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A Breed a Week: Mastiff

A Breed a Week:  MASTIFF

From the Complete Dog Book, a publication of the American Kennel Club, copyright 1985

The breed commonly called "Mastiff" in English speaking countries is more properly described as the Old English Mastiff. It is a giant short-haired dog, with heavy head and short muzzle, which has been bred in England for over two thousand years as a watchdog. The term "mastiff" describes a group of giant varieties of dog rather than a single breed. They are supposed to have originated in Asia.

Cassel finds drawings on Egyptian monuments of typical Mastiffs dating about 3000 B.C. In literature, the earliest reference is in Chinese about 1121 B.C. So far as the Mastiff is concerned, it has a longer history than most. Caesar describes them in his account of invading Britain in 55 B.C., when they fought beside their masters against the Roman legions with such courage and power as to make a great impression. Soon afterward we find several different accounts of the huge British fighting dogs brought back to Rome where they defeated all other varieties in combat at the Circus. They were also matched against human gladiators as well as against bulls, bears, lions, and tigers.

Dogfighting and animal-baiting were made illegal in England in 1835, but for twenty years longer the law was little obeyed.

While the Mastiff was always in front rank as a fighting dog, this does not account for his popularity in England for two thousand years. It was as bandogs, or tiedogs (tied by day but loose at night) that they were found everywhere. In fact, long ago, keeping of these Mastiffs was compulsory for the peasants. During Anglo-Saxon times there had to be kept at least one Mastiff for each two villeins (**not to be confused with villain). By this means wolves and other savage game were kept under control. They were also used in hunting packs by the nobility. It was as protectors of the home, however, that they were most used, and probably as a result of centuries of such service the Mastiff has acquired unique traits as a family dog.

General Character and Symmetry - Large, massive, symmetrical and well knit frame. A combination of grandeur and good nature, courage and docility.


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