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Mastiff Breed Info: Pictures, Personality & Facts

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By Nicole Cosgrove

english mastiff

Height: 27 inches and up
Weight: 120–230 pounds
Lifespan: 6–10 years
Colors: Apricot fawn, silver fawn, fawn, or dark fawn brindle
Suitable for: Moderately active families, roomy homes in the city or country, owners prepared for giant-sized food and vet bills, those seeking an even-tempered guard dog
Temperament: Protective, courageous, docile, confident, patient, dignified, calm, kind, affectionate, good-natured

Are you looking for a dog that is big and cuddly, gentle and fearless? Then feast your eyes upon the majesty of the Mastiff! They’re more than big enough to contain the multitudes of qualities that people think of when they envision the “perfect dog.”

When discussing the Mastiff, you should know that there are Mastiff-type dogs, and then there is the specific breed of dog called the Mastiff. There are over 30 different breeds of Mastiff-type dogs in the world today, as well as 10 extinct breeds. In this article, we are going to give you a complete guide to the specific breed, the Mastiff. They are also known as English Mastiffs or Old English Mastiffs.

Mastiffs are the largest and also some of the gentlest of all the Mastiff-type dogs. They are the epitome of the gentle giant, and their dignity and docility are famed as much as their gargantuan proportions. The ancient ancestors of the Mastiff have been documented as far back as the 6th century B.C. Throughout the ages, these huge and courageous dogs have been used as game hunters, war dogs, property guards, family companions, and even in blood sports like fighting lions!

Systematic breeding of the English Mastiff began in England in the 19th century. Through the breeding of countless Mastiff-type dogs, the Alpine Mastiff, and the predecessor breed to the Great Dane, the modern Mastiff was established in about 1880 and has continued to be refined.

The breed nearly came to an end during World War II, though. Due to the strict rationing of meat, breeders were forced to stop or risk the health of their dogs. Disease racked the breed soon after, and only one female Mastiff survived after 1950. To reinvigorate the bloodline, breeders incorporated dogs like St. Bernards, Bullmastiffs, Fidelle de Fenelon, and Dogue de Bordeaux to create what we know today as the Mastiff.

Since this brush with extinction, the Mastiff has become known worldwide as one of the largest dog breeds on the planet, as well as a noble and gracious canine companion. They rank in the top 30 most popular breeds in the United States and are prized companion dogs.

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English Mastiff Puppy
Image Credit: rokopix, Shutterstock

Unfortunately, Mastiffs have significantly shorter lifespans than many other breeds. Before taking a new Mastiff puppy home, consider if you have the financial and emotional stability right now to support a big dog with big needs. Determine if you will be the primary care provider or if the family can share the responsibilities of a new puppy.  Take into consideration if your or your family’s schedules have ample time throughout the day to socialize with, provide bathroom trips to, and exercise a puppy. If you have children or you’re planning to, think if your kids can handle the death of a canine family member that may live as short as 6 years.

If you decide to purchase a purebred puppy, many experts strongly recommend testing the dog for conditions like elbow and hip dysplasia and thyroid problems, as well as eye issues. If a puppy already shows signs of joint deformity or degeneration, it likely means they are of poor genetic stock.

Breeders may ask for an extra fee to cover costs for testing, but it is worth it to make sure your puppy is healthy and has the best chance of growing up strong. Any breeder unwilling to have tests performed or reluctant to share the results may not be trustworthy.

mastiff dog with tongue out
Image Credit: Michal Ninger, Shutterstock

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Temperament & Intelligence of the Mastiff 🧠

Mastiffs are some of the most powerful dogs, yet they are also loyal and gentle. You simply could not ask for a better guard dog for a family. The docility of Mastiffs is legendary. They are known to let children crawl on them and prank and tease them without showing any sign of resentment.

When faced with aggression from other animals, Mastiffs are rarely provoked to react in kind; their strategy relies more on reminding aggressors, “Hey, I’m big. Don’t try this with me.”

