Mastiff dog
John Walton
Written by John Walton

The Mastiff is the largest of all dog breeds that you can find. This heavy boned dog comes out of a long history where it was used to fight in wars, pitted against ferocious animals and humans for entertainment, and made to guard estates. Today, however, although the Mastiff remains a huge breed, its temperament is a far cry from its early development and is now known to be a gentle and loyal companion. If you are able to find enough space for your Mastiff at his size, then you will have a calm, quiet and loyal companion at your service.

Breed Characteristics

TrainabilityAbove Average
Health and GroomingAbove Average
All Around FriendlinessHigh
Exercise NeedsBelow Average

Dog Breed Group:Working Dogs
Height:2 feet, 3 inches to 2 feet 7 inches tall at the shoulders
Weight:Generally 130 – 220 pounds
Life Span:8 to 10 years

This breed goes back in ancient societies where they were used in wars and later made to guard estates. Today’s Mastiffs are a far cry from their ancestors as they are bred with sweeter temperaments that endear them to families. They are docile, calm and quiet. Still having some of its guard dog nature in him, however, the dog is highly protective of his family and territory. The dog is great with children, but care has to be taken with younger ones who will get knocked over with its huge body just by moving around.Standing close to 3 feet tall at the shoulder, the Mastiff is hard to miss as it is the largest of all dog breeds. Sometimes called the English Mastiff and the Old English Mastiff, the dog weighs over 200 pounds, with sturdy and huge muscles to support his massive frame. The dog has a heavy, square head with black mouth and muzzle.

Like all other breeds, the Mastiff needs to be socialized and trained from puppy stage. The dog can be stubborn at times but only needs patience and calmness to get him to obey. Impatience and aggressiveness will only lead to a shy, fearful and depressed dog. Additionally, Mastiffs are family oriented and need to be close to the people they live with. They should therefore be kept inside the house where they can feel a part of the family. A Mastiff left outdoors will only end up sad, bored, lonely and a destructive dog making holes in your yard.

Main Highlights
  • The Mastiff is the largest breed of dog that you can find. The dog stands at close to three feet tall at the shoulder and when on the hind legs, is taller than the average human.
  • The dog breed was used in ancient Asian and European societies as war dogs. In Roman society he was used in the arena as animal gladiator fighting against human gladiators and used as baits for bulls and bears.
  • The digestive system of the dog is such that he does not metabolize food properly and passes gas regularly.
  • Some breeders will ensure that you are able to keep the dog inside the house before selling their puppies.
Breed History

Accounts of the origin of the Mastiff all agreed that this dog reached different regions of the world accompanying traders from Tibet or Northern India to the Middle East, the Mediterranean, China and Russia. Portraits of huge dogs looking like Mastiffs have been seen on walls of ancient Egyptian monuments including the pyramids. Greek mythology also illustrates a three-headed canine looking like a Mastiff dog. Mastiffs were also used to fight wars. Caesar was known to have brought a pack of Mastiffs to Rome and have them displayed as arena gladiators fighting against human gladiators, lions and bulls. They were also used to lure bulls and bears and engage in dog fighting.

In medieval Europe Mastiff dogs were the ones to guard the estates at night, fending off poachers and other intruders. The story is told of how, in the 16th century, a female Mastiff dog guarded its owner Sir Piers Legh of Lime Hall while he was wounded in the battle field until help came. Dog fighting was outlawed in 1835 and this was the turning point in the temperament of the breed and also of their development. However, the event of World Wars 1 and 2 saw their near extinction because of the shortage of food during the period. The breed got a reprieve after the wars when times were calmer and continued to develop to today. The dog is felt to have arrived in North America on the Mayflower.


The Mastiff is a very large dog weighing up to 220 pounds. The Guinness Book of World Records has on record the largest of the breed at 360 pounds. The dog stands at 2 feet, 3 inches to 2 feet 7 inches tall at the shoulders. Undoubtedly, because of its huge structure Mastiffs do not have a long life span.

