October 23, 2017

Introduction to the Mastiff

The English Mastiff is officially known as the Mastiff by the American Kennel Club and most other kennel clubs. They are descended from dogs called the Old English Mastiff.

The Mastiff has an ancient history and is the ancestor of many modern dog breeds. Although they are a giant breed and extremely large, they are calm, gentle companion dogs. They are not supposed to be aggressive.

They can be good guard dogs and protective of their family but they do not normally seek a reason to fight. They are good family dogs and they love children.

Note that the term “mastiff” is sometimes used as a general term instead of the name of the breed. It refers to a group of mastiff-type dogs known as Molossers which have mastiff characteristics. These dogs are found all over the world – usually in places where people have traveled with dogs of the Mastiff breed and the dogs have interbred with local dogs.

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History of the Mastiff

Today’s Mastiff is descended from ancient Molosser-type dogs as far back as 2500 BC. These dogs were from the mountains of Asia (Greece, Albania – the area varies). Folklore suggests that Phoenician traders brought some of these dogs to Britain before the Roman conquest, beginning around 43 BC. The Romans were impressed with the mighty dogs and took some of them back to Rome to fight in the Colosseum. According to Marco Polo, visiting China in the late 13th century, the emperor Kubla Khan kept a kennel of over 5000 Mastiffs for waging war and hunting. Hannibal, crossing the Alps, took Mastiffs trained for war with him. Mingling with local dogs produced the Saint Bernard and other giant breeds. Mastiffs also interbred and produced giant breeds in France, Spain, and other parts of Europe and Asia.

While not the earliest Molosser dog, most people agree that the Mastiff-type from England is the purest form of Mastiff and the one closest to the Mastiff that exists today. Mastiffs were kept to guard English castles and estates. They were often released on the grounds at night to keep intruders away. According to one report, Henry VIII gave his wife, Katharine of Aragon’s nephew, Charles V, 400 Mastiffs as a gift for use in battle. Other English kings also presented Mastiffs as gifts to their royal friends and family.

The number of Mastiffs began to decline until the late 1800s when they started to become popular again. At this time they started to be imported to the United States. By the 1920s, however, Mastiffs were almost extinct in Britain. With their great size it takes a lot to feed a Mastiff, many people during and after World War I and the Depression were not able to keep the breed. Even in the U.S., very few Mastiffs were imported or born between 1906 and 1918. The breed virtually vanished in Britain during World War II, but a small gene pool still existed in the U.S. and Canada. Today there are probably more Mastiffs in the U.S. than anywhere else in the world.

Mastiffs were first recognized by the AKC in 1885. They currently rank as the 26th most popular breed in the United States, according to the American Kennel Club.

Mastiff Health-Related Issues

The Mastiff Club of America, the parent club for the breed in the United States, provides some very good health information about Mastiffs on their web site. Working with the Canine Health Foundation and other organizations, the club has supported research to create DNA tests for Dominant Progress ive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) and Canine Multifoal Retinopathy (CMR) – inherited eye diseases — and solutions to health issues that affect Mastiffs.

They are currently supporting research for cystinuria (an inherited disease that features the formation of cystine stones in the kidneys, ureter, and bladder), various kinds of cancer, problems with cruciate ligaments, and epilepsy, among other things.

The club recommends dog considered for breeding have their hips and elbows evaluated for dysplasia; eyes examined by an ophthalmologist; and the heart examined for congenital cardiac disease. There are also optional tests for cystinuria and autoimmune thyroiditis. Other problems that can occur in the breed but which do not occur often or which are not considered major problems include obesity, allergies, vaginal hyperplasia, entropion (a problem with the eyelid and eyelash scratching the eye), and persistent pupillary membrances (PPM).

Remember that most dogs do not major have health problems. Breeders work diligently to test and screen their dogs so they produce healthy puppies. But no one can completely guarantee that every dog will be healthy throughout their lifetime. If you are interested in getting a puppy or dog, be sure to talk to the breeder about their dogs and their health guarantees.

Mastiff Temperament

Despite their large size and somewhat intimidating appearance, Mastiffs are not aggressive or fierce dogs, in general. Their temperament is normally calm and gentle, especially with their families. They can be protective and they can make a good guard dog – by barking and looking big and scary. But they are not quick to attack or chase someone. They might sit on an intruder if someone is foolish enough to break into a home where a Mastiff lives, however. And a dog that weighs 200 pounds can usually keep a burglar pinned down until help arrives.

