The Neapolitan Mastiff is an estate guard dog from Italy. The breed traces its roots to the dogs of war used by the Roman Army. The breed then existed on estates and farms across Italy for the past two millennia, known as the"big dog of the little man" -- the extraordinary dog of the ordinary man. After the devastation of World War II, the breed was recognized as an unquestionable treasure of Italy and consequently, has been refined to its present form over the past 60 years. A standard was first written in 1948, later re-written for greater precision in 1971, and the Neapolitan Mastiff has thus claimed its rightful place among the international world of dogs.
While the Neapolitan Mastiff has been recognized as a breed in the modern world only since recognition by the FCI in 1949, we can see, through bas-relief, paintings and statues dating from 3000 years before Christ, that his roots trace to the giant war dogs of Egypt, Persia, Mesopotamia and Asia. Even as grand a figure as Alexander the Great (356-323 BC) was instrumental in creating the modern Neapolitan Mastiff.
Alexander is known to have crossed the giant Macedonian and Epirian war dogs with the shorthaired "Indian" dogs to create the Molossus. The Molossus was a dog characterized by having a wide, short muzzle, and a heavy dewlap, and was used to fight tigers, lions, elephants, and men in battle. This animal is easily recognized as the great forefather of the Neapolitan Mastiff.
When the Romans conquered Greece, they adopted the Molossus Dogs and also used them in battle, in the hunt and in the arena. The Roman invasion of England gave them access to the even larger giant Mastiff dogs there, which the Romans crossed with their own now formidable war beasts. The several different breeds that are descended from these dogs originating in many different European countries, have many traits in common: they are large powerful animals, are devoted to their masters, and are superior defenders of person and property.
Over the centuries, breeders of the Mastino in the Neapolitan area of southern Italy focused on breeding guards for the homes and estate. They created a breed that retained the giant size, heavy, loose skin, and dewlap. This was an animal, which was a stay-at-home type, and was good with the family. It was bred to detect unwanted intruders and to deter them from the property under their care. Indeed, many say that the Neapolitan Mastiff's unique type was developed purposely as an alarmingly ugly dog whose looks alone were enough to deter any intruder.
After the second World War, several Italians began to organize and promote the breed. The first exhibition was held in Naples in 1946 with six Neapolitan Mastiffs being presented. The standard was first codified in 1948 by Dr. Piero Scanziani and the breed was recognized by the FCI (Federation Cynologique Interantionale) in 1949. The standard was rewritten again for greater precision in 1971.
By the early 1970's the breed had representatives in most other European countries and had acquired significant footholds in Germany and in the USA where a few fanciers became fascinated by the art of breeding this uniquely looking and moving dog. And we say art because the breeding of the Neapolitan Mastiff is truly an art. To quote Arch. Giuseppe Alessandra, president of the A.T.I.Ma.NA. (The International Association for lovers of the Neapolitan Mastiff), "There are three important and equal aspects to the Neapolitan Mastiff: its type, its size, and its soundness."
The Mastino's type, its unique appearance, was created in the Neapolitan countryside by years of inbreeding. As a result, the traits that make the Mastino an unusual dog: its wrinkles, dewlap, loose skin, enormous bone, and distinct lumbering gait, are created by an accumulation of recessive genes. To breed a sound dog with these attributes is truly an art...and a challenge.