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Neapolitan Mastiff: A Guide to The Large & Lovable Dog Breed

Neapolitan Mastiffs are wrinkly, drooling, glaring hounds whose appearance is generally intimidating. Despite the stereotypes about them, though, Neos or Mastinos (as they are commonly known) are affectionate and loyal dogs. They’ll happily become a loving part of your family if given a chance!  

If you’re interested in debunking some myths, researching if you can handle them, or looking into better care for the one you already have, this article will fill you in on everything you need to know about Neapolitan Mastiffs! 

 

Neapolitan Mastiff Characteristics (Physical)

Known for their loose folds of skin and imposing size, Neapolitan Mastiffs are a sight to behold.  Their heavy, muscular bodies make it so they are lumbering beasts rather than energetic running mates. As both puppies and adults, these soft, wrinkly dogs make excellent cuddle buddies for the entire family.   

large powerful brown dog with owner in an open field

 

Neapolitan Mastiff Size

Adult Neapolitan Mastiffs measure between 24 to 31 inches tall and are known for their astounding heads. Because of their burly builds, the Neo can be quite clumsy when moving through a house! Especially when on the stairs or in a crowded room.  If you need to leave them alone, make sure they have plenty of space or they will move your furniture. 
 
At nine weeks, Mastiff puppies weigh around 30 pounds, but they do not remain that way for very long.  They grow quickly throughout the first six months of life, and before you know it, your wrinkly little puppy becomes a gigantic wrinkly dog that weighs about 150 pounds. 

 

Neapolitan Mastiff Personality



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Despite their initial threatening appearance, Neapolitan Mastiffs are affectionate and playful.  Because they were originally bred as guard dogs, Neos are loyal to their families but wary of strangers or new visitors in their home.  Once they get comfortable, though, they relax into their preferred mindset of being a 150-pound lap dog. 
 
Neapolitans thrive on interaction and affection and do not do well when left alone for too long.  It is important to remember that their size plus too much boredom will likely result in some destruction.  As we mentioned, the Mastiff needs wide open spaces, so it’s best to provide them with a doggy door to access a fenced-in yard while they spend time alone.  
 
An enclosed yard is also a great way to help your Neo learn the parameters of their “territory.” They rarely bark, but if they think a stranger is on their property, they will shift personalities from sweet to intimidating. The fence will help them understand what space “belongs” to them.  
 
The Mastiff is protective, loving, and mighty, so as long as you have room for them, they will make a wonderful addition to your family. 
 
large brown canine with a cute droopy face walking in grass

Neapolitan Mastiff Exercise

Neapolitan Mastiffs need extra supervision while playing. As puppies, they tend to over-exert themselves and injure their joints. As adults, their weight and clumsiness can cause strain throughout the body.  To avoid injuries, experts recommend that you do not force your Mastiff into any sharp turns during playtime. 
 
Another thing to keep in mind about their size and exercise is to limit games such as tug-of-war. While Neos love to play and bond with their owners, tug-of-war will show them they are stronger than you are.  This is not helpful when training because once they realize they can overpower you, they will.  This will make it difficult to get them to follow commands. 
 
Don’t let any of this deter you from playing and exercising with your furry friend, though! Remember that Neos are very playful! However, they need someone to regulate how long they play and what kinds of activities they do.  They can also overheat easily, so make sure to keep an eye out for signs of heatstroke.

Related: How Much Exercise Does a Dog Need Every Day?

 

Neapolitan Mastiff Training

Neapolitan Mastiffs are a highly sensitive breed of dog, so try to be patient, kind, and give rewards throughout the training.  But don’t forget to be clear in establishing your dominance! Remember they can figure out they are stronger than you very quickly.
Neos are also known for being quite stubborn, so it is important not to give up when training them as a puppy.
 
You must begin training your Neo from the moment you bring them home. If they aren’t allowed on the couch, try to block it off and firmly say “no” when they try to climb up. If you live in a home with stairs, install a gate at their foot before bringing the puppy home.  Remember, they are prone to clumsiness and injury, especially if trying to climb large objects. 
 
Socialization is the most important part of training Mastiffs.  A lack of proper socialization with humans and other pets from an early age may result in behavioral problems later in life.  
 
