Hundreds of years ago, mastiffs were commonly used in wars and turned out to be amazing warriors. They fought the battles with all their might, and as per historical records, they fought them well. That is not the case today, and English mastiffs are considered retired fighters – no one is happier about it more than mastiff lovers and the mastiffs’ themselves.
English Mastiffs have seen a paradigm shift in their temperament since those ancient times, and are now commonly seen as guard or watch dogs and dedicated members or companions to families all over the world.
This guide aims to highlight the varying attributes of mastiff’s temperament and aggression, and to provide you with tips and tricks if you are considering getting one of these overwhelmingly huge dogs.
Are English Mastiffs Aggressive?
Mastiffs are inherently gentle and intelligent, but can be stubborn, and that is why it is imperative that you keep your instructions clear and consistent from puppyhood.
Their natural guarding instincts do not make them attack as a first reaction, but form a line of defense and in that regard, they will do whatever it takes.
Mastiffs can come across as aggressive particularly when they are in the process of protecting the home or family members they are associated with they are not generally aggressive by nature.
All the English Mastiff owners would vouch for the fact that they are undoubtedly one of the best companion canines amongst the countless dog breeds that can be found in the world.
Their temperament is often equated with intense feelings of affection and great resilience – the genuine qualities of ‘man’s best friend’.
It is always an exciting prospect for the entire family when they bring a pet to their home and make it part of their family. The bond that you form with a dog is unlike any other, and one that continues for a long time. It is for these reasons that you need to be very sure about the type of dog and its traits and temperaments, before making that all important decision to bring him home. The type of breed needs to gel-in and suit the lifestyle of your entire family.
Mastiffs are usually identified as one of the largest dog breeds in the word, and this is often quoted with the fact that they have fun and easy going personalities and a rather dormant and innocuous nature that can be easily taught when young.
There is no doubt that some people can get intimidated or put-off by their massive size and ferocious appearance and looks. However, there is more to them than meets the eye! They all vary in temperament and personality depending on the breed you are opting for, and you need to spend a lot of quality time with a reputed breeder, to find just the one you are looking for, or the one that you will be able to manage.
Mastiffs typically reflect a gentle demeanor, and that is instinctive and comes naturally to them. Having said that, there are no general guarantees that a specific type of breed will never be aggressive, for whatever reason. And mastiffs are no different either. In a lot of instances, even if they show aggressive behavior, then that may be in response to a calculated decision on their part, when they are trying to defend themselves, their family or property. The aggression may also very well be a result lack of adequate socialization by the owner or breeder, during the pup’s early or growing stages.
In a lot of instances, there can be a handful of mastiffs that may have defective genes and are hence emotionally unstable, and may have inherited tendencies that are aggressive in nature.
For all these variety of reasons, you should always question and ascertain the true temperament of a pup before you decide to buy it. You can also tell a lot about the pup by looking at the temperament of its parents. So if you can possibly observe them both for a while, then nothing likes it. The stable temperament records are also reflected in the American Kennel Club (AKC) certification or records. So that is another confirmation that you should be relying on.
The last thing you want to invest in is an untamed and ill-tempered pup that will grow up to become a nuisance, hazard and a problem for you and your family. If it is a show dog, then he will inevitably display some kind of unruly behavior in the show ring that will never get the reward you were hoping for. If you have bought one and are noticing any behavioral problems in your mastiff, then you must, at once, consult the breeder or person you got it from, or your veterinarian or a trained animal behaviorist, before the issue becomes more serious and spirals out of your hand.
If you are looking for a dogfighter, then mastiff is not the one for you, despite their massive size, muscular body and intimidating looks. On the contrary, they are gentle natured and do not carry the instincts that fighters possess. They are meant to be protective in nature and hence quite the opposite of what you expect in an aggressive fighting dog. But that doesn’t mean that they never fight. Mastiffs will, occasionally fight amongst themselves or with other dogs for typical reasons that canines fight for – sexual competition or pack dominance.
Mastiff’s nature is such that he is friendly in general but also likes his space by staying away from other dogs. As you would expect with any dog, mastiffs also need to be adequately and appropriately trained for socialization amongst other dogs and humans, during their developmental years. With more than 2 dogs, you are bound to develop a “pecking order”, with every dog having their own position in the hierarchy of packs. You will not notice these subtleties when the mastiff is a pup, but they start showing these pack related dynamics when they get older by moving up and down the pack and competing for dominance over other dogs. That can be a disaster for the family that is looking after that mastiff. And it is for this reason that temperament testing your puppy (PAT) and opting for the one with minimum aggression or dominance is super important, either when choosing a 2nd or 3rd dog to your family or when introducing them to a group.
