AKC Working Group
Ancestors of the Neapolitan Mastiff were bred for use in war and in bloody Roman arena spectacles. Dogs like these may even have accompanied Alexander the Great on his conquests as early as 356 BC. Today, this powerful breed has a well-deserved reputation as a formidable guard dog for the family and estate. Though the Neapolitan Mastiff was first shown in Italy in 1946, and has been documented as being in the U.S. since the 1970s, well-bred specimens of the breed are still relatively rare in the United States. The Neapolitan Mastiff was admitted to the AKC Working Group in 2004.
While many commonly abbreviate the name of the breed to Neo, note that the correct spelling of the name is Neapolitan Mastiff, not Neopolitan. True fanciers prefer the name Mastino, which is Italian for Mastiff and is used all over the world. The plural is Mastini.
The Neapolitan Mastiff is an imposing, loose-skinned, muscular dog with a rather rectangular, heavy-boned body, massive head, and heavily wrinkled face. The largest males may be nearly 200 lbs. and 31 in. tall, with the more massive dogs preferred as long as good proportions are maintained. The facial wrinkles continue under the chin and down the neck to form a prominent dewlap. The skull is broad and flat on top, and forms a line parallel to the muzzle. The muzzle should be about a third the length of the entire head and should be just as wide as it is long. The nose is large, and should be the same color as the coat. The ears are traditionally cropped into small equilateral triangles, but may be kept natural. The teeth meet in a scissors, level, or slightly undershot bite. The underline of this massive dog is almost horizontal, with little or no tuck-up. The very thick tapering tail is set a little lower than the topline, and is generally docked by one-third.
The short coat is dense and smooth. The most common coat color is solid blue, black is the next most common color, and mahogany and tawny are also permitted. Some tan (reverse) brindling is allowable in all colors. The dark colors and brindles help the dog blend into the night shadows as he waits for the unsuspecting prowler. A little white is permitted on the chest, the underside of the throat and body, on the back of the pasterns, and on the toes. White on any other area can be a disqualification for dogs that compete in AKC conformation, so check the standard carefully. Puppies begin life with blue eyes, which later darken. Rear dewclaws should be removed, but the front ones should be left natural. The Neapolitan Mastiff has a slow, rolling, lumbering gait that is often described as lion- or bear-like.
- Height: 26 to 31 in. (male); 24 to 29 in. (female)
- Size: Very large
- Weight: 150 lbs. (male); 110 lbs. (female)
- Availability: May take some effort to find
- Talents: Watchdog and guardian
This breed needs moderate exercise and ideally should be taken on walks twice daily. A small yard is sufficient if the young Mastino’s exercise requirements are met. The Mastino is generally very tolerant of pain, due to the breed’s early fighting background. Males often drool quite heavily, more in hot weather or when drinking a lot of water. Many owners carry a towel to handle this problem. Perhaps related to the breed’s loose skin, joints are also characteristically loose in the Mastino. OFA scores tend to indicate hip dysplasia, although many diagnosed Mastini show no outward sign of discomfort. Ask about OFA or PennHIP certification and about the breeder’s understanding of and guarantees for healthy hips and elbows. Mastini are also prone to panosteitis (growing pains), a condition that may occur when the dog is 4 to 18 months old. The condition generally disappears on its own. Sometimes the Mastino puppy will get a condition called “cherry eye,” where the eye gland tissue protrudes more than normal and becomes red and inflamed. This condition can be completely cured with minor surgery. As in many giant breeds, dilated cardiomyopathy (heart disease) and bloat are concerns. A solid doghouse with lots of bedding is usually enough to ensure winter comfort, but because the Neapolitan Mastiff is a relatively short-nosed breed, extreme care must be taken to protect the dog in hot and humid weather. Be sure to provide plenty of shade and fresh water in warm weather. Adult Neapolitan Mastiffs eat a lot-about 8 to 10 cups of high-quality dog food per day. If you would like to show your Mastino, be sure to select a show-quality puppy that also has a good temperament so he can accept handling by strangers. Puppies tend to be expensive because of the difficulty of breeding the correct specimens. Many births require both artificial insemination and Caesarean section delivery.
Highly protective and fearless, yet peaceful and steady, and not aggressive unless there’s a reason. Somewhat intelligent and somewhat willful. Does not tolerate repetitious training. Very attuned to his master’s wishes. Serious, calm, and quiet unless provoked. The Neapolitan Mastiff was developed to look and act fearsome when needed, but is affectionate with his family and the family’s friends. Males can be much more dominant than females. Females are usually smaller, and are often more submissive to the master and better with children. Breeders should ideally evaluate the home situation carefully before placing any Mastino puppy. Two adults of the same gender cannot be expected to always get along, but the Mastino can get along well with non-canine pets if raised with them from puppyhood.
The Neapolitan Mastiff must have a dominant owner capable of controlling him properly. With thorough training and an experienced owner, the Neapolitan Mastiff can be a good family dog. Mastini are generally good with children in their family, but because of the dog’s massive size, they should be closely supervised at all times around small children. Children should be taught to respect these dogs. Neapolitan Mastiffs should be well-socialized at an early age to avoid overprotectiveness; they will be quite protective even with extensive socialization. Additional protection training is absolutely not recommended for this breed, as these dogs’ natural protective temperament is ideally suited for their size and strength and must not have any exaggeration. Thorough obedience training is highly recommended.
- Children: Good with children only when raised with them from puppyhood
- Friendliness: Very wary of strangers; highly protective
- Trainability: Somewhat difficult to train
- Independence: Very dependent; needs people a lot
- Dominance: Very high
- Other Pets: Good with other pets if raised with them from puppyhood
- Combativeness: Can be a bit dog-aggressive
- Noise: Not much barking
- Indoors: Relatively inactive indoors
- Owner: Not recommended for novice owners
- Grooming: A little grooming needed
- Trimming and Stripping: No trimming or stripping needed
- Coat: Short coat
- Shedding: Seasonally heavy shedder
- Docking/Cropping: The ears are customarily cropped, and the tail is customarily docked.
- Exercise: Moderate exercise needed
- Jogging: A poor jogging companion
- Apartments: Not recommended for apartments
- Outdoor Space: A small yard is sufficient.
- Climate: Does well in most climates
- Longevity: Short (less than 10 years)