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The Neapolitan mastiff is an ancient Italian dog breed known for his huge size and profoundly wrinkled fur. Loyal to his family and wary of strangers, the Neapolitan mastiff is suited to experienced dog owners who are able to provide the training he needs to become a sweet and affectionate companion.
Well-trained and socialized adults are calm and need low levels of exercise. Their short coats require little grooming, but these dogs are heavy droolers so they leave their marks on furniture, walls, and even ceilings. The Neapolitan mastiff is an awe-inspiring rare breed that isn't for everyone, but those willing to put the work in will be rewarded with a laid-back and loyal adult dog.
Weighing in at up to 150 pounds, the Neapolitan mastiff is a huge and powerful dog with a massive head (the breed is affectionately referred to as "knuckleheads" by fans and breeders). Neapolitan mastiff colors include blue, black, mahogany, and tawny brown, and their coats may be brindle patterned. Neapolitan mastiff puppies are born with blue eyes, but these change to amber or brown as they mature.
What's special about their fur is that it hangs in loose folds, with a concentration of wrinkles on the face. While they were reputedly originally bred to be "an alarmingly ugly dog," according to the United States Neapolitan Mastiff Club (USNMC), the folds and wrinkles of the Neapolitan mastiff serve as an adorable characteristic of this unique breed.
Neapolitan mastiffs have long droopy jowls and are often seen with trails of saliva hanging from them. "Though some drool more than others, the levels of drool you have to deal with can get nasty, and if they see something that makes them salivate, it's like turning on a faucet," says Shanna Jones, owner of Knuckleheads Neapolitan Mastiffs in Clarence, Mo., and American Kennel Club (AKC) recognized breeder of merit.
Neapolitan mastiffs are smart dogs who love their families and give out plenty of love, affection, and slobbery kisses.
"They're the most loyal breed of dog I think you could ever own," Jones says. "They're very loyal and loving to family in general, and they tend to have one person that they love more than anybody else—they're that person's shadow dog."
Early socialization and training is important for Neapolitan mastiff puppies. These dogs tend to be suspicious or wary around strangers, so introducing them to new people and situations can teach them that not everything unknown is scary. Because of this, Neapolitan mastiffs do best with an experienced owner.
"It's important to know if you have what it takes before you get involved with this breed," Jones says.
While Neapolitan mastiff puppies and juveniles have higher energy levels, adult dogs are much more calm. "They can be active for two hours and then sleep 22 hours," Jones says, who adds that some people compare them to cats in that respect. "Also, there's something about the way they move that is almost feline."
You might think a dog the size of a Neapolitan mastiff would need plenty of living space, but that isn't necessarily true. Because adult dogs don't need a lot of exercise and spend most of their time snoozing, they don't need much space at all. They can even do well in apartments, so long as you're willing to take them for a good long walk a couple of times a day. Jones has kennels inside her house for each of her five Neos and says these dogs like having a space of their own to retire to when they want a bit of peace from the family.
This is a breed that loves to lie around and bask in the presence of their beloved humans. Separation anxiety can be an issue with Neapolitan mastiffs, but in general, they are fine being left alone for reasonable lengths of time.
Early socialization with other animals is also important. While they can join families with other pets during puppyhood, some Neapolitan mastiffs prefer to be the only pet at home. But every pup is different, and a well-socialized Neapolitan can be happy with other furry friends.
Like other mastiffs, Neapolitans can live well with children. But Jones suggests that, simply because of their massive size, this may not be a breed for homes with small children. They're so big, they might accidentally knock over small kiddos!
If there's one thing to know before bringing home a Neapolitan mastiff, it's that those jowls make a lot of drool. It's not uncommon to find drool on your walls, your floors, and even your ceiling (that saliva can really fly when your pup shakes his head). You will spend a lot of time wiping your Neapolitan's face folds and scrubbing down your house.
Neapolitan mastiffs are minimal shedders, and when it comes to grooming, their short coat requires a weekly brush and the occasional bath to keep it looking good. But Neapolitan mastiff skin problems can be common. "They may harbor yeast and bacteria in those skin folds," Jones explains. "So you'll want to clean in between them with a damp rag, then a dry one, to minimize the possibility of any skin issues."
Every dog needs exercise for their physical health, and although adult Neapolitan mastiffs can be a bit lazy, you'll need to give them a couple of good walks a day if you don't have a fenced-off space for them to roam.
As they are a highly loyal breed, Neapolitan mastiff's social needs are mostly to be around their families. How well they get on with other pets in the home all comes down to how they are socialized and trained as puppies.
Neapolitan mastiffs have an independent mind, so consistency is key during training. Training should be positive reinforcement-based with plenty of encouragement, praise, and treats when they succeed.
Despite the fact Neapolitan mastiffs have a short expected lifespan of just 7–9 years, they are considered hardy dogs. However, all giant breeds are more predisposed to orthopedic issues such as elbow dysplasia and hip dysplasia, and arthritis is another common issue. There are several ways pup parents can help their Neo deal with these issues through diet and dietary supplements, says Ali Mason, DVM, a medical coach with Pathway Vet Alliance.
"Talk to your vet about what diet is best suited to the breed, or what works best for joint health," Mason says. "This might include joint supplements with chondroitin, or omega-3 fish oil. Monitoring your dog's weight and consistent exercise are also important."
Omega-3 supplements may help with skin issues Neapolitan mastiffs can be prone to thanks to their wrinkles and loose skin. Mason recommends discussing medicated wipes with your vet, as these may be helpful in combating issues like bacterial infections in their skin folds.
"Neapolitan mastiffs are prone to allergies that cause infections, so make sure you get pet insurance and talk to a vet early on about managing skin/ear infections from allergies," she says.
Cherry eye is another common condition for Neapolitans, which is where part of the dog's third eyelid covers part of the eye, appearing as a pink triangle. "Some cherry eyes that are mild can be managed medically with a vet," Mason says. "However, if not controlled, a lot of dogs need cherry eye surgery. Sometimes these surgeries need to be repeated."
Bloat, where the stomach twists in large, barrel-chested dogs, is a very serious condition that can happen to even healthy dogs and can kill in hours. It is very important that Neo owners educate themselves on the signs of bloat and know when to get their dog to a vet in order to save their life.
Few breeds have such a long history as the Neapolitan mastiff. Used as war dogs, gladiators, and guard dogs by the Roman Empire, images depicting similar-looking dogs have been found in ancient artworks going back to 3000 BC, according to the USNMC.
Over the centuries, Neapolitan mastiff breeders were developed to be guard dogs in southern Italy. The Federation Cynologique Internationale (FCI) recognized the breed in 1949, and the AKC followed suit in 2004.
- Actress Kate Hudson owns a Neapolitan mastiff named Bella.
- In 2005, a Neapolitan mastiff named Tia became a Guinness World Record holder for giving birth to the world's largest litter of puppies—24.
- A Neapolitan mastiff named Hugo was cast as Hagrid's dog Fang in the Harry Potter movies.