If you haven’t introduced your mastiff to animals such as cats, chickens, or those living in the farm, then do not blame the pet if they use them as prey or a piece of furniture, which will not be the case with every dog but may happen with most of them if not appropriately trained and socialized at an early age. Once again, PAT testing and low aggression levels are important measures that you should take when choosing the mastiff pup as a pet.
Mastiffs often require wide spaces to run around and play, given their big sizes, as they can easily weigh up to 200 lbs. For this very reason, they may not be an ideal choice as a pet for those residing in smaller spaces, studios or apartments.
Although they often get labeled as “couch potatoes” who like to lazy around with the family with contentment all day, they would still require certain level of routine daily exercises, to stay healthy and happy and obviously to relieve themselves by pooing or peeing when needed.
These big canines can get energetic and will hence benefit a lot from long walks where they can roam freely and play as they walk. If you do not give them ample exercise (which cannot be overdone either), then they will look for other and unwanted ways of burn the excess energy, which will translate into destruction around the house.
They are also very sensitive by nature. If they are not socialized from the right age, then they can grow old to become shy dogs. This may also come as part of inherited behavior from the genes or inadequate socialization. It is for these reasons that you see a lot of puppy kindergarten, obedience classes and outdoor visit services – all aiming to enhance the development of your Mastiff. If you do not have the time and energy to spend with your mastiff then these can be good options that you can explore, and obviously if you can afford on a consistent basis. One thing is for certain – mastiffs require company, time and attention from their owners, more than any other dog breed would.
Generally, they love to stay indoors and sit next to their family members. They are naturally quiet, clean (minus the slobbering), and do not demand much. All they want is a comfortable rug to sit or lie in. They learn the house rules fairly quickly and if they are well trained then you shouldn’t expect them to chew what they shouldn’t be chewing.
When mastiffs are pups, they will bark and get excited more often than adults, as is the case with any breed. You won’t find adult mastiffs barking frequently, unless they see you after a long day or when they are instructed to say something.
Mastiffs and Babies
Mastiffs are mostly great dogs when exposed to children, provided they have been allowed to socialize with them as puppies. As pointed out earlier, they are very gentle and tolerant, and love licking those little faces. They are also known to protect the children around them.
However, if you do not raise the pup around the child, they can also find small children intimidating, as they move around quicker and can be louder and unpredictable as compared to adults. If there is unfamiliarity with the child, then that can lead the dog to get nervous and leading to the worse – fear bite.
The mastiff owner is fairly and squarely responsible for the safety of all those who come in contact with their dog, in particular, the children.
It is also suggested that one shouldn’t place a mastiff dog (as opposed to a pup) with very small children, unless the dog has been raised in a home with children. Even a swinging tail of a mastiff can cause the child to be knocked over! A pup or a rescue dog can wait until your toddler (who may be learning to walk) can grow a little bigger.
Are Mastiffs Good with Kids?
Mastiffs adore children, however, they are well-suited to homes which have grown up children. Despite their size, they are not meant to be ridden as they are not riding animals. You and your mastiff can both get hurt if you try doing that.
Always teach children how they should walk in a slow and steady manner when approaching a dog or pup, and how to pat them and behave around them generally. Like any other pet, they also need to be treated with respect and care.
Dogs should never be approached by children when they are sleeping or eating. Also, they should not try to play around with the mastiff or their food during eating time. Never leave a child unsupervised with a dog, whether a mastiff or not. Always teach the kids to be dog friendly too, as opposed to expecting the dog to be human or kid friendly, at all times.
If trained well and exposed to children at the right age, they treat them gently and are both protective and patient with them too. They can even be trusted to look after small children.
A mastiff can truly be your best friend, provided you have been fair and kind to him since inception and have given him the required attention, care and training that he deserves, and to repay the favor to you when he grows up.
It has a surprisingly gentle and composed temperament for a dog that is one of the largest and most powerful breeds in the world.
They need to stay close to the family and cannot be left on their own for long – they are definitely not your outdoor-only dog, as isolation can lead to anxiety and eventually destructive behaviors.
With appropriate training during the developmental years, he can be the ideal choice as a pet that your family needs – giving you all the love and protection that you need and expect from a dog.