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English Mastiff

This famous British giant is a breed of a rather misleading name, because it is neither the oldest nor the only, or even the purest mastiff breed in the world, but most people still refer to it simply as the Mastiff, instead of English Mastiff, which is a name that is more accurate and respectful to other mastiff breeds, many of which are much older than the popular English dog. Dogs of this type that existed in Britain for centuries were large working crossdogs used for hunting and baiting purposes, usually comprised of hound and bandogge ancestry, as well as containing blood from imported European breeds, such as the early Bloodhounds, Alpine Mastiffs and Bullenbeissers. Even the moniker "mastiff" hadn't been used to describe the British Molosser until the 17th century and there are a few theories on the very meaning of this popular name, from it being a description of any large and vicious mongrel in England to it possibly being a corruption of the French word "matin", Spanish "mastin" or Italian "mastino", due to the introduction of dogges from those countries to the British Isles.

Generally viewed as the oldest British breed, the English Mastiff is said to had arrived with the Phoenicians and other Eastern traders to the island over 2000 years ago. Its primary ancestor is the original Asiatic mastiff, whose present-day incarnation is the powerful Central Asian Ovcharka breed, with the 2nd most important predecessor to the OEM being the Mastin Espanol, which is regarded as the key link between the dogs of Asia and Britain. Closely related to the French Mastiff and the Neapolitan Mastiff, the English Mastiff most certainly comes from the same stock, influencing each other throughout history, as well as occasionally being enriched with the blood of other breeds, such as the dogs of Tibet, Spain and Switzerland. Supposedly, after being discovered by the Roman troops, it was later exported to Rome where it gained popularity as a war dog and a superb arena fighter, only to find itself reintroduced to the British Isles by the Romans, although in an altered physical state. It is then that the modern look of the British Mastiff is said to had started to take shape, but in reality the appearance hadn't been set until the late 1800's, even though some overly zealous fanciers claim it to had remained virtually unchanged for at least a thousand years. Whether this breed stayed the same for that long is debatable, because there are records of two very different Mastiffs throughout those centuries; a smaller, wider one and the larger, longer-bodied type, as well as a few crosses of the two. Even the Romans have separated these breeds, leading many to believe that these were in fact the predecesors of the old Bulldog and the old Mastiff, linking these two breeds even closer together, as well as proving that the modern Bullmastiff was definetely not the first breed of its type.

Used for baiting bulls, bears, lions and other animals, the old Mastiff also made a great watchdog and companion, which became its primary roles soon after the old spectacle sports were outlawed in Britain. The pride of its homeland, the English Mastiff has been a popular Show contestant for a very long time, but the breed became near-extinct after the 1st World War and in the post-WW2 years, a salvation programme started. It has been suggested that the modern incarnation of the English Mastiff is a result of crossing the leftover stock of dogs with the very breeds descended from it, like the Bullmastiff and the Saint Bernard, as well as Neapolitan Mastiffs, Bloodhounds, Tibetan Mastiffs, Great Danes and Spanish Mastiffs, but this theory is not very well accepted by many fanciers of this breed.

Whatever the truth is, the English Mastiff has been successfully revived and is a popular breed once again. Nowhere near as aggressive as in the past, this powerful, massive and sturdy dog is of imposing appearance, well suited for a guardian, altough comparatively more easy going and lethargic than other modern protection dogs. Unfortunatelly, health problems such as hip dysplasia and bloat are very common in the breed, a result of inbreeding and the desire of many modern breeders to produce much larger dogs than the breed's function calls for. Sometimes referred to as the OEM, or the "Old English Mastiff", the current incarnation of the breed is a loyal and devoted companion, making a good family pet, but it still requires early socialization and responsible handling. This is a broad-shouldered breed, with a deep chest and sturdy legs. The head is large, with a flat forehead, a relatively short muzzle and loose lips.

Although longhaired, as well as multicoloured examples have existed in the past and can still be seen on occasion, the only allowed coat type presently is short, straight and coarse, accepted in fawn, apricot, silver and brindle shades, preferably with a black mask.

Average height is around 30 inches.

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