Personality and Character

The Mastiff is the largest of dog breeds you can find, but its gentle, calm and docile nature belies his imposing structure. His sweet nature and patient personality generally endear people to him and make him to get along well with families. If allowed, he will have a snooze beside you on the coach or be content to just lie at your feet or leaning against them. This dog is quite affectionate and loves to please. He will just follow you around, not to demand attention, but rather demonstrating his protective nature. He is sometimes called the “gentle giant” and is seen as having a soft mouth, being able to carry kittens and squirrels in its mouth without harming them.

The Mastiff maintains his original characteristic of being a guard dog. He is highly protective of his family and territory. The dog will not relax when a stranger is around until he is introduced and is assured that the family is safe. Intruders will not get inside, or get a chance to escape but the dog keeps his quarry until someone comes to apprehend him. The dog does not bark frequently, but when he does, the power of his sound and his massive frame are enough to disarm his intruder.

Mastiffs are extremely sensitive and if handled roughly, may show fear, react aggressively, or become shy. They do not like situations of conflict. The dog will step between family members who are feuding and even come before a parent who is scolding a child.

Although the dog has a very nice temperament, it remains that different factors do contribute to its personality.  Hereditary, early socialization and patience when training him all make him to be that dog he is. The more pleasant the personality of one or both parents, the better the outcome of the offspring.

Health and Potential Problems

The Mastiff breed is not without health issues and your dog may just develop one of them. It is important therefore that you are aware of these problems and know how to deal with them. Much of these problems are a direct relation to the size of the dog’s structure. His heavy frame sometimes causes orthopedic problems. But there are issues that are genetically passed on also that can put the health of the dog at risk. The following diseases are found with the breed.

  • Hip and Elbow Dysplasias — This is a common genetic disease for the Mastiff, the problem occurring in the hip joint and in lesser incidences, in the elbow joint. In an evaluation of 8, 230 hip X-Rays of mastiff dogs, 19% were found to have hip dysplasia. Similarly, of 3,800 elbow X-Rays, 15% had elbow dysplasia (Welton, M. 2015). The problem occurs because the head of the thigh bone does not fit properly in the socket of the hip joint. A dog can have hip dysplasia and you may not notice it. However, because of the constant wear on the bones in that area, degeneration of the bone tissues (degenerative joint disease) occurs and inflammation sets in to produce pain. In this instance the dog may begin to walk with a limp. Hip dysplasia becomes noticeable by the dog is two years old. It is recommended that dogs with hip dysplasia should not be bred. As such you should check with the breeder to ensure that the dog’s parents are cleared of the problem.
  • Anterior Cruciate Ligament Rupture – Cruciate ligaments hold the bones at the knee together and prevent them from sliding all over each other. The front ligament, the anterior cruciate ligament, prevents the knee from moving back and forth. Dogs tend to twist their hind legs and so tear the anterior cruciate ligament in the process. This condition occurs mainly in overweight Mastiffs and other large breeds. The dog will become lame and you will notice as he walks with his foot held off the ground. His knee may become swollen also. Torn cruciate ligaments are usually treated with surgery.
  • Heart Diseases – There are some heart problems that are associated with the Mastiff and which are also found with other breeds. Aortic stenosis, mitral valve dysplasia and cardiomyopathy are the heart problems that Mastiffs suffer occasionally. These problems are usually detected when a heart murmur occurs but they can be effectively treated by the veterinarian.
  • Bloat – The Mastiff is found to be more significantly affected by bloat than many other breeds. Bloat occurs when the stomach fills with gas and becomes distended. When this occurs the stomach pulls away from the body, becomes twisted and cuts off the blood supply. The dog will exhibit symptoms of discomfort including, drooling, trying to vomit without success, pale gums, pacing, restlessness and pain. Bloat can be fatal. The dog could die in a matter of hours and must have an emergency visit to the vet. Surgery is the usual treatment for the problem. However, bloat can re-occur and the vet can perform a gastropexy or “stomach tacking” to keep the stomach from being twisted again (Mastiff, 2015).
  • Cancer – Cancer is also a health issue for the Mastiff with osteosarcoma and lymphosarcoma being the types that affect the breed most. Cancer is sometimes a hereditary cause but even without both parents having the disease, the dog can be affected.
  • Eye Diseases – There is a range of eye diseases to which the Mastiff is prone. Progressive Retinal Atrophy is the commonest of eye diseases to affect the breed. This occurs when the retina of the eye stops absorbing light. This may occur from as early as six months and as late as 3.5 years. The loss of vision is gradual.
  • Cataract of the eye is a disorder that affects the dog. A cloudy film covers the lens of the eye, making it difficult to see clearly. Entropian is usually found in young adult dogs and is a condition where the eye lashes and eyelids roll inwards causing severe eye irritation and excessive tearing. Ectropian on the other hand occurs when the bottom eyelids grow outward leaving a gap between the eye and the eyelid. This causes excessive tearing and may need surgery to correct the problem.
  • Urinary Infections – This is a common problem in Mastiffs especially the disease cystinuria. This is a genetic disorder in which defective kidney tubules cannot function to prevent the amino acid cystine from entering the urine. The acidic nature of the urine crystalizes the protein into stone-like particles which will block the urinary tract. The dog will find it difficult when urinating, there is break in the leak, and blood in the urine. It is important to visit the doctor at once when these are noticed.
Care Features

