Mastiff breeds: an overview of all mastiff types out there
Mastiff breeds: an overview
The Mastiff group of breeds has been known to man for centuries. There are historical documents, sculptures, and paintings depicting these marvelous large dogs as far back as 1000 BC. These are massive, muscular dogs with thick bones, large heads, and wonderful temperaments. These dogs have been known to not only help humans in guarding and protecting their homes and hunting their suppers but also taking part in wars. These are world-famous dogs that have definitely won their place in the dog world.
However, the name itself can get a little confusing. There are many Mastiff breeds, all of which have some similar traits but also some significant differences. Some Mastiffs are smaller and lighter, some are definitely on the heavier side.
Traditionally, various types of Mastiffs have been bred by mixing different other large breeds such as Great Danes, Irish wolfhounds, and other dogs. Despite their size and appearance, all Mastiffs historically have been excellent working dogs that played an invaluable role in people’s lives.
There are also some definite common psychological traits that all of the Mastiff types share. They are highly intelligent: in fact, they are some of the most intelligent breeds out there. They are also highly dependent on their human family members.
All Mastiff types are highly human-oriented and get very attached to their people. Mastiff breeds tend to have natural protective instincts which are often strong near their family members.
They are very motivated to guard and protect, although this in no way means they are aggressive. They are definitely not inherently aggressive. A well-raised and psychologically healthy Mastiff will be indifferent towards strangers rather than aggressive. That is, of course, unless the stranger threatens the dog or, especially, the dog’s human family. All Mastiff types can boast a calm, stable temperament and can even seem apathetic or lazy (which any Mastiff owner will tell you isn’t true).
Of course, it really depends on how the Mastiff is raised, whether they live in a good psychological environment and whether they are trained. If a dog is neglected, not socialized, and lonely, some bad character traits may very well develop. It is extremely important for a Mastiff owner to spend enough time with their dog – playing, training, socializing, and just living together. A lonely, abandoned and frustrated Mastiff is a recipe for disaster as is any large dog if they are neglected.
In this article:
Mastiff breeds and Mastiff types: English Mastiff
Mastiff breeds: Tibetan Mastiff – a bear in a dog’s skin
Mastiff types: Pyrenean Mastiff
Spanish Mastiff – excellent guard dog and cattle herder
Mastiff types: Fila Brasileiro, or Brazilian mastiff – a fierce protector
Dogue de Bordeaux, or French Mastiff
Anatolian Mastiff, or Turkish mastiff
English Mastiff is probably one of the more well-known Mastiff types out there. They also have a lot of history. According to some historical documents, during the Roman invasion to England, the Brits had to fight Roman Mastiffs (the predecessors of today’s English Mastiff) as well as Romans themselves.
It is documented that Mastiffs did take part in various battles around the 15th century and later. These large, powerful dogs were certainly a weapon that could complement any army. According to history, Mastiffs even had their own armor enriched with spikes that were very good at wounding horses and people.
Another frightening thing about Mastiffs is that, apparently, they were very intimidating in fights due to their tendency t be silent and never bark until they attack the enemy.
As one of the Mastiff breeds, English Mastiff is a large dog with a large, square-shaped head. They have a large, muscular body with a deep and wide chest and strong limbs. The body is well-balanced and symmetrical. Their forehead is wide and broad, and wrinkles when the dog is focused on something. The eyebrows are slightly raised. The nose is short and flat, but not as flat as some other breeds tend to have (Boston terriers, etc.)
According to standard, the English Mastiff has a black “mask” on their face, which is often one of their most distinctive traits.
English Mastiff’s coat is short but thick, the colors are usually tan or apricot, although it can also be dark brown, black, or brindle.
In terms of temperament, English Mastiff, like other Mastiffs, can boast a calm, stable personality. They are patient, confident, and hard to “annoy”. They can sometimes be a little lazy and even apathetic, but that’s only because they don’t like expending their energy on unworthy things. Of course, if an English Mastiff does get riled up or angry, they can become really scary, due to their sheer size and strength.
