Dog Spotlight – Massive Mastiffs!

by Jenny Mee // October 2017

Dog Spotlight – Massive Mastiffs!

What comes to mind when we mention Mastiffs? Usually the first thing people say when I tell them I own a Mastiff is “Oooh I bet he’s big?!”. And yes, he sure is! But what else can I tell you about them? Whenever we talk anout a specific breed or type of dog we are generalising, but there is a lot to be said about the character and trainability of these gentle giants.

Mastiffs are seen as one of the most ancient breeds of dog known to man, and definitely one of the largest – in both stature and character! The term “Mastiff” itself is quite a general term, used to describe a number of large breeds or types. There are a range of different types of Mastiff, from the proud South African Boerboel, the tenacious and very hairy Tibetan Mastiff, to the powerful and distinctive French Mastiff (Dogue De Bordeaux) or the enormous English Mastiff….. and everything in between! Whilst there can be a lot of physical variation between the different types (aside from the fact that they are all pretty impressive in size), and of course all dogs are individuals, there are also a lot of common behavivoural traits seen in most Mastiffs.


Generally speaking Mastiffs are brave, alert, loyal and loving dogs. Originally bred and used for their stature and protective nature, they can also make fantastic pets. Which is probably a good time to formally introduce you to Teddy – my adorable, 3 year old Bull Mastiff. He loves family life and is very well integrated into our busy routine. With two children, two spaniels, two cats, ponies, chickens……life is chaotic! And Ted takes it all in his stride! Admittedly he sometimes finds it a little tiring, as they are not always the most energetic dogs. So if we ever can’t find Ted, he can usually be quickly located on the nearest sofa.

I also have another very special Mastiff in my life – meet Ryder. He is currently awaiting his special someone at the Dogs Trust Rehoming Centre in Loughborough, but he is one of my besties and I pop down to give him an extra walk, biscuit or just a fuss whenever I can. It amazes me that he is still in kennels, as he is such an affectionate boy once he gets to know you, and would love to spend his days lounging on someone’s sofa or lolloping around the fields.

Lots of breeds are described as loyal, and Mastiffs are one of these. But how loyal are they? In my experience they are the type of dog who become very bonded to their family, and will often have their own ideas about who their main owner is. I can’t fault Ted on his loyalty, he loves and protects his family. Ryder is very much the same – he can take a little time to make new friends, but once you are his buddy that bond is for life!  

But it cant all be good right? I mean, nobody is perfect and dogs are exactly the same. So lets get down to the nitty gritty – whar are the bad points in owning a Mastiff? Well as a breed they can tend to be a little on the stubborn side, and Ted is certainly no exception. Whilst in some ways training him is quite easy as he LOVES food (I have known him work for a pea at a time…..yep, a pea!), on the other hand he can be hard to motivate at times. He doesn’t like repetition and if he doesn’t see the point in something, he just won’t do it! I find the best way to deal with this is first of all to ensure he is motivated. And to do that we need to pay him for his work! Whether that be in treats, fuss or general life rewards (e.g. give me a nice sit and you can say hi to that dog). And the second thing is to be patient, and stand firm. If I ask him to sit I will only ask him once…..then wait! Its his choice if he chooses to offer that sit, but if he doesn’t then guess what – no payment! Lets face it, he WANTS his payment – so usually after a few second stand off he almost seems to sigh and then give in and give me the behaviour I asked for. They certainly are characters!!

They can also be sensitive – don’t let that tough outer exterior fool you! Mastiffs often don’t cope with change or new things, so these need to be introduced slowly and carefully, especially as puppies. The first time Ted saw traffic (having been born on a farm) he was not happy about it at all, but with some positive, slow training he is now happy to walk pretty much anywhere with me (so long as its not too far!).

And lastly, if they decide they don’t want to do something they can be very difficult to convince them otherwise! I once tried to introduce Ted to agility, thinking he may enjoy it. Things started well, he mastered the tunnel and enjoyed a slow pop round some small jumps. Then we got to the A-frame…..he took a few steps up and then just stopped and stood there for a good five minutes, looking at me as if to say “I don’t want to do this anymore Mum!”.

So all in all they can make fab dogs, if you can cope with their size, slightly clumsy nature, a little (or sometimes a lot) of slobber and a fair amount of flatulence…….you will be rewarded with love, devotion and a friend for life. But they are big, strong dogs, so ensure your Mastiff (whether a puppy or adult dog) learns the basics (as a minimum) in terms of training, or you could make life very difficult for yourself! So if you own a mastiff or are thinking of getting one, read on for some top tips!

Tips for training your Mastiff!

  • Find out what your dog is motivated by – not just things he doesn’t mind eating or playing with, but the things he LOVES!!
  • Keep sessions short – they aren’t bred for stamina and can tire and/or get bored quickly.
  • Variety is the spice of life for most mastiffs. They don’t like repeating things over and over, and get bored quickly. When I am training my dogs I may be able to practise 15 recalls in a row with my spaniels, but I will only do 2-3 at a time with Ted. So keep things varied, interesting and fun!

For more information on training, or to find out about our classes and one to one training, contact the Dog School team:

01509 882316