Mastiff Breed Profile, Fun Facts and Common Health Problems

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  • Pedigree: Pure breed
  • Other Names: English Mastiff
  • Height: 27.5 to 30 inches
  • Weight: 120 to 250 pounds
  • Breed Group: Working
  • Lifespan: 8 to 10 years
  • Intelligence: Moderate
  • Trainability: Moderate
  • Exercise Needs: Low to moderate
  • Shedding: Moderate
  • Good with Kids: Yes
  • Good with Dogs: Sometimes
  • Good with Pets: Yes

The word “Mastiff” refers to a group of large, molosser dogs – breeds that played a role in the development of various bulldog breeds and mountain dogs. It is also the common name for an extremely large dog breed also known as the English Mastiff. These dogs are huge, there’s no getting around it. With females weighing a minimum of 120 pounds, the Mastiff is by no means a dainty breed. While the Mastiff’s size gives him a certain degree of formidability, he is also very noble, courageous, generous, and loving. Surprisingly docile and gentle, the Mastiff makes a wonderful family pet, though his size makes him somewhat of a challenge to keep. If you are an experienced dog owner with a lot of love to give (and a lot of room in your home), the Mastiff is a great breed to consider.

Fun Facts About the Mastiff

  • Not only is the Mastiff one of the largest dog breeds out there, but this breed holds the record for the greatest weight recorded for a dog – 343 pounds, given to an English Mastiff named Aicama Zorba of La Susa.
  • Because the Mastiff grows so large, he typically takes well over two years to reach maturity and should not be subjected to rigorous exercise before then because it could strain his bones and joints.
  • The modern Mastiff’s lineage can be traced back to the early 19th century and they were historically used for hunting, guarding, and fighting although they do equally well as a family pet – they are surprisingly gentle and patient with children.

Coat and Appearance

According to the AKC breed standard, the Mastiff is a large, massive dog that gives off an impression of grandeur and dignity. Both males and females of the breed are massive throughout with powerful proportions and strong muscles. Males stand at least 30 inches high while females stand at least 27.5 inches tall. Bodyweight ranges from 120 to 180 pounds for females and from 150 to 250 for males. The body is massive and heavy-boned, with a large, broad head and dark eyes. The Mastiff has a short, broad muzzle and a scissors bite.

When it comes to the body, the Mastiff is very muscular with a deep chest and well-rounded ribs. The tail is set moderately high and tapers to the end. The breed has a powerful gait that projects an image of balance at all speeds. The coat is short and close-lying with two layers. The outer coat is straight and coarse in texture while the undercoat is dense and close-lying. There should not be a fringe and the coat shouldn’t be long or wavy. In terms of coat colors, fawn, apricot, and brindle are preferred. The brindle variety should have fawn or apricot as the background color with dark stripes. The muzzle, nose, and ears should also be dark.

History of the Breed

The Mastiff is thought to have descended from the ancient Pugnaces Britanniae and Alaunt, possibly with input from the Alpine Mastiff. The lineage of the modern Mastiff breed can be traced back to the early 19th century, although it wasn’t until the 1880s or so that the modern type was stabilized and refined. The Mastiff bloodline comes from one of the oldest dog types – the Molosser – which was used to guard livestock in the mountains of Asia, Tibet, and northern India. These dogs had a solid build with heavy bones, short muzzles, and strong muscles. You can see these qualities in other Molosser-type breeds like the Saint Bernard and the Rottweiler.

Though the modern type wasn’t refined until the late 1800s, depictions of large, Mastiff-type dogs appeared as early as the time of the ancient Egyptians and Babylonians. These dogs were known for their size, strength, and courage which made them popular for hunting large game and for engaging in combat. In fact, Kublai Khan is said to have had 5,000 Mastiffs that he used for hunting and war. When Hanibal crossed the Alps, he brought Mastiffs with him as well. In England, these dogs were used to patrol estate grounds. In the early 1800s, the breed was also use in the sports of bull-baiting, bear-baiting, and dog fighting.

After its initial development, the Mastiff breed fell out of popularity as the sport of bear-baiting and bull-baiting was outlawed. The rise of dog shows helped the breed regain some popularity, however, and the Mastiff was recognized by the AKC in 1885. The breed again declined during the First and Second World Wars as food shortages made it a challenge to feed them, but they were eventually revived. The Mastiff Club of America was formed in 1929 and it still operates today. According to recent AKC registration statistics, the Mastiff is ranked as the 28th most popular breed in the United States, a slight decline from the 25th and 26th slot it occupied in previous years.  

Temperament and Personality

The Mastiff is primarily known for his size and courage. These dogs are courageous and protective which is why they make such great livestock guardians. In the home, however, they are extremely gentle and kind. You may be surprised to learn that this breed gets along very well with cats and other household pets – they’ve even been known to try to take care of smaller animals. Mastiffs are also great with kids – they are gentle, patient, and loving, though they can sometimes be protective if they think a family member is in danger. This breed has a loud, formidable bark which can sometimes be scary for strangers. You should always introduce your Mastiff to new people you bring to the house to help counteract his protective tendencies. These dog’s don’t typically work as attack dogs, but they will alert you when someone approaches the house and their size and bark is often enough to deter potential threats.

