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Bullmastiff and Dogue puppies — equally cute!
Bullmastiff and Dogue puppies — equally cute! Dogue photo by Sanna Sander.

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Comparing the Bullmastiff and Dogue de Bordeaux

Which breed is it?  

The Bullmastiff and the Dogue de Bordeaux (especially the black-nosed version) look alike in some ways. But they shouldn’t be confused with one other, as they are quite different in head style and proportion, with type distinctly very different in each breed.   Yet we see Bullmastiffs that look like Dogues de Bordeaux, and Dogues de Bordeaux that look like Bullmastiffs. As both are Molosser breeds, this doesn’t sound too serious, but to look like another breed is the most serious of all faults ... a lack of breed type.  

Hopefully this article will clarify some major differences.  


The squareness of the head, muzzle and body equally define breed type in the Bullmastiff, the Dogue de Bordeaux has a trapezium-shaped head, is more angulated and longer in body than the Bullmastiff.


Bullmastiffs were recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1933 and are often confused with the Dogue de Bordeaux by inexperienced dog fanciers. Historically around midway in popularity as an AKC-recognized breed, the nearly square Bullmastiff was popularized by “Butkus” in Sylvester Stallone’s "Rocky" movies and more recently as companions of American Chopper’s Paul Teutul.  

The squareness of the head, muzzle and body equally define breed type in the Bullmastiff, color ranging from the lightest of the fawns, various shades of red and all patterns of brindles, with a typical black mask. The difference in coat quality between the breeds is remarkable, with the Bullmastiff looking for a short, dense coat, ideally double coated, to provide good weather protection. Unlike the Dogue, there are no disqualifications in the Bullmastiff breed standard.  

Recognized by AKC much later, in 2008, the Dogue de Bordeaux is a powerful and muscular French breed, a molossoid (mastiff-type) dog, "dogue" meaning Mastiff in French. With a massive head and stocky body as trademarks of the breed, the Dogue de Bordeaux became familiar to Americans when one appeared as the drooling "Hooch" in the 1989 Tom Hanks' film "Turner and Hooch." The short, soft red-fawn coat and loose-fitting skin, trapezium-shaped head and rectangular body are qualities that define the breed, and which also identify the major differences from the Bullmastiff.  

The foundation breeding of the Bullmastiff was 60 percent Mastiff and 40 percent Bulldog, and was developed in England by gamekeepers for protection against poachers. The Bullmastiff was bred to perhaps kill the poacher’s dog (often a Greyhound cross known as a lurcher), knock down the poacher and hold him until the gamekeeper could reach and subdue him.

The Dogue de Bordeaux's history is rather sketchy with different theories that relate him to the Bullmastiff, Bulldog, Tibetan Mastiff and the ancient Dogues de Bordeaux of Aquitaine, a region of France. He has been used as a guardian, hunter and fighter and was trained to bait bulls, bears and jaguars, hunt boars, herd cattle, and protect the homes and businesses of his master. Temperament in both breeds make for a loyal, dependable family companion.  


Size / Proportion


The Dogue de Bordeaux’s topline should dip slightly behind the withers with the line rising to blend into the slightly arched loin (a concave outline).


The Dogue’s length of body, measured from the point of the shoulder to the point of the buttock, is greater than the height at the withers, in the proportion of 11/10, rectangular in proportion. The depth of the chest is more than half the height at the withers, and the circumference should be between 10 and 12 inches greater than the height at the withers, so proportion is rather longer and lower than the Bullmastiff. The Dogue’s height range is 23½ to 27 inches at the withers, with bitches 23 to 26 inches at the withers. The weight in dogs is at least 110 pounds, bitches at least 99 pounds, with no upper limit on weight in the standard. The males and females at the lower end of the standard in height and weight should appear very intimidating and impressive due to their substance. Bullmastiffs should have equal depth of body to length of leg, Although the standard states measurement is from the tip of the breastbone to the rear of the thigh, one should be certain to measure from bony point to bony point for accurate measurement. The Bullmastiff’s body should be just very slightly longer than tall resulting in a nearly square appearance, creating the look of compactness suited for his historic work, the compact body every bit defining breed type as the square head and muzzle … long is wrong. Size in dogs range from 25-27 inches at the withers, 100 to 130 pounds, bitches 24-26 inches at the withers and 100 to 120 pounds in weight. So although close in weight and height requirements, Bullmastiffs should be a slightly taller, larger, but not necessarily a more substantial dog. In both breeds, ratio of height to weight is important.  

