Also known as the Italian Mastiff, the Mastino Napoletano, or simply the Mastino, this ancient breed was developed as a fighting dog for use in the Roman arena, taking on all-comers, including both lions and Christians. It is little wonder that the Romans gave these dogs the name "pugnaces".
The Mastino, as it is called in its native Italy, is a relic of ancient Roman times. The breed has recently enjoyed something of a revival, with several excellent Italian specimens taking major awards at the leading shows. The Neapolitan Mastiff is a dog of immense hulk for its height (26-29 inches/65-74 cm), with tremendous bone and substance.
As time passed and weapons became more sophisticated, the importance of these huge dogs declined, but they did not disappear completely. They may have lacked uniformity of type, having been bred for action rather than for looks, but the ancestral form was still there, waiting to be developed. The patron of the modern breed is generally accepted to be the Italian artist Piero Scanziani, who devoted years to improving and stabilizing it. He drew up the modern standard and was instrumental in gaining official recognition of the breed by the Italian Kennel Club. It was exhibited at the first dog show to be held in Naples, in 1946.
In appearance, this is perhaps the most terrifying of all dogs, with a face so ugly that it is strangely appealing. The skin around its massive head is loose and hangs in heavy folds, creating a large dewlap, long pendulous lips and a deeply furrowed brow. It has been rudely described by one author as being the only dog that looks like a hippopotamus.
The Neapolitan Mastiff possesses a supremely powerful and quite unique head. It is large, with a skull that is also broad and short. The muzzle drops off square and deep, the nose never protruding beyond the vertical line of the muzzle. Both skull and muzzle show distinct wrinkles and from head-on the upper lip placement resembles an inverted “V.” The eyes are deep set, rounded and forward looking. The ears, set high and forward, are quite small and cropped close (when cropped).
The neck is short, thick and shows dewlap. The body is slightly off-square, well ribbed and with no noticeable tuck-up. The tail tapers. In action, the Neapolitan Mastiff has a slow, free and almost bearlike gait, making long, sedentary steps.
The Neapolitan Mastiff should be self-colored in back, blue, gray or brown and brindling is allowed. A small white star on the chest and minimal white on the toes is also permissible.
Despite its fighting ancestry, the breed is not naturally aggressive.
Although this breed began as a fighting dog and owes its fearsome appearance to that occupation, it has since been employed in several other major roles. The modern pedigree version is reputed to have a steady temperament. Owners swear by it as a dramatic and loyal companion, proud, watchful, serious and dignified. It does, however, have one minor weakness, namely a tendency to drool and slobber. Indoor feeding is not advised. Nor is playful wrestling with pups a good idea because, when they eventually grow up, they may wish to continue these games, with overpowering results.