The Neapolitan Mastiff
(with his permission)
Everything about the Neapolitan Mastiff, often called the Italian Mastiff, the Italian Bulldog, or simply the Neo, suggests top notch suitability as a guard dog. First and foremost, the Neapolitan is a super-loyal family dog. While the breed is generally suspicious of strangers and politely tolerant of friends, it becomes enamored of its human family, particularly to its one master. In fact, among the many Neapolitan Mastiffs I have known, if I have detect any problem at all with the breed's devotion to its family, I would have to say that the problem is that these dogs tend to really miss their owners when they are left alone and will spend long periods whimpering pitifully until everyone is together again.
The Neapolitan is also an extraordinarily intelligent dog with a great ability to distinguish its friends from its enemies. Don't let the droopy face of the Neapolitan fool you into thinking that the dog is a dullard. Nothing could be further from the truth.
As a deterrent against crime the Neapolitan Mastiff is as perfect as a dog can be. Its overall appearance, both head and body, suggests a potential for unprecedented brutality and, while the dog is exceptionally gentle around its family and friends, this brutality can easily be realized should the Neapolitan's home or family be seriously threatened. Its size is also a substantial deterrent. A good Neapolitan should stand on short but massive legs, and, though it is relatively low to the ground, a large dog will weigh about 200 pounds. Every inch of the dog suggests terrific power which is put to work even as the dog moves casually.
Functionally, the Neapolitan Mastiff is even more capable than its appearance suggests.When you examine a Neapolitan closely, you will realize that, in spite of its heavy appearance and deliberate movement, this is a dog that can really spring into action like a shot should something unexpected happen. Its heavy muscle is very obvious, even though its tough skin is loose and does not connect to the underlying tissue, as does the skin of other dogs. The head of the Neapolitan is huge, the jaws are short and powerful, and the teeth are big and strong. In general, this is most definitely not a dog you want to find yourself face to face with as you step through a stranger's window in order to burglarize his home.
Historically, the Neapolitan Mastiff is among the most interesting of all breeds. Probably descended from the great mastiffs that Alexander the Great regarded so highly in Greece, the early Neapolitan Mastiffs are described in literature of the Roman era as having been used in Rome as gladiator dogs in the arena and in war, as well as in homes as guardians. A description of the Neapolitan in its role as home guardian in Rome comes to us, through the centuries, in the writing of Columelia: "The guard dog for the house should be dark in color so that during the day a prowler can see him and be frightened by his appearance. When night falls, the dog, lost in the shadows, can attack without being seen. The head is so massive that it seems to be the most important part of the body. The ears fall toward the front, the brilliant and penetrating eyes are black or gray, the chest is deep and hairy, the hind legs are powerful, the front legs are covered with long, thick hair, and he is short-legged with strong toes and nails."
Caesar also describes finding fierce mastiff dogs fighting alongside their masters against the Roman legions during the Roman invasion of Britain in 55 B.C. Many of these British fighting mastiffs were brought back to Rome for use in the arena against the native fighting dogs. At this task, the British dogs proved to be superior. As such, it is likely that today's Neapolitan Mastiff contains much of the blood of these ancient British dogs as well as the blood of the indigenous Roman breed, for breeders of the ancient Roman fighting dogs would have taken advantage of the best qualities of each breed in the composition of the ultimate arena dog.
Neapolitan Mastiff enthusiasts of modem times owe the preservation of these dogs to a writer by the name of Scanziani, who, recognizing the value of the breed, began breeding the best remaining Neapolitan Mastiff stock in Italy at his kennels in Rome in 1949. A breed standard proposed by Scanziani was accepted by the Italian Kennel Club, but has since been modified.
Excellent Neapolitan Mastiff stock is being bred in Italy today, but the best is often very difficult to obtain if one is an outsider, especially a foreigner, and is very expensive in any event. Fortunately, as quite a few Neapolitan Mastiff enthusiasts have close ties to Italy, some of Italy's best bloodlines are available. A well bred dog is still fairly expensive, but really no more than any well-bred show dog.
However, the Neapolitan Mastiff is not a breed for everyone. I feel it is necessary to warn prospective Neapolitan Mastiff owners that these dogs salivate more than any other breed that I am aware of and often tend to be messy eaters. In view of their extraordinary size, these characteristics render the Neapolitan absolutely unsuitable as an indoor dog unless it is to have an area of a large home that is primarily its own. These dogs are most at home on an estate or in any home surrounded by a large piece of property. in such an environment, they are among the world's greatest manstopping guard dogs.
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