In the late 19th century, dog breeder Max von Stephanitz decided that Germany’s sheepherders needed an upgrade – a better sheepdog, able to trot for long stretches of time without tiring. Travelling the country in search for the perfect dogs to build his new line on, he successfully shaped the German Shepherd that we have today. By means of selective breeding with active working dogs in the field of sheepherding, he created a breed that soon would become one of the most popular canine guardians on the planet.
Like the German Shepherd, the Bullmastiff also was created in the 19th century, albeit in England. The “fathers” of this breed were the gamekeepers: Plagued by intrepid poachers who went after illicit game, these gamekeepers crossed the Old English Bulldog with the English Mastiff. In doing so, they created the perfect dog for their needs. Which basically consisted in stopping those poachers – preferably without killing them on the spot, because bringing the offenders before court was part of the gamekeeper’s job description.
Thanks to their superb work, the Bullmastiff’s guarding skills soon made the breed popular far beyond England.
DIFFERENCES IN LOOKS
Bullmastiffs are tall, bulky dogs with blocky heads and large jowls. They have the deep facial folds characteristic for brachycephalic breeds. Their short, smooth coat can be brindle, red or fawn – with a mask of black fur around the dog’s face. Fully grown Bullmastiffs reach heights of up to 69 cm – or 27 inches -, and weigh up to 59 kg, or 130 pounds. The females are built slightly smaller and lighter.
Built far less sturdy, the agile German Shepherd is slightly longer than tall, with the line of their back slightly sloping down from shoulder to hip. Breed standards differentiate between short stock coat and long stock coat. In colour, their coats come in many different shades: purely black, black-and-tan, black and silver, red and black, as well as grey and sable. In size, male German Shepherds can reach up to 65 cm at the wither, which translates to 26 inches. Males weigh up to 40 kilos, which is 88 pounds. Females are slightly smaller and lighter.
INTELLIGENCE & TRAINABILITY DIFFERENCES
In terms of intelligence and trainability, the eager-to-please German Shepherd trumps the slightly stubborn Bullmastiff: The German guardian is amazingly versatile, quick to learn and reliable when it comes to putting into practise what they have learned. Which is why German Shepherd are perfectly suited as sports dogs, personal protection dogs and service dogs.
The Bullmastiff, on the other hand, lacks the Shepherd’s spirit of cooperation: Known for its stubborn nature, this gentle giant can be quite challenging to train. And harsh corrections only make matters worse: To get a Bullmastiff to satisfactory levels of obedience, calm, consistent leadership is required. A balanced approach with plenty of positive reinforcement – and plenty of patience – usually works best with these strong-willed giants.
However, when it comes to its suitability as guard dog, the Bullmastiff is right up there together with the German Shepherd: Both breeds are naturally protective of their owners and their territory, even without any formal guard dog training.
German Shepherds have been bred as working dogs, designed to trot for long stretches of time. Which makes them not the best choice as housedogs and family pets: They prefer being outside, patrolling their territory, playing or enjoying long walks. Contrary to these keen and high energy endurance athletes, Bullmastiffs are quite happy to spend most of their lives indoors. In energy levels, they are right on the opposite end of the scale. Which makes them the ultimate housedogs and even apartment dogs. Bullmastiffs lack the boisterous nature of German Shepherds and are very gentle when moving around the house – and especially when interacting with children. Which is why Bullmastiffs are amongst the best, if not THE best, family guardian breeds in existence. Also known as “the silent protectors”, Bullmastiffs are amazingly quiet indoors. Whereas German Shepherds can be quite vocal, which of course is not an amazing trait in a house- or apartment dog.
Of course, both breeds need lots of socialization throughout their lives, especially if they are raised to be family dogs. It is worth noting that German Shepherds who have been raised in relative isolation can become quite aggressive towards other people as well as other dogs.