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Best of Both Worlds

Judy A. Nash of Ram’s Gate Mastiffs and Bullmastiffs shares memories of these two kindred breeds

It’s the best of both worlds, living with Mastiffs and Bullmastiffs. And my adult life has been just that.  

I have not only known and bred these two breeds, but they have touched me very deeply because of their incredible character and loyalty. While they are very different in some areas, in that respect they both have claimed my heart. And the memories I have of them show just how unshakeable that character is.  

Forty-five years have passed since I purchased my first Mastiff. The imposing appearance that first caught my attention – and which originally made the breed an unparalleled a guard dog – still takes my breath away. Then, 20 years into my dog career, I rescued my first Bullmastiff, and I found that, although smaller in size, that breed definitely commands respect, too. Both of these breeds are what I like to call “home bound,” as their caring natures are strongly attached to their families and property.  


Nash with lion cub. “What the Lion is to the Cat the Mastiff is to the Dog …” Cynographia Britannica, 1880.      


In terms of conformation, knowing one breed helps define and clarify type in the other.  

Both breeds have a distinctive head piece, one that should be easily recognizable from a distance. I enjoy what my hands tell me when I go over a Mastiff’s square, deep muzzle and skull with those flews that are slightly pendulous. With the Bullmastiff’s skull, squareness is also desired, but without the pendulous flews, and with well-developed cheeks. Compared to the solemn, sweet face of the Mastiff, the twinkle in the Bullmastiff’s eyes reminds me of the clownishness of his other ancestor, the Bulldog.  

Both require a forechest and brisket development that has a look of power, but with caution against overloaded shoulders. The rectangle of the Mastiff form contrasts with the square structure of the Bullmastiff. Balance, front to back, is important in both breeds. The tactile sensation of going over a dog in each of these breeds, whose muscles are toned from exercise, hindquarters strong with muscular upper thighs, is cause for celebration.  

Conformation aside, it seems to me that there is a difference in the thought process, and decision making, that distinguishes the Mastiff from the Bullmastiff. In the Mastiff, there is a look, a gazing at a situation, and then deliberation, as if to say, “Is this worth sounding the alarm? Does this mean I should get up and go check on the situation?” There is a decisive hoisting of that big frame. In my imagination, I can hear the Mastiff’s thought – “Do you really, really want to push me and start something?” – followed by deep, sounding barks that can shake a car or echo through the house. Then, the Mastiff stands in protection of his or her family, moving deliberately between family and intruder.  

Just that motion is enough to send any sensible person looking for the exit. In this moment, most situations defuse. But I know, in fact, that the Mastiff is willing to place his life on the line.  

Our Mastiff, Friar Tuck, was 12 years old and weak in the hindquarters when an intruder came onto our country property and approached our young daughter. Friar knew something was wrong. He gathered himself together, and, using every last ounce of strength he could muster, he flung himself at the man to protect her, then fell to the ground as the man ran away.  We had to lift Friar back into his bed, his energy gone, but his job accomplished.  

My decision to own Mastiffs began with England itself. My ancestry – Scottish and English – fostered a fascination with Britain since I was a child, and I began reading whatever I could find. Along the way, I found stories about Mastiffs, and began the journey to find one for myself.  

The grandeur of the breed caught my attention, but it was their heart, their loyalty, that I fell in love with, and still am in love with to this day. When the question comes, “How can you stand the slobber slingers that those big mouths can produce?” I have to smile. If they only knew what they were missing! All that moisture is a small price to pay for the unending affection of Mastiffs. (And the drier-mouthed version, the Bullmastiffs, give freely from the time they are born until that moment they pass away.)  


Nash with Ram’s Gate Guinness in 1983. “Guinness was born during a time of intense activity in our home, with four teenagers and my husband in post-graduate school,” Nash recalls. “His greatest role was that of an affectionate friend, and chaperone, to our family and friends.”


My husband, Dwayne, our four small children and I purchased our first Mastiff in 1967. It wasn’t easy, as Mastiffs on the West Coast were few and far between in the ’60s. I naively took on the maternal role of managing our Ram’s Gate breeding program. There was little information about the needs of giant breeds, and in that day mine were some of the first Mastiffs that local veterinarians had ever seen. Getting into trouble while whelping a litter could mean I was on my own, and there were many hard-learned lessons to come. Uterine inertia, the consequences of a Caesarian gone wrong, the tragic outcome when a pregnant bitch was over-anesthetized, and the frantic battle to keep orphaned puppies alive made indelible impressions on me.  

