Mastiffs or Molossers were huge dogs bred for war, protecting property and sometimes to haul loads. They are also responsible for contributing to the bulldog types, as bulldogs are smaller mastiffs. Despite their tremendous size and strength, mastiffs tend to be among the most placid and child-friendly of dogs. However, these huge dogs come with huge needs and huge responsibilities.
For example, the world record holder for most puppies born belongs to a Neapolitan Mastiff named Tia who lived in England. In her very first litter, she had a whopping 24 puppies, but only 20 survived. The puppies had to whelped by Caesarian section because Tia’s belly was so huge that she could barely move.
There are many dog breeds today with “Mastiff” in their names. To confuse matters further, there is also a dog breed named “Mastiff”, although it’s also called the Old English Mastiff. It’s unknown where Mastiffs came from, but not England. It’s thought that the Roman army brought Mastiff-type dogs to the British Isles.
Mastiff-type dogs have been found in Egyptian artworks dating back to the 7th century BCE. Greek playwright Aristophanes (ca. 447 – 386 BCE) mentions a Molosser dog in a play. It is possible that Cerebrus, the three-headed guard dog of the underworld, was based on Mastiffs. The name “Molosser” comes from a tribe that specialized in breeding these dogs. Somewhere down the centuries, “Molosser” was changed to “Mastiff.”
The Neapolitan Mastiff is gaining in popularity in the Western world and not just because of the incredibly fertile Tia. A Neapolitan is seen as Hagrid’s very timid guard dog in the Harry Potter film series. The Neapolitan is a huge, wrinkled gentle giant, usually grey but can have white splotches. They can reach weights of 140 to 200 pounds.
The English Mastiff is another huge dog with slightly less wrinkles and slightly more flesh. They often are brindle or tan with a black face. The heaviest dog ever recorded was an English Mastiff named Zorba, who weighted 343 pounds in 1989. The Guinness World Book of Records has since stopped giving out awards for heaviest pet because it may encourage lethal obesity in pets.
Other breeds include the bullmastiff, the Dogue de Bourdeax, the rare American Mastiff, the Tibetan Mastiff, the Pyrenean Mastiff (very similar to the St. Bernard,) the Fila Brasiliaro or Brazillian Mastiff and the Cane Corso. The latter two breeds are banned in some countries such as the UK but are legal in America.
Mastiffs do not live as long as smaller sized dogs. A five year old Mastiff type is an old Mastiff. A notable exception is the Tibetan Mastiff, which can live up to 14 years. Because of the shape of their faces and the wrinkles around the mouth, many dogs of the Mastiff type drool a lot. They can’t help it. Mastiffs also have tremendous appetites, which can lead to obesity and heart problems. They also can be prone to hip dysplasia. Since they are so large, expect to scoop a lot of poop.
Levy, Andrew. “A bit red-eyed? So would you after having 24 pups!” Daily Mail; Jan 20, 2005. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-334814/A-bit-red-eyed-So-having-24-pups.html
McFarland, Donald. Guinness World Book of Records 1989. Sterling Publishing; 1988.
Palika, Liz. The Howell Book of Dogs. Howell Book House; 2007.
Campbell Thornton, Kim. Mastiffs: A Complete Pet Owner’s Manual. Barron’s; 2009.
Marien-de-Luca, Catherine. “Molosser Breeds.” http://www.bulldoginformation.com/molossers-mastiff-type-dogs.html