Mastiffs: The Breed
The English Mastiff is best described as a gentle giant. Males can stand 30 inches or higher and weigh between 160 and 230 pounds. And females are 27.5 inches or taller and weigh between 120 and 170 pounds. Like other large dogs, Mastiffs do not have a long life span compared to other breeds of dogs. Their life expectancy is between six and 10 years.
Mastiffs possess broad heads with black masks around the eyes and wrinkled foreheads. Their muscular bodies are rectangle-shaped. And their short double coats come in fawn, apricot, or brindle stripes.
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This gargantuan working dog is extremely loyal and responds well to gentle training. Mastiffs are patient and lovable and will act as the family guardian. Despite their large size, their low exercise requirements allow them to live just as comfortably in an apartment as on an English manor.
Mastiffs have a long and well-documented history. While dogs called mastiffs have existed across the globe for millennia, the Mastiff with a capital “M” is a specific traditional breed from England. Their predecessor, the British mastiff, wowed Julius Caesar when he led an invasion on Britain in 55 B.C. In his campaign journal, Caesar wrote about how the mastiffs helped to defend Britain. And the Romans brought British mastiffs back home with them, using them in arena battles against both gladiators and wild animals.
The Mastiff that we know and love today was refined in medieval England. During this time, Mastiffs were used as hunters, guardians, and war dogs. Chaucer even wrote about them in The Canterbury Tales, further establishing just how English this breed is.
Mastiffs were almost wiped out during World War II, with estimates of just 14 of the dogs remaining in England. American breeders helped to restore Mastiffs’ numbers, resulting in more amicable yet still fearless dogs for modern times. (1)
While Mastiff puppies don’t stay small for long, they are adorable. Because they will grow into one of the largest dogs in the world, mastiff puppies have specific needs for care.
Mastiffs have low exercise needs. When they are puppies, a short walk in the morning is sufficient. Adults will only need to walk one or two miles a day. They aren’t very active outside, so even a small yard is enough space for them to spend time outdoors in free play. (1, 2)
It’s extremely important not to over-exercise your Mastiff puppy or young adult dog. Walking them too much can cause joint or hip damage, which the breed is susceptible to. You should also keep them from running up and down the stairs or jumping down from heights. For instance, you should help your Mastiff puppy out of the car instead of letting them jump to the ground. (1, 2)
When raising a Mastiff, you have to strike a balance between feeding them enough to grow into a hulking adult and preventing them from becoming overweight. You should work with your vet to help your Mastiff achieve slow, steady growth between puppyhood and their second birthday. Mastiff puppies can eat adult dog food with a 26% or lower protein content and the calcium-to-phosphorus ratio of about 1.2:1. An incorrect calcium/phosphorus ratio can result in skeletal disorders for young Mastiffs. Additionally, you should feed your Mastiff at scheduled times rather than allowing them to free feed, as this could lead to them gaining too much weight. (1, 3)
Mastiffs are prone to several health conditions. From the time your dog is a puppy, learn the signs of these disorders and keep an eye out for them so your Mastiff can get treatment. (2)
- hip dysplasia
- gastric torsion
- vaginal hyperplasia
- coronary heart disease
- progressive retinal atrophy
The Mastiff’s short coat is easy to groom. Run a firm brush through it every few days to brush out tangles and catch loose hair. A few times a year, your Mastiff will shed more heavily. During those times, brush your dog once or twice a day. (1, 2)
Mastiffs drool quite a bit. So, many owners keep a washcloth handy to wipe drool off of the dogs’ faces as well as furniture and clothing. (1)
Training a Mastiff
When it comes to training a Mastiff, it’s important to start early, when your dog is still a puppy. Mastiffs learn quickly, but they’ll be bored with training classes. Set up a consistent training schedule at home with your Mastiff, and you’ll soon have your ideal dog. (1)
Obedience and Respect Training
It’s essential that your Mastiff knows early on that you’re in charge. Because the breed grows up to be so large and strong, an adult Mastiff won’t respect a master who doesn’t know how to handle them. (1, 3)
You can achieve this through consistent obedience training. Teach your Mastiff the basic obedience commands, and reward them right away when they follow your direction. Do not reward your Mastiff if they don’t follow your command or only complete it partway. (1, 3)
Mastiffs are good at reading your face and body language, so use eye contact to enhance your communication with them. Your training methods should always focus on praise and rewards. Mastiffs respond best to firm yet gentle training. You can actually hurt their feelings if you raise your voice at them. (1)
Mastiffs are naturally wary of strangers, so early socialization with both dogs and people is crucial. It’s especially important to expose Mastiffs to children while they are still puppies. Adult Mastiffs are shy and quiet, and they can become easily overwhelmed by children. Children running, jumping, and yelling around a Mastiff that isn’t used to them could result in chasing or biting. But Mastiffs who are exposed to children from the time they are puppies will understand the way children act. (3)
Mastiffs are excellent guard dogs, and they don’t need any training to protect your home and family. This is sometimes surprising as Mastiffs tend to be gentle and friendly, and they rarely bark. But if an intruder enters your home, they will act swiftly. Instead of attacking a burglar, your Mastiff will likely trap them in a corner or pin them to the floor and lie on top of them. (2)
Mastiffs are impressive, loyal dogs who will seek your love and companionship. If you put in the time and patience with one of these gentle giants, you will have a valuable guardian for your family.