One of my unforgettable memories in that regard is of Ch. Greenbrier’s Ram’s Gate Savanah.  

As she came out of her puppy shipping crate for the first time, I knew that Savanah was going to be a very special Mastiff girl. She had a sweet face, and a body that, even as a puppy, was beautiful. As she grew, it was obvious that she had outstanding qualities – a lovely head, a body with substance, and bone to go with it – along with a mind of her own. She was rarely defeated in the show ring. On those trips to dog shows, traveling with her could be a challenge, as she, and she alone, decided when, or if, a place was worthy to take a potty break.  

Savanah had an affectionate way of relating to people and animals around her.  When I found out that the breeding I had done with her had taken, I couldn’t help but think that she was going to be a wonderful mother. The whelping seemed to go well, and for the first three days everything appeared to be all right.  Mastiffs are usually stoic, and when you put that together with a willingness to please, it can be hard to tell when they are sick. On the fourth day, as I was taking her temperature, I noticed an increase that troubled me. I called a veterinarian, and, in so many words, I was told to calm down and quit being such a mother hen.  

In those days, I didn’t have the knowledge to back up my feelings of apprehension. My concern was growing, and I did know that whatever might be wrong with Savanah could affect her puppies, so I began to bottle-feed them.  

A few hours later, my precious Savanah began to convulse. Dwayne and I wrapped her in a blanket, and as he drove through the night to the veterinary hospital, I did my best to keep my arms around her. But she was beyond our help, and in her pain she tore the blanket to pieces as she cried out. Before we arrived at the hospital, she was gone.  

I remember sitting there, paralyzed. What could have happened? I had to know.  

At dawn, with Savanah’s body in my van, and her four puppies in a box, I made the drive to UC Davis Veterinary School for a necropsy. I felt like I was in a nightmare as I sat in the hallway with her puppies, waiting for the outcome. After what seemed like hours, a staff member came to me and asked if I wanted to see what had gone wrong. I wasn’t sure exactly what that meant, but I knew I needed some answers.  

I was unprepared for what I saw. In a large room where teachers and students were examining the bodies of many animals, there was my Savanah. Her mammary glands were exposed, revealing the culprit: mastitis in the form of an internal cyst, the size of a grapefruit, had turned septic and spread through her body.  

I was shaken to the core, and the thought of driving home without her seemed impossible. I remember hearing the cries of her puppies needing milk, and it was that instinctual sound that brought me back to reality. I made a promise to Savanah that I would do whatever it took to keep her legacy alive and safe, and that earlier admonition against being a mother hen only spurred me on.  

While both Mastiffs and Bullmastiffs have the appearance of impressive power and stoicism, that is also their weakness: It allows less-than-loving owners to do the unthinkable and push them to their limits. They possess the tolerance to endure, and forgive, situations where they have suffered maltreatment.  


Mastiff puppies at Ram’s Gate. “This picture embodies the core of my dog career, as it has always been the hopefulness, the optimism of puppies, that renews my strength and reminds me, yet again, of reverence for life itself,” Nash says. “I am honored to play a part in the ongoing generations!”


A phone call came, telling me of an abused female Mastiff in a rural area who descended from one of my dogs. The fact that I lived in California, and this Mastiff was in Washington State, made no difference to me. I knew I had to go right then.  

I called the owner and asked permission to come on the farm property and see the dog for myself. I was told that I could, but I shouldn’t get any fancy ideas about buying her because he made lots of money selling her puppies. I couldn’t get there fast enough, and along the way I tried to imagine what I would find.  

Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw: An 8-year-old bitch, tied in a storage container, skin and bones covered with a multitude of fleas, and nothing to eat but stale bread. It took everything I had to keep my calm when the owner said, “Yes, ma’am, made me lots of money with this here dog and her puppies ... Gonna make me some more!”  

When I looked in that dog’s eyes, I knew in my heart that there was no way I was going to leave her behind. In that instance, greed played a key role, as the sight of cash in my hands appealed to the owner, and the dog that I came to call Maggie and I drove away from that horrible place, leaving a cloud of dust behind us.  

