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Get to Know the Neapolitan Mastiff: The Canine Gargoyle

The Neapolitan Mastiff was bred to scare off intruders on sight -- and he often does!

Caroline Coile  |  Feb 22nd 2016


His mug is so fearsome that burglars run on sight and movies cast him as the ultimate guard dog. But while he’s no pussy cat when the occasion merits, the Neapolitan Mastiff is not nearly the monster he appears to be!

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Neapolitan Mastiff by Shutterstock.

More interesting things about the Neapolitan Mastiff

  • The Neapolitan Mastiff may be confused with the Mastiff or Dogue de Bordeaux, but the Neapolitan is more loosely jointed, has a massive head, and has much more loose hanging skin with profuse wrinkling. It may be confused with the Chinese Shar-Pei, but the Neapolitan is much much larger and has a long tail. It’s typical for male Neos to weigh well over 150 pounds.
  • The Neapolitan Mastiff is a member of the ancient Molosser family of dogs.
  • The Neapolitan Mastiff arose as an Italian estate and farm guardian dog. Its roots trace to Roman war dogs. Alexander the Great had a hand in creating the breed’s forebears. It is said the breed was bred to look frightening to scare off intruders on sight. In the best case, the dog could just show itself and the intruder would run screaming!
  • It was once called the “big dog of the little man,” in reference to the fact that even everyday people could own this imposing dog.
  • At one time they may have also been used for bear, jaguar, and bull baiting.
  • The breed is called the Mastino or Mastino Napoletano in Italy. In America it is called Neo for short.
  • The Neapolitan Mastiff was almost extinct after World War II because of food shortages, but has gradually increased. It was rediscovered by the outside world in the 1940s.
  • The lumbering, sloppy gait is considered typical of the breed.
  • Yes, they drool a lot!
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Neapolitan Mastiff by Shutterstock.

  • The Neopolitan Mastiff was officially recognized by the AKC in 2004, becoming the AKC’s 152nd breed. It is a member of the AKC Working group.
  • It comes in black, blue, mahogany, tawny, and brindle.
  • In America, the tail is traditionally docked by one third. The ears may be cropped or uncropped.
  • The Neo is the 109th most popular AKC breed, up slightly from 113th five years ago.
  • A Neo named Tia holds the world record for the largest litter: 24 puppies!
  • The most well-known Neo is Fang, from the Harry Potter movies. The dog has also appeared as Alan in Babe: Pig in the City, as Pansy in several books by Andrew Vachss, and as Sweetie in Robert K. Tanebaum’s novels. They have also appeared in the movies American Gangster, Dragonheart, and Belly.
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Young Neapolitan Mastiff by Shutterstock.

  • The Neo has been shown at the Westminster Dog Show since 2005, but has yet to place in the Working group. In fact, the Neo is not a terribly successful show dog, perhaps because his gait is not the usual racing clean-moving gait typical of most breeds.
  • Neo owners include Gillian Anderson, Kate Hudson, and Andrew Vachss.
  • Like most giant breeds, the Neo has a fairly short life expectancy.
  • This is not a breed for novice owners.

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About the author: Caroline Coile is the author of 34 dog books, including the top-selling Barron’s Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds. She has written for various publications and is currently a columnist for AKC Family Dog. She shares her home with three naughty Salukis and one Jack Russell Terrier