Mastiffs have a quiet and dignified nature but are also fearless protectors. They are not aggressive, but guarding their home and family comes naturally. Any uninvited interlopers on your property are sure to turn right around when faced with the imposing physique and fierce loyalty of this breed.

The temperament of Mastiffs is appropriate for city living, but their physical size demands space. They are best suited for suburban or rural life where there’s plenty of room.

Are These Dogs Good for Families? 🏡

Undoubtedly! Mastiffs are the perfect balance of protective and gentle for a family dog. They are excellent guardians and companions for children of just about any age.

There’s no need to worry if a new baby will upset the household with these patient giants. Although it is advised that you teach both children and dogs how to interact, Mastiffs will suffer mild indignity and roughhousing with calm benevolence.

Does This Breed Get Along With Other Pets? 🐶 😽

In much the same way that they deal with children, Mastiffs are genial and tolerant of other animals. Their bulk lends them considerable confidence, and these dogs almost never develop dominance or jealousy issues.

It may be wise to supervise a young Mastiff with smaller animals at first. The rapid growth of a Mastiff puppy makes them a clumsy, bumbling pup that doesn’t always know their own strength. Better to socialize your puppy with small animals carefully, or an accidental tussle with the cat may be inevitable.

Image Credit: Ricantimages, Shutterstock

Divider 4Things to Know When Owning a Mastiff

Food & Diet Requirements 🦴

Choosing a high-quality dog food is one of the best ways to help your Mastiff grow strong and healthy and stay that way!

Ingredients to seek out in a food for your Mastiff:
  • Lean proteins with lots of healthy fats, like fowl and fish
  • Whole foods that are minimally processed and nutrient-dense
  • Grains like brown rice and oats
  • Vegetables like sweet potatoes and greens
  • Fruits like bananas and berries

Ingredients to avoid:
  • Leftover and castoff bits
  • Blood meals or animal fats
  • Cheap grains like soy and corn

Mastiffs should have their food separated into at least two or three meals a day. The breed is somewhat prone to bloat and a buildup of gases in their stomach, and one big dinner will only exacerbate these conditions.

Multiple smaller meals throughout the day will decrease the chances of uncomfortable gassiness and help their digestive systems run smoothly. But don’t worry, you’ll always be able to blame your farts on these “gas giants!”

Obesity can put severe strain on a Mastiff’s joints, ligaments, and bones. Luckily, multiple feedings a day may also help you to moderate the amount of food they need appropriate to their size. Check in with your veterinarian regularly about your dog’s weight and bone health.

Exercise 🐕

Although their overall activity level is quite low for their size, consistent exercise throughout their life is incredibly important for Mastiffs. Regular outdoor excursions and playtime will help discourage them from becoming couch potatoes and prevent several common health problems.

Mastiffs grow at a breakneck pace, gaining as many as 5 pounds a week as puppies! The speed with which their bones and muscles develop and their heavyset bodies mean that high-impact exercise may harm as much as it helps. When exercising your Mastiff, go for low impact activities like walks, hikes, and playing with toys. Many dog experts recommend that you avoid excessive running for young Mastiffs until at least age 2, to avoid damaging their growth plates and joints.

The breed’s extra weight also means that Mastiffs are prone to heat exhaustion and need a little extra protection from the sun in the warmer months. Do not exercise your dog during the hottest parts of the day, but do give them plenty of clean water to drink, and make sure they have a shady spot to relax outdoors. Don’t forget the cooling power and fun of sprinklers on a hot summer day!

When it comes to relaxing indoors after a good round of tug-of-war, give your dog a cushy surface to lounge and sleep on. A soft bed will let your giant rest their big bones and joints and may help prevent arthritis and calluses later in life.

Training 🦮

Contrary to their imposing stature, Mastiffs are a truly sensitive canine. When it comes to their family and owners, they live to please. If you can take on the role of confident pack leader, Mastiffs need little more than a stern voice to correct any bad behavior.

They are also quietly intelligent, and training from a gentle and patient owner will come to a Mastiff with ease. The catch here is that because these dogs grow to such immense sizes, it is even more important to train them in basic obedience commands than other breeds.

