Everything You Need to Know about the Mastiff
When I first spotted a Mastiff, I was a little child and we saw one walking down the road with his owner.
I was awed by the massive, fawn dog and I couldn’t resist scratching that black muzzle he had.
Then he looked into my eyes and I knew from that moment that I would own a mastiff one day.
Fast forward 20 years and I found myself owning several mastiffs. There is actually a saying about mastiffs, “they are like potato chips, you can’t just have one.” And it really is true.
They are an exceptional breed known first for their massive size and beautiful appearance. But it is the exceptional personality of the breed that has earned them the title of king of dogs.
If you haven’t had the opportunity to get to know the breed, which is also known as the Mastiff, English Mastiff or Old English Mastiff, now is a great time to learn about them. We will go over all of the traits of the breed, as well as some of the negatives that every potential owner should know before choosing the mastiff as their breed.
And we have all the information you need to determine if this is the right breed for you.
The Magnificent Appearance of the Mastiff
Males: 30 inches and above (76.2cm)
Females: 27.5 inches and above (68.58cm)
Males: 150 to 250 pounds (68.03 to 113.40kg)
Females: 120 to 200 pounds (54.43 to 90.72kg)
Fawn: Ranging from light silver to dark fawn
Apricot: Ranging from a light apricot to a dark red apricot
Brindle: Black with brindling of fawn or apricot
“What the lion is to the cat, so is the Mastiff to the dog,” a saying that is commonly used to describe the mastiff, it really does illustrate the majesty and strength of this ancient breed.
The mastiff is a giant breed of dog and is considered to be the heaviest breed of dog alive today. While some breeds may be taller, none as are massive in stature as the mastiff. They should be a heavily muscled dog that gives the impression of power.
The breed should produce a slightly rectangular dog with his body being slightly longer than he is tall. In addition, his size should be attributed to bone and confirmation and not to excess fat or unnecessary weight.
Head shape of the mastiff varies slightly, but the ideal is a large, square head with a good appearance of muscle in the forehead. The muzzle should be thick and square.
It should be slightly shorter than the rest of the head, however, it should never be so short that it looks brachycephalic. Ears should hang and should be in proportion of the head. Not too long or too short but medium in length. The mastiff should have large, kind, brown eyes and there should be a marked stop at the base of the muzzle.
The body of the should have a level topline. He should have a large, wide chest that is very deep. A mastiff in great condition should have a clear abdominal tuck and the legs should be thick and well boned. The tail is also thick and tapers to a tip. It should end at the hocks of the dog and hang straight, not curled.
Mastiffs have a short coat, however, they length can vary slightly as can the density. There are also fluffy mastiffs with a medium length coat, but they are not considered breed standard and is a coat type most breeders avoid producing. The coat should consist of a dense undercoat and a short, straight outer coat.
They come in three colors: fawn, apricot and brindle, which is a fawn or apricot with dark, black stripes. The colors can range in shade from light to dark. Mastiffs should have a dark mask on the muzzle, nose, around the eyes and the ears should be black as well. White markings can also be seen in coat color but the desired coat is one without white.
Temperaments that Prove Mastiffs are the Best
What’s not to love about the temperament of the mastiff. Well, first, it could be that they can be a little bit stubborn…okay, they can be really stubborn. We often refer to mastiffs doing commands in mastiff time. They will do the command; however, they will do it at a speed that they feel like doing it.
But with that warning, you should be prepared for a truly gentle giant. This is a dog that is known for being sweet, affectionate and incredibly gentle. They love their family and are a Velcro breed that needs to be with their owners. In fact, mastiffs often believe they are lap dogs and will try to sit in your lap, even when they are 200 plus pounds.
They are eager to please, and want their families to be happy, but they are a natural guard dog so their self confidence can make training difficult. However, they should never be trained with a heavy hand as they have a very sensitive nature.
Even a harsh word can shatter their confidence and leave them sad and scared. For that reason, they should have gentle, but firm, training and owners should be patient with their gentle giants.
While they will get along with family and strangers alike, the breed is protective of their family and there are many stories of a mastiff protecting their owners from danger. They have a natural instinct to protect and will put their family before themselves.