English Mastiffs are very self-confident and “proud”, which goes very well with their looks. They are also kind and loving dogs that are usually very friendly towards people, especially their own family members.
English Mastiffs are large dogs and would not do very well in a small apartment. A larger house would be a better place for them, a farm where they can spend lots of time outside and play in fresh air (or even take part in farm chores) – even better.
Although they are large and powerful, English Mastiffs are friendly: you can be sure that your Mastiff will be kind and welcoming towards your guests. Of course, you have to be careful too, because your pup might just lick your guests to death. Having said that, English Mastiffs look quite intimidating, so trespassers would likely avoid your house if they ever see your dog.
One of the main things that separate Bullmastiffs from other Mastiffs is that Bullmastiffs have never been raised and trained to attack and display active aggression. The extent of their guarding duties is only so far as to catch and detain the perpetrator/attacker.
They did still have an active guarding role though, and their physique reflects that fact very well. Bullmastiffs, like other Mastiffs, are large, muscular, heavy dogs with massive bodies, well-developed muscles, wide chest, strong lungs that allow for fast running, and strong limbs. They are heavy and powerful, yet fast and agile at the same time.
Like other Mastiffs, Bullmastiffs have large, square-shaped heads with medium-sized eyes of dark brown color. Their ears are v-shaped and not very long. Their jaws are powerful. Overall, this is an athletically built dog, giving an impression of power and strength.
When it comes to temperament, Bullmastiffs are very devoted to their humans and strive to please them in anything they do. They are also confident, courageous, decisive, and highly intelligent. Having been bred as a guard dog, they are also attentive and watchful.
These qualities persist even if the dog is not actively used as a guard dog or has never been trained to act as one. While not every Bullmastiff puppy possesses these qualities, an ideal Bullmastiff will.
Bullmastiffs have a natural affinity for children, particularly if they have been raised with children from a young age. They are patient and gentle, and, in general, can be trusted around children. Of course, if you have a Bullmastiff in the house, the kids need to be taught how to treat the dog correctly to avoid any accidents.
Bullmastiffs don’t tend to bark a lot. In fact, it’s quite a silent breed. They do bark when there is obvious danger or threat, but they generally will not bark at mailmen or passers-by without a reason. Of course, this also depends on how psychologically healthy the dog is and how good their environment is.
This is probably one of the more popular and well-known Mastiff types in the world. Tibetan Mastiffs are a unique breed that truly deserves their fame and reputation. This is an ancient breed with quite clean genealogy due to the remoteness of the region where the breed was developed.
Tibetan Mastiffs were bred and used by monastery workers and peasants as guards and farm helpers, cattle herders etc. Because of that, this breed is accustomed to highly active lifestyle where they have to fulfill lots of duties throughout the day. This is a perfect working dog – dedicated, intelligent, eager to please and confident.
Tibetan Mastiffs is a very large breed, just like other Mastiff breeds. Unlike many other Mastiff types, they have a very long and thick coat which was an adaptation to the freezing climate of their motherland. They are very well adapted to colder weather and can easily spend lots of time outside, even overnight.
Their thick long coat with an undercoat protects them even on the coldest days of winter. Health and sturdiness are some of the best qualities of these dogs, which were a necessary adaptation: only the strongest dogs could survive the harsh climates as well as the difficult life these dogs had along with their humans.
These wonderful dogs were so loved and cherished in Tibet that the word about them spread and eventually reached all parts of the world. This is why there are Tibetan Mastiff lovers and clubs all over the world now.
They are still very rare, there aren’t many breeders that can breed quality Tibetan Mastiffs out there. This makes them even more cherished and valued dogs among Tibetan Mastiff lovers. This is an extremely expensive dog – for the same reasons. (And they should be!)