Although there is no disqualification for height or weight in either breed standard, there are logically definite considerations, the least weight applying to the shortest dog, the heaviest dog carrying the top height. The basic bone and muscle mass are what establish the substance of these breeds, and both breeds require proper condition and bone-to body balance to produce an athletic, substantial, well-proportioned, sound working dog.  




Bullmastiff’s topline should be straight and level between withers and the loin with back short.


There are major differences in the front assembly of these two breeds. Bullmastiff shoulders are muscular but not loaded, and slightly sloping with well-boned straight forelegs, set well apart with elbows turning neither in nor out. Pasterns should be straight, feet of medium size, with round, well-arched toes. Angulation in a Bullmastiff should be moderate, and both straight stifles/shoulders and over-angulated rears are incorrect. Ribs should be well sprung, and neck slightly arched of medium length, very little dewlap, as the Bullmastiff should have tighter skin, less wrinkle in the body as well as the neck and head. The Bullmastiff should not be low and long, but should be nearly square.  

The Bordeaux is rather low to the ground and more rectangular in proportion. The Dogue calls for strong bone structure with legs and shoulders very muscular and rather overloaded. Elbows should be neither too close to the chest nor turned out. Forelegs can be straight or inclining slightly inwards, especially in dogs with a very broad chest. Pasterns should be powerful, slightly sloping when viewed in profile but can bend slightly outward when viewed from the front, compensating for the slight inclination of the forearm. The chest on the Dogue should be broader than the Bullmastiff and set below the elbows. The Dogue de Bordeaux standard calls for a 90-degree angulation in the forequarters, and “well-angulated” in the hindquarters, looking for more angulation in the rear than in the front, which is remarkably divergent from the Bullmastiff, which calls for moderate matching angles, ideally better suited for a squarer dog. Bullmastiffs should have well-developed second thighs, heavy hindquarters, matching the front in breadth, where the Dogue's hindquarters must also be suitably powerful although narrower. Tail set is low, carried level with the back or slightly higher when in motion, but an atrophied tail or a tail that is knotted and laterally deviated or twisted is a disqualification in the Dogue.  


The Dogue de Bordeaux should be broader than the Bullmastiff and set below the elbows. Bullmastiff shoulders are muscular but not loaded and set well apart with elbows turning neither in nor out.


Regarding topline, the Bullmastiff’s should be straight and level between withers and the loin and back short. The loin should be wide and muscular and slightly arched. The Bordeaux’s back should never slope down to the rear, is never perfectly straight, nor is it horizontal. Ideally, it should dip slightly behind the withers with the line rising to blend into the slightly arched loin (a concave outline). In both breeds the standards reflects the necessity for each dog to be substantial, athletic, with soundness essential. Cow hocks and splayed feet are considered serious faults in the Bullmastiff and the only serious faults mentioned in the Bullmastiff standard.  

A Bullmastiff’s neck is slightly arched, of moderate length, very muscular, and almost equal in circumference to the skull, and there should be very little dewlap. With the Dogue de Bordeaux, the skin on the neck should be supple, ample and loose with a well-defined dewlap starting at the level of the throat forming folds down to the chest without hanging in an exaggerated fashion.  



Brachycephalic literally means “short-face” or “short-head,” and is a term used to refer to dog breeds with facial features that include a compressed upper jaw and a short muzzle. Common brachycephalic breeds include the Dogue de Bordeaux, Bulldog, French Bulldog, Pug, Shih Tzu and Boxer.  


The Dogue de Bordeaux has a typical trapezium-shaped concave-lined brachcephalic head with more Bulldog-like characteristics, while the Bullmastiff head is square from all angles.


