History of the Mastiff
The mastiff has quite a violent past in the service of man.
What purposes did this giant fulfill? Where did he come
from? What other breeds descend from the Mastiff? What do
people use this dog for in our time? Is the Mastiff rare
in other parts of the world as well?
long time ago some giant dog-like beasts lived on the
earth. These creatures were known under the name Molossus
or simply Dogs. Ancient images of dogs like these can be
seen on Babylonian relics from 2200 BC. Already at that
time the Dogs were used (or misused) as war dogs. Sculptures
from Assyria also show mastiff-alike drawings from about
650 BC. We don't know for sure how these giants were bred,
or whether they developed by their own effort. One thing
is rather certain, though. The ancestors of the mastiffs
came from Central-Asia, and the dogs were brought to Britain
by Phoenician traders about 500 BC. At least this is the
most common assumption, even if there do exist other theories.
The British liked these dogs, simply because of their impressive
size and brutal strength. Many a dog lost his life because
of man's bloody interest in organized fights between animals.
Fights between different dogs and between dog and bear were
among the most popular dog activities in those days.
Romans also found the mastiff to be quite interesting,
and as the Roman empire were on it's most powerful, the
mastiff also had a respected position as both war-dog and
fighting dog. During the Roman occupation of Britain (55
BC - 415 AD) lots of Dogs were exported from Britain to
Rome. The dogs had to fight for their lives against whatever
the Romans brought back home from their long and numerous
expeditions. African animals like lions were popular in
the arenas. Animals didn't have the law on their side, rather
the opposite. But, despite of these disturbing conditions
the Romans also put the mastiff in the history book in a
more positive way. Some roman officers had the honor to
own a mastiff. They trained them for war and protection.
With special developed equipment and the "right"
kind of training, an angry dog with 100 active kilos was
a violent and feared warrior. One particular story about
is about a mastiff sacrificing his own life to save his
master in a military battle. The dog was looked upon as
a hero after that battle (not that he got much fun out of
it, but most heroes don't become heroes before they're dead
and buried anyway...) The mastiff is supposed to have been
Cesar's favorite dog.
the fifteenth century a large part of the English population
were desperately poor. Many people starved to death while
the upper class (and the royalty) were enjoying a life in
luxury. The common way to keep this system intact, was to
have incredibly unfair tax-laws, and to take advantage of
political and religious power. There was so little food
for the common man, that the only way to survive was to
hunt for animals. The upper classes also were the owners
of the most important forest areas, and it was illegal to
hunt there. Some landowners had their own popular rich-man's
hobby. They raised or caught deer and other desirable animals
to hunt, and let them lose in the forest. A few days later
they would trace them, and kill them, just for the "fun"
of it. With all these animals running around in the forests,
the temptation became too big for some of the poor. Illegal
hunting often was a problem for the landowners, a problem
they really wanted to solve, no matter what. So they used
mastiffs! The mastiffs were trained to scare hungry hunters
off the landowner's property. A new law was also written
in those days. The mastiff was the only dog that was allowed
to be inside the properties of the landowners. These dogs
were then, as now, someone you wouldn't like to have as
your enemy. In addition to this, the mastiff was used as
a hunting dog for bigger animals during the middle ages.
the modern interest for dogs awoke in the first part
of the 20th century, only a very small number of mastiffs
still existed. A few people in England decided to try as
hard as they could to save the breed from disappearing for
good. They started rebuilding the mastiff by mixing blood
from shorthaired St. Bernhards. This was necessary to produce
enough healthy puppies. This gave some good results. Right
before the second world war, the breed wasn't that rare
any longer. Dog shows with high quality mastiffs was not
unusual. It looked like the crisis was over. Then the war
started, a disaster for dogs, especially the big ones. They
simply ate too much in a time when food was a luxury...
the second world war the mastiff was almost gone again.
In October 1946 fifteen enthusiastic mastiff-lovers gathered
for the first time since 1939. The meeting took place in
London, and was the beginning of an almost hopeless mission;
to save the English mastiff from extinction. They promised
each other to do all in their might to prevent this from
happening. Their first task was tracing all living mastiffs
in the country, and if possible making sure that puppies
were born. This didn't give the requested results, basically
because most of the twenty dogs that still were alive were
too old to reproduce themselves. A male called Tarsus became
the father of three litters with 18 puppies, but only one
(!) of these survived. At the end of 1947 only seven dogs
were still alive in England. This situation led to a visit
to the USA in order to cooperate with the Americans. It
turned out that the breed was so rare and of such poor quality
in the US as well, that no dogs were brought back to England.
In 1948 two promising puppies from District of Columbia
(USA) were sent to England, and these two individuals created
the foundation that prevented the breed from disappearing.
In 1949 there were 15 mastiffs in the country, and in 1950
the number was approximately 50. The mastiff was saved!
To achieve this one had to make use of other breeds with
familiar outlook, background and history: Great Dane, Bullmastiff
and St. Bernhard. These breeds were the most natural to
use, since they are reckoned to be close relatives to the
Rottweiler, Bloodhound and the English Bulldog also are
descendants from the old Molossus breeds. In addition
to these we also have a number of different types of mastiffs
which are breeds still going strong today. The most common
are Neapolitan Mastiff, Pyrenean Mastiff and Spanish Mastiff.
The English Mastiff is looked upon as the "main-mastiff",
and is therefor often simply called "the Mastiff".
time the mastiff basically is a family dog, but he is
also a fantastic watchdog. The home is his fortress, and he
knows how to convince strangers that they don't belong there.
The mastiff will normally not attack an intruder unless it's
self-defense, but then again very few people have been brave
or stupid enough to find out whether the dog is serious when
he stands tall in front of you with a low bass sound coming
from his throat. In England the mastiff still is being used
as a watchdog outside pubs, according to an old tradition.
mastiff also is a natural born talent when it comes to tasks
that require great strength and musclepower. It is important
to emphasis that such activities must be avoided until the
dog is fully grown (at least two and a half years) and is
in good physical shape. If not the chances are big that
you will get a limping and suffering dog, that never will
function as a happy, normal dog.
breed is not common in any parts of the world, but at
least the number of individuals is stabile. There are about
1000 dogs in the UK, and that number is the same in the
rest of the western countries in comparison with the countries'
population. In Norway there are less than 100 English mastiffs.
personality isn't like it used to be. The mastiff is
no longer a warrior. It's a long time since he retired from
those kind of activities. Nowadays he is a very relaxed
and normally harmless dog, who loves his family. He is very
dependent on being close to his owners, and appreciates
(and demands!) being cuddled with. Strangers are not very
popular with mastiffs. The average mastiff is friendly and
patience with children, but it is of course important that
the children are friendly with the mastiff in order to establish
a good relationship between them.
mastiff doesn't have any particular interest in hunting.
This means that the dog doesn't run away when you let him
loose in the forest. He also loves water, even though he
isn't a typical swimmer. He likes to wade, but can also
swim to fetch whatever the owner throws in the water. This
varies from dog to dog, depending on what he is used to
doing in his "spare time".
people think of mastiffs as slow and a bit clumsy, but this
isn't so. Some mastiffs are quite fast and can outrun any
human being. Then again, others really are slow and lazy,
doing not more than they have to in order to survive. If
the mastiff sees something that catches his interest (A
CAT!), he really wakes up! He has the ability to impress
anyone with great power, strength and speed. The personality
isn't like it used to be. Today the mastiff is the ideal
family dog for those with enough space, the wish for a loyal,
large and good friend, and a good portion of tolerance for
snoring and drooling.