The next stop was to buy food for Maggie, enough flea shampoo to wipe out a nation of those pests, and towels to dry that aged body. Then I rented a motel room, covered the floor with newspapers, filled the bathtub for what would be a total of six times, and gave Maggie her very own spa. It took wash after wash to get down to her skin. The flea count was astronomical, but I was ready to do battle, and she was more than willing to let me. Her nature, that wonderful, forgiving Mastiff nature. For as large as they are, I learned again and again of how they hold their strength in reserve. Of their intuitive, insightful way with which they apprise the humans around them.  

Having handled both Mastiffs and Bullmastiffs in the show ring, I’ve come to appreciate both breeds for the somewhat different way they each take on that role.  While Mastiffs can, if they choose, portray the appearance of nonchalantly accompanying their owner-handlers, Bullmastiffs enter the ring as an opportunity to “strut their stuff.” The Bullmastiff can also bring that power under control, as in my “Griffin” (Am/Can Ch Aamodt’s Griffin of Ram’s Gate), who could instinctively read a situation that involved a child or someone impaired. His nature was an example of controlled enthusiasm although, at times, I could tell he so wanted to deliver a tongue washing as part of his babysitting duties. Wherever I took him, Griffin’s temperament held steady and true.  

The Bullmastiff breed came to be in 19th Century England because landowners needed the power, size and loyalty of the Mastiff blended with the uniquely fearless tenacity of the Bulldog. These dogs had the quickness to assess their surroundings, the energized coming to a full stance, and the powerful drive of the hindquarters with acceleration if the Bullmastiff sensed a problem. Breeders developed a dog that could move without hesitation, find the invader, and leap forward to slam that person with their forechest, knocking him to the ground. The purpose was to immobilize, hold and wait for the owner.  

Just to look at the Bullmastiff: You should see strength of the skull and neck attachment, through the shoulders, a strong topline, powerful hindquarters with well-muscled thighs, strong hocks that stand over well-arched feet to take them many miles. Now, in modern times, there is the need to adapt to family life, but that original structure design is still the basis for Bullmastiff conformation.  

That said, Bullmastiff – and Mastiff – pups grow rapidly, and owners must be mindful, watching for obstacles like stairs, jumping off the bed or sofa, leaping out of a car. Any time you have hard surfaces, or slippery floors, it doesn’t take a lot for a big puppy to go crashing down and cause injury that will last a lifetime. The skeletal softness is important to keep in mind.  

Because Mastiffs have a more laid-back nature, and for the most part would prefer to lie beside their owners, it is important that exercise be a part of everyday life. Without toning, muscling will become flabby and the strength to carry that large body compromised. At the same time, owners must be very careful lest damage be done by overdoing it, especially to the young bodies of puppies. And although the Bullmastiff possesses quicker timing of motion, it would be wrong to give the impression that Mastiffs are slow. When they think it is necessary, Mastiffs can have surprising speed.  


Ram’s Gate’s first Mastiff champions, littermates Titus Augustus of Ram’s Gate and Rachel of Ram’s Gate, 13 months old, in 1972. Breeder-owner-handlers Dwayne and Judy Nash.


As vulnerable as the puppy structure is, there is another component that is of equal importance. That is the mental education, from the time they are just a few weeks old.  Because they are lovable and cute, owners are tempted to let them get away with behavior that, as an adult, will lose its charm.  A bounding Mastiff or Bullmastiff jumping up on you can have serious consequences. Exposure to sights and sounds, children and adults, other dogs and cats – each of these adventures is necessary if you want a stable companion by your side. It is the owner’s responsibility to commit the time and energy needed for the basic obedience work. It won’t be easy, as these two breeds were created to appraise, and then decide just what they deem an emergency, or a “just a minute, let’s give this more thought” approach. It is up to the humans to find creative, relevant ways of evoking a positive response.  

Both Mastiffs and Bullmastiffs have great affection for their families. They are much happier in the home, beside their people, preferably touching a family member. Neither breed will thrive if restricted to a kennel run, separated from the very ones they love. I would call it an absolute necessity to have daily bonding. Nearly all of them save their barking for situations that cause them alarm. I know to go and check when I hear my dogs bark because something, or someone, is out there.  

It was never my intention to seek out the Bullmastiff. Instead, a telephone call in 1987 from a country neighbor changed the direction of my life.  