The intelligent breed is often described as dignified, courageous and noble in personality, but the mastiff has a fun and goofy side that delights their owners immensely. In addition, they are giant teddy bears and often try to have at least a paw on their owners.
All of these traits make them an ideal family pet, which brings us to our next topic.
A Breed Meant For Families
When most people think of a mastiff, they are so focused on the size, they don’t realize that the breed is excellent with children. In fact, they are so good with children, they are known for being one of the top 5 breeds for families.
The reason for this is because mastiffs are extremely patient with children. In addition, they love people and this extends to children of all ages. The one consideration is that the breed can go through a bull in a china shop stage where they don’t realize their size. They can injure children easily during this stage simply by knocking them down by accident.
Still, with proper training and management, a mastiff will fit into a home with children of any age. In addition, they do very well as a pack animal.
The breed does very well with dogs of all sizes and their gentle nature makes them perfect for even the smallest of pets. I have had lizards out with my mastiffs with no problems. In addition, I have fostered feral kittens that the mastiffs cared for while they were with us.
In general, if the dogs are properly socialized and trained, a mastiff will accept any animal you have or bring into your home from a tiny kitten to another giant mastiff.
An Ancient Breed with a Long History
The history of the mastiff is often debated on with people believing that our modern day breed being descended from Molosser breeds in ancient times while other believe that it was the ancient breed itself.
Regardless of what you believe, we do know that the mastiff has been around for centuries, if not millennia. They were first recorded around the 700BCE and are believed to be over 3000 years old. It is believed that their foundation breed was a large breed developed in the mountains of Tibet or India to work as guardian dogs for flocks.
As they spread throughout Europe and the world, they became popular guardian and fighting dogs through Egypt, Greek and even Babylonia. The breed was used for war and also as gladiator dogs in the Roman colosseum and fighting pits.
In fact, the breed was so revered for his size, power and fighting ability, even conquers were known to have their own kennel of mastiffs. This includes Hannibal and Kublai Khan; the latter kept a kennel of over 5000 mastiffs that he used for both war and hunting.
However, the mastiff of today is far removed from the war dog of past days, at least when it comes to temperament. The breed that we know today is believed to have been developed in England and were used primarily as guard dogs for estates.
One of the most famous lines of Mastiffs comes out of Lyme Hall, which kept the breed for roughly five centuries between the 15th and 20th centuries. During its history, the mastiff is believed to be a foundation breed for several different breeds including the Bullmastiff, Rottweiler, English Bulldog and the Pug.
Although it was primarily used as a guardian dog, the breed did suffer as a fighting dog like many other breeds. During the 1700 and 1800’s, mastiffs were used for bullbaiting, dog fighting and bear baiting.
When those sports were banned in 1835 and, again in WWI and WWII, the breed almost become extinct. However, dedicated breeders from Canada and the United States help bring the breed back from the brink of extinction in Europe.
Through the decades, the breed has moved from a guard dog to a trusted family dog, although they are still a working breed that can be seen competing in a number of dog sports including carting, weight pulling, obedience, confirmation and even working in guarding duties.
The breed thrived in the United States and while it is believed that the breed has been in the United States for much longer, it was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1885 and the current Mastiff Club of America was formed in 1929.
Today, the breed continues to capture the hearts and imaginations of everyone who sees their big, beautiful eyes and are often ranked in the top 30 breeds with the AKC.
The Health and Lifespan of the Mastiff
Life Expectancy: 8 to 12 years
One of the hardest parts of owning a mastiff is that they often don’t have a long life span. On average, many mastiffs only live until 8 to 10 years of age. However, more and more breeders are putting emphasis on longevity and have been successful with increasing health and lifespan in the breed. With that in mind, some mastiff lines are living to 11 or 12 years of age, and a few longer than that.
However, as with most breeds, the mastiff has a number of health conditions that affect the breed. That is why it is very important to always choose a puppy that comes from health tested parents. In addition, finding a breeder who offers a two year health guarantee will ensure that your puppy has the best start in life.
