What Is A Mastiff?
“I had a Mastiff that was 300 lbs! He was SO big he could carry a keg on his back and not break a sweat!”
Really, genius? Really?
Mastiffs are massive. They should be to perform the work they were bred to do; guard, impose, deter. You can’t perform those functions unless you have size. A Mastiff that is not massive is akin to a Big Dog Mom that is NOT big. Ha!
As they say, size matters, but not as much as you might think. What matters more is temperament, health, and let’s expose that elephant right here and now, cleanliness.
Mastiff rescue organizations work tirelessly all across this country re-homing and rehabilitating mastiffs that are neglected or simply just not the right breed for the owner. My objective today is to provide information for anyone considering buying a Mastiff puppy. Know what you are getting yourself into. Caveat emptor.
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7 Common Mastiff Myths Debunked
1. Mastiffs Are Suitable For Apartment Living
I suppose for some people, seeing a massive dog in a tiny studio apartment is amusing. You know, “fat guy in a little coat,” kind of funny. This image in my head makes me as sad as seeing an elephant in meager accommodations at the zoo.
Mastiffs need space. A lot of space. Traffic jams and roadblocks are an everyday occurrence when you live with a Mastiff. They will choose to walk in front of you, sloooowwlllyy, whenever possible. They will follow you into every room in your house no matter how small or smelly the room. And they will sprawl out in exactly the location you need to be mastiff-free.
Exercise is another consideration. Mastiffs are a working breed. Unless you have the time to be walking your Mastiff multiple times a day, cramming this huge breed into a puny apartment is a recipe for disaster. They need exercise. A lot of it. But not in a traditional sense.
When I say exercise, in addition to a traditional walk, I am referring to numerous activities which are absolutely essential in the life of a Mastiff. These activities include continuous and regular socialization, obedience training, and access to green space to run and play for muscular and cardiovascular health. If you think a Mastiff will be happy lounging around in your studio apartment from 8 am – 6 pm while you are away at work, the slobbery bits of paper and wood chips from your furniture will be evidence to the contrary.
2. Mastiffs Are Very Tolerant And Easy Going
On the contrary. Mastiffs are very sensitive. They can get their feelings hurt easily and have very long memories.
While I don’t recommend them now, many years ago we put in an invisible fence on our property for our Labrador, Burton, and our first Mastiff, Maya. Flags were placed above a buried wire about 3 feet apart along the perimeter of our yard. The training instructions said to walk along the perimeter and shake each flag and say “NO” while the dogs sat inside the yard watching. The next step was to walk the dog up to the flags where the wire was buried and allow the dog to first hear the warning beep then feel the shock, just once. Eventually, the flags would be removed and the warning beep was their reminder.
We never made it to step two with Maya. As soon as she heard “NO” she wanted nothing to do with those flags. And that was it. She never even wore the collar. We moved several times during Maya’s life and with each move all we had to do was get those flags out and place them where the boundaries of our yard were for a few days and she never crossed it.
Some might consider her smart. I consider her perceptive.
3. Mastiffs Are Wary Of Strangers
From the breed standard, a Mastiff SHOULD be
“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”
Let me break this down in the simplest terms I know how. 1. A Mastiff is NOT a Labrador Retriever 2. A Mastiff should not be fearful or aggressive.
A fantastic must read book for every prospective Mastiff owner is Dee Dee Anderson’s book The Mastiff: Aristocratic Guardian. Dee Dee does a wonderful job using humorous and touching stories from her experience as a breeder to illustrate a proper Mastiff temperament.
In short, a Mastiff must be well bred and well socialized (A Bomb Proof Big Dog Starts With A Socialized Puppy).
If either the genetics or the socialization is lacking, a Mastiffs friendliness toward strangers will be in question (Life With An Aggressive Dog: A Letter To My Sweet Baboo).
This is why it is absolutely imperative to do your research if you are considering buying a Mastiff puppy. Meet and interview many breeders. Screen them like you are a member of the CIA and take note of which ones screen you in return. Be patient and be critical.
For more tips on how to find a great Mastiff breeder, read Top 7 Questions To Ask A Breeder When Buying A Big Puppy and my interview with Jadem Mastiffs.
If you are going to be on a payment plan just on the purchase of your Mastiff, than this is not the breed for you.
4. Mastiffs Are No More Expensive Than Any Other Dog Breed
If only that were true.
