Top Stories Return to Submit Bullmastiff News Archives of Previous Bullmastiff Manifest's News Coverages



A Look Into the Bullmastiff Psyche

Linda Thompson
Obedience Trainer ~Conformation Trainer ~ Handler
Colorado  USA
Phone:  719-784-6666


Linda Thompson
Linda Thompson has over ffifteen years of living with, training, showing, and loving Bullmastiffs; plus 30 years of training dogs in general; and 50 years of living with dogs.  This has allowed her to develop a deep understanding of canine psyche - especially within the Bullmastiff breed.

A strong advocate for Animal Rescue, Linda has served as the National Coordinator for the Bullmastiff Rescue in the United States, was President of All Breed Rescue Network of Colorado, and is currently the Vice President of All Breed Rescue Network of Colorado.  Linda's experience continues to grow with each and every dog she associates with.   She has rescued dogs for 30+ years and dealing with many different dogs from known and unknown backgrounds has taught her a great deal about evaluating dogs' temperaments and dispositions; what's salvable and what's not; the "stages" of rescue that all rescue dogs go through; how to provide the best environment for a dog to repair any emotional damage the dog may have; how to place each dog in the best possible home for it.

One thing that Linda would like everyone to remember is:

Bullmastiffs are dogs.  When it comes to dog psychology, Bullmastiffs are the same as other canines.   Due to the Bullmastiff's body type and function, actual training methods may need to be modified slightly to suit the breed's concentration abilities and natural tendencies.  Tell us about your training facility and expertise.

Thompson:  Currently, I conduct classes in a city parks and recreation facility.  Private lessons are usually conducted at the client's home. 

I have acquired 12 obedience degrees on Shetland Sheepdogs, an Irish Setter and a Bullmastiff.  I have championed 7 Bullmastiffs; 1 Bernese Mountain Dog; and pointed another Bullmastiff, a Stafford Bull Terrier and a German Shepherd Dog.

For approximately 10 years I was a trainer for Blue Springs 'N Katy-Did Dog Training Center in Englewood, CO.  To become a trainer for BSKD I went through their 9 month Trainer's Course, a unique program including study and practical application of training principles followed by a one year apprenticeship before becoming an actual trainer.

I taught KPT (Kindergarten Puppy Training), Beginner Obedience, Novice Obedience and Conformation.  These were all-breed classes.  Please describe your interpretation of the inherent behavior of the typical Bullmastiff.

Thompson:  My interpretation of the inherent behavior of the typical Bullmastiff is that he is deliberate, stubborn, intuitive, calm, intelligent (in the manner in which we define intelligence in dogs), extremely loyal, independent and frequently dominant.  I find their inherent behavior to be sensitive but also alpha if given half a chance.  My interpretation is based on those Bullmastiffs I have known well, most of which have come from good breeding.  However, most of these traits are also found in the majority of rescue dogs I have placed.  The key word here is typical.  There can always be extremes either direction.  Do you believe that the temperament of a Bullmastiff can be inherited from their parents?  Why or why not?

Thompson:  Temperament is inherited, period.  Temperament is the mental peculiarities of the invidual that are endowed by nature (genetics).   Manifested characteristics of temperament that we easily recognize are timidity, aggressiveness, nervousness, calmness, fearfulness, submissiveness, dominance.  Most dogs have varying combinations of the above traits.

DISPOSITION is the sum total of inherited temperament plus the effect of life experiences. 

Inherited temperament cannot be substantially changed.  It may be slightly modified but you will not take a dog who is genetically programmed to be submissive and make it a dominant dog.  Nor can you make a dominant aggressive dog timid or submissive.  About the most you can do with inherited temperament is attempt to modify and control it.

Disposition on the other hand, can be largely controlled within the constraints of the dog's inherited temperament.  Since, thankfully, most puppies are born  middle-of-the-road dogs, not being extreme in any of the above mentioned temperament characteristics, an astute and attentive owner can mold the dog's disposition with timely and effective conditioning and training.

In applying this to Bullmastiffs, given an understanding of the breeds involved in the development of the Bullmastiff breed, an owner must realize the need to establish himself/herself as the authority in the dog/human relationship early on.

The "Bull" in the breed's name should immediately bring to mind adjectives such as stubborn, tenacious, determined.  The "Mastiff" in the breed's name immediately conjures up the image of a LARGE dog.  Hence, you can reasonably conclude you will most likely have a large stubborn dog on your hands!!  A common characteristic of the Bullmastiff temperament is their propensity for animal aggression.  Is it possible to control this natural instinct?  How?

Thompson:  Yes, it is possible.  But it depends on many factors starting with the individual Bullmastiff's inherited temperament.  If it is born with a high prey drive; or is very dominant; or aggressive, the job will be a tough one and such a puppy should be placed with a very knowledgeable and dominant owner.