Mastiffs are wonderful family pets if you have the space and the time to dedicate to training. You should also keep in mind that this is not a low-maintenance breed. In addition to all that training and socialization, these dogs need a fair bit of attention throughout the day. Mastiffs are not the kind of dog you can just put outside and forget about – they need human interaction. This breed also tends not to respond well to change, so make sure that you are willing to commit to caring for your Mastiff throughout the duration of his life so he doesn’t end up in a shelter. You’ll also want to stick to a regular schedule for feeding and exercise, as much as you are able.

Training Tips

Like many livestock-guarding breeds, the Mastiff is an intelligent and sometimes independent breed. They may not be as smart as a Border Collie, but they are easy to housetrain and eager to please when they have a strong bond with their owner. The main challenge for training this breed is its size – if you don’t establish a firm position of authority early on, your dog may end up taking advantage of you later. These dogs can also sometimes develop a stubborn streak, so start obedience training as early as you can to prevent problems later down the line. This breed isn’t inherently aggressive, but he can be very protective of his family, so keep that in mind.

When it comes to training methods, positive reinforcement is the best way to go. These dogs form strong bonds with family so you want to avoid punishment-based training methods at all costs. Early socialization is incredibly important as well, especially if you plan to keep this breed with or around other dogs. Mastiffs tend to do very well with cats and other household pets, but they can sometimes be a bit dog-aggressive – early socialization and training will help to keep this trait from becoming a problem. You’ll also want to train your dog not to pull on the leash from an early age and not to jump up on people. It may be adorable when a wrinkly Mastiff puppy hops on your lap, but when your 200-pound adult Mastiff does it, it won’t be quite so cute.

Exercise Requirements

The Mastiff was developed partially as a livestock guarding breed, bred to work in the mountains of Asia. As such, these dogs have the ability to roam for hours on end but their needs for exercise are not particularly high. A 30-minute walk once a day is usually adequate for this breed and you should definitely not subject him to any rigorous exercise – especially before he is fully grown. Running and other forms of vigorous exercise can put excess strain on your Mastiff’s bones and joints, predisposing him to musculoskeletal issues later in life. This breed will also appreciate having a fenced yard in which to roam, but they are not the kind of dog you can just chain up in the yard and leave all day long. These dogs need plenty of human interaction.

Grooming Tips

The Mastiff’s coat is short and close-lying, according to the AKC breed standard. Sometimes long-haired Mastiffs do appear due to a recessive gene, but these dogs are not accepted by any of the major kennel clubs. Because the Mastiff’s coat is short, it is easy to groom – just use a rubber curry brush once a week to remove dead hair before it can be shed. This breed sheds moderately and some shed more heavily during the spring and fall while others shed the same amount year-round. In addition to brushing your Mastiff’s coat, you’ll also need to keep his skin wrinkles clean and dry – don’t forget about the wrinkles on his face, either. You can clean your dog’s wrinkles with a baby wipe or a damp cloth, but be sure to thoroughly dry the area after. You might even want to dust it with cornstarch to make sure it stays nice and dry. Avoid getting your dog’s head wet when you bathe him to help prevent skin infections (as well as ear infections).

In addition to keeping your dog’s skin and coat in good condition, there are a few other grooming tasks to stay on top of. You should be checking your dog’s ears at least once a week – this is especially important for dogs with long, floppy ears because they can harbor bacteria-causing moisture. Check your dog’s ears and clean them as needed. You’ll also need to trim your dog’s nails and brush his teeth as often as he will let you. When it comes to brushing your dog’s teeth, you’ll want to start when he is a puppy so he gets used to having his teeth touched early on. Dental hygiene for dogs is incredibly important because most dogs (and cats) show signs of periodontal disease by the age of 3. At that point, your dog may need professional dental care.

Nutrition and Feeding

The Mastiff is a giant breed that grows to well over 100 pounds at maturity. In fact, a 100-pound Mastiff would be considered very small – these dogs usually exceed 150 pounds and males can reach 250 pounds of bodyweight. Because the Mastiff is such a massive breed, it is extremely important that they receive a high-quality and nutritious diet. Though the breed is very large, it should be well-muscled – this means that your dog will require a great deal of protein to support his lean muscle mass. It is imperative that most of this protein come from animal-based sources because plant proteins are not as biologically valuable for dogs and they are not complete – they don’t contain all of the essential amino acids your dog needs. Healthy fats are an important part of the Mastiff’s diet because they provide energy and digestible carbohydrates provide energy as well as dietary fiber.

When it comes to choosing a dog food for your Mastiff, you need to be very careful. When your Mastiff is a puppy, you need to walk the fine line between giving him enough food to sustain his growth and development without causing him to grow too fast. Mastiffs take 2 years or more to reach maturity and their bones and joints are developing all the while. If this breed grows too quickly in its early years, it will have a much higher risk for developing bone and joint problems later in life. For this reason, you should feed your Mastiff puppy a formula designed specifically for large- or giant-breed puppies. Keep feeding your dog this formula until he reaches about 80% of his expected size – your vet will help you track your puppy’s growth so you can estimate his adult size. Once your puppy reaches this size, switch to a high-quality large- or giant-breed adult recipe.