What can be said about Tibetan Mastiffs? They are excellent companions and good guard dogs. Like all large dogs, Tibetan Mastiffs mature slowly and only reach full maturity by 4 years old for males and slightly earlier for females. Before that, you will have a giant furry bear puppy on your hands: obnoxious, rambunctious and very large!
The personality of a mature Tibetan Mastiff is somewhat different from other Mastiff breeds. Tibetans are quite a bit more introverted and “serious”. They are not very outgoing both when it comes to other dogs and people (outside of their family circle). This is an intelligent, thinking dog.
They don’t trust strangers and, despite the appearance of a large, fluffy, huggable bear, they are not cute and sweet. You don’t want to let a stranger “hug” your Tibetan Mastiff. They will not like it. Mastiffs can be fierce, particularly Tibetan Mastiff who generally prefers only the company of their own family. They are not – and should not be – overtly aggressive.
If your Tibetan is well raised and well trained, they will not lash out at anyone without a very serious reason. But still, they treat everyone with cold respectful indifference and would prefer the same treatment in return.
Like other Mastiff types, Tibetan Mastiffs have strong guarding instincts. They can be somewhat of a loud dog in the busy environment of a city, where they can react to noise and strangers with barking.
This is their natural behavior, developed through centuries of breeding when Tibetans had to ward off wolves and bears from the cattle herds. Mastiff females can also howl when they are in heat, which can also be an inconvenience for an owner.
You can read more about Tibetan Mastiffs here.
Even if you don’t know much about Mastiffs, you will probably recognize Mastino Napolitano or Neapolitan Mastiff. Let’s just say they have an “unforgettable” face. This is probably one of the Mastiff breeds that most people instantly recognize as a mastiff: the characteristic face with wrinkles and folds and the big “sad” eyes just say it all.
Apart from its memorable face, this is a beautiful, large and strong dog with excellent guarding instincts, a stable personality, a calm and confident demeanor and very little (if any) aggressiveness. Physically, this is a typical Mastiff dog with a typical Mastiff body: large and muscular, with a wide chest and back and thick, short limbs.
Square head is a very typical Mastiff feature too, but unlike other Mastiffs, Mastino Napolitano’s skin forms fold and wrinkles on the face which gives it a unique Napolitano look. The ears are usually small. The neck is thick and short, almost nonexistent.
Male Mastino Napolitano can stand up to 75 cm tall, females range from 60-70 cm tall. The weight of Mastino Napolitano can range between 100 to 140 lbs. The length of the body is always longer than the height of the dog.
Mastinos are unique in their personality as well as their looks. This is an extremely loving, devoted dog that needs the proximity of its owner more than anything else in the world. In addition to that, they usually pick one person out of the family to shower them with their love.
That one person becomes a sort of a beacon of light in the life of the Mastino. They get extremely attached to one owner and live to be near that person and please them. They have to live in close and intimate contact with that person. Of course, they still love other family members too. A Mastino that doesn’t get enough contact with their humans will suffer. They may get sad and bored, frustrated and even aggressive.
You can never trust a lonely Mastino, they can become unsafe and unpredictable. Because their guarding instincts are so high, Mastino tends to dislike strangers, but if you have guests in the house, they will be more indifferent than aggressive.
Mastino Napolitano is not the best dog for a first-time dog owner. This large dog has quite a large character and needs a strong hand as well as a person that has time and desire to invest in training their dog. This also wouldn’t be the best dog for you if you don’t have a desire to spend most of your day in very close proximity to your dog.
Mastino, just like other Mastiff types, are naturally protective and need those instincts controlled rather than aggravated. It’s not a good idea to encourage aggression in Mastino, as that may backfire in the future. Training should be focused on controlling the protective instincts and developing a more of a friendly, calm disposition towards strangers and guests.
Another excellent trait of this breed is its heightened intelligence. Along with being really smart, Mastino are also very resourceful and can even be sly when they stubbornly want things to go their way.
