Old English Mastiff Dog Breed Facts, Traits, Stats, & Pictures

Portrait of a Mastiff Dog in outdoors.

The Old English Mastiff is the epitome of a gentle giant. With its intimidatingly massive size and fearsome appearance, it is no wonder that Old English Mastiffs are unfairly classified as aggressive dogs at first sight. However, its enormous bone structure contradicts its loving nature as the Old English Mastiff Is also easily one of the most affectionate dogs you would ever meet.

Are you considering owning an Old English Mastiff? As with any other dog breed, it is essential to learn an Old English Mastiff’s traits and characteristics to ensure it is the right dog for you. Here’s all you need to know about owning this giant dog breed with an equally large heart.

English Mastiff dog portrait in garden

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History And Origin Of The Old English Mastiff

Try as we may, it is almost impossible to trace the origin of Old English Mastiff dogs. There is much debate and speculation on the ancestry of this dog breed or the development of its name. However, what we do know for sure is that the Romans of the Roman Empire found the modern-day Mastiffs.

Also known as English Mastiffs or just Mastiffs, Old English Mastiffs are believed to have existed for a long time, dating as far back as 2000 B.C. They are considered a breed so ancient that several paints and ceramic sculptures, and relics (dated to sometime in the mid-second millennium B.C.) depict dogs that bear a startling resemblance to mastiffs with drawings of mastiff-like dogs that can be traced back to 650 B.C.

The dogs shown in these ancient art representations were likened to beast-like dogs with imposing girth. The true origin of Mastiffs is up for debate, with many researchers claiming the dog breed might have come from the interior parts of Asia- probably Tibet and Northern India. Afterward, the dog breed might have made its way outwards through trade and migration. 

Although there is no way to prove this without a doubt, what many researchers can claim with surety on historical data is that Romans brought Mastiffs to Rome after the Roman invasion of Britain in 55 B.C. the Romans- and supposedly Julius Caesar- were so impressed with the sheer size, fierceness, and loyalty of the dogs that they had them brought back to Rome.

In Rome, these medieval Mastiffs were used to guard royal homes and palaces and for cruel bloodsports where they were pitted against bulls, bears, lions, and people in arenas. They were also used as guard dogs on large properties, hunting dogs, and war fronts. This resulted in ferocious Mastiffs with a fierce temperament.

It might also explain why Mastiffs were referred to as Molossus, a vicious dog they were said to resemble. Sir Peers Legh’s courageous Mastiff undoubtedly influenced the most striking part of the Old English Mastiff’s entire history in 1415. Sir Peers Legh was injured in the Battle of Agincourt, and his loyal Mastiff stood over him, protecting him from enemies for hours on end until the battle ended and Sir Peers was rescued.

The loyal Mastiff played a significant role in what is considered the evolution of modern Old English Mastiff dogs. Although the violent baiting acts that Mastiffs were subjected to continued for many years, the Cruelty to Animals Act 1835, which the Parliament of the United Kingdom implemented, slowed the activities.

However, Mastiffs continued to be used as guards and watchdogs. This notably played a crucial role in the downturn of the aggressive sides of Old English Mastiff dogs. The 19th century was undoubtedly pivotal in developing Old English Mastiff dogs as a breed.

The systematic breeding of Old English Mastiff dogs began, thus leading to the creation of descendant Mastiffs known as today’s modern Mastiff dogs. Old English Mastiffs flourished until near-extinction in the British Isles during World War II. English Mastiffs are large dogs with an equally colossal appetite that allows them to down a surprisingly large amount of food when given a chance.

During the war, there were rampant diseases and food scarcity. Mastiffs that didn’t die of starvation died of diseases like canine distemper. By the end of the Second World War, there were less than two dozen Mastiffs in Britain. However, after the war, Mastiffs were brought into Britain from Canada to help rebuild the decimated English Mastiff population.

In no time, the English Mastiff population in Britain was restored. It is safe to say we have Canada to thank for the survival of this noble dog breed.

What Do Old English Mastiff Dogs Look Like?

If you take one look at an English Mastiff, and the first words to fall out of your mouth are “Oh my word”, we will totally understand. The shock of seeing a dog that is easily bigger than the average man will leave anyone reeling for a few minutes. The mere sight of an English Mastiff will leave anyone in awe.

