by Cheryl Clarke - BLACKMASK BULLMASTIFFS - for New Zealand conditions

Bullmastiffs are the perfect family dog - excellent with children when bought up with them, and the bonus is that you have such a good protector.  My own rule is to never leave children unsupervised with any breed of dog. The guarding instinct kicks in around 18 months or so - usually much younger if there is another dog to learn from.  Ours pick it up very early (one as young as six months) because they have the "pack" around them. 

They are subject to the same "fear" periods as other breeds of puppies i.e. around 7 months and 13 months, and should be encouraged through these. Exposure to as many new sights and sounds in the early weeks is necessary, but being sensible until vaccinations are completed, and socialisation with other dogs and people should be continued on through the puppies lifetime.

Basic obedience training is a must and firmness of command - so the dog knows what its boundaries are.  Starting at puppy classes is excellent - the dogs love this time and the socialisation is invaluable. Taking obedience training to the next levels is highly recommended - as much for the training of the owner as the dog - and we now have the CGC (Canine Good Citizen) levels to work towards.  Bullmastiffs must have time spent with them (as any puppy or dog should).  Again, this should be standard with any breed of dog but it is amazing the number of people who desperately want a puppy and then complain when it digs in the back garden or barks because it's bored and the novelty of having to look after a puppy has worn off.  As a breed they respond to love and attention, kindness and firmness, not physical punishment.  If you are working but can pop home at lunchtime when the pup is small (he/she will be on three meals a day at this stage anyway) it makes a huge difference to the puppy; of course the ideal is when a family member is home for most of the day.

You must have a fully enclosed, fenced section or dog area so the bullmastiff knows its bounds and territory.  Your neighbours may not be too thrilled to have your dog controlling their visitors otherwise! Don't have the puppy or dog chained; the ideal situation, apart from living inside, is a kennel and reasonable sized run when left unattended. Local Body regulations need to be adhered to, and make sure your puppy is registered with your Local Authority at three months of age.

They are a hardy breed although not without their health problems.  Cancer in some lines and Hip Dysplasia (HD) are probably the biggest worries to breeders - try to find a breeder that hip and elbow scores, and whose dogs have a low to average hipscore (the breed average at the present moment is around 19.5). Not all breeders score however, and those that do can only use their results as another tool for breeding, along with clear eye certifications and health checks. A breeder that is prepared to give a general health guarantee should be commended, and although it is virtually impossible to guarantee against problems like cancer or HD, they should be confident enough of their breedings and lines to stand behind you as a puppy buyer should health problems arise.

When it comes time to look at puppies, if you don't like what you see regarding conditions the pups are kept in, or the look of the parents (the dam should always be available and at least a photo and information about the sire), then just walk away.  Don't just buy the first puppy you see - look at as many litters as possible and when you are satisfied, then make your choice. All pups are adorable and very hard to resist; so if you get warning bells then don't go any further and move on to the next breeder. A good breeder needs to be there for you 24 hours a day with support and advice when required.

It should go without saying that this breed should never be "crossed" with another. As a puppy buyer, you need to have the breeder's reassurance that their lines have excellent temperaments - don't settle for anything less. They can be a dog-agressive breed, especially the males towards other male dogs; remember the original purpose of this breed was for a utility dog that would protect a gamekeeper. This was protection not only from poachers but also their dogs, ususally lurchers, and this distrust can linger today.

The average cost is $3,000 - $3,500NZD whether for show homes or pet homes.  This is pretty standard unless there was some amazing breeding involved (like imported semen used, or a bitch sent to Australia to be mated for example).  You may be able to choose a "pet quality" bullmastiff at a lesser price - this may have a cosmetic fault like too much white on the chest, or not enough mask or a crank tail.  This is quite different from whether you want the dog to show or as a pet and does not mean that this puppy will be any less a bullmastiff to you than the supposedly "near perfect" show specimen.

However, every breeder is different in the way they present their "conditions of sale" (which may only be verbal), so make sure you understand exactly what they mean, what you may or may not be covered for and that they understand your own expectations from a pup. It is rare that every single puppy in a litter can be show quality, so beware the breeder that assures you that every pup they produce is of show quality.

Be prepared for quite a large food bill - they are a big dog and eat accordingly. Veterinary bills can also be expensive and it always pays to have an "fund" available for emergencies.

These are not the dogs for everyone - some find them too big and if they are untrained they can be boisterous.  Huge dogs that jump up on everyone they meet can be very off-putting to folk who are not sure of big dogs anyway - always have you dog under control and well-behaved. From the moment you take delivery of your puppy, you and your bullmastiff become an advertisement and ambassadors for the bullmastiff breed. Owners should always be aware these dogs may have the potential to be a problem if time, love and training isn't put into them



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