To avoid this development, the United States Neapolitan Mastiff Club (USNMC) recommends that you expose your Neos to people “who wear hats, sunglasses, umbrellas, scarves, ties, individuals of different races or even people who wear perfume.” Getting your Neo accustomed to different sorts of dog breeds either at the park or in a socialization/obedience class is also crucial. 
 

Neapolitan Mastiff History

Neapolitan Mastiffs have a long history that some experts date back as far as 700 B.C. The Roman Empire adopted the Mastino Napoletano (as they are known in Italian) into “war dogs.” This chapter in the Neo’s history makes it easy to understand why they are often stereotyped as mean.  It’s their origin story! 
 
Until the 1940s, pretty much the entire world besides Italy was unfamiliar with the Neapolitan Mastiff.  After journalist Piere Scanziana noticed the then largely unknown Neo in 1946 in Naples, this breed was recognized by the international dog registry, the Federation Cynologique Internationale (FCI), in 1949.
 
After gaining popularity in Europe, Jane Pampalone imported the first Mastino to the United States in 1973, but it wasn’t until 2004 that the American Kennel Club (AKC) recognized them. 
 
big pup in grass relaxing and waiting

Neapolitan Mastiff Health Problems 

Neapolitan Mastiffs are healthy dogs that can live a long time with the right care! Still, owners should be aware of some health conditions that the breed is prone to developing.

 

Hip and Elbow Dysplasia

As we mentioned, one thing that you should always look out for with your Neo is the potential for joint injury.  Mastiffs are genetically prone to hip and elbow dysplasia, which can get worse with joint injuries.  You need to moderate how and where your Neo plays and keep an eye out for any joint pain or discomfort they may display.
 

Cherry Eye

Another prevalent condition in Neapolitans is Cherry Eye – when the gland in the corner of their eye becomes infected, red, and swollen. Although this is not dangerous for your Neo, it may be uncomfortable. You should take them to the vet right away. On a lighter note, the Mastiff rarely has skin problems of any kind, despite the incredible amount they have hanging off their bodies. 
 

Gastric Dilation-Volvulus (GDV)

One severe condition to look out for is Bloat, or Gastric Dilation-Volvulus (GDV).  According to the USNMC and research done by Purdue University, GDV is the second leading cause of death in giant breed dogs (over 100 pounds). When GDV occurs, air accumulates in the stomach, causing it to rotate and cut off the blood supply, which can result in your dog going into shock.  
 
Common signs of GDV are enlargement of the abdomen, retching, salivation, restlessness, and abdominal tenderness. There is no home remedy, so if you think that your Neo may have symptoms, get them to your veterinarian right away.
 
The Neapolitan Mastiff has a typical lifespan of about nine years. As they age, their risk of developing GDV or joint and mobility problems will increase. Always watch for signs of discomfort, pain, or irritation in your dog. Bring them to the vet at the slightest sign of something like GDV, which can have a mortality rate up to thirty percent. 
 

How to Care for a Neapolitan Mastiff

Neapolitan Mastiffs are complicated and need a lot of training and love. They are not good dogs for inexperienced owners since they need a specific kind of training and care. Apartments and condominiums are not suitable homes for giant breed dogs. Neos want space to spread out and a big family and house/yard to protect. 
 
Since they can be difficult to train and care for at times, Neos are not ideal pets for younger adults with busy lifestyles.  A family with a parent who remains at home, or even a single person who works from home, is the best option for these dogs.  They do not do well alone and are likely to either hurt themselves or destroy the living space if they become distressed by solitude. 
 

Nutrition and Feeding for Neapolitan Mastiffs

Experts across the board, such as the AKC and the USMNC, recommend top-quality dog food for your Neapolitan Mastiffs.  When they are puppies, it is best to feed them about ¾ of a cup three times per day to promote their rapid growth. 
 
Additionally, the Neo puppy should go out right away after every meal as a part of the training process.  This helps them associate the feeling of being full with going outside to do their business. 
 
After their six month birthday, it is generally best to transition your Mastiff to four to six cups of food per day, split into two meals. The Mastiff dog breed is prone to weight gain, so ensure that you are monitoring their food intake and exercise. 
 
Since Neos are homebodies, it’s not a good idea to leave out a bowl of food. They will likely eat it all at once! You will also want to be nearby when they finish eating since they make a slobbery mess every time. 
 