The sheer size of their muscles and bulk are astonishing and breathtaking (even more than that of Boerboels or Dogue de Bordeaux), especially since their size rivals that of the average human. It is no surprise that the heaviest dog ever recorded by the Guinness Book of World Records was an English Mastiff named Zorba.

The then seven-year-old English Mastiff stood 37 inches at the shoulder, 8 ft 3’ from the tip of his nose to the end of his tail, weighing in at 343 pounds. The Mastiff is a head-turning, double-take-worthy dog breed. It has a large head with a broad skull that is square-shaped.

Its eyes are wide-set to complement its skull size and are usually dark hazel or brown. The eyes have a distinctive black mask around them that tracks down to the muzzle. The English Mastiff has a short muzzle about half the length of its skull, with drooping jowls. Its nose is black and surrounded by a black mask.

It has small, black v-shaped ears that droop downwards. Wrinkles contort the Mastiff’s broad forehead, creating a look of kind alertness and concern. The English Mastiff has a sturdy and muscular neck. Its body is large and equally muscular, with an intimidating depth that accounts for its height.

The body is quite rectangular, with its forelegs straight and set widely apart. The hind legs are equally wide, muscular and broad- albeit narrower than the forelegs. Its tails are long and taper at the tip. Mastiffs are the biggest dogs ever seen in terms of weight.

They are so large that they give Saint Bernards and Great Danes a run for their money. They are also so large that there isn’t a maximum height or weight stated in their standard description. The Old English Mastiff has a minimum height of 30 inches at the shoulder in males and 27.5 inches in females.

Their weight can range from 130 to 220 pounds, although they can be bigger than this limit. Mastiffs have a short double coat that offers enough protection in all seasons. The outer coat is coarse, with the undercoat dense and sitting close to the body.

Although there are Mastiffs with longer hair caused by a recessive gene, they are much rarer. Their coats come in colors like golden fawn, light fawn, apricot, silver, tiger, brindle, or chocolate brown in different shades. Old English Mastiffs often have an underbite and a noble and majestic gait regardless of their large size.

Old English Mastiff Characteristics, Traits, And Breed Information 

Before searching for an English Mastiff to adopt, here is all you need to know about them.

1. Temperament

An Old English Mastiff is one of the reasons why you should never judge a book by its cover. A glance at this large dog will convince you they are aggressive. However, Mastiffs are chilled-out dogs with a calm temperament. Admittedly, Medieval Mastiffs may have been exploited for their large size, creating an aggressive streak in them.

However, this streak has long since died out, with modern English Mastiffs being more docile than their ancestors. An English Mastiff is a quiet and good-natured companion. They are patient and denote a level of dignity that other dog breeds can dream of. Although they have an imposing stature, Old English Mastiff Dogs are undoubtedly one of the best kind-hearted doggies you will ever meet.

Mastiff puppy running towards the camera

2. Exercise Needs And Energy Level

If you need an active dog breed, look elsewhere. Old English Mastiffs are large dogs that do not like to move. While they can be active, if you give them a chance, they would take their time before deciding to heave their bodies off the floor to stretch their muscles.

Mastiffs need about 45 minutes to one hour of exercise every day. This will help them stay fit without burning them out and raising their temperatures. English Mastiffs make great walking but not jogging partners. Remember to go easy on your large dog breed while offering the encouragement they need to be excited about exercises. 

3. Affection Level

English Mastiffs are incredibly affectionate dogs with an interesting fondness for their families. They may look ferocious, but this dog breed is undoubtedly one of the most sensitive dogs. An Old English Mastiff’s favorite place to be is at its family’s side. Don’t be surprised if your extra-large Mastiff tries to sit on you or at your feet. They love cuddles and enjoy being showered with attention and affection as much as they enjoy reciprocating.

A Mastiff’s sense of loyalty is unwavering. They can’t stand conflicts among family members and will retaliate if you dare hurt their loved ones. They are not territorial, but you better treat their family right if you aim to end up on their good side. Essentially, English Mastiffs are sweethearts and great with kids, making them great family dogs.

4. Social Life

Although they are docile with a cool and collected temperament, English Mastiffs are often wary of strangers. Although they can be polite, Mastiffs are quiet, calm, and would often retreat away from situations that require them to interact with dogs and people that they are not familiar.