This neighbor was a family friend and knew of our Mastiffs. She asked if I was missing any of our dogs: There was a dog that looked something like a Mastiff standing in the middle of the road near her home, and he seemed like he was starving.  

Not knowing what the situation was, I asked her to stay back but break up some pieces of bread for him and keep him busy until I got there. I took dog cookies, a collar and lead with me, and drove a country-road mile. There stood a gaunt shadow of a Bullmastiff, and when I approached him, his tail began to wag. As I got up close, I could see this dear boy had been through a lot. There were open wounds – unmistakable lash marks – across his back, and his elbows and hocks were infected.  

And what did he do? He pressed up against me, and the tail went nonstop!   I got him into my van and drove home on what was the beginning of the journey so unbelievable that I vowed to find out more about his breed.  

He lay on the floor as I cleaned the staph infection that had invaded the pressure points on his body and, all the while, he wagged his tail.  

I could only imagine how worried someone must be for him. Wouldn’t they be out searching? So I made posters to put up around the neighborhood and went back home to feed him what would be several small meals a day. Three days passed before I got a call from the owner. By then, I was attached, but I also knew if it were me I’d be desperate to get my dog back. That night, I drove to the owner’s home, about a mile and a half away, and said goodbye.  

The next morning, I opened the front door to get the newspaper, and there the Bullmastiff stood! I couldn’t believe my eyes. He had made the journey, on a road he had never walked before, back to our home.  


Bacchus (right) and Lulu, Ram’s Gate, 1988. As a thank-you for rescuing Bacchus, Lulu was generously given to Bash by his breeder, Wayne Rusk. She was sweet in nature, and lovely in form,” Nash remembers.   


With growing apprehension, I drove back to his home again. This time, I learned from the owner that he had beaten the dog after I left. He wanted a dog mean enough to scare everyone away from his property, and this creature was not cooperating. What was with this wagging tail? This wasn’t scary behavior, as far as he was concerned.  

I was looking at a man with no compassion, and it was a chilling sight. I silently hoped he was as money hungry as he was a coward. When I offered to buy the dog, and his AKC papers, the owner jumped at the chance. It meant freedom for the Bullmastiff I would name “Bacchus” – in celebration of life.  

I would never regret the instant connection with this battered dog.  I had fallen for the sweetness of this boy, and the joyful sight of that wagging tail. He had been to hell and back, and we were going to make the most of the time ahead.  

The two of us made a trip to visit his breeder in Oregon, reassuring him that Bacchus was getting better by the day. His healing body, the outgoing spirit, together with conformation that began to come together … these were the traits that deserved a chance to shine. He was shown, won his majors and points, until the very last one, and the comments came, over and over, that there was something unusual about this dog, a charisma that shone like a light.  

It seemed to me that a special tribute to his stamina would be for the two of us to travel to the American Bullmastiff Association National Specialty in Pennsylvania. I was full of excitement as we took off on a plane bound for Philadelphia, thinking it was possible he could finish his championship there.  

Our first touchdown was in Indianapolis, and it seemed to me that there was an unusual unexplained delay before we took off again. I later learned that during that delay, Bacchus was found outside of his damaged crate, in the baggage hold of the plane, and was placed in another crate, without me being informed, to continue on.   On the touchdown, an official came onto the plane, stood in the front, and asked who on that flight was traveling with a dog.   I felt a jolt in my heart as I raised my hand. The gentleman said, “Come with me and identify your dog.” My first words were “Is he all right? Has he been hurt?” The answer was “We can’t tell, there’s too much blood.”  

I was shaking as he took me down the outside stairs and onto the runway, where the baggage handlers were all standing, arms folded.   I was told to be ready, that they would open the baggage hold and I was to look in. What I saw was shocking. There was blood everywhere, and on the floor of the plane lay Bacchus. When I called out his name, wonder of wonders, his tail began to thump on the floor!  

I asked if any of the men would help me, and one brave soul stepped forward when I said, “I’ll take the front, and you take the back.” We carried Bacchus inside and laid him on the floor. His physical damage made me sick. He had torn his way out of the plastic crate, ripping apart the metal door, setting himself free in the hold. That perfect bite was gone. All his canine teeth were broken off at the jaw line, his incisors extracted at the roots, his tongue in shreds, and every nail on each foot had been ripped out by the root. But his tail worked fine!  