If you read the Bullmastiff standard, it clearly states “Muzzle — Broad and deep; its length, in comparison with that of the entire head, approximately as 1 is to 3. Lack of foreface with nostrils set on top of muzzle is a reversion to the Bulldog and is very undesirable.” Although often incorrectly referred to as a “brachycephalic breed,” the Bullmastiff is clearly not. Although we often see Bullmastiffs with these characteristics, these traits are most undesirable for a number of reasons, including consequences which would be in direct conflict with the intention of the breed’s ability to do its job on the English countryside estates.  

The Dogue de Bordeaux standard devotes the majority of its contents on the subject of the very distinct head. Considered a head breed, the Dogue has a typical concave-lined brachcephalic head with more Bulldog-like characteristics. Where the French standard had eight of its 12 disqualifications devoted to the head, there are no head DQs in the American standard. However, serious faults are noted, such as long, narrow head with insufficiently pronounced stop and a head with a muzzle measuring more than a third of the total length of the head (lack of type in head).  


The Bullmastiff’s skull should be large, forehead flat, with a fair amount of wrinkle while the Dogue de Bordeaux’s front groove is much deeper than that of the Bullmastiff, with symmetrical wrinkles and mobile roping always present on each side of the groove with a very pronounced stop, skull slightly rounded.


The Bullmastiff’s skull should be large, with a fair amount of wrinkle when alert, broad, with cheeks well developed necessary to enhance the square appearance of the skull, with flat forehead and a moderate stop. The muzzle is broad and deep, its length, in comparison with that of the entire head, approximately one-third the length of the entire head. Head should be a cube on a cube, a black muzzle is essential. Nose should be black, with nostrils large and broad, an absence of convoluted nostrils to avoid restricted breathing. Flews should not be pendulous and the bite preferably level or slightly undershot with canine teeth large and set wide apart, underjaw wide. The strength of the muzzle should come from the skeletal structure and not depend on padding or roping of skin. Although dogs may carry some furrowing on the forehead when in repose, the wrinkling along with the body posture is the dog’s indication of its interest in something in its immediate sight and heavy wrinkling and roping on the muzzle is inappropriate. Pendulous flews detract from the square appearance of the muzzle and along with a large ear would give the poacher something to grab onto, which would be undesirable for a Bullmastiff.  

While the Bullmastiff’s head and muzzle is square from all angles, the Dogue de Bordeaux’s head is trapezium shaped when viewed from above and in front. Eyes on a Bullmastiff are almond shaped, never protruding or too closely set. The DDB’s eyes are oval and set wide apart. The Dogue de Bordeaux’s front groove is much deeper than that of the BM, with symmetrical wrinkles and mobile roping always present on each side of the groove with a very pronounced stop, almost forming a right angle. With a “sour mug” expression and massive skull lending to the trapezium shape of the head, the Dogue de Bordeaux’s muzzle is powerful, broad and thick, rather short, its length is one-fourth to one-third the total length of the head. His foreface is concave with the nose slightly set back from the front of the muzzle, the skull slightly rounded. When viewing the Dogue from the front the lips fall to shape a wide “V” with the lower jaw curving upward, the chin very pronounced. Mouth not undershot or a wry jaw are disqualifications in the Dogue standard. The Bullmastiff mouth should be level or slightly undershot with an emphasis on the desirability of a broad underjaw, and grossly undershot dogs and wry bites should be severely penalized.  


Perhaps the most confusing thing about differentiating Dogues from Bullmastiffs is the fact that the Dogue can also be found in a black-masked, black-nosed version. But careful attention to head details, not to mention the rest of the dog, should eliminate any case of mistaken identity.


A litter of Dogue puppies with both nose colors. Photo: Sanna Sander.


