Despite what some people may advertise, a Bandog is not a pure bred breed; it is a purpose bred, mixed breed working dog. The concept of the Bandog, a cross between Bull breeds and Mastiffs, is not a new. These types of dogs have been hunting boar, guarding homes, and being used as police and security dogs for thousands of years. Many breeds such as the Bullmastiff, Dogue De Bordeaux, and the Boerboel have been developed from careful selection of Bandog types.
Earliest written mention of them is from tribal Britain. They were big game hunters, guardians of property, person and livestock, and dogs of war. These dogs probably looked much like a lot of the heavier types of pig dogs being used in Australia today.
During the middle ages, Bandogs were used throughout Europe for their original purposes and also became participants in blood sports and were baited against man and beast. In England during this period the Bandog was solely owned by Nobleman. It was illegal for lower class people to own dogs of this type, an offense which was punishable by death. It was feared they would be able to successfully poach the Kings beasts should they have one.
The greatest influence to Bandog breeding came during the 1800's in the way of the Gamekeepers Night Dog, from which the Bull Mastiff breed emerged. These dogs were used to catch poachers and were powerful and agile. I think they are best described by W. Burton of Thorneywood Kennels:
"The typical Thornywood night dog should be no less than 80 lbs and if it be 100 lbs and fit and agile, all the better. It should be dark with a clean close coat with little in the way of markings for easy concealment at night. It should fear no man or group of men, no matter how sinister their intention. It should be able to face whip cudgel and shotgun with equal enthusiasm and show no shyness or fear of the aforementioned. Once engaged with its tormentor it should grip like a vice and fight like a lion and never relinquish its hold of its own accord, even if it comes to serious mischief and takes its death. In my charge he should be obedient and faithful. In my home or in his kennel he should be quiet and good tempered. There is no better or hardier dog than a good nightdog."
It's interesting to note that they were once Police dogs par excellence. The National Bull and Mastiff Police Registry was founded in 1926. The requirements for the registry were that dogs must pass all phases of police training to be accepted. Here's an extract from a letter to the club from Sgt. Cordy of the Walsingham Police Station:
"I want no better dog than a good Bullmastiff for police work and I am ready to back it against any breed. It may interest you to know that I have made an offer to one of my comrades who is an Alsationist, to train a Bullmastiff along side an Alsation to track and be more steady on the trail. The quarry will be a pretended fugitive and at the end of the trail the dog must close and catch the fugitive. A Gamekeeper friend recommended this breed to me and told me I would have no better breed. His words were true."
Sadly, in modern times most people have heard of the Bandog and relate them to the dog fighter John Swinford. Had he not had his name published in print he would have faded into obscurity, just as his dogs did. It is commonly believed that a Neapolitan Mastiff cross Pit bull is a true Swinford Bandog, however Dr. Swinford found the Neo to be lacking for his needs, and his best dog Bantu was actually from an English Mastiff bitch by a Pit bull.
A modern Bandog is only as good as its breeding. There are many different breeders with different goals, using different foundation breeds, so if you are looking for one of these dogs, it's important to find somebody who is breeding the type of dog you are looking for. It's also vital not to confuse aggression with protective nature, they are very different qualities. Savage dogs of any breed have no place in today's society.
For me a good Bandog is very similar to the dogs Mr. Burton describes above. An athletic yet powerful dog, capable of finding and catching pigs, obedient and faithful, laid back and problem free around the house, good with children, stable in all situations yet protective of his home and family when push comes to shove. Health is also very important, as although it's rare, these dogs can unfortunately inherit genetic health problems such as hip and elbow problems, cherry eye and immune system problems. They can also suffer from the heat a bit more than some other types and like to be part of the family. Dog and animal aggression should not be a problem in these dogs, but early and positive socialization is certainly necessary. Another draw back is they are late maturing dogs and for many, the closer they get to adulthood before they are started, the better.
Written by Katrina Hartwell, Australia