Starting your Mastiff’s training at a young age is highly recommended. As sweet as the breed often is, when you weigh over 200 pounds, it’s easy to be stubborn! But if you foster good communication, respect, and firm guidance from the start, you are much more likely to have a giant that will happily comply with your wishes as they grow up.

Grooming ✂️

Keeping your Mastiff clean is a simple affair, which is great news for the owner of a dog with so much surface area to cover! A Mastiff’s coat is dense but very short and sheds little. You can keep your pup’s coat neat with a minimum of brushing and bathing. In fact, unless your dog is particularly dirty, these giants can easily be cleaned with just a wet washcloth. Simply wipe down your dog with warm water to slough off surface-level dirt and loose hairs.

Toenails should get special attention, as with such low activity levels, your Mastiff is unlikely to wear them down effectively themselves. Check nails twice a month and clip accordingly so you can head off any nasty scratches or painful cracking.

Start implementing these types of grooming routines early in your Mastiff’s life because if they learn how nice bathing can be when they’re still little enough to be held, you won’t have to plead with a giant baby to get into their bath later in life!

Health and Conditions ❤️

Although big of heart, big dogs often live much shorter lives than smaller breeds. It is an unfortunate truth but does not necessarily mean that Mastiffs are a generally unhealthy breed. They are short-lived but sturdy pups.

Most of the health concerns for Mastiffs relate to their immense size. They need special attention paid to the care of their joints and backs, as well as maintaining a healthy weight.

Due in part to the breed’s brush with extinction around World War II, there is a lack of genetic diversity in many Mastiff bloodlines. Here is a list of all the possible predispositions and health concerns you will want to look out for with a Mastiff:

Minor Conditions
  • Obesity
  • Cystinuria
  • Osteosarcoma
  • Osteochondritis dissecans
  • Allergies
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Progressive retinal atrophy
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Cruciate ligament rupture
Serious Conditions
  • Hip and elbow dysplasia
  • Gastric torsion

Male vs. Female

The male English Mastiff is a huge, heavy-set dog. He is more likely than a female to develop behaviors such as mounting, humping, and marking territory as he reaches sexual maturity.

The female Mastiff is a large dog, but she can weigh in at nearly half that of their brothers. She is likely to be a bit more nurturing and docile.

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3 Little-Known Facts About the Mastiff

1. English Mastiffs Are the Largest Dogs in the World

In fact, in most kennel clubs and dog shows there is no maximum height listed in the Mastiff’s breed standard. The minimum height is about 27 inches for females and 30 inches for males. But these massive pooches can range up to 36 inches high at the shoulder and grow up to 230 pounds.

Zorba the Mastiff held the Guinness World Record for world’s largest dog from 1987 until his death in 1992. At his largest, this monstrously sized but sweet-natured canine was 37 inches to the shoulder, over 8 feet long from tail to nose, and weighed 323 pounds.

2. Experts Cannot Decide Where Their Name Came From

As a truly ancient breed, the definitive linguistic origins of “Mastiff” are unclear. Many experts claim that the name evolved from the Anglo-Saxon word for “powerful,” masty. Others, like the Oxford English Dictionary, contend that it originated from mastin, an Old French word meaning “tame.”

Perhaps there is truth to both of those theories because Mastiffs are incredibly powerful, as well as tender and tame dogs.

3. The Mastiff Is Thought by Many to Be the King of Dogs

That regal bearing and prodigious size have led many to consider the English Mastiff as the pinnacle of dog-dom. We believe it! Mastiffs possess a winning combination of fearlessness and docility, as well as the unerring benevolence of a true gentle giant.

The Cynographia Britannica has this to say about the Mastiff: “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.”

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Final Thoughts

So, is the Mastiff the perfect pup for you? If you live in a studio apartment, have a lot of antique and irreplaceable furniture, or simply don’t have the space in your life for a humongous dog, then probably not.

But if you have the room in your heart and home for a canine companion whose stature and dignity are equally enormous, the Mastiff may be your new best friend!

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Featured Image Credit: Michal Ninger, Shutterstock

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