds, the feet converge toward centerline as the speed increases. It is not unusual for the Bullmastiff to single track but not expected. Good movement should not be fast but rather consistent with the ancestral duty of the breed, which was a moderate trot while at work. This pace will reveal more about soundness  and construction when gaited at a steady and deliberate speed.

The temperament is confident and stable but not necessarily tail-waggingly friendly to every person or dog that it meets. The independent working nature of the Bullmastiff was to down a poacher and hold and not savage him until the gamekeeper arrived. Bullmastiffs should be agile, good-nosed trackers and endurance minded. A quiet worker, he should not be prone to bark or growl unless warranted by a threat, and is a dedicated guardian to his family.

When examining the Bullmastiff, approach the dog from the side or front ... never from behind. After a visual inspection of the head and examination of the bite, proceed to allowing the hands to confirm what the eyes saw for muscle fitness, coat quality and confirmation of two testicles. Keep one hand on the dog's back or withers during the exam; when removed, the dog will realize the exam is over. There is absolutely no reason to massage or feel every muscle, and the exam should be 15 seconds or less.  


A correct Bullmastiff should convey power and symmetry.


The Bullmastiff can be discerning and watchful of those that he does not know, yet once properly introduced, accepting of strangers that his family approves of.

This is not a breed for everyone: The independent and solitary working nature of the breed can make for difficult training sessions. Once they understand a command or task, they are faithful and consistent workers. Same-sex dog aggression can be common, usually breed specific.

The essence of the Bullmastiff is all these things.  Owners, breeders and judges need to be mindful that it is all of these components that present the total package of the Gamekeepers Night Dog.

A summary of judging the Bullmastiff is as follows:

• For first impression, look for a nearly square dog.

• Moderate angles fore and aft. 

• Level topline with depth of chest reaching the elbows, tail set on high. 

• Next look at head upon individual exam. Square on a square: square skull, square muzzle. Eyes are dark, tight rims. Nose should have open nostrils, and be black. 

• Muzzle is broad, deep and square. Not too short or long, one-third the total length of head. Flews should be fairly tight, not pendulous or hound-like. Bite is preferred level or slightly under with wide-placed canines. 

• Chest should be deep with well-sprung ribs for heart/lung expansion. 

• Tail is an extension of the spine, set on high, never carried gay or hound fashion. 

• Feet are cat-like and medium in size. They should never be splayed (one of two serious faults).

• Fore/hind quarters should match, be substantial in muscle and well boned, giving the impression of power and strength. Cow hocks are the second serious fault. 

• Coat is double, weather-resistant 

• Color is red/brindle/fawn). Excessive white should be faulted. 

• Color and sex are to be judged equally.

• Gait should be powerful and efficient, with feet converging toward a center line with increased speed. Soundness should be the same as if standing still ... one would hope. 

• Temperament is to be confident — period. 


Denise Borton of Kalamazoo, Michigan, is an AKC-approved judge of the Working Group, as well as the six Coonhound breeds and Otterhounds. A devotee of the Bullmastiff for 53 years, she has judged numerous Bullmastiff specialties and supported entries in the United States and Canada, the Bullmastiff Club of Victoria annual specialty in Australia, the American Bullmastiff Association's national specialty in 2013, and the ABA Top Twenty-Five in 2018.


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