The Mastiff is a huge dog, 26-31 inches in height and weighing 150 lbs on average. The Mastiffs history goes as far back as 2500 B.C. where images in the mountainous regions of Asia show huge dogs, hunting lions and being used as war dogs. While these dogs seem to be bigger and leaner than today’s Mastiff, there is definitely a likeness. Around 500 B.C. Phoenician traders brought the Mastiff from Asia to Britain. Here the dog was prized for its huge size and immense power. To test their strength, fights were often set up with other animal such as bears. Many dogs ended up losing their lives.
As the Roman empire expanded, the Romans found the huge dog and liked their size and power. They exported them to Italy where they were used to fight for their lives against whatever the Romans decided to pit them against. They were mostly used for entertainment as fighting dogs, but some were owned by Roman officers and were trained for war and protection. When crossing the Alps, Hannibal took with him several battalions of trained Mastiffs, and when Mastiffs became Caesar’s favorite dog, the breed’s reputation was enhanced. It is due to the Romans that many of the large mountain dogs of Spain, Turkey, France and the Balkans can trace their ancestry back to the Mastiff. As time went on, the Mastiff was crossbred with many other breeds but it remained largely the same in Britain, where it was used to protect land from hunters and trespassers. The breed was popular for many years, but as hunting decreased and fighting them began to be illegal, their numbers began to drop off.
At the beginning of the 20th century, their number drastically declined. There was an increased effort to bring them back, which proved successful. However, by the end of two World Wars, the numbers had again decreased, since they are such large dogs that needed a lot of food, something most people could not afford. In 1947, the numbers reached a all time low of just 7 dogs! Thankfully two puppies imported from the U.S. Eventually brought the numbers up to 50 in 1950.
Today, the Mastiff is mostly a family dog, a great watchdog, although unlikely to attack an intruder unless it is self-defense, considered to be one of the most docile gentle giants of the canine world.
By: Linda Eastabrooks
Former AKC Breeder