After the “who’s walking who” wisecracks and inquiries into my dog’s eating and pooping habits, I often get asked how much a Mastiff puppy costs. My response is that I have never paid less than $2,500 and I have paid as much as $3,500. Now, that is not to say a Mastiff puppy being sold for $2,000 is inferior in some way. He may not be. But if you are going to be on a payment plan just on the purchase of your Mastiff, than this is not the breed for you.
Beyond the purchase price, Mastiffs are very expensive to care for. Everything costs more. You can expect to pay 10 – 50% more for everything; bigger Kongs, bigger collars, bigger bags of treats, and lots more food. I do the happy dance (literally) if I am able to escape the Vet for less than $300. And that is if they are healthy! When you factor in the large number of potential health concerns with Mastiffs such as hip dysplasia, eye disorders, or cancer, all bets are off. Your costs of ownership just exploded. (Read The Ultimate Guide to Saving Money on Pet Medications)
That said, feeding a high quality, species appropriate diet, only buying a puppy from fully health tested parents and a reputable breeder, and providing routine preventive veterinary care are among a few of the factors within your control that can have an impact on the finances and health risks of your Mastiff.
5. Mastiffs Drool, But Not That Bad
If you believe that, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.
Read How To Make A Great First Impression Big Dog Mom Style to get an idea of exactly how much these massive dogs drool. Put it this way, if Ivan Pavlov didn’t use Mastiffs in his experiments, he should have. Mastiffs have perfected the science of salivation!
6. Mastiffs Are Challenging To Groom
I can understand someone believing that just based on a Mastiff’s size alone. However, in my experience they are very easy to maintain. Mastiffs are a short coated breed and as such do not need to be bathed very often. A bath once every other month or less is sufficient. And like all other breeds, ears need to be cleaned and teeth brushed regularly as well.
Nails tend to be the biggest challenge for many mastiff owners. Mastiffs are huge, strong and determined when they are frightened, which is why positive training in puppy hood is absolutely critical. Read The Ultimate Guide To Cutting Dog Nails And Having Them Love You For It.
Mastiffs respond better when training is fun and entertaining. All you are shooting for is being more exciting than the grass, so it is not a high bar you need to reach.
7. Mastiffs Are Not Very Intelligent Or Trainable
I could not disagree with this more. Mastiffs are easy to train, when it is on their terms. They want to please you desperately, however, not at the expense of whatever is capturing their interest in the moment. The simple command “come” may or may not result in a mastiff sitting in front of you. It all depends.
In terms of trainability, Mastiffs excel. While they certainly are not Border Collies or Belgain Malinois, they are a highly trainable breed. They have been known to excel in just about every dog sport there is. Read Nose Work Is Not Just For Bloodhounds And German Shepherds.
With a little time, treats and a clicker, Mastiffs are an eager and responsive student. They respond best to positive training methods, not harsh ones. As I stated above, Mastiffs are extremely sensitive so the use of shock and choke collars is not necessary or recommended. In my experience, Mastiffs respond better when training is fun and entertaining. All you are shooting for is being more exciting than the grass, so it is not a high bar you need to reach.
A word of caution regarding training. Be prepared for slobber because it is profuse as soon as the treats come out. And for some of us, slobber begins to flow as soon as the door to the laundry room opens. Thanks Pavlov!
So there is no misunderstanding, here are the facts.
- Are NOT suitable for living in an apartment
- Are very sensitive
- SHOULD be friendly toward strangers
- Are very expensive to purchase and care for
- Drool … A LOT!
- Are easy to groom
- Are highly intelligent and easy to train
Mastiff: The Dog Breed Of Choice… For Some
Mastiffs are my breed of choice. While I adore many other breeds, Newfoundlands, Bassett Hounds, Bloodhounds and St. Bernards to name a few, Mastiffs are my love. Some people look at me like I am crazy. Like the Yorkie owner in 12 week old Junior’s puppy class who skeptically remarked “he’s actually not too bad, you know, for a big dog.”
While I would never bestow such a “compliment” to people like her, I am perfectly happy to be on the receiving end of such disdain. My reason is simple. It weeds out those status seekers only looking for the next 300 lb keg lifter, from those who, deep in their hearts, desire to share their home, their life, and their unconditional love with a Mastiff. Drool and all.