One thing that should be mentioned is that mastiffs are a giant breed with a deep chest, this puts them at an increased risk of gastric torsion, which is also known as bloat. We will go over tips on how to prevent bloat in your mastiff later in this article.
Conditions that are seen in mastiffs are the following:
- Hip Dysplasia
- Elbow Dysplasia
- Progressive Retinal Atrophy
- Pulmonic Stenosis
- Osteochondrosis Dissecans
- Atopic Dermatitis
- Atrial Fibrillation
- Osteosarcoma Cancer
- Lymphoma Cancer
- Cranial Cruciate Ligament Rupture
- Persistent Papillary Membranes
- Cherry Eye
- Mitral Dysplasia
- Vaginal Hyperplasia
Since this is a large breed that can be fairly inactive if they are allowed to be, they can be prone to obesity. While you want a massive dog, they should still be at a healthy weight for their size. Avoid overfeeding your mastiff and make sure he gets daily exercise to ensure that he stays fit and healthy.
Finally, mastiffs, even at optimal weight, put a lot of pressure on their joints. For this reason, it is very important to provide proper exercise that doesn’t stress joints during key growth periods.
They will frequently tear their ACL if they are not properly managed during play and exercise when they are going through a growth spurt. In addition, proper nutrition and supplements will be ensure lifelong joint health.
Life with Giants: Living with a Mastiff
As you can see, mastiffs are a wonderful breed. They are great with kids, excellent with adults and they fill a home simply by the size of their hearts. Of course, if we just looked at those traits, I’m sure you’d be sold on the breed. But we also need to go into the care that mastiffs require before you can decide if you want a life with giants.
First, mastiffs do require a lot of socialization and training. As I mentioned, they can be stubborn, however, their size mandates that they have ample training. This is a big dog who can go where he wants if he sets his mind to it. It is imperative that owners dedicate daily time for training.
A well trained mastiff will listen with the lightest of tones. While they are easy to please, they can be a bit stubborn with training so be patient with them. The breed usually house trains quickly.
While they can have active periods, mastiffs are known for being couch potatoes. They can gain weight easily if they are allowed to be, however, they love being with their owners. My own mastiffs will go for a hike for several miles before happily sleeping when they get home.
Although they are not hyper active, they are a working breed and can thrive when they are out hiking or working. At the minimum, a mastiff should have a 30 minute walk every day. They should also get daily training or activities to keep them from being bored. While they are a giant breed, they are not a jogging companion.
With grooming, mastiffs are a wash and wear breed. They can be bathed once a month and only need weekly brushings. The coat can be easily wiped clean with a damp cloth. They do shed a fair amount, especially when they are blowing coat so be prepared for hair in the house.
Also, this is not a breed for people who want to maintain a clean house. Mastiffs have impressive flews, or jowls, that produce a lot of slobber. Some dogs produce more slobber than others but you should expect to see it after they drink or eat.
In addition, that slobber gets everywhere and their large, cat like paws are perfect for bringing mud into the house during those spring rainstorms. Of course, the first time your mastiff produces a slobber bubble, you will feel the strange sense of pride that all mastiff owners feel when they see a slobber bubble.
As with all breeds with hanging ears, it is important to check the ears on a regular basis. Clean them weekly and make sure they are dry every time they are in water. Nails should be trimmed as needed, usually twice a month, and you will need a heavy duty nail trimmer as their nails are very thick.
When it comes to diet, mastiffs should eat a high quality dog food. The amount of food will range with quality of food, if they are male or female and also their developmental stage. Many dogs eat about 6 to 8 cups a day, however, during growth spurts, they can eat upwards of 12 cups a day.
Since the breed is prone to bloat, it is important to feed them smaller meals through the day instead of one big one. In addition, make sure to count the calories when offering treats as they can gain weight easily.
But with proper maintenance, your mastiff can stay in his best weight.
While they come with drool and hair, the mastiff comes with a heart that is larger than their body. They often teach their owners how to love deeply and they leave a permanent mark on their family’s heart.
So, if you are looking for a breed that will not only fill your home but will also fill your heart, then you should choose this noble giant, this gentle king, the lion of the dog world who will inspire you to love as deeply as they do.
Some other pictures of my English Mastiff: