The Mastiff, or Old English Mastiff, as it is sometimes referred to, is one of the quintessential gentle giant breeds. Revered as a hardened warrior in historic battles, the Mastiff has also served faithfully alongside people as a guard dog and hunter. History even mentions Julius Caesar’s infatuation with this breed, and Geoffrey Chaucer helped give the breed a popularity boost with his praise of them in his epic 14th century collection of stories, “The Canterbury Tales.” Today, the Mastiff is happily enjoying its place as the 29th most popular American Kennel Club breed, and is universally adored by dog lovers.
The Mastiff is one of the largest dog breeds on earth, with males weighing anywhere between 160 and 230 pounds, and easily towering over other dogs at heights exceeding 30 inches at the shoulder. Female Mastiffs are certainly nothing to sneer at either, standing upwards of 27.5 inches tall and weighing a hefty 120 to 170 pounds.
The body of the Mastiff can best be described as massive, yet compact, powerful, and proportionate. The Mastiff is fairly easy to spot thanks to its coloring, which can be fawn, brindle, or apricot. Most Mastiffs have a black mask, which is AKC standard in the breed. Mastiffs have a short double coat consisting of a dense undercoat and a straight, rough outercoat.
Other noticeable features of the Mastiff include a wide, deep chest; a thick, muscular neck with a slight arch; and a straight, muscular back leading to a proportionally powerful set of thighs.
Never mind the Mastiff’s intimidating appearances or hulking size; these dogs are true lovers. Though adaptable, the Mastiff gets very attached to its family, and it is quite common to see these dogs following their owners around and lying faithfully at their side or by their feet. Despite its tremendous strength and power, the Mastiff truly embodies the role of the gentle giant and is a wonderful companion and protector to children. The Mastiff usually gets along with other pets in the house such as dogs or cats, and a strong nurturing instinct to watch over and care for just about any animal it encounters.
While the Mastiff is tender and calm with its family and friends, these enormous dogs do have a history as guardians and can be territorial and defensive of their home turf and the loved ones inhabiting it, making them incredibly skilled watchdogs. Though the Mastiff may not show aggression to visitors, it may follow around any guests and treat them with a wary aloofness until the dog feels its family is safe.
The Mastiff makes a fantastic family pet, but like other extra-large dog breeds, the Mastiff’s time on earth is often cut short. A typical life expectancy for a Mastiff ranges from 6 to 10 years.
Unsurprisingly, the Mastiff can suffer from separation anxiety. Unlike some other dog breeds that are attached to their families, the Mastiff doesn’t require constant attention, but it does savor being in the presence of its clan. Mastiffs may enjoy traveling, but their size alone can often make traveling by air, train, or sea, a challenging proposition.
Caring for a Mastiff
The Mastiff can often be larger than its owners, and these dogs are not always so simple to own. A unique dog in its own right, the Mastiff requires individualized care in order to live its best life.
During the first two years of its life, a Mastiff will grow rapidly, and it’s imperative that adequate nutrition is provided during this time. Finding a nutritious dog food with a healthy balance of protein and a roughly 1.2:1 calcium to phosphorus ratio will aid in promoting proper musculoskeletal development in young Mastiffs. On the other hand, the Mastiff can be prone to excessive weight gain and obesity, which is certainly not advisable for these already enormous dogs. Speak to a veterinarian about establishing the optimal feeding schedule and choosing a healthy food for large dogs.
A common misconception among the giant dog breeds is that they will be unhappy in an apartment or a small home that doesn’t have a large yard. Mastiffs do require regular exercise, but they are quite content with some indoor play and one or two moderately long walks. In fact, many Mastiffs will often tire quite quickly, particularly in the heat. As with any puppy, young Mastiffs will have more energy, but care should be taken to prevent overexertion, too much jumping, and stairs, as these things can interfere with the Mastiff’s healthy development.
The Mastiff is a relatively intelligent dog breed and can be trained fairly easily when the proper techniques are implemented. Since Mastiffs are so large, it’s crucial to train them the right way, and to begin training almost immediately. Though they may sport a tough appearance, Mastiffs are actually quite sensitive, so it’s important to treat them with patience, dignity, and love. Many Mastiff owners find that the most difficult part of training is keeping this dog awake since it is known to doze off when bored. Keeping training sessions short and exciting is the best way to build good habits in these big babies.
As you can imagine, the Mastiff’s great size can take a toll on its body, particularly when it comes to the joints and bones that support all 160-plus pounds of dog. While keeping the Mastiff at a healthy weight is certainly helpful, there is simply no fool proof way to avoid certain health problems these dogs can fall victim to.
Hip dysplasia and elbow dysplasia are, unfortunately, relatively common among Mastiffs. Regular hip and elbow evaluations are helpful in monitoring the state of the Mastiff’s hips and elbows, and an orthopedic dog bed combined with a dog joint supplement may be helpful in managing symptoms and pain.
Another common condition that can occur in Mastiffs, as with other large breeds, is bloat. Bloat can be lethal, so every owner should be trained to recognize the first signs of gastric torsion and to act swiftly. The easiest way to try and avoid bloat is by feeding the dog several smaller meals throughout the day, and to avoid feeding prior to and immediately after exercise.
Mastiffs may also be prone to several heart conditions such as cardiomyopathy, mitral dysplasia, pulmonic stenosis, and subaortic stenosis. Finally, the Mastiff may find itself struggling with any one of a number of eye problems, ranging from corneal dystrophy and retinal dysplasia to entropion and ectropion.