The English mastiff appears foreboding because of its size, but In fact, it is called the "gentle giant" because of its personality. The modern English mastiff goes back to the 19th century, with lineage stabilized in the 1880s. It has a large head, and can be of a few colors, but it always has a black mask over its face. It experienced a decline in popularity some years ago, but now is experiencing a resurgence.
Although not certain, the term "mastiff" may have come from the Anglo-Saxon word "masty," which means "powerful." The Oxford English dictionary says that the word came from the French word "mastin," derived from the Latin "mansuetus," meaning "mild," "gentle" or "tame." One of the first references to the English mastiff occurred in 1570, when author Conrad Heresbach, in his work Rei Rusticae Libri Quatuor, referenced "the Mastie that keepeth the house." He was writing in Latin, but an English translation of his work was done a few years later by Barnabe Googe in his work, Foure Bookes of Husbandrie.
It's speculated that the English mastiff's descendants were dogs that were brought to Britain by the Phoenicians in sixth century BC. The Romans apparently used English mastiff descendants in blood sports like dogfighting and lion- and bullbaiting (interesting considering it's extremely gentle, patient, peaceful temperament), and predecessors called the Bandogs were tied closely to houses. Throughout its own development as a breed, it has also contributed to a number of other dog breeds.
It's not quite known when the English mastiff came to America, but it may have been on the Mayflower. Its first documented entrance into America occurred in the late 19th century.
Historically, although the English mastiff's predecessors were used for baiting sports like those described above, this was explicitly prohibited when the Parliament of the United Kingdom passed the Cruelty to Animals Act of 1835. The English mastiff did continue as a very valued guard dog, with organized breeding beginning in the 19th century. A man named John Wigglesworth Thompson acquired Dora, a bitch mastiff, and a stud, Hector, for the first recorded English mastiff breeding, although neither dog had a pedigree. Between 1830 and 1850, Thompson bred dogs specifically to produce dogs with broad, short heads and massive bodies.
In 1835, a man named .V.H. Lukey began to breed his own mastiffs, although these were not as massive in build and were taller than those Thompson produced. After 1850, Lukey and Thompson worked together, ultimately producing the modern English mastiff. Until the 20th century, many of these dogs were officially without pedigree.
Beginning in 1880s, the English mastiff briefly fell off in popularity because of a drop in soundness to go for "type" in breeding principles. A subsequent rationing of meat during wars also led to its decline. (The English mastiff is a breed that requires a specialized, high protein diet to support its rapid growth.) Distemper further weakened the breed, so that after World War II, a single puppy in the British Isles reached maturity, Nydia of Frithend. The stud used to produce her puppies had to be declared a mastiff by the Kennel Club. Despite this difficult circumstance, however, the breed has been restored in Britain, and is now the 28th most popular in United States.
The English mastiff is the largest dog breed in terms of sheer mass. It has a very large head with a very broad skull and is simply square, solid and robust. Its body has a sturdy solidity to match its large head, and is very broad and long, with much substance, especially between the forelegs with its massive chest. It stands 30 inches high at the shoulder on average and can weigh between 150 to 200 pounds. Although dogs like the Great Dane and Irish wolfhound are taller, their build is much more sleek and streamlined.
The largest mastiff in history also has the greatest recorded weight for a dog, 343 pounds; in 1989, the Guinness Book of World Records recorded that the English mastiff Zorba, seven years old at the time, stood 35 inches tall at the shoulder and measured 8.25 feet long from the tip of his nose to the tip of his tail.
The mastiff's hair is short and lies close, although there are a few long-haired mastiffs around. Grooming is generally very easy, with a simple schedule of daily brushing. The underlying color is fawn, with accompanying colors of apricot, silver, or a dark brindle, although the face is always covered with black on the ears, nose and eyes. Occasionally, blue brindle and black are the accompanying colors to the standard fawn colored coat, or other colors will take precedence over the fawn, such as apricot or brindle.
Called the "gentle giant," the English mastiff will rarely attack, but it will protect its master. It is gentle even with strangers, usually, and is an especially good choice as a family dog. This dog is very sensitive and easy to please, and is very patient and gentle even with small children, in spite of its massive size.