Mastiffs are loyal, faithful dogs with a docile good nature. They make good family dogs and they are very good around children. They are usually very patient dogs and get along with other pets.

Because of their large size, Mastiffs do best living in the country or a rural area, but they like comfort and they prefer to live in the house with you. Owners say that Mastiffs snore and they can drool, especially if your dog has loose flews/lips. Some dogs drool more than others. However, Mastiffs tend to be very clean dogs and they don’t shed a lot. They usually have good house manners and they are generally well-behaved dogs. Mastiffs don’t usually bark a lot, though Mastiff puppies may bark. They will usually bark less when they grow up.

Mastiff Grooming

Mastiffs are usually easy to groom. They have a short, sleek coat that is easy to brush once or twice a week. They do not shed much and only have a big shed in the spring and fall. They do not have any particular doggy odor. Regular bathing should keep your dog clean and looking nice.

Otherwise, grooming a Mastiff is similar to grooming other dogs. You will need to check and clean your dog’s ears, keep his nails trimmed, and maintain his teeth in good condition.

Mastiff Fun Facts

The Mastiff is not the tallest breed of dog but it is often the heaviest breed. The heaviest dog on record was a Mastiff named Zorba who weighed 343 pounds in 1989 in the Guinness Book of Records. Guinness no longer accepts claims for the largest or heaviest pets. (Cloe, a Mastiff in Tibet in the 1980s, is said to have weighed 365 pounds, but she doesn’t have the Guinness record.)

There are over 14 different kinds of mastiff or molosser dogs. The Mastiff (English Mastiff), descended from the Old English Mastiff, is only one breed among many.

The Mastiff was at one time used for dogfighting in England but dogfighting was outlawed in 1835. The popularity of the breed declined after that time. Plus, fewer people had large estates and they couldn’t afford to feed such large dogs. The Mastiff today is not aggressive or prone to fighting.

Most Mastiffs have a short lifespan but a Mastiff named Kush, in Australia, lived to be over 15 years.

In 2004, a Mastiff in England gave birth to 24 puppies. Twenty of the puppies survived. Mastiffs can have very big litters!

Common Mastiff Mixes

Mastiffs are extremely large dogs so they are not the breed for everyone. In the past, Mastiffs had some common uses, such as guarding estates and being used in battle with troops. There isn’t as much call for those jobs today. Even though Mastiffs have been the foundation for many breeds throughout the world, they are not a popular breed as a mixed breed today. However, you occasionally see a Mastiff-mix such as the American Bandogge Mastiff, which is a mix of the Bulldog and the Mastiff. In some cases these dogs are other breeds mixed with the Mastiff, so always ask which breeds the parents were.

Mastiff FAQs

What is a Mastiff’s Life Expectancy?

One of the great drawbacks of having a giant breed dog is that they often have a short life expectancy. A Mastiff typically has a lifespan of about seven years, with some dogs living to be about 10 years if they are very old.

Are Mastiffs easy to train?

Mastiffs can be quite intelligent but they can also be sensitive and stubborn dogs. They are not always easy to train. They like to please you and they respond well to firm, positive training. It’s important that you keep your training simple and easy to understand. You always want a dog this large to be cooperative. Training sessions that last 10-15 minutes, twice a day, are plenty. Affection and small treats make good rewards.

Do Mastiffs shed a lot of hair?

No, not really. Mastiffs have a short, sleek coat. They are average shedders. If you brush them regularly you shouldn’t have a problem with shedding. They shed more in the spring and fall, like most dogs.

Do Mastiffs make good apartment pets?

No, not really. Mastiffs are usually quiet and clean and they have good manners but they are so large that they usually do best living in the country or in a rural situation. They prefer to live indoors with their owners but it’s best if they have easy access to a yard.

Are Mastiffs good with Children?

Yes, Mastiffs are usually very good with children. They are docile, calm dogs and they are able to put up with playful children. As always, it’s best if children are supervised when they play with dogs. Accidents can happen very quickly. Try to teach your children how to safely interact with dogs so no one gets hurt.

Carlotta Cooper

Carlotta Cooper is a freelance writer and a long-time contributing editor for the weekly dog show magazine, Dog News. She is the author of The Dog Adoption Bible, the Dog Writers Association of America Adoptashelter.com award-winner for 2013. Additionally, Carlotta is the author of Canine Cuisine: 101 Natural Dog Food & Treat Recipes to Make Your Dog Health and Happy, as well as other books about pets. She is a guest writer for numerous website and blogs and a frequent pet food reviewer.

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