Starting with a puppy, it MUST BE socialized very early on (the critical learning period is 8 to 16 weeks, see Clarence Pfaffenberger's book The New Knowledge of Dog Behavior) to ALL entities it will be expected to live with during its life.  So, all puppies should be taken to KPT classes and additionally, socialized with other species of animal such as cats, horses, gerbils, etc.   This may take some doing on the part of the owner, especially if they do not have those other species, but the effort is worthwhile in the long run.

An older dog that was not socialized as a puppy may have a very difficult time adjusting to other animals, and in many, many cases, will not ever become SOCIAL with other animals (they may tolerate another pet, but not willingly).   Sometimes, an older dog can be taught to accept other animals in the household -- we've seen it happen.  But, it takes dedication and determination on the owner's part to do so, plus no small measure of experience with dogs and how to accomplish such a feat.

Owners who get a puppy and never take it out of their back yard and make no attempt to expose the dog to other animals is doing that dog a great disservice.  That owner is presuming he/she will always own that dog and the dog will never need to be around other animals.  But, what happens if that owner dies, or for other reasons cannot keep that dog forever?  We've all seen that statement about dogs needing a home "without other pets."  Well, pet lovers generally like to have more than one pet and it is very difficult to place a dog in a home without other pets.

Lastly, in the extreme, is the adult dog that has never been socialized with other animals and for reasons usually unknown, has a phobia about other animals and will go through doors, windows or fences to get at and kill another animal.  The only reasonable option, in my opinion, for such a dog is the euthanasia needle.  I always wonder if such dogs (and I've known and known of several Bullmastiffs in this category -- all bitches) were simply unsocialized, or if their owners had a sick mentality and encouraged such an attitude thinking it was macho or funny until it got out of control and then was too late.  In all such circumstances, the dog suffers.  In some of these cases I wonder if there weren't another, more aggressive breed's influence in the genetic makeup of these dogs.

While Bullmastiffs certainly can be aggressive to other animals, a well-bred dog with a docile temperament as described in the standard, should be able to be taught to accept other animals in its home -- even new ones that come in when the dog is an adult -- if it has an authoritative, knowledgeable owner. 

I have all kinds of dogs coming and going from my house (as well as having cats) and I have no problems with my dogs.  I don't tolerate fighting and being nasty and my dogs know it.  This is true even for any intact animals I have in my household.  My Bullmastiffs have always been acquired from good responsible breeders who breed true to standard dogs that have solid, stable temperaments.

Breeding tells.  If you buy a puppy, be an educated, discerning buyer.  GO TO THE BREEDER'S FACILITY and see the litter with the dam.  Try to see the sire also.  What kind of temperaments do the parents have?  Do you think you could, or would want, to live with either of the parents?  If not, what makes you think the pups will be much different?

In a nutshell, you CAN control animal aggression in your Bullmastiff by socializing the dog very early in life and then being the absolute authority in your dog's life.  What is an obedience class/school?

Thompson:  An "obedience class/school" is where one goes to train one's dog by participating in a set of classes (anywhere from 6 to 9 weeks long) in the company of other owner/dog teams.  These classes are taught by knowledgeable, experienced instructors (or at least they should be).   The ratio of instructors to student teams should optimally be 1 to 10.   Classes are usually about an hour long once a week.   The instructor teaches the owners HOW to train their dogs and the owners work with their dogs every day at home utilizing the methods taught in class.  A good training school will have a well developed course that, each week, builds on previous lessons taught.  Typically, in a beginner obedience course the following exercises are taught:  heel on lead; sit and sit-stay; down and down-stay; stand stay; recall (dog coming to owner).  What is the advantage of attending an obedience school versus just teaching your Bullmastiff basic commands at home?

Thompson:  Why attend a class?  They are generally more economical than private lessons, but more importantly, your dog learns to obey with the distraction of other people and dogs around.  Again, that socializing influence is so important.  Even though your dog is not actually visiting the other dogs, he learns to behave in the presence of other dogs and people.  You MUST get your dog out of the back yard and into the world in order to have a well-rounded pet.  The word “socialization” is commonly used in conjunction with proper ownership of a Bullmastiff.  What does this mean?  How would a typical owner accomplish this task? 

Thompson:  One definition of socialize is "to make friendly, cooperative, or social."  In dogdom this requires the owner provide opportunities for the puppy to play with other puppies, meet other species such as cats, ferrets, hamsters, goats, horses, etc., and meet and be handled by lots of people.  All of this should optimally be done by the time the puppy is about 16 weeks old and MUST be done in a controlled environment so that nothing happens to traumatize the puppy.  ALL encounters must be happy and rewarding for the puppy. 

The best way to accomplish the above is to attend KPT classes taught by a well qualified instructor in a controlled environment.  Of course, there won't be livestock or ferrets at the classes, but there will be other dogs and people.

