There is a famous description of the Mastiff which was written in 1800 by Sydenham Edwards in the Cynographia Britannica: ‘What the Lion is to the Cat the Mastiff is to the Dog, the noblest of the family; he stands alone, and all others sink before him. His courage does not exceed his temper and generosity, and in attachment he equals the kindest of his race…’
The Mastiff, though historically used for warfare and fighting, is now a gentle giant, with a calm and easy going temperament. He is still bold and protective, but will usually pin down or even sit on an intruder that he feels is a threat, rather than being aggressive.
Male adults reach a height of 30 inches, and females a height of 27.5 inches. Males weigh 150 to 250 pounds at maturity, and females 120 to 180 pounds.
In 55 B.C., Mastiffs helped the British natives defend themselves against the Roman army. Julius Caesar liked and wrote about them in his journal, and some were brought back to Rome to fight with the gladiators. Besides fighting in the wars, British Mastiffs usually had roles such as hunting and guarding large estates. One famous story involves a nobleman called Sir Piers Legh. He was wounded in the Battle of Agincourt, but his Mastiff stood over him protecting him for 5 hours until help came.
World War II almost brought them to the point of extinction in the UK, so American breeders helped out by exporting some back to America and continuing their breeding. They are now less aggressive than they used to be, but are still bold and fearless.
Mastiffs used to be more aggressive, and needed to be, since they fought in wars and in the Roman Coliseum. However now they are more gentle and make great family pets. They are still courageous and protective, but their mode of action is to keep the threat at bay till support comes, rather than to fight it. They are affectionate and good-natured dogs who love to play and cuddle.
The Mastiff has short hair and a few colors – usually some type of fawn, apricot or brindle. They have a black mask on their face and are giant dogs. With their size, heavy bones and dignified gait, these dogs can be terrifying if you encounter them suddenly.
Even though they are large, these dogs prefer to be indoors and with their family. They will usually be fine in a small house such as an apartment or a condo so long as they have enough exercise – but you will need to make sure that there’s room for them to move! They can become anxious or destructive if left by themselves for too long.
If they are raised with other animals, Mastiffs will get used to them and get along. But if you introduce them at a later date he may become aggressive, since he is protective of what he considers to be his territory. They are reserved with strangers but very good with kids – as they are gentle and patient. They are also tolerant of what children do to them, and protect them if strangers come. However they do need socialization from an early age to make sure they turn into a well-rounded dog. They should be kept on a lead and in a fenced in yard, as there have been cases of aggression and bites, even though they are usually well behaved. And you will need to be careful if you have small children, since they can easily be knocked over by a swipe of your giant’s tail.
These giant dogs have a large amount of drool, so be aware that you might have some cleaning up to do on a regular basis, and most owners keep a slobber cloth handy. They do shed a moderate amount of hair, but a weekly brushing will help to keep your house from being too hairy. Once or twice a year there may be a season of more heavy shedding where they will need brushing more often. Their ears and wrinkles around the face should be checked and cleaned regularly, and their nails kept trimmed. Get your dog used to being touched while he is a puppy so that he won’t have any problem with it when he’s huge.
Early obedience training and socialization should be given to your Mastiff puppy. A puppy class is a great way to both get in some training and also some socialization with other dogs and humans. They should also be exposed to lots of different situations and experiences, of things like fireworks, mowers, people jogging, and so on. They learn well and are eager to please, but may refuse to learn something if they are bored – so you should try and keep training fun, and vary what you do. It helps to make eye contact as they are good at reading your facial expressions, and you should use positive encouragement rather than harsh correction. They don’t bark much, but when they do they have a tendency to bark very loudly, so if you train them to stop barking that will help.
Mastiffs don’t need a whole lot of exercise, but daily walks are good for them, as is some romping around and playtime. But be careful with puppies, as they shouldn’t be exercised too much or allowed to run up and down stairs or jump from high furniture – just playing is enough exercise for them. If Mastiffs are walking with you and feel tired, they will often just stop and lie down, so you might not want to take them too far from home!
Mastiffs tend to drool in their water bowls a lot, so the bowls will need to be rinsed out at least once a day, and maybe more often. With their large size, they are prone to bloat (gastric torsion) which is a life-threatening condition. So it’s important to give them multiple small meals a day rather than one big meal, and also to leave exercising till at least an hour after eating.
Most people recommend feeding Mastiff puppies an adult dog food after 6 months. Protein should be no more than 26% of their diet, and the calcium/phosphorus ratio should be 1.2:1. This is to encourage slow and steady growth, and to decrease the risk of skeletal problems later in life. Puppies should be fed four times a day when you first bring them home. Add a small amount of warm water to the kibble so that it doesn’t expand in their stomachs. Once they are 4 months old they can transition to three meals a day, and then to two meals a day at 9 months old.
Some dogs can become allergic to certain foods such as grain or different types of protein. If you feel this might be a problem then you can put them on a diet with very simple ingredients and gradually reintroduce other ingredients to see what’s causing the problem.
Recommended daily feeding amount: 6 to 8 cups of high quality dry food every day, divided into two meals.
Keep treats small, and watch out that they aren’t eating too much and becoming overweight. Dogs that have been spayed or neutered will need fewer calories, and as they age they will probably need less too. It’s better to err on the side of too lean than too heavy, as too much weight can lead to adverse health conditions.
Common Health Concerns
Hip Dysplasia is a common problem with Mastiffs, as with many other breeds. This is where the thigh bone doesn’t fit properly into the hip joint and can cause lameness. It is usually a hereditary condition, so you should make sure the parents of your puppy have been checked for it. It can also be worsened by too rapid growth, or jumping from heights.
There are several eye conditions that may affect Mastiffs, including Progressive Retinal Atrophy, which can eventually cause blindness. Seizures and cancer can occur, as well as Cystinuria, which is a kidney condition that usually causes bladder or kidney stones.
Mastiffs often develop Hygromas, which are cushions that protect their elbow joints when they’re lying down. These are natural and harmless, so it’s best to leave them as they are.
Mastiffs are often purchased without any clear understanding of what goes into owning one. There are many Mastiffs in need of adoption and or fostering. There are a number of rescues that we have not listed. If you don’t see a rescue listed for your area, contact the national breed club or a local breed club and they can point you toward a Mastiff rescue.