Training a mastiff can be quite different to training any other breed of dog. Their beautiful and soulful faces will complement good manners and behavior if you train them well from inception.
The fact that they enjoy pleasing their master makes them easy to train and make it an enjoyable experience. They are a soft breed but can also be a bit dominant. They do not respond well if you shout or yell at them or try any other kind of negative tactic or behavior whilst training.
They require consistent human leadership and direction and require extensive socialization to mature into well-mannered adults.
With the right techniques and strategies, a mastiff can turn out to be a very well behaved dog.
How to Train a Mastiff?
Mastiffs require gentle treatment repeated positive reinforcements as they grow in to enormous pets without any maladaptive behavior.
They require reasonable spaces to thrive but can also be brought up in good sized apartments if you expose them to routine daily walks and playtime that they desire and require each day, to release all the energy that they build up throughout the day.
As is common with most big dogs, mastiffs are prone to bloating and some shedding, which can both be controlled by scattering their meals throughout the day and routine grooming respectively.
Why is Training a Mastiff so Important?
Training a mastiff is very important as they grow into a very large dog with natural instincts that require them to guard. Their size, strength, and urge to protect can be counterproductive for the owner and hence, dangerous if they not controlled from a young age.
Once you develop a bond during the training, they develop a natural and safe way to protect you, and at the same time, will also be a safe proposition for others around him. The focus should always be on behavior training as opposed to guarding.
Like most dogs, they can be stubborn to start with, but tend to get gentle and docile with the passage of time, as you continue to provide them the handling and care they need from a very young age.
Mastiff Training Tips
Training from Young Age
This is the obvious one – start training them at a very early age, i.e. around 8 – 10 weeks, as before that they are supposed to be in their litter with the mom. Training times and progress vary from one puppy to the other and hence you have to be patient and resilient at all times.
Expose your pup to people (friends, family and neighbors) and other animals from a young age. This is the key aspect of training in your quest to ensure that your dog is well-rounded and well-behaved in personality when he grows up. Introduce them to:
When they socialize with others around them they make a lot of observation and learn good manners on how to conduct themselves around strangers. They will be able to distinguish between the innocent strangers who should be comfortable and safe around them, as opposed to intruders and troublemakers.
Positive & Fun Training
Mastiffs are not genetically wired to take commands as is the case with a lot of other dog breeds. Their natural instinct is to guard and think about themselves, which is an admirable quality, but requires a different training method to other dogs.
The training process must be enjoyable, engaging and motivate them to continue doing it for it to be a success. Along the process, they require heaps of praising, good treats and specific positive statements when they do well.
Make note of and try using the commands and signs of affection that make them happy and confident about themselves.
For any inappropriate behavior, you should try raising your voice or give them the look that they do not like and that would serve as sufficient punishment or deterrent for them not to do it again.
Dogs, like humans, react positively and with humility when they are praised and loved. The basics of attention require calling them with their name in a loving manner and devoting a lot of time to them.
Short Training Sessions
Mastiffs will learn best if you keep your training sessions fast and short (up to 15 minutes) and at regular intervals along the day. This will be a workable solution for their limited attention span and stubborn tendencies.
It is vital that you show them respect but at the same time the firmness that you are in control. You need to strike this balance with them. You will be expected to lead them through house training. With these basics in mind, you can start with the external training such as walking on leash or introducing them to other dogs, etc.
They should have a fixed feeding schedule. Immediately after their food or drink, they would feel the urge to go outdoors. Do not delay this and help them with this habit. You can wait at a distance once they have relieved themselves and then praise them for this practice like you would do to a little kid who is being potty trained.
If there is an accident within the home, then only reprimand him when you caught him in the act and not afterwards as he wouldn’t know what he did wrong.
No Harsh Training
Always be calm and composed with mastiffs and never lose patience, even if they are not improving on a certain behavior or not fully following your instructions. They are naturally defensive in nature and can feel threatened, which may lead to aggressive behavior.
Good Training Treats
Some good treat options are always the healthier ones – cut up banana slices, various types of fruits such as seedless orange slices, or any nutritious and organic dog treat.
Whenever in doubt about the specific eating needs of your mastiff, always consult your local vet as to what is best for him.
Some of the best training exercises are pretty basic and the ones that you need to incorporate into your training schedule on a routine basis. Let us look at them in detail.
Mastiffs learn to sit by listening to the ‘sit’ command and concurrently pushing his rump down. The pushing may require more force (by using an arm behind his knees and pushing the rump with the other arm) if the mastiff is strong.
When he is close to the sitting position, you can reward him with words and a little tidbit, so he understands that this is the right thing to do and not just a simple act of sitting. Repeat this act until he fully learns to sit on your command.
Same principles apply here as we mentioned in the above ‘sit’ section, by using both hands and dragging his forelegs ahead and down. This will enable him to lie down and that is when you use the word ‘down’, and often repeatedly whilst he learns to perfect this.
It will be much easier if you start the ‘down’ exercise from a sitting position as it is both easier and comfortable for mastiff, given his big size. Once he comes down, you need to give him a reward and let him stay in the down position until you ask him to get up. Repeat this exercise by reducing your physical assistance each time. Sometimes hand gestures of going down can also help that he can learn by watching you.
The signs of good training include the fact that he listens to you command in the first instance, rather than multiple commands.
