Neapolitan Mastiff

PetMD Editorial
By PetMD Editorial
Published: September 17, 2009

A massive powerhouse of a breed, the Neapolitan Mastiff is a heavy-boned and awe-inspiring dog bred by the Romans as a guardian and defender of owner and property. Today the Neapolitan Mastiff is considered an affectionate family pet and excellent guard dog, but it may not mix well with other animals in the home.

Physical Characteristics

The Neapolitan Mastiff, with its alarming appearance, is said to have been bred intentionally to frighten intruders. The dog’s loose skin, dewlap, and dark coat colors (gray, black, mahogany, or tawny) makes it look even larger than it actually is. It can, however, jump to action with incredible speed when required.

The giant and muscular body is good for knocking down an intruder, while its enormous head and powerful jaws was meant to hold or smash an opponent. Due to its loose skin, some perceive the dog to have a scary expression.

Personality and Temperament

For many centuries, the breed was used as a family guardian, thus making the Neapolitan Mastiff a truly devoted, watchful, and loyal dog, which is wary of strangers and tolerant of familiar people. It loves to stay at home and show affection towards children, but its huge size can lead to accidents.

The Neapolitan may not mix properly with other dogs, particularly the dominating types. However, this can be rectified if the dog is trained to socialize at a young age.


Even though the dog does not need a great deal of physical exercise, it requires plenty of space to live. One cannot expect the giant Neapolitan Mastiff to force itself into small living quarters. The breed is fond of the outdoors but does not do well in warm weather.

Just like other giant breeds, its veterinary, boarding, and food bills can be quite high. Obsessive house cleaners should also think twice before getting such a dog, as the breed often makes messes with its food and drink, and tends to drool.


The Neapolitan Mastiff, which has an average lifespan of 8 to 10 years, is susceptible to major health issues such as canine hip dysplasia (CHD), demodicosis, and cardiomyopathy, and minor concerns like "cherry eye" and elbow dysplasia. To identify some of these issues early, a veterinarian may recommend hip, eye, elbow, and cardiac exams for this breed of dog. It should also be noted that Neapolitan Mastiff breeding usually requires Caesarean delivery and artificial insemination.

History and Background

Large, muscular, and powerful dogs, in the tradition of the giant war dogs of Asia and the Middle East, have existed since ancient times. These dogs were used to guard homes, control livestock, and fight lions, elephants, and men in battle. Alexander the Great (356 to 323 B.C.) distributed some native animals in the regions he conquered and interbred some of them with shorthaired Indian dogs, resulting in the Molossus, which was the progenitor of several modern breeds.

These Molossus dogs were acquired by the Romans after they conquered Greece. And in 55 B.C. the Romans took a liking to the boisterous mastiffs of Britain, which bravely fought to defend their country. These two breeds were crossed to produce an excellent variety of war dog and giant gladiator, commonly referred to as "Mastini."

The breed was perfected in southern Italy’s Neapolitan area, when they guarded homes and estates. But little of the breed was known in the rest of the world until 1946, when the dog was displayed in a dog show in Naples.

Instantly enamored with the breed, Dr. Piero Scanziani of Italy established a breeding kennel to rescue the dog from obscurity. He later codified the breed's standard and requested that the FCI (Federation Cynologique Interantionale) and the Italian kennel club recognize the breed as Mastino Napoletano.

By the mid-20th century, Italian immigrants had introduced the breed to several European countries and the United States, but it wasn't until 1973 that the Neapolitan Mastiff Club of America was formed. The American Kennel Club approved a standard in 1996, and in 2004, the dog was admitted into the Working Group.

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