Remember, each dog is different, so consult with your veterinarian about their diet and which dog food ingredients are beneficial for their overall health and growth.
 
grey puppy with wrinkles standing in grass

Coat Color And Grooming

Neapolitan Mastiffs usually come in gray, black, or mahogany. They can also come in light coats with a somewhat striped appearance, called brindle. 
 
Mastinos are short-coated, which means this dog tends to only shed seasonally rather than constantly. You should brush them once a week, being gentle and mindful of their loose folds. This is also a good time to check for any skin irritation underneath the folds. The AKC recommends bathing your Neo with a natural shampoo for dogs as needed, and you had better prepare yourself for a big, wet mess when you do. 
 
It is important to keep a towel on hand during meal times and gently wipe their faces dry once they finish their food. It is also crucial to frequently clean out their eyes and ears with a damp cloth. These clumsy, gentle, drooling beasts need a hand keeping themselves clean. 
 

Children And Other Pets

Mastiffs are actually good with children who are open to being playful with them. There are a few things to keep in mind when exposing your Neo to kids, however.  Remember, they do not like strangers, so take the time to introduce your dog to new kids by showing that you trust the newcomer, and the Neo can, too. 
 
Additionally, don’t put all the pressure on the puppy!  Take the time to teach any kids who will be in the house about how to interact with your Neo, just as you are teaching your Neo how to be a part of the family. 
 

Be Mindful of Size

Another important thing to keep in mind is their combination of general clumsiness and extreme weight and strength.  Because of these traits, they tend to do better with older children and teenagers rather than small toddlers.  
 
Neos rarely bite unless they feel that their family or land is under attack. As long as you facilitate a trusting relationship between your dog and any kids in the house, you should never have to feel worried that your fur baby would hurt your real babies. 
 

The Importance of Socialization

Don’t forget that your Neo should be having these interactions with children and with other pets from a very early age in order to socialize your dog.  Even if you don’t have kids of your own! You will be going to the park where they play and someday may want some of your own, so be sure to bring your Mastiff around kids during the first six months. 
 

Other Dogs

Unfortunately, Neapolitans do not get along with other dogs very well, but early socialization process can help a lot.  They also tend to do better with other dogs and cats who are raised alongside them; dogs are pack animals and generally regard any other creatures (including babies!) who are raised with them as part of their pack. When it comes to the Neo, it is all about trust and family. 
 

Rescue Groups

The most well-known rescue group in the United States for Neapolitan Mastiffs is Mastino Rescue, Inc, a non-profit, 100% volunteer organization.  They operate throughout most states and are working tirelessly to stifle the slow but steady rise in numbers of Neos at kill shelters.
 
Unlike other rescue groups, Mastino Rescue doesn’t use traditional shelters.  Instead, they place every Neo with an experienced foster family for rehabilitation before finding them a “forever home.”
 
Another amazing organization that is doing everything they can to help these majestic beasts is the Mastiff Club of America (MCOA).  In 2005, they formed a coalition of Mastino rescue groups called the Rescue Foundation Incorporated (RFI).  Some of the groups that make up the RFI are Friends of Rescued Mastiffs, Southern States Mastiff Rescue, Mastiff Rescue of Florida, and Great Lakes Mastiff Rescue. 
 
If you are interested in adopting a Neapolitan Mastiff, PLEASE look into rescuing through one of these organizations rather than going to a breeder. Because Neos can be extremely difficult for inexperienced dog owners, many of them end up in kill shelters. If you can help by rescuing or donating, visit some of their websites for more information. 
happy mastiff canine relaxing outside on a porch

Breed Organizations

Many organizations include the Neapolitan Mastiff in their educational and/or rescue efforts, such as the American Kennel Club, the United States Neapolitan Mastiff Club, the Mastiff Club of America, and many more. Neos are still a fairly recent introduction to the United States! Because of this, much effort is needed to educate the general public about this breed. The organizations listed throughout this article are a great starting resource for information. 
  

More Information

Neapolitan Mastiffs are a wonderful addition to any family looking for a friend and a protector wrapped into one.  Perhaps this is why Hagrid from the Harry Potter series has a Neapolitan Mastiff named Fang.  The two of them are very alike – loyal, gigantic, protective, and loving.  And if you need an example of how much they really drool, give the second Harry Potter movie a watch.   
 
If you can get over their general messiness and are willing to put in the work to train them, adopting a Neapolitan Mastiff will be one of the best choices that you ever make.



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