Frequently Asked Questions About Mastiffs

Hello and welcome to the wonderful world of the Mastiff! In our not so humble opinion, the Mastiff is THE best breed of dog to be owned by, bar none. BUT, the Mastiff is NOT a breed for everyone.

We’ve tried to gear this F.A.Q. towards the breed browser and the first time Mastiff wanna-be owner. Here we’ve tried to show both the upside and the downside of the Mastiff/ human relationship. Not that we’re trying to chase you away (we wish everyone could enjoy the love and companionship of one of these great beasties), but we’d much rather have you know about the possible trials and tribulations BEFORE your new Mastiff pup walks through the front door, not AFTER.

As the breed’s popularity and exposure increases, more and more people are getting a Mastiff without any idea what-so-ever of what they’re getting into. Way too often this ends up in severe disappoint for the human and tragedy for the Mastiff. So please, please, study this F.A.Q. Ask questions. Look before you leap! We hope that this F.A.Q. in some way helps you in making your decision and/or preparing for your life with a Mastiff. Good luck and dog Bless!

Disclaimer
This FAQ is provided as is without any express or implied warranties or guarantees as to the content’s accuracy, completeness or applicability to a specific animal.

While every effort has been taken to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this article, the MCOA, the contributors and the maintainer assume no responsibility for errors or omissions, or for damages resulting from the use of the information contained herein.

Mastiff art 1842
Mastiff history art: Given to Prince Albert by Queen Victoria, 26 Aug 1842 (Prince Albert acquisitions (92)

WHAT IS A MASTIFF

The Mastiff is a giant breed of dog, descended from the ancient Alaunt and Molosser. Today, mastiff is used to describe many different breeds around the world, all descended from the same root stock. In the US and other English speaking countries, Mastiff is used to refer to the Old English Mastiff (OEM), developed in England and nearly extinct after WW II.

With that in mind, Mastiffs (OEMs) are generally very large dogs; fawn, apricot or brindle in color; all with a black mask and ears; possessing a medium to short coat with very little white (which, if it appears, should be confined to the chest but often appears on the toes as well).

There is no upper height limit and no weight range in the Mastiff Standard.

In height they generally range from the Standard’s minimum of 27 1/2 inches up to 36 inches for the exceptionally tall ones. They can weigh anywhere from 110 pounds to the 343 pounds of Zorba, the world’s largest dog, although most Mastiff males weigh around 170-240 pounds and females around 120-200 pounds.

This breed is supposed to be very broad with a huge head, wide chest and large bone, and is longer in body than in height- The Mastiff Conformation Standard. 

Mastiffs are not supposed to resemble Great Danes except possibly in height, nor Saint Bernards, except for the bone, chest and large head. They should not be as wrinkled as a Neopolitan nor as dome headed as a Dogue de Bordeaux, or ‘houndy’ like a Fila Brasileiro.

Mastiffs possess characteristics unique to the breed, especially the head with a broad, deep muzzle with flews hanging over the bottom lip, giving the head a square appearance.

A Mastiff should possess a calm, self assured temperament and be devoted to its family and friends. Mastiffs should not be aggressive to humans or other animals, including other dogs, although, unfortunately, some of them are. Mastiffs should be steady, gentle, eager for affection, good with children, calm and self assured, and used primarily as a family companion.

Mastiffs excel as companions, family members, therapy workers and as watch dogs. Mastiffs have also done well, when properly trained and conditioned, at carting, tracking, obedience, conformation showing, search and rescue (SAR), and weight pulling. They are also great foot warmers and couch potatoes. 

No. Like humans, Mastiffs are individuals. Each has its own genetic and environmental history that effects its attitude, temperament, health and responses to stimuli. These questions are answered with the general breed characteristics in mind, no individual Mastiff will match the answers in every respect.

Oh, that’s not what you meant? While it is correct that the breed of mastiff dog developed in England has pre-empted the official name of ‘Mastiff’, according to the AKC’s ‘The Complete Dog Book’, 18th Edition, “The breed commonly called “Mastiff” in English speaking countries is more properly described as the ‘Old English’ Mastiff.” From the same source: “The term ‘mastiff’ describes a group of giant varieties of dogs rather than a single breed.” Today this group of giant breed dogs is more commonly referred to as ‘Molossers’.