If there are no classes available within a reasonable driving distance, then the owner must make every effort to find safe places to take the puppy to play with other dogs -- puppies preferably, but patient, kindly adult dogs will do also.  And, the puppy should be taken out as much as possible to experience all kinds of sights and sound such as traffic, babies and small children,  as well as meeting a variety of adult humans.   The owner's pocket should be stuffed with very yummy treats (NOT hard dry biscuits) and people who pet the puppy should be asked to give him a treat.


Socializing an adult dog needs to be done carefully with a thorough understanding of the dog's temperament and disposition.  It requires the assistance of a qualified dog trainer/behaviorist.  Therefore, I prefer not to address that subject in generalities.  Would socializing a Bullmastiff make them less apt to perform their duties as a “guard dog”? 

Thompson:   No.

 ....continue....  The Bullmastiff is classified as a working breed primarily used for guarding.  Would an owner need to teach their Bullmastiff how to perform as a guard dog?  Why or why not? 

Thompson:  This answer is totally my personal opinion derived from FEELINGS, not scientific evidence.  I am opposed to guard dog training for any Bullmastiff whose purpose is to be a family pet.  This attitude stems from my long years of experience dealing with owners while conducting training classes and doing Bullmastiff Rescue.  I do not believe the average owner has the knowledge, will or ability to control and deal with a dog trained for protection.

Furthermore, I do not believe that any dog of a breed created for guarding needs to be taught to protect.   I will tell you a true story omitting the names.

A woman who owned (and probably still owns) a male Bullmastiff show dog stopped at the grocery store while out doing errands.  That particular day she had taken her dog with her.  She drove a large van.  She did her shopping and came out to the van.  She opened the back doors of the van and was proceeding to put her groceries into it.  Unseen by her, a man was approaching from behind  with a tire iron in his hand.  Unseen by the man was the dog in the van who did see him approaching.  As the man raised the tire iron to strike her the dog flew out of the van and attacked the man.  After a tussle the man managed to get away with the dog in hot pursuit.  People who were around came to her aid then and called the police.  Her dog came back.  Obviously shaken, she told the policeman that her dog had "rearranged the guys face a bit."  Her dog had been struck with the tire iron and lost a few teeth from the encounter, but was otherwise no worse for the wear.

This dog was a show dog -- bred, born and trained to like people and to accept all manner of strangers touching him.  But, he knew, instinctively, when he needed to protect.  I do not think this type of behavior can be taught. 

I've also heard from more than one source that you cannot spank your children in the presence of a Bullmastiff -- the dog will most likely take your arm in it's large jowls and hold it there, gently but firmly.  One gets the message pretty quickly when that happens.   How humbling to have your dog tell you not to physically punish your child!!

So, to answer the original question:  No, I do not think a Bullmastiff needs to be taught to protect.  The above should answer the "why."  As the popularity of Bullmastiff ownership rises, so are the incidents of children getting bitten by Bullmastiffs.  With the media heavily publicizing dog attacks of any nature - it has potential to bring an undesirable reputation to this breed.  How compatible do you think the Bullmastiff breed is with young children and babies?

Thompson:  I think Bullmastiffs are very compatible with children including babies PROVIDING the parents are knowledgeable, sensible people who are in control of the the dog and their children.

One of the reasons bite incidents rise with the popularity of any breed is simply the fact that there are more dogs of that breed out there.  Add to that the fact that as a breed becomes popular the puppy mill breeders jump on the "let's get rich from the ruination of this breed" band wagon.  They start producing puppies from ANYTHING that has a paper saying it's a Bullmastiff without regard to temperament or any other trait and then sell those pups to pet shops who sell to ANY buyer with the money, and you have a recipe for disaster.  No education is imparted to the buyer, nor are buyer's screened for appropriateness to own a Bullmastiff.  There is no support for the buyer as they would get from a reputable hobby breeder and no one to take the dog back if things don't work out.  What do you believe may be the reason for the increased incidents of Bullmastiffs, in particular, biting children?

Thompson:  Stupid irresponsible breeders and owners, and rotten children.  Are there any cautions you would recommend for new Bullmastiff owners with children and/or who plan to have children in the future after acquiring a Bullmastiff to prevent dog bites?

Thompson:  UNDERSTAND dogs and in particular Bullmastiffs and be prepared to be the type of owner who can handle a Bullmastiff.  DO NOT spoil the dog until you have a rotten, nasty beast that you can't deal with.  ALL DOGS need to be treated with firm discipline as well as love and fairness.  There are many good books to read that delve into dog psychology that will help one understand the dog's mind and there are numerous books/tapes that teach how to train a dog.   Anyone wanting to get a Bullmastiff must thoroughly research the breed, reading everything available and talking to many breeders and trainers.  Visits to meet and spend time around Bullmastiffs should be arranged prior to purchasing one.

