The Restored Neapolitan Mastiff

By Barry Reder, D.D.S.


Not long after buying a few acres of land in "the country", it became apparent that issues of home and property security would arise. My family would need something more than an electronic burglar alarm- a large, dependable dog would do just fine. This was the beginning of my search for a guard dog. I was not interested in the usual A.K.C. candidates. The Rotties, Dobies, and Shepherds left me cold. By chance, I happened upon a copy of Dr. Semencic's "Pitbulls and Tenacious Guard Dogs". The Italian Neapolitan Mastiff Dr. Semencic discussed piqued my interest and demanded further investigation. I was then referred to a copy of "The Neapolitan Mastiff" written by Mario Zacchi- a book now out of print. The historical mythology was captivating and I fell under the spell of the Roman Dog of War. This ancient breed, used by Caesar in battle, had suffered badly over the ensuing two thousand years. Chance crossbreeding and the ravages of wars had been unkind to large dogs throughout Europe. "…the demands of hunting dogs during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance period, resulting in the intermingling of greyhound blood… so that some lighter or alaunt-type molossians were the result" - Zacchi (p52). The Mastinos of today have undergone a progressive rebirth started in the 1930's and '40s by Piero Scanzani and other devotees. Photographs of these early Neapolitans depict a thinner, tighter skinned mastiff with less dewlap, a shallow cranial "stop" and a longer muzzle. "The similarity between these historical images and the modern mastiff is impressive: we stress the 'modern' Mastiff as opposed to those presented at the 1946 Exhibition of Naples which so impressed Piero Scanziani"- Giuseppe Alessandra. Indeed, the Mastino of today is a most formidable beast. A few specimens, though rare, approach 30+ inches at the withers and tip the scales at over 200 pounds. This begs the question "Can the Neapolitan's structure- the muscles, sinews and bones, be pushed beyond some finite limit?" The final work of re-creation is not complete; -will these future Mastinos have the physical health, strength and endurance necessary in a guard dog…. or will they merely be a fresco of a once mighty beast.

The prospective buyer of "today's" Neapolitan Mastiff has many issues and choices to contend with. A good starting point would be to define the goals for which the dog is intended. A pet Neapolitan need not have all of the esthetic attributes necessary in a "show" pup. A fault in coloration will not diminish the love or loyalty showered upon you and your children by a Neapolitan Mastiff pup. Healthy "pet quality" pups are frequently sold for a fraction of the cost of its "show quality" littermates. Neapolitan Mastiffs have been found to be inherently good family guard dogs. Few advocate formal guard or attack training for the Neapolitan Mastiff. Ask to see the parents of the pup. Do they look healthy? Do they limp while walking? Are the limbs bowed or badly "turned out"? Are they "cow hocked"? Have the parents of your proposed pup been checked for hip dysplasia? Have the parents passed their O.F.A. hip x-rays? Do they have mange? Ask about the parent's thyroid function. Have the parents passed all of the M.S.U. thyroid function tests? A few well-known breeding lines of Neapolitan Mastiffs are riddled with hypothyroid ancestors and should be avoided.

If the pup is being bought "for show", I feel it is doubly important to see both parents. Not only should the afore-mentioned health issues be raised, but also close attention should be paid to questions of conformation. Ask to see a few mature progeny from an identical breeding, if possible. Be critical of the consistency of the litter. Check for disqualifying patterns of coloration, undescended testicles, conjunctival dermoids (common in the Neapolitan), bone mass, shape of the cranium, length of the muzzle, angulation of the stop, etc. Ask questions! It's your money.

The Neapolitan Mastiff offers a unique opportunity for those interested in dog breeding. Major health problems affect this breed- and can offer a challenge for breed betterment. If the breeder is willing to cull his stock of dysplastic and hypothyroid dogs- though the economic cost is high, the breed will benefit. The search for the Mollosser of ancient times continues- and we can be a part of it. The prospective breeder should be slow to purchase a pup. A copious amount of time should be spent reading about the Neapolitan, traveling to rare breed shows, and visiting with the various breeders across the nation. In an ideal world a trip to Italy, which includes a dog show, would be a wise endeavor. My wife and I found it quite helpful to spend time in the "mother country" of the Neapolitan Mastiff- taking in a dog show and visiting several of the larger kennels. Our experiences are shown on my Internet web site at A word of caution is due. The ethical breeding and marketing of Neapolitan Mastiff pups is not a profit-making venture. High quality food, proper shelter, natural attrition of the breeding stock, and veterinarian costs, leave the breeder with negative cash flow when the profits and losses are tallied.

Whether your Neapolitan is a pet or show dog, your responsibilities as an owner are great-, as is your liability. There are those who are willing to pay upwards of three thousand dollars for the show quality pup- only to feed it bargain priced kibble, ignore timely deworming, neglect proper veterinarian care, and then rage at the breeder for selling an inferior pup. While "growing" a Neo pup, the list of dos and don'ts goes on forever. Turn to your breeder for advice. If your pup matures into a "winner", the breeder wins as well. Ask the breeder (if local) for his or her choice of a Veterinarian. A Veterinarian familiar with the idiosyncrasies of the Neapolitan Mastiff is a valuable find. The buyer of a pup expects a healthy- almost "bullet proof" puppy. The breeder knows that while his or her pups are of high quality and sound in body, they are fragile- easily and permanently damageable- during the first year of life. During the weaning process and throughout the first year, I feed my pups "adult" kibble with approximately 22% protein. (Remember- This was written before I had learned about the "Bones and raw food diet.")This is done to promote slow safe growth. Gerber's brand baby food (green or yellow vegetables) is frequently added to the diet, as is yogurt with live cultures. I supplement with one high quality human multiple vitamin per day. My pups grow about 5 pounds per week until they reach approximately 85% of their final weight. The growth curve then levels with maximum weights attained in the second or third year of life.

How will your neighbors view your 150# baby? Proper socialization of your pup will lead to a happier, healthier relationship between you, the dog, and your neighbors. "Puppy Obedience Classes" should begin as soon as possible. Although I have heard a few Neo owners claim that their mature dog loves the other dog in the house or down the block… it is the exception that proves the rule. The Neapolitan Mastiffs I have known have been very dog aggressive while out in public. Two Neos of the same sex in the same yard will eventually spell disaster. Your pup's obedience training could save the neighbor's cherished pet and keep you out of trouble. A five-foot chain link fence is always good insurance. A Zen saying goes "after ecstasy comes the laundry". After the joys of owning a pup come the responsibilities and liabilities of ownership. This is true for breeders as well as owners. Too many of these magnificent animals are ending up on "death row" in the pound. None of the national dog clubs have accepted their responsibilities to develop meaningful rescue operations. Too often I hear breeders say that a dog placed in a rescue home is a pup not sold. I must condemn this callous disregard for the welfare of the very breed we claim to cherish. Breeders must make every effort to screen potential buyers and educate them- not just sell them.