Mastiff: Dog Breed Characteristics & Care

History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

Mastiff: Dog Breed Characteristics & Care


The Mastiff is one of the largest dog breeds in the world. This immense dog is big-boned and muscular with a noble, kind, and loyal disposition. Mastiffs are very gentle companions and family protectors that lack aggression, making them lovely family pets. These courageous yet well-mannered dogs can do well in most households.

You don't need a huge home to have this giant dog, but you do need a little extra space (especially because of the long tail). Sadly, like other giant dog breeds, the lifespan of the Mastiff tends to be shorter than the average dog. However, with proper care, you can help your Mastiff live a full, healthy life.

Breed Overview

GROUP: Working

HEIGHT: 27.5 inches and up

WEIGHT: 120 to 220 pounds

COAT: Short and sleek.

COAT COLOR: Fawn, apricot, or brindle, all with a dark mask on the muzzle, ears, and nose.

LIFE SPAN: 10 to 12 years

TEMPERAMENT: Calm, affectionate, protective, loyal, peaceful, sweet-tempered


ORIGIN: England

Characteristics of the Mastiff

In spite of their overwhelmingly large appearance, Mastiff's are big softies at heart. Affectionately known as gentle giants, the massive breed has gained a reputation for their kind souls, calm demeanor, and family-friendly nature. They need a decent amount of care due to their size, but will reward their owners with a lifetime of affection and companionship.

Affection Level High
Friendliness High
Kid-Friendly HIgh
Pet-Friendly Low
Exercise Needs High
Playfulness High
Energy Level Medium
Trainability Low
Intelligence Low
Tendency to Bark Low
Amount of Shedding Medium

History of the Mastiff

The Mastiff hails from England, where it has been bred for over 2000 years. However, the Mastiff (or its ancestors) can be traced back to ancient times, with depictions on Egyptian monuments and mentions by Caesar when he invaded Britain.

Though historically seen as a worker and watchdog, at one point in time this magnificent breed was used for fighting, including in gladiatorial fights between humans and other animals. Later, they were featured in dogfights watched in Westminster in London. Today's Mastiff is a lover, not a fighter, and the U.K. prohibited dogfights in 1835. The current lineages of Mastiffs stem from the 19th century when they were no longer bred for aggressiveness.

Mastiffs have might have been brought to the United States over 200 years ago, but they were not officially recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) until the late 1800s. The breed is referred to as the old English mastiff, the English mastiff, or simply the mastiff.

The last-recorded heaviest dog in the world was an English mastiff named Aicama Zorba of La Susa, weighing 343 pounds and standing 37 inches at the shoulder, as recorded in the 1989 "Guinness Book of Records." This record will remain standing as the organization discontinued recognizing record sizes for pets in 2000.

Mastiff: Dog Breed Characteristics & Care
Butch at home in Isleworth, Middlesex. At 15 stone 5.5 pounds, the massive mastiff is the heaviest dog in Britain, March 1958. Keystone / Getty Images

Mastiff Care

Mastiffs will need regular care and grooming to remain looking and feeling their best. Though they're not considered particularly intelligent or trainable, some light obedience training is always a good idea in order to ensure they remain safe and good companions.


In general, Mastiffs are quite docile (but not listless). Younger dogs are more playful, but an endearing quality of aloof laziness often develops as they mature. Routine exercise will help keep your Mastiff fit and motivated.

As a large breed, mastiffs do better in cool weather than in hot weather. Exercise your Mastiff during the cool part of the day in summer. They do very well indoors, even in an apartment, or a house with a fenced yard. However, you might want to think ahead if your living space requires climbing stairs, as this may be difficult for an aging dog.


The Mastiff has a short coat that typically needs little more than routine grooming (regular brushing, bathing, and nail trimming). This breed is a moderately high shedder. Additionally, the mastiff's ears and facial skin folds (if present) should be kept clean and dry. Mastiffs are known to salivate quite a bit, and they might share their drool when they shake their heads, so keep drool rags handy.


