Mastiff

Mastiffs are loyal, protective dogs, famous for their extra-large size and propensity for drooling. Learn more about living with mastiffs.
By Kate Silver
September 05, 2020
Mastiff
Breed Group
Dog Size
Other Traits
Temperament

Mastiff

height
  • 27.5 to 30+ inches
weight
  • 120 to 230 pounds
life span
  • 6 to 10 years
breed size
  • extra large (101 lbs. or more)
good with
  • children
  • seniors
  • dogs
  • cats
  • families
temperament
  • gentle
  • friendly
  • protective
intelligence
  • high
shedding amount
  • seasonal
exercise needs
  • low
energy level
  • lazy
barking level
  • infrequent
drool amount
  • high
breed group
  • working
coat length/texture
  • short
colors
  • fawn
patterns
  • bicolor
  • brindle
other traits
  • easy to train
  • easy to groom
  • prone to health issues
  • highly territorial
  • high potential for weight gain
  • apartment-friendly
  • strong loyalty tendencies

The mastiff, also known as the English mastiff or Old English mastiff, is one of the oldest dog breeds known to man. They are famous for their extra-large size and have long played an important role in protecting humans as a guard and even a wartime aid. While the dog is not especially common in the United States, those owners who do adopt a mastiff quickly realize he’s a gentle and calm family addition who is content to laze on the couch or spring into action if a stranger approaches. A yard is a bonus for mastiff owners, but not a necessity. Obedience training, however, is a must. While the mastiff’s grooming needs are minimal, they’re not exactly tidy animals: The drooling with this breed is excessive.

Appearance

“Extra-large” is practically an understatement for these dogs when it comes to mass—especially with the English mastiff male. “The largest dog I’ve ever seen, in terms of weight, was a mastiff—it was over 200 pounds,” says Scott Neabore, DVM, who owns Neabore Veterinary Clinic in Haddonfield, N.J. “And that’s not an overweight dog. They’re just an enormous dog.” 

So much so that the American Kennel Club (AKC) doesn’t share the maximum for the dog’s height, only the minimum. The English mastiff female’s height is at least 27.5 inches at the shoulder, while the English mastiff male is at least 30 inches, and weight can span 120–170 pounds for females and 160–230 pounds for males. Even with its extra-large size and muscular build, there’s a natural cuteness to the mastiff, with its wrinkled brow, droopy jowls, and propensity for drooling. The mastiff’s colors can be fawn, apricot, or brindle; its muzzle, ears, and nose are dark, and eyes are brown. The dog’s coat is short and sheds occasionally, but is easy to maintain.

Temperament 

These dogs have served as guardians to man since ancient times, and with that dutiful DNA comes an English mastiff temperament that is on the one hand deeply loyal and protective, and on the other, good-natured and eager-to-please. The mastiff, by nature, is courageous, yet docile, and makes an excellent family pet and guard dog (although it may not be ideal for households with small children, based on its sheer size).

The mastiff tends to get along with other dogs and cats, especially if introduced to them while young. “They’re usually pretty good-natured,” Neabore says. “I think at this point, most people breeding mastiffs who are responsible breeders would be nervous giving an aggressive dog to someone, so they try to breed for temperament in a lot of cases, and they end up being pretty nice dogs.”

Mastiffs are intelligent and sensitive, and when training, mastiff puppies respond best to kindness and consistency, and not harsh words or corrections.

Living Needs 

Mastiffs can be couch potatoes. While they benefit from walks, they’re also perfectly content to curl up on the furniture in an apartment, within view of their owner. Because they are prone to developing joint issues, the ideal living space has limited or no stairs, Neabore says. In fact, in the mastiff’s early years, it’s important they avoid excessive running, jumping, and even long walks, or those workouts could overburden their rapidly growing bodies. Even in later years, they can be quite willful on walks, and when they’re done, they’re done. Good luck getting them to keep moving!

This isn’t a breed that enjoys time spent alone. The mastiff prefers to be with the family and also tends to enjoy time spent with other household pets. 

Neabore warns that mastiff owners should keep plenty of towels nearby, and steel themselves for a deluge of drool. “People that are uncomfortable with all the drooling and all the slobber are not going to like having a mastiff,” Neabore says, adding that the spit will, indeed, cover the floors. “They are big, drooly dogs,” he says.   

Care 

Like all dogs of imposing size, the mastiff should be trained and socialized early, so he’s easier to manage as he grows into his own large—and sometimes willful—frame. This type of dog learns best through short training sessions filled with positivity and praise. If the session goes too long, the dog may get bored and distracted, or could even fall asleep!

Grooming needs are minimal when it comes to mastiffs. Throughout the year, his short coat should be brushed a couple of times a week, and more so during twice-a-year shedding seasons; and the wrinkles around his head and face may need cleaning.

Health 

Mastiffs, because of their size, are prone to a number of health conditions, including joint and musculoskeletal conditions such as elbow and hip dysplasia. They can also suffer from heart disease, hypothyroidism, eye problems, certain cancers, and neurological problems, including epilepsy. 

As an extra-large breed, mastiffs are prone to gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV) complex, or bloat, which is a stomach condition that happens when air accumulates in the stomach, causing it to twist. It can be life-threatening. There are some steps owners can take that may diminish the risk of bloat, according to the AKC, such as feeding the dog smaller, more frequent meals during the day. However, there seems to be a genetic connection to the condition, Neabore says. When he speaks with the owners of large-breed puppies, including mastiffs, he recommends a procedure called a gastropexy, which can be performed when the animal is being spayed or neutered, and entails suturing the outer wall of the stomach to the body wall, preventing it from moving. 

Because of their size and these medical challenges, mastiffs have a shorter lifespan than many dogs, averaging 6–10 years. “People need to be prepared that they’re not going to live as long as a dog that’s smaller,” Neabore says. “Giant breed dogs, in general, tend to have a shorter lifespan, so for a mastiff, 7, 8, or 9 years would be really good.”

Obesity—to which the dogs are prone—can further shorten that life, Neabore says, by exacerbating other health conditions. “You cannot let them be overweight, or their life is going to be significantly shorter,” he says.  

History 

There’s evidence of mastiff ancestors as far back as 2500 B.C., depicted on ancient murals hunting lions near the Tigris river. They were also trained for use in war, and kept by famous generals such as Hannibal.

In 55 B.C., these enormous creatures were helping to defend Great Britain when Julius Caesar led an invasion of their homeland. Caesar was so impressed by their abilities that he took them back to Rome with him, where they were trained to battle gladiators in the arena.   

At least one mastiff is thought to have come to the United States on the Mayflower. The breed gained popularity here for its working and guarding abilities (it was first recognized by the AKC in 1885, just a year after the organization was founded). And centuries after its first arrival, when the mastiff population in England was nearly extinct, U.S. breeders played a vital role in rebuilding the population when they exported them to the motherland. 

Fun Facts

  • While “mastiff” refers to the English mastiff, there are a number of different types of mastiff, including Italian mastiffs, Tibetan mastiffs, and Neapolitan mastiffs.
  • The bullmastiff was bred by crossing the English Mastiff with a bulldog
  • The Guinness Record for Longest (and Heaviest) dog goes to Old English mastiff, Aicama Zorba of La-Susa in the late 1980s. Nose-to-tail, the dog measured a whopping 8 feet 3 inches.
  • Dignified and incredibly photogenic, mastiffs have graced screens through the years. Fang, who is Hagrid’s dog in Harry Potter is one example; and then there’s Hercules in The Sandlot and Lenny in Hotel for Dogs. In Rocky, the dog Butkus was a bullmastiff.