Mastiffs – the Adam of the Canine World
Mastiff DNA is found virtually all over the Earth and in all of the giant breeds of today, plus dogs as varied as Pugs, Chows and French Bulldogs. Imagine a 200 pound Frenchie – yikes! Carvings and bias-reliefs of giant dogs hunting lions have been found in what was then called Babylonia from as far back as 2500-3000 BC.
As happened with people, animals, plants and everything else ancient traders are believed to have brought the Mastiff’s ancestors to ancient Britain. Thus the origins of this powerful breed began.
Hannibal took several battalions of mastiffs, trained for battle, as he crossed the Alps. The Mastiffs were then crossed with local breeds and laid the foundation for the St. Bernard, the Great Pyrenees, the various Swiss giant breeds and more. All of the European giant breeds can trace their roots back to these first giant dogs.
Roman soldiers took Mastiffs back to Italy with them after invading England and thus the Neapolitan Mastiff, the Dogue de Bordeaux and other breeds were bred. As mentioned earlier, even Pugs and Chows have a bit of Mastiff DNA.
The royalty of Great Britain kept Mastiffs to guard their castles and estates. A much more intense breed at the time, they roamed the properties at night, ready to take down poachers, thieves, wolves, anything that encroached upon the land they were entrusted to guard.
Henry VIII gave Charles V of Spain a gift of 400 war-trained Mastiffs. King James I also sent a gift of two Mastiffs to Phillip II of Spain. These Mastiff dogs were often painted and shown in royal portraits, their imposing size and demeanor must have been inspiration for many a court painter.
Other sources indicate that Mastiffs were used as war dogs by the ancient Celts, and accompanied their masters into battle.
The Forest Laws of King Canute, the first written laws of England, referred to the Mastiff by name and it was stated they were to guard the king’s lands. In these laws it was also decreed that Mastiffs be checked by the tax collector, who ensured the middle toes of each front foot were removed so the dog could not run fast enough to catch the deer which were considered property of those of royal blood.
The English Mastiff of today is a gentle, family-oriented dog. The ferocity has been carefully subdued, but the Mastiff will rise to the occasion and protect those they love.
Visit the Mastiff Club for more info.
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