One of the charming tricks that a mastiff can learn is waving with one of his front legs. The basics of this involve lifting up his leg, similar to when he is pleading (or begging) to you. This is a natural way for mastiffs and can be learned with ease.
Try to stay at a distance from him when you are expecting him to wave and the wave itself should be several times and not just a one off leg movement.
Make him sit and you can then stand in front of him making him ‘beg’ with his leg. Ask him to stay and then make him beg again. Keep moving back and repeat this process until he perfects it, without spending more than 2-3 minutes each time. Now replace the word ‘beg’ with ‘wave’ until he knows the difference.
This is one of the cutest things you can teach your mastiff. The basic of this exercise starts with ‘down’ (see above). Some dogs can be uncomfortable rolling over if you keep forcing them to do it, so begin slowly and patiently and always remember it is meant to be fun for mastiff too.
Once he is lying down, help him roll by saying the words ‘roll over’ and holding a treat in your hand. Do not let him get up. Keep helping him with your hands until he gets the drift, and give him breaks in between rather than forcing him to learn it in one go.
If you are in a good mood, those vibes will be noticed by your dog and he will stay interested and motivated.
Once the mastiff has learnt “Sit!” and “Down!”, he can then move on to the very useful “Stay!”. This training starts with telling them to sit. When they sit, you need to move back a few steps from him with your hands open towards him. If he tries to get up, say “No!”, and put him back in the original position. Repeat the word “Stay!”, and keep saying it as you move. Stay put for a few seconds and then go back towards him without offering any treats until you are close to his side. With the passage of time, keep increasing the distance between you and your mastiff to ensure he understand the concept well.
The “Stay!” command’s importance cannot be emphasized enough in the day to day life of your mastiff. It can be a life saver! This is the command that you use when you want to stop him from running on a busy road or to move back from hazardous places or situations. This is also helpful when your mastiff is interacting with new people and animals. This command is delivered well to the mastiff if he stands still and waits for you to come to him and release him from the command.
This is an agility based exercise and quite fun to watch, as the mastiff jumps over an obstacle in front of him. The heavier the mastiff the tougher it will be for him to jump, but that doesn’t mean you can teach him this trick. The idea is to start with very low items that are literally inches tall. The idea is to let the dog know that he is meant to jump over it and not walk. Reward him if he attempts a jump. Repeat the command ‘jump’ with the obstacle in front of him and help him in getting a direction by dragging him with the collar. Keep rewarding him verbally during this process. Once he understands the concept, keep raising the obstacle length slowly and gradually.
If the mastiff has joint or bone conditions, then you may not want him to excessively engage in jumping or even learning this trick. If you are ever in doubt, always consult your local vet and be particularly careful with smaller pups.
This exercise can be clubbed with the ‘stay’ command. Once you have asked him to ‘stay’ from a certain distance, you can then follow it up with a ‘come’ in a firm and positive tone. If he doesn’t get it, then you have to persistently repeat it with a bodily gesture that suggests that he needs to follow you.
Positive reinforcement is very important with all exercises and same applies here. You need to convey the message to him that he has been quite intelligent in following the instructions, and then repeat it a few times, and then giving him treats (in moderation) in the beginning phase of this exercise.
The more used to he is with your instructions to ‘come’ the less treats he will need. You do not want to carry these treats all the time with you which will eventually spoil him.
Your mastiff should be able to obey the ‘come’ command even when he is busy doing something else or distracted. Try using this technique in various environments and conditions such as a busy city, with and around other animals and humans, or even when it is just the two of you.
It is an important and useful command that you will need to use often every day as the mastiff grows up.
A heavy mastiff can pull the leash quite strongly and this is not very comfortable for the owner whilst walking him. Always teach the mastiff to learn on your left side with head aligned and even with your knee.
This, like all other training, should start from a very early age. If he is going to fast or pulling your leash often, then prompt stop in the way and say to him a simple ‘no’ and then ‘heel’. Wait to see his reaction then and do not give up until he goes back to his normal position. Once he does, you can start walking again. If he does it again, you can pull the leash with a sudden jerk accompanying with a firm ‘no’ and the usual commands as explained above.
This is time consuming and frustrating at times, but an exercise that you must teach your mastiff to avoid any future behavioral problems.
Dogs naturally shake their owner’s hand to beg or request for things. This makes it easy for the owners to teach them a hand shake on a command. Hold a treat and ask him to ‘shake hands’, and then wait. Repeat the words by grabbing one of his forelegs and lifting up and down in a shaking position. Then reward them. Do not let him get up and if he does, then say ‘no, sit’ and after that repeat ‘shake hands’ again.
This guide is not meant to be a comprehensive obedience and exercise tutorial. However, it aims to provide sufficient information for beginners as well as experienced mastiff owners, on how to train your mastiff in an efficient and effective manner.
For more advanced obedience training, you can always consult your local dog clubs or vets for further information that will guide you about the structure, offerings, agility, tracking and payment related aspects of these classes.
One of the best resources for obedience training your mastiff should be available from the all famous American Kennel Club, who may put you in the right direction. For other jurisdictions, there may be similar clubs or associations that are meant to assist and guide you on matters relating to training and exercises, and you should write or speak to them directly. These clubs can often provide you with collateral benefits of socialization for yourself as well as your mastiff.
We wish you all the best with your mastiff training and hope that you will be able to reap the rewards and benefits of all the hard work that you have put in, once he grows up.