The Mastiff (also known as the English Mastiff), is a giant-breed dog that is believed to be an ancestor to the large dogs depicted in ancient artwork, such as bas-reliefs from 6th century BC Assyria. Some historians speculate that ancient Mastiffs were used for fighting large predators such as lions, tigers, and bears in Roman arenas, while others believe that the large dogs were used for large game hunting or as war dogs. Even the origin of the word “Mastiff” is unclear, with some people believing that it comes from the Anglo-Saxon word “masty,” which means powerful; or, the French word “mastin,” which means tame. Throughout history Mastiff-type dogs are believed to have been used for fighting, protection, hunting, and guarding. While Mastiffs may have been brought to America on the Mayflower, there are limited records of the Mastiff in North America. Between 1906 and 1918 only 24 Mastiffs were registered in the United States, and none were used for breeding. At the end of World War I, the breed only existed in Great Britain. Slowly, Mastiffs were reintroduced to the United States, and their popularity has continued to grow, where they are currently ranked the 25th most popular dog in America.
Despite their history as guard and fighting dogs, Mastiffs are now considered to be gentle giants that are loyal to their families. Dignified and good-natured, the breed should be docile with humans and other animals, never showing aggression unless necessary. Mastiffs are great pets for families, as their patient and forgiving nature is well-suited to children. Because of their giant size (often topping out at 250 lbs), obedience training is a necessity in order to prevent the possibility of being overpowered.
Mastiffs have a single short coat that lies close to the body. Occasionally, “fluffy” varieties are observed with longer fur, but these dogs are not permitted per kennel club standards. Three coat colors are admissible: fawn, apricot, and brindle, with or without a black mask. Mastiffs can be enormous dogs, with the largest Mastiff ever recorded weighing 343 lbs. While their grooming needs are low maintenance, Mastiff owners should be aware that they are heavy droolers. Although Mastiffs are not hyperactive dogs, regular exercise is necessary in order to prevent health problems that are exacerbated by inactivity, such as arthritis.
The Mastiff grows rapidly in its first two years of life, commonly gaining up to 5 lbs per week. During this time period it is important to ensure the dog does not exercise or play too vigorously, as this can damage the dog’s growth plates. There are a number of health problems that giant breed dogs typically encounter, such as hip dysplasia and gastric torsion (bloat). The latter issue can be fatal if not caught soon enough, so Mastiff owners should educate themselves on the signs and symptoms of bloat, as well as keep phone numbers on hand for the nearest emergency veterinarian. As with all large breeds, cardiomyopathy is also common. When purchasing a Mastiff, adequate research should be performed to look for the healthiest line possible. While the average lifespan for Mastiffs is 7 – 8 years, with proper preventative care a number of dogs from this breed live to be 10 – 11 years old.