The English Mastiff, referred to by virtually all Kennel Clubs simply as the Mastiff, is a breed of large dog perhaps descended from the ancient Alaunt through the Pugnaces Britanniae. Distinguishable by enormous size, massive head, and a limited range of colors, but always displaying a black mask, the Mastiff is noted for its gentle temperament. The lineage of modern dogs can be traced back to the early 19th century, and the modern type was stabilised in the 1880s. Following a period of sharp decline, the Mastiff has increased its worldwide popularity.
With a massive body, broad skull and head of generally square appearance, it is the largest dog breed in terms of mass. Though the Irish Wolfhound and Great Dane are taller, they are not nearly as robust.
The Mastiff has a distinctive head with dewlap and flews.
Major problems can include hip dysplasia and gastric torsion. Minor problems include obesity, osteosarcoma, and cystinuria. Problems only occasionally found include cardiomyopathy, allergies, vaginal hyperplasia, cruciate ligament rupture, hypothyroidism, OCD, entropion, progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), and persistent pupillary membranes (PPM).
When purchasing a purebred Mastiff, experts often suggest that the dog undergo tests for hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, thyroid, and DNA for PRA.
The Pugnaces Britanniae (Latin) was the name given by the Romans to the original English Mastiff.
The origin of the term "Mastiff" is not clear. Many claim that it evolved from the Anglo-Saxon word "masty", meaning "powerful". Other sources, such as the Oxford English dictionary, say the word originated from the Old French word mastin (Modern French mâtin), the word being itself derived from Vulgar Latin *ma(n)suetinus "tame", see Classical Latin mansuetus with same meaning.
In 1570, Conrad Heresbach, in Rei Rusticae Libri Quatuor, referred to "the Mastie that keepeth the house".Heresbach was writing in Latin; his work was translated a few years later into English by Barnabe Googe as Foure Bookes of Husbandrie.This work is adapted from De Re Rustica by 1st century Roman writer Columella, which highlights the Roman connection, but it has been speculated the Mastiff is descended from dogs brought to Britain by the Phoenicians in the 6th century BC.From Roman to Medieval times, these dogs were used in the blood sports of bear-baiting, bull-baiting, dog fighting, and lion-baiting. Dogs known as Bandogs, who were tied (bound) close to houses, were of Mastiff type. They were described by John Caius in 1570 as vast, huge, stubborn, ugly, and eager, of a heavy and burdensome body. Throughout its history, the Mastiff has contributed to the development of a number of dog breeds.
When in 1415 Sir Peers Legh was wounded in the Battle of Agincourt, his Mastiff stood over and protected him for many hours through the battle. The Mastiff was later returned to Legh's home and was the foundation of the Lyme Hall Mastiffs. Five centuries later this pedigree figured prominently in founding the modern breed. Other aristocratic seats where Mastiffs are known to have been kept are Elvaston Castle (Charles Stanhope, 4th Earl of Harrington and his ancestors) and Chatsworth House. The owner of the Chatsworth Mastiffs (which were said to be of Alpine stock) was William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire, known to his family as Canis. Mastiffs were also kept at Hadzor Hall, owned by members of the Galton family, famous for industrialists and scientists, including Charles Darwin.
Some evidence exists that the Mastiff first came to America on the Mayflower, but the breed's documented entry to America did not occur until the late 19th century.
In 1835, the Parliament of the United Kingdom implemented an Act called the Cruelty to Animals Act 1835, which prohibited the baiting of animals. This may have led to decline in Mastiffs used for this purpose, but Mastiffs continued to be used as guards for country estates and town businesses. Organised breeding began in the 19th century, when J.W.(John Wigglesworth)Thompson sought out a bitch, Dorah, from John Crabtree, the head gamekeeper of Kirklees Hall, whose dogs were often held in the name of his employer, Sir George Armitage. Dorah was descended in part from animals owned by Thompson's grandfather, Commissioner Thompson, at the beginning of the century, as well as a Mastiff of the Bold Hall line, recorded from 1705, one purchased from canal boat men and another caught by Crabtree in a fox trap. J. W. Thompson's first stud dog Hector came from crossing a bitch, Juno, bought from animal dealer Bill George, to a dog, Tiger, owned by a Captain Fenton.
Another important contribution to the breed was made by a dog called Lion, owned by Captain Garnier. He bought two Mastiffs from the previously mentioned dealer Bill George. The bitch, Eve, bought by George at Leadenhall Market, was old enough to be gray-muzzled, but of good type; the dog, Adam, was of reputed Lyme Hall origin, but bought at Tattersalls and suspected by Garnier of containing a "dash of Boarhound", an ancestral form of Great Dane. Garnier took them to the United States with him and brought back their puppy, Lion. He was bred to Lukey's Countess to produce Governor, the source of all existing Mastiff lines. (Lion was also mated to Lufra, a Scottish Deerhound, and their puppy Marquis appears in the pedigrees of both Deerhounds and Irish Wolfhounds.)