Is the Mastiff the Right Breed for You?
A couple of Senior Girls enjoying a beautiful spring morning.
The Mastiff is one of the oldest breeds of dogs, most probably originating in the mountains of Asia. It is the ancestor of the giant breeds. Bas relief’s of the Babylonian era depict Mastiffs hunting lions and horses. Phoenician traders probably introduced the Mastiff to England where the Romans found them and brought them back to fight in the arena. Marco Polo wrote of the court of Kublai Khan who kept a kennel of 5,000 Mastiffs used for hunting and dogs of war. Hannibal, when he crossed the Alps, left Mastiffs behind which crossed with local native breeds to produce St. Bernards, once called the Alpine Mastiff, and all the massive mountain dogs of Spain, France, Turkey, and the Balkans have Mastiff blood in their ancestry. Even the Chow carries his blood as does the Pug, which was originally a form of a dwarf Mastiff.
Of all the countries who used the Mastiff, it was the British who kept him to his purest form, and it is to them that we owe the Mastiff of today. They kept it to guard their castles and estates, releasing them at night to ward off intruders. Henry the VIII is said to have presented Charles the VI of Spain a gift of 400 Mastiffs to be used in battle. The Legh family of Lyme Hall, Cheshire, who were given their estate by Richard the II (1377-1399), kept and bred Mastiffs for many years, and reference is found in Stowe’s Annual which shows that James the I (1603-1625) sent a gift of two Lyme Mastiffs to Philip the III of Spain.
The first conclusive evidence of the Mastiff in the United States comes in the early 1880’s when they began to appear at bench shows. World War I saw the decline of the Mastiff in the United States and England. World War II almost eliminated the breed in England altogether. At the end of the war, dogs were imported to England from Canada and the United States to re-establish the breed. Slowly but surely, as time passed, the breed became popular again.
You’re interested in a Mastiff. Owning a Mastiff can be the beginning of a wonderful relationship with years of happiness or it can be the beginning of overwhelming responsibility for which you may not be prepared. Mastiffs are loving, slobbery, gentle giants. They are the largest of the dog breeds and can range from 26 inches to 34 inches at the shoulder. They weigh anywhere from 140 pounds to 225+ pounds. Once they are over their major growing stage, the can eat between 6-8 cups of high quality food per day. They are very sensitive dogs and the sternest of voices is all you need for discipline.
There are several questions you must ask yourself to determine if you are ready to become a Mastiff owner. Answer honestly to ensure yourself, your family, and your Mastiff the future you all deserve.
DO I REALLY WANT A MASTIFF? WHY DO I WANT A MASTIFF?
Mastiffs are wonderful companions. They are not dogs to be left outside chained to a doghouse or to be left alone in a fenced yard. They desperately need lots of human companionship to be properly socialized, trained, and “owned.” If your house is too small for a 150-230 pound dog then a Mastiff is not the dog for you. We have found that behavioral problems exist when the Mastiff was not a member of the family, but was relegated to the backyard with only occasional human contact.
Mastiffs slobber! Some more than others, but they all do after they eat or drink. Are you prepared to wash your walls, ceilings, etc., after the slobber flies when they shake their heads? Slobber rags must always be handy in strategic locations all over the house. They always seem to drink when you are ready to walk out the door for work!
Mastiffs will snore and sometimes you think a train is going through the house. Are you a light sleeper or one that needs constant quiet to sleep? If so, consider another breed. They will want to keep you warm at night on the bed of course. If not on the bed, then they’ll want to sleep in the same room. They can be amazingly agile at 2:00 a.m.!
Mastiffs are NOT guard dogs. They will protect their family more in the lines of a watchdog than a guard dog. If you intent is to have a dog that is a guard dog then you must think about another breed. They will often bark and let intruders know they are not accepted. Once you accept the guest, chances are good that they will too. Their presence and bark will scare the bravest of burglars.
Mastiffs are wonderful dogs with well behaved children. They will protect their children. Of course, please make sure that you supervise and train your children to respect and treat the dog well. In rescue, we will not place dog with a family of small children unless the dog has been raised with them in the previous home. The swinging tail of a Mastiff can knock a small child over. If you have very small children who are just learning to walk, you may want to wait until they are older before getting a Mastiffs whether it’s a puppy or a rescue dog.
