Neapolitan Mastiff

Breed Group: Working

Temperament and Behavior

The Neapolitan Mastiff is said to have been bred to be so ugly his looks alone would intimidate. But they are courageous, not vicious, menacing only in appearance. Happy to lounge in the yard all day, a Neapolitan Mastiff is docile and calm, but ever watchful. Do not mistake their laid-back nature for laziness. They can switch into protector mode in an instant. A true guardian, Neapolitan Mastiffs are bred to detect and deter unwanted intruders. Wary of strangers, they are slow to become aggressive, but difficult to stop if they decide their family or home needs to be protected.

Provided they receive the companionship needed as puppies, they are loyal and affectionate with family, but usually, prefer one family member who is frequently followed around the house. They are loving with children, as long as they don't tease him. A Neapolitan Mastiff may intervene in normal children's roughhousing in an effort to protect "his" youngsters from others, which can lead to a tragedy. Many consider females more submissive and tolerant of children making them better pets.

Puppies need only enough exercise to keep them lean. Over-exercising places too much stress on and damages his growing bones. Too little exercise causes him to become rambunctious and destructive. Adults need more exercise than puppies. Long walks twice a day are suggested.

Most are intolerant of other dogs and will kill cats and other creatures that flee. Serious, composed, and quiet unless provoked, this breed rarely has trouble with excessive barking. But be prepared for other noises he makes including snorting, grunting, and loud snoring. Flatulence is also a problem.

Many are surprised by how much the breed drools. With a shake of his massive head, he can fling drool everywhere – even on the ceiling. Some owners keep towels in any room where the dog is allowed, for a quick clean up.

Physical Characteristics

The giant Neapolitan Mastiff stands 24 to 30 inches tall and averages 165 pounds in weight with large males weighing 200 pounds or more. Their coats are short and smooth, colored solid gray (blue), black, mahogany and tawny. For a short-haired dog, they shed more than many expect. They do well in cold, even frigid temperatures but they do poorly in heat or humidity, easily overheating. Some describe a "woodsy" odor about them.

Trainer's Notes

The need for socialization is very high for Neapolitan Mastiffs. They are not born with the ability to judge what is a danger as opposed to what is simply unfamiliar. They need to learn to recognize normal behavior opposed to when someone acts suspiciously. Without proper socialization, they can become overly protective. They require a dedicated, experienced owner who will spend the time required to mold a puppy into a manageable, confident adult.

But a Neapolitan Mastiff will challenge a trainer with obstinate, willful, dominant behavior. They will make you prove you can control them. A Neapolitan Mastiff owner must have solid experienced in training and socializing, together with an in-depth understanding of dominance (versus bullying), and an understanding that training is never finished. Owner dominance must be firmly established while the dog is young. A calm handler with natural leadership must show, through absolute consistency, that you mean what you say. They are inclined to do things their own way but will respond to early training that includes cheerful praise and food rewards.

Without proper guidance, these dogs will use their own judgment, and this could lead to a tragedy and legal issues. Clearly this is not a dog for meek or first-time owners.

Photo © by Tim Dawson available under the CC BY-SA 2.0
Neapolitan Mastiff

Neapolitan Mastiff


As a result of a number of significant health issues affecting a large percentage of the breed, the Neapolitan Mastiff has a lifespan of only eight to 10 years. Cardiomyopathy, Cancer, and Bloat lead the causes of mortality.

Other problems include almost half of all dogs suffering from Hip Dysplasia and more than one in three affected by Elbow Dysplasia. Other health issues include OCD and Panosteitis. Hypothyroidism affects some lines as does Cherry Eye, and Entropion, which affect their eyelids. Their skin folds should be kept clean and dry to avoid odor problems and skin infections.


The Neapolitan Mastiff is ranked 116th in popularity by the AKC. There are about 350 registered in a typical year.

Breed History

Found in paintings and statues dating from 3000 years before Christ, the Neapolitan Mastiff can trace his roots back to the giant war dogs of Egypt, Persia, Mesopotamia, and Asia. Alexander the Great (356-323 BC) is credited with creating the forefather of the Neapolitan Mastiff – the “molossian.” He created the molossus by crossing the giant Macedonian and Epirian war dogs with shorthaired “Indian” dogs. The molossus was used to fight tigers, lions, elephants, and men in battle.

When the Romans conquered Greece, they adopted these dogs. Once the Romans invaded England, which had even larger mastiff dogs, the conquerors crossed their dogs with the English dogs. Eventually, the breeders of the molossus settled in the Neapolitan area of southern Italy and focused on breeding guard dogs for their estates. The Neapolitan Mastiff descended from these large, powerful dogs, devoted to their masters and superior defenders of people and property. Not documented in the U.S. until the 1970’s, the breed was placed in the Working Group by the AKC in 2004.

Additional Information

The Neapolitan Mastiffs is banned as a vicious dog in some areas and owners may be refused homeowner policies by some companies. Most visitors will likely feel uncomfortable around the dog. Legal liabilities of owning any breed that looks intimidating and has a history as a guard dog should be considered. People are quick to sue if such a dog does anything remotely questionable.

Neapolitan Mastiffs are an expensive dog. Puppies often cost $1,000 or more. They need a large home for them to live in, a large car to transport them, a large food bowl, and have large vet bills. The National (US) Breed Association is the United States Neapolitan Mastiff Club.

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