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History of The Mastiff

There is evidence of Mastiff-like giant dogs dating back as far as 2500 BC in the mountains of Asia. Bas-reliefs from the Babylonian palace of Ashurbanipal (now on display in the British Museum) depict Mastiff-type dogs hunting lions in the desert near the Tigris River. Their coloration, of course, cannot be told, but other than being taller and leaner than current-day Mastiffs (as ours would be if raised in a desert and fed lightly), they are remarkably like our modern Mastiffs, despite the passing of nearly 4500 years.

After this clear visual evidence, we must rely on folklore and oral history. Phoenician traders are believed to have introduced the Mastiff to ancient Britain, where the Romans found them and brought them back to fight in the arena.

Marco Polo wrote of Kubla Khan, who kept a kennel of 5,000 Mastiffs used for hunting and war.

When Hannibal, the great Roman leader, crossed the Alps, he took with him several battalions of trained war mastiffs, who, during their long travels, "fraternized" with local breeds to produce what became the St. Bernard, once called the Alpine Mastiff, as well as other giant breeds.

All of the massive mountain dogs of Spain, France, Turkey, and the Balkans can trace their size back to Mastiff blood in their ancestry. Even the Chow Chow carries Mastiff blood, as does the Pug, which was originally a form of dwarf Mastiff.

Theories advanced by various authors have focused on one or more of the above to try to identify the *origin* of the breed. What should matter the most to us is what the breed is like now, and how it came to be that way. Despite the differences of opinion on where the Mastiff originated, most agree that the British are the creators of the breed as we know it today.

Of all the countries who used the Mastiff, it was the British who kept him in his purest form, and it is to them that we owe the Mastiff of today. They kept Mastiffs to guard their castles and estates, releasing them at night to ward off intruders. Henry VIII is said to have presented Charles V of Spain a gift of 400 Mastiffs to be used in battle.

The Legh family of Lyme Hall, Cheshire, who were given their estate by Richard II (1377-1399), kept and bred Mastiffs for many generations. Stowe's Annual, a reference book, shows that King James I (1603-1625) sent a gift of two Lyme Hall mastiffs to Phillip II of Spain. These, or their immediate descendants, are certainly the Mastiff-type dogs shown in famous portraits of the Spanish royal children.

Other sources indicate that Mastiffs were used as war dogs by the ancient Celts, and accompanied their masters into battle. When the Romans invaded Britain, they took the dogs back to Italy and used them to guard property and prisoners, as well as using them to fight in the arena.

The Mastiff was one of the few breeds mentioned by name in The Forest Laws of King Canute, the first written laws of England. There, Mastiffs were required to be checked by the tax collector, who would make sure the middle toes of each front foot were removed so the dog could not run fast enough to catch the deer (which traditionally belonged to royalty). Tax collectors have not evolved much over the centuries; the penalties for failing to meet their requirements were extreme. In the Forest Laws, Mastiffs were mentioned specifically as being kept for protection.

In the Elizabethan Era, the Mastiff was used to fight wild animals (e.g., bears, tigers, etc.), usually for the entertainment of the Queen. After the cessation of this cruel sport, Mastiffs continued to be bred by the Dukes of Devonshire and Sutherland, the Earl of Harrington, and other nobles.

According to the scanty records of the Pilgrim Fathers, two dogs, a Mastiff and a spaniel, accompanied the Plymouth colonists aboard the Mayflower on their journey to the new world.

In England, dog showing became popular in the mid-1800s. Wealthy people kept and bred Mastiffs and started the first recorded pedigrees. These were registered with what was then the only kennel club in the world, The Kennel Club in England.

During the World Wars, Mastiffs were used to pull munitions carts on the fronts. In America, they were frequently found on plantations as property guards.

The size of the Mastiff and its need to eat about as much food per day as an adult human made a Mastiff too costly for most common folk to keep, except perhaps for butchers. In England they were sometimes called "the Butcher's Dog" because a butcher had enough meat scraps to feed a Mastiff well, and could therefore afford to keep one, even though he was not wealthy.

Mastiffs began to decline in popularity until the late 1800's, when interest revived briefly, and Mastiffs started to be imported into America. World War I saw their decline again in England, and by the 1920's they were almost extinct in that country in their pure form. It was considered unpatriotic to keep dogs alive who ate as much in a day as a soldier; entire huge kennels were put down as a result.

World War II all but finished the breed in England. At the end of the war, fresh blood was imported from Canada and the United States to revive the breed. Now, fortunately, Mastiffs are well established again, the United States having perhaps the greatest number.

Breeders today have bred the Mastiff for gentleness and have created an excellent companion, large enough to deter intruders and yet gentle enough to be dependable around children.

AKC Standard of the Mastiff

General Appearance

The Mastiff is a large, massive, symmetrical dog with a well-knit frame. The impression is one of grandeur and dignity. Dogs are more massive throughout. Bitches should not be faulted for being somewhat smaller in all dimensions while maintaining a proportionally powerful structure. A good evaluation considers positive qualities of type and soundness with equal weight.