Mastiffs can be territorial dogs. They will protect their yard, house and family from people or dogs. They want it to be known that this is their yard. They are dogs that can be very good with other dogs and with cats as long as they have had good experiences with them. If you have an adult male dog already and you are getting a rescue, you might want to consider a female Mastiff and vice a versa. This is not to say that two males will not get along, but males especially have a tendency to want to dominate the other if they have been recently neutered.
CAN I REALLY AFFORD TO KEEP A MASTIFF?
An adult male Mastiff can go through 40-70 pounds of food a month. That’s a rough estimate of $35-$90 a month in food alone.
A Mastiff due to its size will cost you more money at the vet’s office also. Remember the antibiotic for Aunt Mary’s toy poodle only cost her $10.00, but since most dosages are based on weight, a week’s supply of antibiotics for you Mastiff can cost upwards of $50-$100. Heartworm medicine costs more, shots can sometimes be more costly, etc. You can expect to spend approximately, (depending on the age and medical conditions of your Mastiff) $200-$500 per year at the vet’s office on regular vet care. If an emergency comes up those costs can quickly skyrocket.
DO I HAVE TIME TO SPEND TRAINING, EXERCISING AND GROOMING A MASTIFF?
A Mastiff needs obedience training. It is imperative that obedience training be done as a puppy. After all do you want to be pulled down the street legs streaming behind you when your 185 pound Mastiff wants to chase the squirrel? The obedience training must be the positive reinforcement type. Mastiffs respond well to love, praise, and especially treats. The training should not be negatively based nor should it be the type where the dog is jerked around using different types of collars. Who is capable of jerking a large dog around anyway, at least not without some major muscle strain and potential for injury to your dog?
Exercising a Mastiff is not as difficult as exercising one of the various sporting breeds who seem to have endless energy. A Mastiff is happy to go on two walks a day about 20-30 minutes. Some love to hike, swim, but jogging companions they are not! They will jog but should not be forced to as it can be very difficult on their joints. About a mile or so walk, twice a day is enough unless it’s an older Mastiffs, then play it by ear. Their exercise can be walks with you around the neighborhood, hikes in the forest, swimming in the local lake, or chasing a soccer ball. Remember Mastiffs are like some of us…a couch is their idea of the perfect place to spend a day, but exercise is important to keep them fit and help them live longer. With an adequate sized yard, most will get sufficient exercise on their own throughout the day.
Grooming a Mastiff is very easy. One to two times per week with a shedding blade or comb is sufficient. Cutting nails is important and should be done regularly. It should be started early in life as wrestling with a large dog is very interesting! Teeth cleaning should also be done regularly.
No matter what; a Mastiff wants to be with you. They thrive on being housedogs sharing your life. They will follow you from room to room as you do your work. As you do things, they will follow and hope that you will spend more than a moment in each room. After all, it takes a lot of effort to keep getting up after they’ve been lying down! They are devoted to their owners and want to have contact with them frequently. Some want to touch you all the time to reassure themselves that you are still there.
WILL A MASTIFF FIT INTO MY LIFESTYLE AND MY HOME?
Mastiffs want to be with you. They love their family and are very devoted to them. Do you own a big car or van so your Mastiff can go for rides with you to the park, beach, post office; etc.
As stated earlier, the Mastiff is a housedog. A small house is suitable as long as the dog goes for walks and plays outside. The yard should be fenced and the Mastiff obedience trained through the basics: come, site, stay, down, leave it, and he should walk on leash without dragging you down the street (loose lead).
You must like big, wet slobbery kisses, as they love to give them. They love to sneak on the bed when you are deep in sleep. Snuggling is a favorite pastime as well as touching some part of their human, whether it be to sit on their feet, a head on the lap, or a paw to say “Hi”! If you are a “neat freak”, the Mastiff is not the breed for you.
Owning a Mastiff is a major responsibility, but they will reward you a million times over with their love. They are not the breed for everyone, however, due to their size and their need to be a major part of your family!
A Little History