The Mastiff is a gentle creature and requires you to handle him in similar manner. When training, do this with patience and calmness as he can get shy, stubborn, fearful and depressed. This breed is a house dog. He likes to be near the family at all times. While he can be kept outside, it is recommended that he be given free access to where the family gathers and plays inside the house. His protective nature will demand that he stays close to the family members. He does not therefore need a large outside space. Although the Mastiff is a house dog, preferring to lie comfortably at your feet, he should be given his daily exercises in the form of walks. This will help him to release his mental and physical energies. He will love this and look forward to this time with you.

Feeding Schedule

Recommended daily amount: 8 to 12 cups of high-quality dry food a day, divided into 2 to 5 meals.

There are a few things to remember when feeding your mastiff dog. Mastiffs are prone to bloat and therefore should not be given their portion all in one go. Allow the dog to eat slowly so that as little air as possible is ingested while eating. For the same reason, instead of letting him gulp water, train him to drink instead. It is essential also that you do not allow him too much water so that the dried kibble does not expand too much in his stomach.

Coat, Color and Grooming

Mastiffs carry a short, straight outer coat and a short, dense undercoat. The breed comes in three colors — fawn, apricot and brindle. The brindle Mastiff has fawn or apricot background and dark stripes. All Mastiffs are dark colored on the face. Some carry a white patch on the chest.

Their short coat does not require a lot of grooming; neither are they heavy shedders, fortunately. Brushing with a firm brittle brush once a week, is enough to contain the amount of shed hair that would find its way in all areas of the house. You may give him a bath only when necessary. However, use a damp cloth to clean between the folds of their wrinkle daily to prevent bacteria from growing in them. Ensure that you follow up by drying the areas carefully so as not to provide an environment for infection.

Children And Other Pets Compatibility

The Mastiff makes a fine family pet. For a dog with such powerful frame, the Mastiff is a favorite with children. He is highly protective of them, very nurturing and is always up for a play, rolling and romping around with them. You will understand, however, that small children need to be protected as he easily knocks them over, though unintentionally. Other animals are also quite secure with this dog. He is also gentle with small animals; he can even carry them around in his mouth without harm.

The Mastiff is a dog with a strong powerful frame but he makes a good family pet. If you are able to withstand his giant size, you will appreciate his gentle demeanor and protective nature. Your children will be safe in the Mastiff’s care.

About the author
John Walton
John Walton

John Walton lives in Somerville, MA, with his two dogs, two sons, and very understanding mate. He is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a mentor trainer for the Animal Behavior College, an AKC Certified CGC Evaluator, and the Training Director for the New England Dog Training Club.