If this is what you meant, then No, not all mastiffs are the same. See Other Molossers for a list of some of the different Molosser Breeds.

Aggression is unnecessary force or dominance in any situation. Aggression should not be confused with protection where a dog uses force or dominance to protect its people or territory when threatened. 

The typical Mastiff’s temperament, by nature, is one of gentle demeanor. However, as with any breed, a Mastiff can become aggressive for varying reasons. 

Typically, aggressive behavior is established due to environment as a “learned response” and/or results from a lack of proper socialization during the dog’s developmental stages. 

A certain percentage of dogs may be genetically unstable and inherit aggressive tendencies.

For this reason, before you purchase a puppy, it is best to ask the breeders about the temperament of the sire and the dam and try to see both if at all possible. 

Some dogs may have a predisposition for certain characteristics which may be the basis for aggressive behavior: a dominant dog may exhibit Dominant Aggression, an unsocialized dog may develop Fear Motivated Aggression, or a dog unsocialized with other dogs may develop Species Aggression.

Most aggression can be prevented by proper rearing and socialization, beginning as a puppy. 

If you are experiencing a problem, consult your Mastiff’s breeder, your veterinarian, and/or a trained animal behaviorist BEFORE the problem becomes serious.

HOW MUCH DO MASTIFFS COST?

Puppy prices usually run $1500 and up, depending on a number of variables such as pedigree, show potential, geographic location, and breeder costs. A higher price does NOT necessarily mean a better dog! Read this FAQ thoroughly to learn about testing and other evidences of health and soundness, as well as show wins, as the basis for selecting the pup most likely to be healthy, happy, and just what you want.

Probably not as much as you think. Pound for pound, the larger the dog the less food it needs for each pound of body weight. Exactly how much food your dog needs depends on many factors including its size, age and activity level. Feed your Mastiff a good quality, balanced diet – low on table scraps – and don’t let him get too fat. 

By nature, Mastiffs are eager to please. This makes them good Obedience dogs. But like any other breed, temperaments vary between individuals, so some Mastiffs are better candidates for the Obedience ring than others. 

Some Mastiffs are more laid back, aloof, and lethargic; while others are more outgoing, inquisitive, and athletic. Though both types of temperaments are trainable, the latter of these two temperaments would be better suited for competition in the Obedience ring.

Both easy and difficult. Mastiffs are smart, and live to please. However, they go through phases where they are also stubborn, and these phases can last anywhere from a few weeks a couple of times in puppyhood to (in some cases) the lifetime of the dog! 

Keep training sessions short (10-15 minutes) and frequent (several times a day). In addition to their stubbornness, Mastiffs have very sensitive feelings, and if they are frightened, hurt, or confused, they cannot be budged. Make training like a game. Use a happy, excited voice. You have to be consistent and firm to train effectively. Once a dog is well trained, it needs practice on a regular basis. Dogs LIKE to be trained because they WANT to know how to please their beloved owners. Once trained, a Mastiff seldom needs stronger correction than a stern voice. 

Except for formal obedience training, you can use food treats for motivation. But the best reward for any Mastiff is lavish hugs and plenty of praise.

Mastiffs are excellent guard dogs. They go to the door and bark, their hackles stand up, and they look formidable, but Mastiffs, as a breed, are not trigger-happy. They have a gentle, rather than an aggressive, nature. 

Mastiffs need the company of their human family much more than some other breeds of dogs do.

A Mastiff left alone, tied out, or kept in a fenced yard with too little human company, will either pine away or develop destructive behaviors out of loneliness and anxiety.

Denied the needed time with its family, a Mastiff may be much LESS protective because it isn’t sure it belongs to that family. 

A normal, well adjusted Mastiff will protect it’s family, but only if the need arises. You don’t want an aggressive Mastiff that protects you from friends and family.

The ideal temperament is one where you never know that you are being protected unless a true situation arises where a Mastiff’s services are needed.

Mastiffs are excellent guard dogs. They go to the door and bark, their hackles stand up, and they look formidable, but Mastiffs, as a breed, are not trigger-happy. They have a gentle, rather than an aggressive, nature. 

Mastiffs need the company of their human family much more than some other breeds of dogs do. A Mastiff left alone, tied out, or kept in a fenced yard with too little human company, will either pine away or develop destructive behaviors out of loneliness and anxiety. Denied the needed time with its family, a Mastiff may be much LESS protective because it isn’t sure it belongs to that family. 

