The Italian Guard Dog: The Neapolitan Mastiff

Pet Type


May 9, 2020
Image source: Tim Dawson from Flickr

There are only a few dogs out there that are immediately recognizable because of how famous their breed has become. For example, just about everyone knows what the German shepherd looks like, as it is prevalent both as a working police dog and a common house dog.

Most people know about golden retrievers because of how affectionate their personalities are and what loving companions they can make. With that being said, when it comes to massive guard dogs, there are almost no dogs that are quite as recognized as the Neapolitan mastiff. These dogs, often known as gentle giants, were once bred to be fearsome guard dogs that would protect families all across the country. While they are certainly bred for that today, many more people take in these loving dogs to be massive companions throughout their day to day life.

The Neapolitan mastiff is a dog that is not recommended for first-time dog owners. The amount of space, food, and time this dog breed takes is usually not something that first-time owners know how to prepare for and adapt to.

Not to mention trying to control an excited mastiff is never something that should be left in the hands of someone who isn’t used to handling large dogs. Rather, these dogs should be adopted by people who know how to handle the breed. These dogs are often not apartment-friendly. If you have children, you should keep an eye on how they interact with the dog. While these dogs are often very gentle, their sheer size may be enough to overwhelm a very young but curious child.

What Is the Neapolitan Mastiff’s Origin?

These dogs have a rich history surrounding them, with their roots being in the Naples vicinity of Italy. While dogs that resemble the modern-day mastiff have been around for thousands of years, this particular variant didn’t show up until the 1950s, when the dog made a chance appearance at a local dog show and a journalist wrote about the breed in a way that caught the attention of the country. From there, people began taking interest in this new breed of dog, which was referred to either as a Neo or a Mastino, and it quickly became registered in the country’s breeding clubs and breeding standards were created.

Originally, before this chance event happened, the Neapolitan mastiff is believed to have remained a rather obscure breed. It is thought that the original breeders wanted to create a massive, heavy dog that would not only protect family members, but also defend them if something were to happen. This dog was also bred specifically to have thick, loose skin around their neck and snout that could protect the dog in case of an attack, giving way to the dog’s characteristic, wrinkly appearance.

Once the dog became popular throughout the country, it wasn’t long before the whole world took notice of these giant dogs. The dog was officially registered in the international dog registry in 1949, and by the 1970s, the dog had become popular throughout the rest of Europe. The first documented Neapolitan mastiff to enter the United States was in 1973.

Some people believe that Italian immigrants may have actually brought these dogs over as early as the 1880s, although there is no concrete proof of this. From here, breeding clubs began to form in the United States, popping up in 1973, in the 1990s, and finally in 2004, when the American Kennel Club recognized the breed officially.

What Does the Neapolitan Mastiff Look Like?

At first glance, most people can tell that these dogs were originally bred to be guard dogs. They are tall, strong, and muscular, with a foreboding appearance to anyone who comes across this dog in the night. These dogs can stand between 24 and 31 inches tall and can easily weigh more than 150 pounds.

The males tend to be much taller and heavier than their female counterparts. The body of these dogs is stocky, and with most well-fed dogs, you can easily see the muscle definition underneath their skin. They have pointed, floppy ears, a wrinkled snout, and droopy eyes. Their heads can be described as rectangular with long jowls that give the breed its characteristic appearance.

These dogs often have a short, somewhat rough coat of fur. It can be in a variety of colors, but these dogs are often brown, black, or tan. They are almost always single-color dogs, although some may have markings on them in white, black, or brown.

How Does the Neapolitan Mastiff Behave?

Bred to be guard dogs, the Neapolitan mastiff is naturally protective and loyal to its family. It will easily devote its life to making sure that you and the rest of your family are safe from whatever threats you may encounter. This means that these dogs do tend to be cold and even suspicious toward strangers, which can be problematic if you frequently have people who are not part of your family inside your home. Given time and socialization, these dogs will slowly warm up to regular acquaintances, however.

These dogs are almost always the kind of dog that stays at home, and they do not require a significant amount of exercise, despite their large size. They are loving toward children, but you need to be careful when it comes to letting younger children near the dog, as their sheer size alone can cause accidental injuries. There is always the potential that these dogs will not get along with other pets, especially other dogs that have a dominant personality. If you plan on ever getting another pet, you should make sure that the dog is socialized from a very early age.

When all is said and done, these dogs are the epitome of gentle giants. They love to lay by your side and be pet, and they will be happy to make sure that you and your family are safe from any perceived threats, even if those threats might be friends visiting your home.

What Kind of Care Does the Neapolitan Mastiff Need?

Despite their massive size, these dogs are actually quite easy to care for. They do not need much exercise, and are often even described as couch potatoes. However, you should aim to give your dog at least two short daily walks, simply so they stay in shape. They do need to be trained from when they are of a trainable age to ensure that they do not age into their more stubborn adult personalities before learning commands and obedience. Because of their naturally wary nature, they also need socialization training from an early age.

These dogs also need very, very minimal grooming. The occasional bath, or even just a hose down in the backyard, is often enough to keep dead and loose fur from building up as their coats aren’t really long enough to truly become tangled.

The biggest area where this mastiff breed will need care is in the amount of space they take up. These dogs are large. This means they need large beds, large food bowls, and so on. They eat a lot of food, and this can quickly become expensive. Because of their size, they tend to be prone to health issues, which also means that you will be facing large vet bills as well. This is the area where the most commitment and patience will be needed.

What Kind of Health Does the Neapolitan Mastiff Have?

Unfortunately, these dogs are not healthy dogs at all. Their size gives way to numerous skeletal and joint issues, and their droopy skin can lead to infections and other problems with their eyes and face. They have fragile joints, which need to be paid attention to when the dog is young to ensure that there is minimal potential for damage as an adult dog.

The main areas you will need to pay attention to are the bones, the eyes, and the gut. You should always talk to a breeder about potential hereditary conditions on top of all of this as well. These gentle giants have a life expectancy between 7 and 10 years.