In addition to considering what type of food to offer your Mastiff, you also have to think about how much you feed him. You should be tracking your dog’s bodyweight as he matures and grows, then follow the feeding recommendations on the package. It is generally not recommended that you allow puppies to feed freely because there is such a high risk for this breed growing too fast. Instead, divide your puppy’s daily portion into three meals a day. Once your dog matures, you can reduce it to two meals a day – just be sure to follow the feeding recommendations so your Mastiff doesn’t become overweight or obese. Excess weight can put additional strain on your dog’s bones and joints.

Common Health Problems

Although the Mastiff is a wonderful breed, he is unfortunately susceptible to a wide range of health problems. You should also know that the expected lifespan for this breed is very short – just 8 to 10 years. Many of the health problems to which this breed is prone are bone- and joint-related, though there are also eye problems and heart problems to consider. Here is a quick overview of some of the most common health problems affecting the breed:

  • Hip Dysplasia – This is a hereditary musculoskeletal problem in which the femoral head (the head of the thigh bone) slips out of its place in the hip joint. Symptoms may include hopping, limping, reluctance to climb stairs, and lameness in the affected leg. Mild cases can be managed with anti-inflammatory drugs while severe cases may require surgical correction.
  • Gastric Torsion – A condition that commonly affects large and giant breeds (and other breeds with deep chests), gastric torsion occurs when the stomach fills with air and twists on its axis. When this happens, it cuts off blood flow to the rest of the body and it can quickly become a life-threatening situation. Gastric torsion often occurs when the dog eats too much, drinks too much, or exercises too soon after eating. Symptoms include distended abdomen, excessive drooling, and retching without vomiting.
  • Osteosarcoma – Dogs are prone to a number of different types of cancer, just as people are. One of the most common cancers seen in the Mastiff breed is osteosarcoma, or bone cancer. The first symptom is usually lameness and it can be confirmed with a simple x-ray. Treatment for this form of cancer is usually aggressive, typically involving chemotherapy and amputation of the affected limb.
  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy – Also known as PRA, progressive retinal atrophy is a degenerative eye problem that usually leads to blindness in dogs. This disease comes in several forms and it goes through distinct stages. At first, the dog may lose his night vision and, over time, his day vision. PRA isn’t a painful condition for dogs but it cannot be cured. Fortunately, most dogs adapt well to a loss of vision.
  • Cardiomyopathy – Dilated cardiomyopathy is one of the most common forms of heart disease in dogs. This disease occurs when the heart becomes enlarged and fails to function properly as a result. Symptoms include lethargy, loss of appetite, shortness of breath, distended abdomen, and coughing. Treatment usually involves drugs to enhance cardiac function.
  • Allergies – Dogs can be allergic to many of the same things that people are. Food allergies often prevent with skin-related symptoms like itching, flakiness, and hot spots. To address a food allergy, you’ll need to switch your Mastiff to a limited ingredient diet. Dogs can also develop contact allergies to mold, dust, and pollen – they can even be allergic to flea bites.
  • Hypothyroidism – This is a condition in which the thyroid gland fails to produce enough thyroid hormone. This hormone plays a role in regulating many bodily functions including metabolism, so it can cause symptoms like lethargy, weight gain, and skin problems. Fortunately, it is fairly easy to manage with medications.
  • Entropion – An eye problem in which the eyelid rolls inward, entropion causes eye lashes and hair on the surface of the eyelid to rub against the cornea – this can be very painful and irritating for a dog and may result in scarring or other forms of corneal damage. The best form of treatment is surgical correction to remove the excess skin causing the eyelid to roll and prognosis is generally good.
  • Persistent Pupillary Membranes – This is a condition in which strands of tissue in the eye (pupillary membranes) remain after birth. In healthy puppies, these tissues supply blood to the eyes during the first few weeks of age but they go away as the puppy matures. When these tissues remain, they can interfere with the dog’s vision and may cause cataracts and other eye problems.

Since the Mastiff is prone to so many health problems, responsible breeding is of the utmost importance. There is something to be said for adopting a dog but, if you choose to purchase a puppy from a breeder, make sure the breeding stock has been DNA tested and ask what kind of health guarantees the breeder has to offer.

Kate Barrington

Kate Barrington holds a Bachelor’s degree in English and is the published author of several self-help books and nutrition guides. Also an avid dog lover and adoring owner of three cats, Kate’s love for animals has led her to a successful career as a freelance writer specializing in pet care and nutrition. Kate holds a certificate in fitness nutrition and enjoys writing about health and wellness trends — she also enjoys crafting original recipes. In addition to her work as a ghostwriter and author, Kate is also a blogger for a number of organic and natural food companies as well as a columnist for several pet magazines.

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