Pyrenean Mastiff is a very different dog that stands out among the other Mastiff breeds both physically and in terms of personality. This breed was developed in Southern Europe as farm dogs to help with cattle herding and to protect the farm. Pyrenean Mastiff is quite different from other mastiff breeds due to the long thick coat that can make them look like a very hairy bear.
Like other Mastiffs, this is a large dog with well-developed musculature and a calm, stable temperament. They are very smart, confident, and decisive. They can be fairly aggressive towards strangers if being threatened, or if the family is being threatened. If things do progress to fighting, Pyrenean Mastiff is an excellent fighter. After all they have been protecting herds for centuries, fighting off wolves, bears, and other predators.
But usually, they are quite friendly to both people and other dogs. They normally display friendly or indifferent conduct and may bark as a warning when they don’t like something, long before they will actually display aggression.
As I already mentioned above, Pyrenean Mastiffs have long, very thick coats that are always coarse – never smooth and silky. They do look like wild bears and are very well adapted to living in colder climates, well-insulated against the weather by their thick fur.
Coat colors can range from white to tan or light brown or any of the combinations and patterns. They can also be brindle. This is a beautiful furry giant, healthy, energetic, playful and with a zest for life. In terms of personality, they are very energetic and happy dogs, up for any shenanigans you can offer.
They thrive in more active households where they have something to do. Their past as a working sheepdog dictates this need for high-energy activities which makes them feel the best. This is not a lazy dog that will be content with lounging on the couch all day, like many other Mastiff types. Don’t get a Pyrenean Mastiff if your family isn’t very active and if you prefer Netflix and chill to outdoor activities.
Do look into Pyrenean Mastiffs if you own a farm and have sheep for them to the herd. If you don’t, do not despair! You can still be a great owner for a Pyrenean if you love spending time outdoors pursuing active hobbies like hiking, trekking, cycling, etc. Your Pyrenean Mastiff will make for an excellent companion in such activities. And will be happy doing it!
Out of all Mastiff types, Spanish Mastiff is probably one that isn’t often recognized as belonging to Mastiff breeds. They don’t have a characteristic square head and also have much longer coat than other Mastiff types. Some may even take Spanish mastiff for some strange oversized Labrador retriever. However, their body size and shape are truly “Mastiff” and historically they do belong to Mastiff breeds.
Spanish Mastiff, as can be deduced from the name, was bred in Spain and became what it is today due to centuries of breeding. This breed has been raised and used as a guard dog or farm dog helping to herd and guard cattle. Intelligent and dedicated, this breed has been very successful at fulfilling its “responsibilities” as a working dog and has spread throughout the work due to its popularity.
As far as looks go, this is a large, tall, well-proportioned dog with strong bone structure and developed musculature. Like other Mastiffs, the body is long, sloped down at the front, with thick and not very long limbs. The head is large but slightly less “square-shaped” than other Mastiffs.
The eyes are dark or light brown, the expression can change from friendly and inviting when the dog is looking at a family member, to aggressive when the dog is looking at a stranger. The neck is thick and muscular, with prominent skin folds at the front. The coat is short (but longer than other Mastiffs!) and thick. Coat colors range from white to light tan to brown of different shades to brindle.
Male Spanish Mastiffs can be quite tall – up to 78 cm tall. Females are usually shorter but can also stand up to 72 cm or more.
This unique Mastiff type was developed in Brazil during the 17th – 18th century, when European immigrants brought their own dogs of various breeds to Brazil and crossbred them to each other (at that point, without much of a strategy or plan). The two breeds that produced particularly good dogs were bloodhounds and Mastiff type dogs crossed together.
Bloodhounds are known for excellent sense of smell and Mastiffs – for their physical power and prowess as well as their stable, calm personality. The mixes of the two breeds proved to inherit the best qualities of both breeds, which made it a more and more popular cross. Later, bulldogs were also added to the mix.