Coat / Color

Color in the Bullmastiff is red, fawn, or brindle (a pattern), ranging from the lightest of the “biscuit” fawns to the deepest reds to all shades of brindle with fawn or red stripes, ideally evenly spaced with a chevron pattern on the back. Except for a very small white spot on the chest, white marking is considered a fault in theBullmastiff. We do not want to see the soft red coat color of the Dogue de Bordeaux in the Bullmastiff, as this color is often accompanied with a lighter mask and ears, light eyes. Two-toning and smuttiness are both undesirable in the coat. Mask should be black, ears significantly darker than the body. The nose should always be black, eyes darker the better.  

The Dogue de Bordeaux coat, which is fine and soft to the touch, is self-colored, in all shades of fawn from a dark red mahogany to a light fawn (isabella), masking includes black, brown and red, with pigmentation matching the mask. The mask is often only slightly spread out and should not invade the cranial region, unlike the Bullmastiff, where the black mask may extend up over the brows onto to the top of the skull. Limited white patches are permissible on the chest and the extremities of the limbs, but the Dogue is faulted when white is on the tip of the tail or on the front part of the forelegs above the carpus and the tarsus. One of three disqualifications in the AKC Dogue standard is white on the head or body, or any coat color other than shades of fawn. Eye color is hazel to dark brown for a dog with black mask, lighter color tolerated but not desirable with dogs with a brown mask or without a mask. Ears should be slightly darker in color than the coat.  



The Bullmastiff’s gait should be free, smooth, and powerful. When viewed from the side, reach and drive indicate maximum use of the dog’s moderate angulation with the back remaining level and firm. Coming and going, the dog moves in a straight line feet tending to converge under the body, without crossing over, as speed increases. There is no twisting in or out at the joints. Our standard could not be more simple and concise on the subject of gait and one does not look at a dog’s gait in a search for flash and beauty but as evidence that the dog is both physically fit and functional. In observing how a Bullmastiff moves, one judges the whole dog as a unit trying to assess the ability of the dog to do its historic work …and if correct, it is usually associated with correctly constructed and athletically fit dogs. Equal emphasis should be on correct side, down and back movement and showmanship should not override breed correctness.  


The Bullmastiff’s gait should be free, smooth, and powerful with the back remaining level and firm, while the Dogue de Bordeaux is quite supple for a molossoid, almost lion-like.


The breed-specific gait on a Dogue de Bordeaux is quite supple for a molossoid, almost lion-like. In open walking the movement is free, supple, close to the ground with good drive from the hindquarters, good extension of the forelegs, especially at the trot, which is the preferred gait. As the trot quickens, the head tends to drop, the topline inclines towards the front, and the front feet get closer to the median plane while reaching with a long stride. Vertical movement while in a short gallop is rather important. He is capable of great speed over short distances by bolting along close to the ground.  



The Dogue de Bordeaux is gifted for guarding, which he assumes with vigilance and great courage but without aggressiveness. He is a very good companion, being attached to and affectionate toward his master and family. He is calm and balanced with a high stimulus threshold. The male in both breeds generally has a dominant character. Similarly, the Bullmastiff is fearless and confident yet docile and combines the reliability, intelligence, and willingness to please required in a dependable family companion and protector. Both of these breeds make excellent family companions.  


Both of these breeds make excellent family companions.   


About the Author

Helene Nietsch is more than 40-year veteran breeder of Bullmastiffs under the “Banstock” prefix. She has bred or owned 20 Registry of Merit Bullmastiffs as top-producing dogs and bitches (including 2008/2009’s top-producing sire of the year), more than 100 champions, multiple national specialty winners, and a best in show Bullmastiff in each of the four decades she has been breeding. She co-bred the first multiple best in show Bullmastiff in the 1970’s and the top-winning Bullmastiff in the history of the breed, Ch. Bandog’s Crawdaddy Gumbo. She has judged the American, French, Canadian and New Zealand Bullmastiff national specialties, the Bullmastiff World Cup in Hungary and the Spanish Bullmastiff Molosser specialty show and is currently approved to judge all working and hound breeds, several sporting and non-sporting breeds, junior showmanship and miscellaneous breeds.

Dogue de Bordeaux photos courtesy of the Dogue de Bordeaux Society of America.


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