As I've said before, buy a Bullmastiff from a RESPONSIBLE, REPUTABLE HOBBY BREEDER who breeds only to improve the breed and strives faithfully to breed to the AKC Standard.   Meet as many relatives of any puppy you are considering as you can and be objective about the dogs' temperaments.

When considering a dog for a pet with children, NOTHING is more important than temperament.

Then be prepared to be a good "parent" to the pup.  The good breeder will be there for you with support and information to help in any way possible.  As the popularity of Bullmastiff ownership has exploded, the need for public education on this breed is more important than ever – particularly when it comes to how the Bullmastiff interacts with the general public.  With the threat of breed banning always in our midst, what information can you give the public about proper Bullmastiff ownership?

Thompson:  Proper Bullmastiff ownership involves making a thoughtful, well researched decision about one's ability to own a powerful, stubborn, LARGE, guardy type dog.  No dog should ever be obtained on impulse, but especially one as large and powerful as the Bullmastiff.  Every dog owner has the responsibility to insure that his/her dog is safe for people to be around starting with one's own family and extending to the general public. 

Male dogs should be neutered before they are a year of age and females should be spayed before their first heat cycle.

The dog must be trained to behave at all times whether in the home or in public.

It takes a strong-minded person to handle a strong-minded dog.  If you are wishy-washy, weak willed, lazy, or macho you will most likely end up with a Bullmastiff that is not a pleasure to be around.  And, in the end the dog will suffer because you failed to fulfill your responsibility to it and your community.  The dog may well end up having to be killed because it takes control of your household and bites indiscriminately.

And, don't think you can send the dog off to someone else for training.  Yes, a professional trainer can train the dog, but he/she can't instill RESPECT FOR YOU in the dog.  YOU MUST DO THAT.  If the dog does not respect you he/she will assume the role of alpha and that is the beginning of the end.  YOU, THE OWNER, must train the puppy/dog.  What classes do you offer at your training facility?  Include the type of class/name and duration. 

Thompson:  I am currently teaching KPT (Kindergarten Puppy Training) and Conformation classes.  My partner teaches Beginner Obedience.  The KPT and Beginner Obedience are both 8 week courses.  The Conformation classes are "drop-in" classes where students pay as they attend.   How can interested parties contact you to sign up for a class?

Thompson:  Anyone in our area may contact me at 719-784-6666 or e-mail me at  What future would you like to see happen with the Bullmastiff breed in general?  Do you think it this future is reachable?

Thompson:  What I would like to see happen is only responsible hobby breeders breeding Bullmastiffs (puppy mills and bad backyard breeders would not exist) and there would be a permanent, responsible home waiting for every puppy born. 

No, I do not think that is reachable, but we keep trying.

Closing Thoughts:

Thompson:  Bullmastiffs are wonderful dogs, but they are not for everyone.  Before I bought my first Bullmastiff I had trained dogs for about 15 years and had lived with dogs my entire life.  I researched the breed and talked to numerous breeders.  From the time I decided I wanted a Bullmastiff to the time I bought my first one was 4 years!!  I really had to think hard about having a dog that slobbered a lot, but having had them for 15 years now, that trait is relegated to a minor nuisance.   Their wonderful attributes so far outweigh any slobbering that it just doesn't matter any more.

I think anyone considering a Bullmastiff as a pet must do the following:

  • Get over believing in the "Lassie syndrome."  Dogs DO NOT understand every word you say and DO NOT have the ability to reason as humans do.  They are DOGS -- love them for what they are; don't try to turn them into people -- it can't be done.  They are the most marvelous of creatures and you can't improve on what God created.

  • Be willing to assume the role as alpha dog and work hard to earn the right to be the alpha dog.  That means going to classes and spending whatever is necessary in time, money and effort to make your Bullmastiff a pleasant member of your family and community.

  • Make your Bullmastiff a member of the family.  They MUST have social interaction and your family is the only pack they have.

  • Make sure ALL responsible adults in the family WANT a Bullmastiff.  In a wife/husband household, if one doesn't want a Bullmastiff, life will be miserable for everyone and the dog will be the one to suffer most. would like to personally thank Linda Thompson for taking the time to share her thoughts and experience with our readers!  If you would like more information, please contact Linda Thompson at

Linda Thompson
Obedience Trainer ~Conformation Trainer ~ Handler
Colorado  USA
Phone:  719-784-6666


All Rights Reserved.  Copyright 1994 - 2002
Click Here for Website Dedications
Honors & Awards
Notices, Disclaimers, & Copyrights

Please report all technical questions to the Webmaster.
This site is best viewed in screen resolution 1024 x 768 and browser MS Internet Explorer 5.0 or above.
Website engineered and maintained by Ahmylan Impressions, Incorporated.