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Old English Mastiffs: What's Good About 'Em, What's Bad About 'Em

Old English Mastiff temperament, personality, training, behavior, pros and cons, advice, and information, by Michele Welton, Dog Trainer, Behavioral Consultant, Author of 15 Dog Books

Old English Mastiff dog breed

The AKC Standard says, "A combination of grandeur and good nature, courage and docility. Dignity, rather than gaiety, is the Mastiff's correct demeanor."

I use the name Old English  Mastiff to distinguish this breed from other Mastiffs:

The Old English Mastiff is calm and quiet (as an adult!) but he belongs in a roomy home with a spacious fenced yard, so that his massive body has stretching room. To stay fit, he needs daily walks (whether he seems to want them or not), but he isn't a jogging partner.

Mastiffs also need companionship – lots of it every day. This is not a breed to leave alone for many hours.

Most English Mastiffs are polite with everyone, but there is timidity (even extreme shyness) in some lines, and aggression in others. To ensure a stable temperament, English Mastiffs need earlier and more frequent socialization than many other breeds. This socialization should continue throughout their life. Watchfulness should actually be discouraged, as it's best for all concerned if a Mastiff intimidates by his presence alone, rather than by his behavior.

Some Old English Mastiffs are peaceful with other animals, while others are dominant (even combative) with dogs of the same sex.

Though mildly stubborn, this good-natured dog responds well to patient, consistent leadership.

Mastiffs tend to be "gassy" dogs, which bothers some people. They also snore, drool, and slobber – big time! Obviously this is not the breed for people who need a tidy household.

If you want a dog who...

  • Is massive and powerful
  • Has a sleek easy-care coat
  • Is calm and quiet indoors (as an adult)
  • Needs only moderate exercise
  • Is usually mild-mannered, yet makes an imposing watchdog because of his size and self-assurance

An Old English Mastiff may be right for you.

If you don't want to deal with...

  • A huge dog who takes up a lot of space in your house and car
  • A heavy dog who wants to sit on your feet and lean his weight against your leg
  • Destructiveness when bored or left alone too much
  • Potential aggression or fearfulness toward people if not chosen carefully and socialized enough
  • Potential aggression toward other animals
  • Strong-willed mind of his own, requiring a confident owner who can take charge
  • Snorting, snuffling, wheezing, grunting, loud snoring
  • Slobbering and drooling
  • Gassiness (flatulence)
  • Serious health problems and a short lifespan
  • High price tag
  • Legal liabilities (public perception, insurance problems, increased chance of lawsuits)

An Old English Mastiff may not be right for you.


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Keep in mind that the inheritance of temperament  is less predictable than the inheritance of physical  traits such as size or shedding. Temperament and behavior are also shaped by raising and training.

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More traits and characteristics of the Old English Mastiff

If I was considering an English Mastiff, I would be most concerned about...

  1. Providing the proper balance of exercise. Young Mastiffs need enough exercise to keep them lean and healthy, but not so much that their soft growing bones, joints, and ligaments become over-stressed and damaged. Similarly, adult Mastiffs need enough exercise to keep them in shape, but definitely not running or jogging, and not in hot or humid weather for fear of overheating. The proper amount of exercise can be difficult to regulate in giant breeds.
  2. Providing enough socialization. Some English Mastiffs are naturally friendly, but most tend to be a little standoffish with strangers, and some individuals have protective instincts. It's essential to socialize your English Mastiff very thoroughly when he is young, so that he learns to recognize the normal behaviors of "good guys." Then he can recognize the difference when someone acts abnormally.

    Without careful socialization, a Mastiff may be suspicious of everyone. This can lead to either aggression or shyness, and both attitudes are dangerous in a giant breed. Fearful Mastiffs can bite defensively if they feel cornered. And it's no fun trying to drag a huge frightened dog along by the leash in public.

  3. Potential animal aggression. Many English Mastiffs are perfectly fine with other dogs and cats. But some are not. I would not risk keeping an Mastiff with another dog of the same sex. And be aware that some Mastiffs do display predatory behavior toward cats and other animals that run. Obviously a dog of this size and power is capable of seriously injuring or killing other animals.
  4. The strong temperament. Old English Mastiffs are usually easygoing and good-natured, but they're not pushovers to raise and train. Some are passively resistant, while others are more actively willful or dominant (they want to be the boss). You must show them, through absolute consistency, that you mean what you say.

    To teach your Old English Mastiff to listen to you, "Respect Training" is mandatory. Follow my free online training programs.

  5. Mastiff "sounds." Old English Mastiffs snort, grunt, and snore loudly. These sounds are endearing to some people, nerve-wracking to others.
  6. Slobbering. Most people are not prepared for how much Old English Mastiffs slobber and drool, especially after eating or drinking. When they shake their heads, you will be toweling saliva off your clothes and furnishings.
  7. Gassiness (flatulence). All short-faced breeds gulp air when they eat, and that air has to go somewhere, after all. However, commercial diets make flatulence worse by including fibrous or hard-to-digest ingredients. Mastiffs who are fed a heavily meat-based diet have much less trouble with gassiness.
  8. Serious health problems. The lifespan of an Old English Mastiff is very short – less than 10 years. And an alarming number of Mastiffs are crippled by bone and joint diseases and/or succumb to cancer at only 6 or 7 years old. Read more about English Mastiff Health
  9. Legal liabilities. Some insurance companies may cancel your homeowner's policy if you own a Mastiff. Your friends and neighbors may be uncomfortable around this breed. In this day and age, the legal liabilities of owning a giant breed that looks intimidating and has a history as a war dog should be considered. People are quicker to sue if such a dog does anything even remotely questionable.

    The truth is that the Old English Mastiff is probably "too much dog" for the average household.

Michele Welton with BuffyAbout the author: Michele Welton has over 40 years of experience as a Dog Trainer, Dog Breed Consultant, and founder of three Dog Training Centers. An expert researcher and author of 15 books about dogs, she loves helping people choose, train, and care for their dogs.

My best-selling books – now available  FREE  on my website

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book coverTeach Your Dog 100 English Words is a unique Vocabulary and Respect Training Program that will teach your adult dog to listen to you and do what you say. Click here to read for free.
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