Size, Proposition, Substance

Size--Dogs, minimum, 30 inches at the shoulder. Bitches, minimum, 27" inches at the shoulder. Fault--Dogs or bitches below the minimum standard. The farther below standard, the greater the fault.
Proportion--Rectangular, the length of the dog from forechest to rump is somewhat longer than the height at the withers. The height of the dog should come from depth of body rather than from length of leg. Substance--Massive, heavy boned, with a powerful muscle structure. Great depth and breadth desirable. Fault--Lack of substance or slab sided.

Head

In general outline giving a massive appearance when viewed from any angle. Breadth greatly desired.
Eyes set wide apart, medium in size, never too prominent. Expression alert but kindly. Color of eyes brown, the darker the better, and showing no haw. Light eyes or a predatory expression is undesirable. Ears small in proportion to the skull, V-shaped, rounded at the tips. Leather moderately thin, set widely apart at the highest points on the sides of the skull continuing the outline across the summit. They should lie close to the cheeks when in repose. Ears dark in color, the blacker the better, conforming to the color of the muzzle.
Skull broad and somewhat flattened between the ears, forehead slightly curved, showing marked wrinkles which are particularly distinctive when at attention. Brows (superciliary ridges) moderately raised. Muscles of the temples well developed, those of the cheeks extremely powerful. Arch across the skull a flattened curve with a furrow up the center of the forehead. This extends from between the eyes to halfway up the skull. The stop between the eyes well marked but not too abrupt. Muzzle should be half the length of the skull, thus dividing the head into three parts-one for the foreface and two for the skull. In other words, the distance from the tip of the nose to stop is equal to one-half the distance between the stop and the occiput. Circumference of the muzzle (measured midway between the eyes and nose) to that of the head (measured before the ears) is as 3 is to 5.
Muzzle short, broad under the eyes and running nearly equal in width to the end of the nose. Truncated, i.e. blunt and cut off square, thus forming a right angle with the upper line of the face. Of great depth from the point of the nose to the underjaw. Underjaw broad to the end and slightly rounded. Muzzle dark in color, the blacker the better.
Fault snipiness of the muzzle.
Nose broad and always dark in color, the blacker the better, with spread flat nostrils (not pointed or turned up) in profile. Lips diverging at obtuse angles with the septum and sufficiently pendulous so as to show a modified square profile. Canine Teeth healthy and wide apart. Jaws powerful. Scissors bite preferred, but a moderately undershot jaw should not be faulted providing the teeth are not visible when the mouth is closed.

Neck, Topline, Body

Neck powerful, very muscular, slightly arched, and of medium length. The neck gradually increases in circumference as it approaches the shoulder. Neck moderately "dry" (not showing an excess of loose skin). Topline--In profile the topline should be straight, level, and firm, not swaybacked, roached, or dropping off sharply behind the high point of the rump.
Chest wide, deep, rounded, and well let down between the forelegs, extending at least to the elbow. Forechest should be deep and well defined with the breastbone extending in front of the foremost point of the shoulders. Ribs well rounded. False ribs deep and well set back. Underline--There should be a reasonable, but not exaggerated, tuck-up. Back muscular, powerful, and straight. When viewed from the rear, there should be a slight rounding over the rump. Loins wide and muscular.
Tail set on moderately high and reaching to the hocks or a little below. Wide at the root, tapering to the end, hanging straight in repose, forming a slight curve, but never over the back when the dog is in motion.

Forequarters

Shoulders moderately sloping, powerful and muscular, with no tendency to looseness. Degree of front angulation to match correct rear angulation. Legs straight, strong and set wide apart, heavy boned. Elbows parallel to body. Pasterns strong and bent only slightly. Feet large, round, and compact with well arched toes. Black nails preferred.

Hindquarters

Hindquarters broad, wide and muscular. Second thighs well developed, leading to a strong hock joint. Stifle joint is moderately angulated matching the front. Rear legs are wide apart and parallel when viewed from the rear. When the portion of the leg below the hock is correctly "set back" and stands perpendicular to the ground, a plumb line dropped from the rearmost point of the hindquarters will pass in front of the foot. This rules out straight hocks, and since stifle angulation varies with hock angulation, it also rules out insufficiently angulated stifles. Fault--Straight stifles.

Coat

Outer coat straight, coarse, and of moderately short length. Undercoat dense, short, and close lying. Coat should not be so long as to produce "fringe" on the belly, tail, or hind legs. Fault Long or wavy coat.

Color

Fawn, apricot, or brindle. Brindle should have fawn or apricot as a background color which should be completely covered with very dark stripes. Muzzle, ears, and nose must be dark in color, the blacker the better, with similar color tone around the eye orbits and extending upward between them. A small patch of white on the chest is permitted.
Faults--Excessive white on the chest or white on any other part of the body. Mask, ears, or nose lacking dark pigment.

Gait

The gait denotes power and strength. The rear legs should have drive, while the forelegs should track smoothly with good reach. In motion, the legs move straight forward; as the dog's speed increases from a walk to a trot, the feet move in toward the center line of the body to maintain balance.

Temperament

A combination of grandeur and good nature, courage and docility. Dignity, rather than gaiety, is the Mastiff's correct demeanor. Judges should not condone shyness or viciousness. Conversely, judges should also beware of putting a premium on showiness.

Approved November 12, 1991
Effective December 31, 1991