Breed Type:  Mastiff

Country of Origin: Egypt, Persia & Mesopotamia
Size:  Large
Also known as:  Italian Mastiff, Neo, Mastino, Mastino Napoletano
Male: Height 66-79 cm, Weight: 70-80kg
Females: Height 61-74cm, Weight: 60-70kg
Exercise Requirements: Low
Care Requirements: Medium
Lifespan: 7-11 years
Best Suited as: Guard Dog / Family Pet (females are best)

The Neapolitan Mastiff is the ultimate guard dog and is known for sneaking up on intruders, instead of using their voice to warn their owners of danger. They are a giant wrinkly breed, with a long history, and prefer to be at home protecting their family.

This massive dog is known for its wrinkly skin heavy bone structure, rectangular shape, and oversized head.  Pensive in his stare and ready to spring with amazing speed, the Neo can also be a gentle giant and is loyal to his owners. The Neos look might be intimidating but with their large wrinkly face, body and dewlap, it is also easy to get a glimpse into its softer side. Their lower eyelids droop considerably over their green or brown eyes and their ears may be cropped or natural.

These guard dogs short, dense coats come in several different shades from blue (gray), black and tan to a deep red with reverse brindling.  Some Neos also have white fur on their feet or chest.  A Neapolitan Mastiff is longer than it is tall, with 10-15% greater length than height. The tail is usually docked by a third and the Neapolitan Mastiff movements are slow and steady, with a rolling or lumbering gait.

The Neapolitan Mastiff is an intelligent dog, loyal to his owner, and always watchful. They are affectionate and loving towards their owners and although initially wary of strangers, they will warm up as they get to know their owners friends. They are mostly calm and are rarely aggressive unless provoked by a stranger.  Unlike other guard dogs, they rarely bark and the female Neapolitan Mastiff tends to be more docile than their male counterparts.

Most breeders highly encourage Neo owners that plan to keep them as a family pet, to socialize them early with family members, including other pets. While they can be somewhat stubborn and their guarding instinct is strong, they can be trained to accept strangers within the home. Positive training is usually best as trying to dominate this large animal is rarely successful. They can learn as puppies that their owner is the boss and will work hard to please their master.

This ancient breed’s lineage can be traced back to ancient Egypt, Persia, Mesopotamia and Asia.  The word “Mastiff” means masssivus, meaning “massive” in Latin.  While there is debate about how the Neapolitan Mastiff was introduced in some countries, we do know that they, like all European mastiffs, are decedents of the Tibetan Mastiff.  It is believed that the first Asian mastiffs were brought to Greece from India when Alexander the Great was given a pair of Neos in 326BC.

Most likely, the Greeks introduced the dogs to the Romans.  Early Mastiffs were used as war dogs by the Roman army, much like their predecessor the Molussus, who were used as war dogs in the Middle East. They were also pitted against larger animals and gladiators for entertainment in Roman arenas.

This breed readily found a new home in other countries because of their travels as a war dog. Unfortunately, due to the havoc of war, the breed became extinct throughout the rest of Europe.  The only place it survived was in Campania and did so for two thousand years.  During those years in Italy, the breed was used as a watchdog, looking over farms and estates.  Italy has certainly claimed this dog as their national treasure and the standard was first written in 1948.

Most European countries also came to love the Mastiff and by the early 1970’s they could be found in most European countries as well as in the United States. Aussies have also adopted this wrinkly pet and there are several clubs devoted to it. The Neos have now claimed their place in the world of show dogs.

Care and Grooming
Get out your mop – an excited or thirsty Neo will often leave big puddles of drool on the floor.  While the Mastino does not require much exercise and is not highly athletic, they still like to take short walks and romp with their owners.

Neos are easy to groom and a rubber brush easily removes dirt and loose hair. They do an average amount of shedding so brushing them regularly will help keep unwanted hair on furniture at bay. They eat an average size meal and like to take plenty of naps.

The Neos do not like the heat and are prone to heatstroke. Keep your Neo cool and always have a large supply of fresh water for it. They are known to develop a number of health issues as they age.  One of these issues has been called “cherry eye”. It is recognized by a red mass in the inner corner of the eye. It often makes the dog’s eye dry and surgery is common.

Being a large dog, the Neo is also prone to hip dysplasia, osteochondritis and elbow dysplasia. Some Neos also have issues with their hearts, thyroid, and skin. They may develop bloat and may be prone to anesthesia sensitivity.

Suitability as a Pet
Most breeders suggest that only experienced dogs owners purchase a Neapolitan Mastiff. They need specific and early training as well as socialization to be good pets and they do best with an owner that knows how to command leadership.  If you already own male dogs, it is also not a good idea to add a male Neo to your brood.

With excellent obedience training, a Neapolitan Mastiff can be taught how to be friendly with unknown children, but its best for them to live in a home where there will not be many new children around. All children should learn to respect the pet, as Neapolitans are often unaware of their own strength. Neos are generally good with other non-canine pets as long as they have been socialized with them as puppies.

Neos can live indoors but due to their size, and messy eating, drinking and drooling habits they do very well in a small yard with their own doghouse. You can be assured that your home and property will be well guarded by your calm but cautious pet. It is nearly impossible to train this trait out of this breed, so take precautions to make your animal safe.

Veterinary Surgeon, London at Blue Cross UK | + posts

A London based Veterinary surgeon, Sanja is also an avid writer and pet advocate.