It does make an excellent guard dog, but this is due to its massive size rather than for any propensity to attack. When the English mastiff senses that its master on other loved one is in danger, it places its vast bulk between its master and the attacker or perceived dangerous person, protectively. It can growl very menacingly, but will only actually attack if provoked directly. Even then, its preferred method of "attack" is to simply lie on the intruder until the master can summon assistance from authorities. It will stay in place and simply pin intruders to the ground until told to release.
This gentle giant is very, very eager to please and polite, and will make an excellent family pet. It is well-mannered and easygoing, and very calm. English mastiffs do require daily exercise, and can have a propensity to become fat and lazy if not given some physical stimulation. However, it trains very easily and gentle, persistent and consistent training methods are best. Excessive discipline is not necessary, nor is an overly authoritarian attitude required in the owner. These dogs want nothing more than to please their masters, so they don't need the kind of guidance and direction some other breeds, like the German Shepherd, might require. Harsh discipline is especially contraindicated, since this gentle breed can easily be wounded emotionally. In fact, their owners often call the English mastiff a "giant teddy bear," because it is so eager to please, calm and easygoing. As it is true of most dogs, it is very intelligent, but unlike some other breeds, it doesn't require a lot of intellectual stimulation and simply wants to "be" with the people it loves. It's equally affectionate toward canine companions of other breeds, so it does well in a multi dog household.
This is one area where the English mastiff can provide some challenges, especially in the early years. English mastiff puppies grow very, very rapidly, and they will need a specialized diet particular to those high growth needs. They also require regular exercise, although again because they grow so rapidly, that exercise should be carefully monitored. They shouldn't run to any great extent for the first two years of life, because of the rapid growth they experience and because of the stress running places on the body in general. They tend to be lazy and don't naturally gravitate toward a lot of physical activity, so you as the owner should take special care to make sure your pet gets enough exercise on a daily basis.
Because of the English mastiff's massive size, sleep surfaces must also be somewhat specialized. The dog's sheer weight can cause problems with joints or the musculoskeletal system in general when the dog lies down. To prevent difficulties, a soft, cushioned but supportive, very sturdy dog bed of adequate size should be provided. Without this type of sleeping surface, the English mastiff can develop arthritis, calluses, and a condition called hygroma, which is inflammatory swelling caused by the pressure of its weight. Gastric torsion and hypothyroidism are also common with this breed; less common are persistent pupillary membranes, progressive retinal atrophy, allergies, and cardiomyopathy.
If you are a household that has an adult female English mastiff and her puppies, you should know that although rare, the puppies can occasionally be crushed by the mother's massive size when they nurse. Use of a whelping box and carefully monitoring the puppies during nursing can help prevent these unfortunate tragedies.
Finally perhaps unfortunately, this gentle, loving "teddy bear" of a family pet does have a relatively short life span because of its massive size. It lives an average of seven years, although it can reach 11 or 12 years of age. Despite this unfortunate fact, it remains a popular pet for families in the U.S. and around the world, a testament to its patient gentleness and status as a true family member to those who know and love the English mastiff.
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The English Mastiff is powerfully built, with a massive body, broad skull and head of generally square appearance. It is also the biggest dog breed. Mastiffs have a tendency to over-salivate and "drool" frequently.
Their size is very large and gives an impression of power and strength when viewed from any angle. The body is massive with great depth and breadth, especially between the forelegs, causing these to be set wide apart. The AKC standard height for this breed is 30 inches (minimum) at the shoulder for dogs and 27 1/2 inches (minimum) at the shoulder for bitches. A typical dog can weigh 160-230+ pounds, a typical bitch would weigh 140 -190 pounds.
The short coat is close lying and the color is apricot-fawn, silver-fawn, fawn, or dark fawn-brindle, always with black on the muzzle, ears, and nose and around the eyes.
Ginness Boook of World Records recognizes a Mastiff from England named Zorba as the heaviest dog in the world, at over 315lb. Zorba stood 37 inches at the shoulder and was 8 feet 3 inches from the tip of his nose to the tip of his tail. Zorba set this record in November 1989, when he was 8 years old and about the size of a small donkey.
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