Like all dogs, proper training and socialization are both important for the Mastiff. This is especially crucial because of the giant size of this breed. Careful attention should be given to the prevention of jumping and leash-pulling. You should socialize a Mastiff well so its natural protectiveness is appropriate and it does not become overprotective around visitors. 

Consider dog-proofing your home for a mastiff. Its strong tail can sweep items off of tables and the dog may be tall enough to sample your dinner from the dining room table. Mastiffs like to chew on things, so you should provide plenty of durable chew toys in an attempt to save your furniture.

English mastiff
Mastiff: Dog Breed Characteristics & Care Byrdyak / Getty Images

Common Health Problems

Responsible breeders strive to maintain the highest breed standards as established by kennel clubs like the AKC. Dogs bred by these standards are less likely to inherit health conditions. However, some hereditary health problems can occur in Mastiffs. Be aware of the following conditions:

  • Hip dysplasia: This is an inherited condition that can get worse with age. Breeders screen for it.
  • Gastric dilatation-volvulus: This is bloating that is common to large dogs that have deep chests. Gulping down food and water can lead to the stomach filling with gas and then twisting to cut off the blood supply. This is an emergency situation.
  • Elbow hygroma
Mastiffs as Pets

The Spruce / Emilie Dunphy

Diet and Nutrition

Feed a Mastiff puppy food that is specific to large breeds to help them grow steadily and not too fast. This can help reduce the risk of adult-onset hip dysplasia. Puppies will still attain their full size even if they are trim during the puppy years.

Adult Mastiff dogs need six to eight cups of dry food each day, which you should split into two meals to help prevent bloating and stomach torsion. You might explore feeders that enforce slower eating. Mastiffs are sloppy drinkers and they have a lot of backwash into their water bowls — it's best to provide clean, fresh water at different points of the day. They are also prone to passing gas.

Be sure to monitor your mastiff for weight gain and discuss this with your veterinarian to get recommendations on how to address it with diet and exercise.

Where to Adopt or Buy a Mastiff

Pet owners looking for a Mastiff can seek out a specialized breeder or look into local adoption agencies. If you’re looking for a Mastiff breeder, it’s normal to be put on a waiting list, but there are generally puppies available throughout the year. Be sure to seek out a reputable breeder with a history of healthy litters and detailed care—they should be able to answer any questions you have regarding the pedigree, health, and history of the litter and its parents. Ideally, you should meet one or both parents to have a better idea of your future pet’s personality, size, and temperament.

Consider rescuing a Mastiff through one of the below organizations:

Mastiff Overview

  • Gentle and loyal

  • Protective

  • Become endearingly lazy as they age

  • Drool quite a bit

  • Large tails can cause damage and require extra space in your home

  • Heavy chewers

  • Extensive food requirements

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

If you think the Mastiff is the right dog breed for you, be sure to do plenty of research before adopting one. Consult the Mastiff Club of America for more helpful background on the breed. Talk to other Mastiff owners, reputable breeders, and rescue groups to learn more.

If you are interested in similar breeds, look into these to compare the pros and cons:

There’s a whole world of dog breeds out there. With a little research, you can find the right one to bring home.

  • Are Mastiffs good apartment dogs?

    Despite their large size, Mastiffs are considered good dogs for small spaces like apartments or condos. The reason: They are not overly active dogs and mostly like to lazy about, which means they'll be spending the majority of their time on your couch or in a dog bed.

  • Are Mastiffs aggressive?

    No—Mastiffs are not considered an aggressive breed. On the contrary, they've gained a reputation as very docile, and while they are protective of their family, they are not known for causing trouble.

  • Are Mastiffs a good family dog?

    Mastiffs have a loving an affectionate nature that makes them a great choice for families with children. They are generally very tolerant of the chaos that young kids can bring, but are not recommended around babies or toddlers due to their size.

Article Sources
The Spruce Pets uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. "Mastiff Dog Breed Information". American Kennel Club,