English Mastiff

Reviewed by: BD Editors

An English Mastiff sitting against a white background
An English Mastiff

Kingdom Animalia
Phylum Chordata
Class Mammalia
Order Carnivora
Family Canidae
Genus Canis
Species C. lupus
Species C. lupus familiaris
Niche Domestic
Height 27-35 in (70-91 cm)
Weight 120-220 lb (54 -100 kg)
Lifespan 6-12 years
Social Structure Social, domesticated
Breed Status Popular
Preferred Habitat Domestic
Average Litter Size 6-8 puppies
Main Food Item Dog Food

The Basics

The English Mastiff is one of the oldest domestic dog breeds. A descendant from the Molossus or Mollosser, vicious war dogs dating back as long as 5 000 years, it is also one of the largest domestic dog breeds in the world. The modern-day English mastiff is notorious for being a gentle giant, popular as a pet and show dog.

An English Mastiff show dog lying on the grass awaiting commands
An English Mastiff show dog

Often referred to as the Old English Mastiff, this breed is best described as massive. While other breeds are as tall as the mastiff, it outweighs them all. By this measure, they are considered the largest breed in the world, weighing up to 220 lbs. The English mastiff has a short, straight outer coat. It is typically a light brown or ‘fawn’ color, but brindle and ‘apricot’-colored varieties also exist. Their muzzle and much of their face and ears are darker, often completely black. Some individuals have a small patch of white fur on their chests.

Dating back thousands of years, the breed has a long history as guard dogs and other uses by humans. Descendent from war dogs, they were once used to fight lions and other wild animals as well. Following the outlawing of bull-baiting and bear-baiting in 1835, their popularity declined and the breed itself was at risk of becoming extinct. However, the rise of dog shows in the 1800s helped to revive the breed, followed again by the import of two puppies from Canada after World War II, when they were again declining in popularity. The English Mastiff likely arrived in the United States during the colonial era, and a dog named Bayard was the first of his breed finally recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1885.

Temperament/As Pets

Mastiffs are popular pets and make excellent companions. However, they are larger than most breeds and require space accordingly. They do not necessarily need a large outdoor yard to constantly roam in but do require adequate daily exercise, especially if living in a smaller space. If not given enough attention, they will become lonely and destructive.

Their size can make them intimidating, but they are very affectionate and loving dogs. They want to be near their family and will do their best to become a lap dog despite their size. They may even be described as docile, but will still spring into action to protect their family when required. Puppies can be more energetic, but most individuals mature into calm and quiet adult dogs.

Because of their size, they may not be well-suited for families with very young children or any older or particularly frail family members. Sadly, English mastiffs are known for having a rather short lifespan, living to be about 6-12 years old in most cases. Females typically give birth to about 8 puppies in each litter.

An English mastiff puppy holding a ball lying in the grass
An English Mastiff puppy

Fun Facts about English Mastiff!

As perhaps the oldest and largest domestic dog breed in the world, the English Mastiff’s lineage is long and fascinating. From the mountains of Asia to wars in Europe to colonial America, the breed has accompanied its masters in many conquests and endeavors. Today, they are just as loyal in a docile, fun-loving version of the breed that is highly popular as a family pet.

Son of a Soldier

The Molosser, from which the mastiff is descendant, likely originated in the mountains of Asia, and was used as guard dogs for flocks. Their ancestry is apparent in other breeds, including the Tibetan mastiff, St Bernard, and Rottweiler.

Like most members of an army family, Molossers traveled the world. They likely crossed the Alps with Hannibal, crossbreeding with local dogs along the way, giving rise to many other lineages that became modern-day breeds. Eventually, the English Mastiff breed was formally developed in England, where they originally patroled estates as guard dogs.

An english mastiff mix lying on green grass
An English Mastiff mix breed

World’s Greatest

Although not always the tallest, the mastiff is generally the heaviest dog breed in the world. In fact, a member of the breed holds the world record. In 1989, a Guinness Book of Records team recorded a mastiff named Zorba at an incredible 323 lb (146 kg). Most individuals, however, weigh less than 200 lb – still a massive canine by any measure.

The Original Domestic

In addition to being the largest breed in the world, the English mastiff is one of the oldest domestic dog breeds as well. There is evidence of this in its name, ‘mastiff’, which is derived via Old French and Middle English from the Latin word mansuetus, meaning ‘tame’ or ‘domesticated. The first written record of the word was recorded in a work produced prior to 1387 in Middle English.

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Biologydictionary.net Editors. “English Mastiff.” Biology Dictionary, Biologydictionary.net, 02 Sep. 2020, https://biologydictionary.net/english-mastiff/.
Biologydictionary.net Editors. (2020, September 02). English Mastiff. Retrieved from https://biologydictionary.net/english-mastiff/
Biologydictionary.net Editors. “English Mastiff.” Biology Dictionary. Biologydictionary.net, September 02, 2020. https://biologydictionary.net/english-mastiff/.

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