I had to get my thoughts straight; I felt awful for putting him through this trauma. First, get that rental car. When the agent saw me, covered in blood, he said, “I’ll bet you want the fastest car we have! I’ll make you a deal!” Then, find Bacchus a veterinarian. After a cleanup and antibiotics, I knew I had to get him back to California – and not by plane!  

I started out across the country, Bacchus in the back seat on a blanket, a spray bottle to spritz him and peroxide to clean those feet. It was one of those rare occurrences when I was filled with an adrenal drive so strong I could lift this dog out at rest stops, and when he was finished, lift him back into the car. I was really worried about infection and found that the wounds did not do well bandaged, as there wasn’t enough air to circulate. I stopped at a farm-supply store, somewhere in mid-America, and bought a horse-hoof product that healed those feet from the inside out.  

Across the United States the two of us went, only stopping long enough for a nap at rest stops and a quick meal then, pressing on day and night. Through Utah and Nevada, and up ahead, that imposing mountain range. I couldn’t help but think of the travelers from long ago who faced the unknown as pioneers, and it gave me courage. Up, and over the Donner Summit, Bacchus and I drove, and then there it was, the San Joaquin Valley and home. 

Bacchus healed, and I took him to one last show where a judge, holding that scarred face in her hands, said, “I can see he once had a perfect bite,” and gave him the points for his championship. He stayed by my side, with never a complaint, for another year. Then, in one heartbreaking day, he went down, unable to move, still in my arms until he was put to sleep.   Cancer had done what abuse could not do, and silenced the wagging of that wonderful tail.  

I have Bacchus to thank for not just opening the door to Bullmastiffs to me, but also for shining the light on a world even larger than the Mastiff breed. His life and example ignited an intriguing search to know more about a breed that I had thought of – wrongly – as just a difference in size from Mastiffs. I had the advantage of having lived with Mastiffs and their commanding presence, so I felt no fear in the first physical contact, up close and hands on, with Bacchus. Where the Mastiff will usually take time to thoughtfully negotiate an introduction, I was intrigued by Bacchus’ openness in allowing me to care for him. He allowed me into his “circle of trust” with eagerness! That is a trait that I have found in many Bullmastiffs after being respectfully introduced.


“A sire, and grandsire, of many notable Bullmastiffs, Griffin [above] was such an exceptional Bullmastiff that, even to this day, 16 years after his death, he is still highly regarded by many who knew him for his outstanding nature and conformation,” Nash says. “Now, through the miracle of frozen semen, his grandson, ‘Hudson’ (Am. GCh Can GCh. RoxEdge’s All Fired Up CGN [below], co-bred by Cheryl Randolph and me, owned by Cheryl, carries on in the same impressive way.”


I’m happy to say that, over the years, I’ve seen great improvement in veterinary medicine relating to the giant breeds. From a time when very little was known about the effects of anesthesia, and the tragedies of overdosing, new protocols have been established. I would still advise any owner to have a working relationship with their veterinarian and discuss steps that will be taken before surgery.  

During my journey these many years, I met Dr. Dennis Olin, my veterinarian and friend. He has stood by my side through good and bad times. His expertise has seen my dogs through countless hours of care and comfort. He has helped me celebrate their lives, and then to comfort me when we must say goodbye, especially to those who left much too soon. I owe him a debt of gratitude.  

I have told a few of the stories from my lifetime spent with Mastiffs and Bullmastiffs, woven together as they have been in my life. Such unforgettable soul mates – to this day I can recall each face, those whose lives were cut short, and those who outlived all expectations. I feel the unpredictable course of nature that carries with it the joy of newborn life in my hands, and the weight of grief for those dear, dear companions I have had to let go from my arms. For the time spent, thousands of miles driven, happiness and loss, it has made me who I am, and I feel blessed.


About the Author


Judy Nash has spent 45 years with unforgettable soul mates from these two extraordinary breeds. With limited breeding, she has bred and co-bred, owned and co-owned more than 60 Mastiff and Bullmastiff champions, Best in Show and Best in Specialty Show winners, and Group, ROM and AOM winners. “This passage has allowed me the stewardship of companions with priceless, caring temperaments,” she says, “and I am richer for the time spent with them.”




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