Get to Know the Mastiff: A Large Breed with the Heart of a Lion

This big-hearted hero is a king among dogs but has a pussycat persona at home.

Last Updated on June 23, 2022 by Carolyn Coile

“What the lion is to the cat, the Mastiff is to the dog.” These words, written in 1800, are as true today as they were then. He is a king among dogs — a lionhearted protector. But really he’s a pussycat at home.

More interesting things about the Mastiff:

  • The Mastiff is the prototypical breed of the bigger Mastiff family of breeds, which is also known as the Molosser family. It includes not only giant dogs but also small broad dogs, such as those in the Bulldog family.
  • Though indeed “massive,” that is not the name of the breed! The word “Mastiff” may be derived from an Anglo-Saxon word meaning powerful.
  • Although the proper AKC name is simply “Mastiff,” the breed is known as the English Mastiff or Old English Mastiff in much of the world.

  • Many people lump every giant dog they see with the label Mastiff, and even those who know better can confuse the Mastiff with the Bull Mastiff or Dogue de Bordeaux. However, the Mastiff is taller and has a longer muzzle. The Mastiff may also be confused with the Boerboel, but the Mastiff is larger and never has a docked tail.

  • Mastiffs come in fawn, apricot, or brindle, all with a black mask and ears.
  • In 55 BC, Julius Caesar described them fighting beside their masters against the Roman legions invading Britain. The Romans brought many of the dogs back to Rome, where they defeated all others, including bears and other wild animals, in gladiator combat. The Mastiff breed comes from these Roman Mastiffs.

  • The Mastiff of Sir Peers Legh II became famous in 1415 when the dog stood over her wounded owner for hours during a battle, protecting him from the enemy. Though Leigh later died, the dog became famous and was the foundation of the famous Lyme Hall family of Mastiffs, which continued until around 1900.
  • A Mastiff is said to have arrived in America on the Mayflower, but this is undocumented.
  • The first documented Mastiffs came to America in the late 19th century, but their popularity dwindled during the early 20th century, so that by World War I none were left outside of Britain. The North American population was gradually replenished and served as the eventual basis for the breed when the British population was decimated in World War II.

  • The Mastiff is in the AKC Working group.
  • No Mastiff has ever won Best in Show, nor even the Working group, at the Westminster dog show.
  • Mastiffs generally weigh between 110 and 230 pounds. A Mastiff named Zorba holds the record for the heaviest dog at 343 pounds. Another Mastiff, Cloe, was said to weigh 365 pounds.
  • The Mastiff is the 26th most popular AKC breed, up from 33rd a decade ago.
  • Mastiff Tank became a YouTube sensation with more than three million views of this video:
  • Mastiffs have appeared in the films The Sandlot, The Sandlot 2, and Hotel for Dogs.
  • Owners include Alexander the Great, Hannibal, Kublai Khan, Edward II, King Henry VII, Marlon Brando, George C. Scott, Bob Dylan, Kirstie Alley, Ray Liotta, Dirk Bogarde, George DiCenzo, and Douglas Fairbanks.

Do you own a Mastiff? Have you spent time with one? Let’s hear what you think about this fascinating breed in the comments! And if you have a favorite breed you’d like us to write about, let us know that, too.

Interested in other breed profiles? Find dozens of them here.

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