As a result, we now have Brazilian Mastiff – a large-sized dog with short and thick coat, boasting excellent physical form and high endurance, and striving to work and please their owner. Like their predecessor and relatives Bloodhounds, Fila Brasiliero have an excellent sense of smell which makes them highly popular as service dogs. Like other Mastiff types, they are also very strong dogs with powerful jaws and excellent guarding and protecting capabilities.
They are confident and courageous, hard to intimidate dogs. At the same time, they are very patient, particularly towards children. Like many other Mastiff breeds, they can boast a calm, stable temperament that allows this dog to stay perfectly unperturbed in almost any situation.
Fila are great at guarding and protecting both people and property. They are very possessive of both their people and their property and are eager to protect everything that “belongs” to them.
Body shape-wise, Brazilian Mastiff is a pretty typical Mastiff. They have a large muscular body, wide in the chest, with short but proportionate legs. Like all Mastiffs, they are quite tall. Males can reach up to 75 cm in height, while females can stand as tall as 70 cm. Coat colors vary but they are always of one color (from light tan to darker brown) without spots or patterns. Like Mastino Napolitano, Brazilian Mastiffs boast gorgeous skin folds on the face and neck.
You can read more about Brazilian Mastiff here in my article.
This is a Mastiff that was developed in France, as you can very well guess from the name of the breed. It looks like a typical Mastiff: massive body standing low to the ground on short but proportionate limbs. Their head and face are very distinct and recognizable: very square, very flat, very wrinkly.
Like other Mastiffs, French Mastiffs have strong jaws and large teeth. The eyes are smaller and often look squinted. The eyes can be any shade of brown.
In terms of height, French Mastiffs are a little shorter than other Mastiff types. Males can stand up to 68 cm, females up to 66 cm. This is still a very large dog!
In terms of personality, French Mastiff may just be the “sweetest” of all Mastiffs, but only towards their family. This breed is very attached to their owners and cannot live without their humans for any length of time. This is not a good dog to keep outside. They have to live in the house with you.
Like a true mastiff, French Mastiff has a very stable temperament. They are hard to irritate and make angry. They are infinitely patient, especially towards their family members and particularly children. However, if the dog or their humans are in any danger, French Mastiff will not hold back. They are excellent protectors and are literally fearless.
Yet another member of Mastiff breeds is Anatolian or Turkish Mastiff. This dog, unlike many other Mastiff types, is still actively used as working dogs by Turkish shepherds in herding and guarding cattle.
Turkish Mastiffs are truly a national pride in Turkey – any shepherd or farmer will tell you how much they value their dog and how much the dog contributes to daily farm management. An experienced Mastiff is of great value as they can teach younger mastiffs to manage sheep herds. They can cost a lot and are one of the most valued possessions for many of the sheep farmers in Turkey.
In terms of looks, the Turkish Mastiff doesn’t look very much like the other Mastiff types we have already look at in this article. They are just as large, but this is pretty much where similarities end. Turkish Mastiffs have long thick coats of various colors but usually mono-colored and most often white, tan or gray.
Their thick coats protect the dogs from cold nights as they often have to spend most of the day and night outside. Unlike the other Mastiffs, they have long bushy tails. Male Turkish Mastiffs stand as tall as 75 cm and can weigh up to 120 lbs.
In terms of personality, Turkish Mastiffs are first and foremost working dogs. They are very intelligent and have strong natural guarding and herding instincts. When a working Anatolian Mastiff sees that something threatens their herd, they stand between the herd and the stranger ready to protect the cattle.
They do the same today when they perceive danger to their humans: stand between their family and the danger. If the threat doesn’t go away, the Mastiff will warn the aggressor by barking. If that doesn’t help either, the dog will attack. An Anatolian Mastiff can fight off a wolf from a herd of sheep as well as can successfully keep any human aggressors away from you and your family. (Although, hopefully, you don’t need such protection.)