The Mastiff Gentle Giant of the Dog World

Grooming, last updated 27th, Jun 2012, Nitika

The Oxford Concise Dictionary defines the word 'mastiff' as,'Large, strong kind of dog.That's all. The Webster Collegiate Dictionary is more descriptive about the word mastiff, defining it as, One of an English breed of large hunting dogs, with heavy body and broad skull. Mastiff, the word, is derived from the base word massive, meaning mountain-like. The word is translated into dogge in German and dogue or dogo in some of the Romanic languages.

One the one hand, if we take the Oxford definition, we would naturally include such dog breeds as the English Mastiff, American Mastiff, Argentine Dogo, Fila Brasileiro, Bullmastiff, Cane Corso (Italian Mastiff), Dogue de Bordeaux (French Mastiff), Neapolitan Mastiff, Mastin Borincano, Pyrenean Mastiff, Spanish Mastiff, and Tibetan Mastiff into the breed. On the other hand, if we take the Webster definition, we’d speak only of the English Mastiff when discussing the breed. All of these breeds share similar characteristics and can be traced back to the root of the family the earliest mastiffs.

There is evidence of giant dogs, or Mastiff like dogs, dating back a couple of thousand years BC. Bas-reliefs depicting Mastiff like dogs were uncovered in the Babylonian palace of Ashurbanipal. These were very similar in shape and size as modern day mastiffs. Despite this visual evidence of the breed's longevity, the original Mastiff is believed to have been introduced to ancient Britain by the Phoenicians.Then it is thought that the Romans found them there and took them home to fight in the arena. The famous explorer Marco Polo reported that Kubla Khan kept 5,000 Mastiffs for war and hunting. The Roman leader Hannibal crossed the Alps with several battalions of war Mastiffs. These crossbred with local breeds, and what is known as the St Bernard once called Alpine Mastiff is the result. The Pug once called the dwarf Mastiff  carries Mastiff blood. How about the Chow Chow? You have guessed it; Mastiff blood. And virtually all of the mountain dogs in France, Spain, Turkey and the Balkans trace their size back to the Mastiff. With all of the above in mind, it is hard to determine where the breed originated, but most experts agree that the British are the creators of what we know today as the Mastiff. They say that of all the countries that used the Mastiff, it was the British who kept him in his purest form, and it is to them that we owe the Mastiff of today. In England, dog showing became popular in the mid-1800s. Wealthy people kept and bred Mastiffs and started the first recorded pedigrees. These were registered with what was then the only kennel club in the world, The Kennel Club in England. Breeders of today have bred the Mastiff for gentleness and have created an excellent companion, large enough to deter intruders and yet gentle enough to be dependable  around children.