A normal, well adjusted Mastiff will protect it’s family, but only if the need arises. You don’t want an aggressive Mastiff that protects you from friends and family. The ideal temperament is one where you never know that you are being protected unless a true situation arises where a Mastiff’s services are needed.

Mastiffs, with their gentle natures, do not have the instincts that dogfighters are looking for. Their protective instincts make them actually the opposite to the aggressive fighting personality. However, they will, at times, fight among themselves, or with other dogs, for the typical canine reasons such as pack dominance and sexual competition. Two 190 pound adult male Mastiffs in combat for pack leadership can be next to impossible, as well as exceedingly dangerous, to separate.

Mastiffs are excellent guard dogs. They go to the door and bark, their hackles stand up, and they look formidable, but Mastiffs, as a breed, are not trigger-happy. They have a gentle, rather than an aggressive, nature.

Mastiffs need the company of their human family much more than some other breeds of dogs do. A Mastiff left alone, tied out, or kept in a fenced yard with too little human company, will either pine away or develop destructive behaviors out of loneliness and anxiety. Denied the needed time with its family, a Mastiff may be much LESS protective because it isn’t sure it belongs to that family.

A normal, well adjusted Mastiff will protect it’s family, but only if the need arises. You don’t want an aggressive Mastiff that protects you from friends and family. The ideal temperament is one where you never know that you are being protected unless a true situation arises where a Mastiff’s services are needed. 

Any dog bites if hurt, frightened, or threatened, but a Mastiff that is properly trained and socialized will typically not bite except as a very last resort. Do NOT let a pup (of any age) bite anyone or anything (except its litter mates) in play, since they NEED to know that biting is not allowed. They will still bite if there is an absolute necessity, but will not try it any other times. 

As for chewing, puppies of any breed need to be given durable toys that they know it is OK to chew. Any time you catch your puppy chewing on anything except its own chew toys, take the forbidden item away from it, and give it a chew toy, and encourage the dog to chew on its own toy. Praise it when it DOES chew on its own toy. Repeat as necessary (remember, we told you these dogs are stubborn!)

RAISING A MASTIFF

Even a small Mastiff is destined to be a large dog. This is something that must be taken into consideration when rearing it. As a puppy, your Mastiff should not be allowed to do anything that you would not wish your full grown Mastiff to do, such as laying on the couch. And because your puppy is going to be such a large dog, it is also a very, very good idea that it receive, at a minimum, basic obedience training. You DO NOT want a 200 pound dog that won’t listen to you; this can lead to obvious problems.

Mastiffs grow at such an astonishing rate that it is best not to force their growth with artificial vitamins and calcium supplements. A good quality dog food is all that they require. A Mastiff is going to get as large as it is going to be, genetically, anyway; allowing them to grow at their own pace will give them a more stable foundation once they get there. 

Many breeders recommend NOT feeding a ‘puppy chow’ beyond the first few months due to the high protein content. During growth periods your Mastiff puppy is subject to joint injury. You will need to be especially careful during these times to control excessive exercise. A puppy may play at its own rate but should not be encouraged to take long walks, jump obstacles, or any other exercise that will stress the joints.

This is not to say the puppy has to be confined. Just use caution and do not allow it to over exert itself. After about 18 months the growth rate has decreased and the puppy has just about reached its full stature.

A Mastiff remains a puppy much longer than most breeds. Even though a Mastiff is already quite large by the time it is 6 months old, it is still growing and maturing rapidly. A Mastiff does not reach its full physical or mental maturity until around 3 years of age.

You will be surprised at how much a Mastiff puppy will drink. Fresh water should be kept available at all times. Drool will accumulate in the bottom of the pup’s water dish. Since the pup will not drink its own drool, the dish should be rinsed throughout the day.

All puppies love to chew. Mastiffs have very powerful jaws, even as a puppy. Some chew toys that are fine for other breeds may not be suitable for your Mastiff. Caution should be used when choosing toys or chew bones because the pup could bite off pieces and swallow them, resulting in intestinal blockage.

Mastiff puppies also have a tendency to chew, or swallow, rocks and sticks.

They should be watched closely and discouraged from doing so

Mastiff art 1896
Mastiff history art: H. Hinnis (circa 1896) A mastiff dog asleep in a bed of straw, with kittens

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