Because they can be timid dogs irrespective of their size, it is essential to keep an eye out to ensure your dog is not intimidated by a stranger’s presence. English Mastiffs are enthusiastic at the puppy stage, so if you want your dog to be used to having strangers around, it is essential to begin early socialization.

5. Life Span

Unfortunately, English Mastiffs have a short life span of 9 to 12 years. They are prone to several health and life-threatening issues that reduce the breed’s longevity, increasing mortality. English Mastiffs are generally healthy but can be prone to several health issues such as:

  • Allergies
  • Osteosarcoma 
  • Hip dysplasia 
  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA)
  • Seizures
  • Cystinuria
  • Gastric Torsion or Bloat
  • Elbow dysplasia 
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Obesity
  • Cancer

7. Grooming

English Mastiffs need to have their teeth brushed at least two or three times a week. This would help remove tartar and bacteria that may cause tooth decay. It would be best if you trimmed your dog’s nails at least once a month. You will also need to check your dog’s ears and wipe them with an ear cleaner at least once a week.

A Mastiff’s coat is relatively easy to groom. They require an occasional bath at least once a month and coat brushing at least once a week because they shed easily. You might need to brush them more often in the spring as they shed more heavily. Old English Mastiffs are notorious droolers, so remember to have a towel handy unless you don’t mind getting slobber all over you and your home.

8. Training

English Mastiffs can be challenging to train, but with firm training, you can get the results you want. However, it is essential to remember that these dogs are sensitive and being too firm with them will hurt their feelings. As long as your dog perceives you as a leader of its pack, it will be easier to train. Old English Mastiffs respond well to obedience training, however, you might need to start earlier.

Facts About Old English Mastiffs

  1. English Mastiffs are considered British dogs since the British are most likely responsible for creating modern-day Mastiffs.
  2. Mastiffs come from Ancient Roman dogs
  3. Although the facts are a little grainy, Mastiffs may have come to America on the Mayflower 
  4. English Mastiffs dogs Have the biggest litter
  5. English Mastiffs are loud snorers. If you plan on owning one of these lovable breed, you better invest in ear muffs!
  6. These gentle giants love nothing more than minimal activities. They can spend up to 16 hours or longer sleeping.
  7. The Old English Mastiff is the 26th most popular AKC breed. This is an improvement from its 33rd position more than a decade ago.
  8. English Mastiffs are an apartment-friendly large dog breed as long as your apartment is large enough
  9. Old English Mastiffs may display predatory behavior and animal aggression towards other animals. It is essential to begin socialization at a young age.
  10. Your home insurance company may not allow you to own an Old English Mastiff as Mastiffs are banned in some home insurance companies

Are You Considering Owning An Old English Mastiff Dog?

Huge, noble, and surrounded by an air of grandeur, Old English Dogs are majestic with an equally majestic size. With their cool temperament and loyalty that rivals many other dog breeds,’ it is easy to see why anyone will want to own an English Mastiff. But is adopting one a wise choice?

Although Mastiffs have attractive qualities, they also have not-so-charming ones. Like the fact that they are gassy and notorious droolers, for example. Mastiffs are also not as active as you think, which is probably great for their joints. They require daily exercise like any other dog but other than that, Mastiffs are pretty sedentary.

Couple this with the fact that they are strong-willed, too large for small-apartment living, and expensive, and you might quickly find that Old English Mastiffs may not be the dog you need. However, overall, we recommend getting a Mastiff if the breed ticks all your boxes.

If you are more interested in nifty dogs with a calm temperament that matches a Mastiff, check out our list of Top Ten Calm, Small Dog Breeds to Consider.

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Sarah Brady

Sarah Brady is an animal lover and the proud dog-mom of a Golden Retriever named Brody and an Italian Greyhound named Jessup. Unfortunately, Jessup developed serious allergies to many different types of dog foods and ingredients when she was just a puppy. Meanwhile, Brody could eat seemingly anything and carry on as healthy as could be. Sarah spent hours of time researching and testing different foods and brands before finding something that worked for little Jessup. She wants Dog Food Care to simplify this experience for future dog-parents who face food allergy or tolerance issues of their own.