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Neapolitan Mastiff
(Mastino Napoletano, Italian Mastiff,
Italian Bulldog, "Neo")

Described by the enthusiasts of the breed as a " truly historic monument of Italian cynophilia", this impressive molosser dog counts among the world's best manstopping guard dogs and most loyal family dogs. Its history too, is among the most interesting of all dog breeds. Like the Cane corso and Cirneco dell'Etna,  it is one of those wonderful dog breeds native to Italy.
History and Origin

Fanciers of the breed claim that is difficult to find any other breed of dog whose fundamental characteristics have remained as constant over the centuries as those of the Neapolitan Mastiff.

Assyrian terracottas and stone panels show dogs very similar in type to the Neapolitan Mastiff. The use of such mastiffs is well represented on the wall reliefs at Nineveh.
Scenes of hunting with Mastiff-type dogs are a common motif in Mesopotamian art reflecting the king's conquest of chaotic and dangerous nature.

In the great settlements of Mesopotamia ((Fridu, Susa, Ur, and Uruk) in 2000. B.C. large dogs were reared and used to protect property and livestock from the attacks of lions which were common in that region at the time.

It were probably the Phoenecians who spread this type of dog in the Mediterranean basin, together with other breeds which were the forerunners of other italian breeds like the Cirneco of Etna and of all the Iberian Podenghi.

In his "De Re Rustica", Columella defines this dog as an excellent guardian of house and property, anticipating its current use by almost 2000 years. Although the Mastiff was used in Roman times as a weapon of war, and in combat against wild animals in the circus, it was later to be found in the courts of the Renaissance in central and northern Italy as a hunter of large game (deer and wild boar). They were huge, savage dogs, large enough to keep away lions.  They could fiercely fight intruders, be they human or animal.

Precisely because of this natural adeptness as a guard dog, the Roman patrician class used the Mastiff to safeguard their villas, which were numerous in the region of Campania at one time. After the fall of the Roman Empire the dogs remained, forming a close link both with the land and the people who lived on the slopes of the Vesuvius.

Neapolitan Mastiffs

According to the fanciers of the breed today's Neapolitan Mastiff matches the description made by Columella in the first century A.D. of a Mastiff-type guardian dog with "amplissimus corporis", a "squarely built" breed that "should have a head so large as to form the largest part of it" and whose "color should be black because this color is more intimidating in the daylight and at night blends in with the dark".
This probably indicates that the Neapolitan Mastiff is a direct descendent of these dogs described by Columnella.

The Mastino is very bulky for its height with a weight of 110 to 150lb (50 to 68 kg) for a height of 26 to 30 inches (65 to 75 cm). A unique feature of the Mastino is its head: it is large and broad across the cheeks, with heavy and full lips. The muzzle must be one third of the skull's length. The powerful neck runs well into the shoulders with much loose skin and dewlap. The ears are usually cropped.

Today, gray blue and black are still the preferred Mastino colors because they allow the dog to blend into the night shadows, which is considered an asset in his work as a guardian dog. However, tawny and mahogany are also found. Lighter and darker shades of these solid colors are also accepted by the standard as well as reverse brindles of these colors. A small white star on the chest and small patches of white on the toes are permissible.
Character and Temperament

The Neapolitan Mastiff presently seen in the show ring has improved in body and overall squaring of the head, thanks to selective breeding. He has a captivating and almost intimidating look, one that would easily dissuade any would-be intruder.

The Mastino Napoletano is a working dog originally bred and utilized as a guardian dog and personal protector. Although originally bred as a protection dog he is not outwardly aggressive and displays a steady temperament and loyal character. He is very reliable in temperament unless ordered to attack. Contrary to what is stated in some sources the Neapolitan Mastiff has no fighting breed ancestry and was never pitted against other animals or dogs. The Mastino is far too humble and would rather spend his time lying by your side. It is certainly not a dog for everyone but you could not ask for a more faithful companion.

See also:
English Mastiff
French Mastiff
Argentinean Mastiff
Brazilian Mastiff
Japanese Mastiff
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Catherine Marien-de Luca for Dog Breeds of the World 2004-2009 © All rights reserved by and
Photos (except history photos) courtesy of A.P. van Doremalen, Kennel of the Thatchroof.
Dog Breeds of the World > Guard dogs, Molossers and Italian dog breeds > Neapolitan Mastiff
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