Neapolitan Mastiff breed: the powerful, endlessly patient protector of the family

László Enikő

2023. June 20 - Photos: Getty Images Hungary

While some consider him to be a gentle giant, others do not feel it is appropriate to apply this adjective to this powerful and protective dog. However, in contrast to his family, the Neapolitan Mastiff is indeed extremely patient and gentle, despite his tough past.


The Neapolitan Mastiff is a giant working dog from Italy with wrinkled skin, short fur and a muscular build. Although their size can be intimidating, the Neapolitan Mastiff is an extremely patient and affectionate dog who is also great in families. It protects your loved ones and doesn’t require much grooming, apart from the need to wipe its drool often to keep your home clean.

Neapolitan Mastiff.


The Mastiffs have been around for thousands of years. The first Mastiffs were developed in Tibet, thousands of years ago. These huge dogs were used in battle and as guards, both of which they were excellent at. The Romans are known to have used mastiff dogs very often, both in battle and on hunts.

The direct ancestor of the Neapolitan Mastiff is thought to be the Roman molossi. In the fourth century BC, Alexander the Great’s famous giant fighting dogs were crossed with other short-haired dogs to create a breed known as the molossi, which was used in battle. Eventually these dogs were crossed with other large-bodied breeds to create an even larger and more formidable dog.

The Neapolitan Mastiff was bred in the south of Italy, around Naples, hence its name. The breeders in Naples have created a huge, heavy, loose-skinned dog that protects them in case of attack. But they also wanted a dog that was loyal and loved its family members.

The Neapolitan Mastiff later became a national treasure in Italy, and it is said that six of them were exhibited at the first dog show in Naples in 1946.

Italian painter Piero Scanziani wrote this about the breed when he first met it:

I recognised him immediately: he was brought to Rome by Paolo Emilio, a Macedonian. A huge dog from Epirus, son of the Assyrian dog, grandson of the Tibetan, a real molossus. Calm, not hostile, but not with kind eyes, he sized me up. His gaze neither asked nor gave, just stared. He was staring at the river, you could feel the powerful force at the end of the leash. You’d better back off at his warning, because the molossus doesn’t bark, it only bites.”

The artist became a big fan of this dog and he also created the first breed standard in 1948, and the Italian Kennel Club officially recognized the breed. The Neapolitan Mastiff retained its original appearance for a long time (although at first there was considerable diversity in the appearance of the individuals), but in recent decades it has become more sluggish, wrinkled and less agile than before. The breed spread throughout Europe in the 1970s and soon made its way to America.

Breed standard

The Neapolitan Mastiff is a large, strong built, dignified, brave guard dog of the molossoid group. Its skin is loose over the entire body, especially on the head and neck where it forms a layer of skin. The head is large, short and compact. The nose is large with wide nostrils, the bridge of the nose is straight. Lips thick and heavy. Jaws strong, well developed. Eyes set wide apart, slightly rounded, the rim of the eyelids black. Eye colour darker than the coat. Neck short, muscular, stocky, with a torso length approximately 15% greater than the height at withers. Chest broad, upper back straight. Slightly curved at the withers. Tail broad, thick and strong at the base, thinning slightly.

Its limbs are strong and muscular, and its paws are round and bulky. Fingers are curved and well adherent. The coat is thick, even in length, smooth and short. Its colour is mostly leaden grey or black, sometimes with small white patches on the chest and fingertips. They may also be pale red, mahogany and deer red, and all types may be striped. Height at withers 60-75 cm, depending on sex, and body weight 50-70 kg. Life expectancy is about 8 years.


Besides its unique appearance, this breed is a great companion. The Neapolitan Mastiff loves his family unconditionally but is distrustful of strangers. It making him a great watchdog to protect his home from intruders. His fearless and protective attitude is sure to frighten any unwanted visitor. The Neapolitan Mastiff has a particularly affectionate personality. Not usually a very playful breed, but happy to relax on the sofa with its owner or go for a walk or two.

He is a smart, non-aggressive, very patient dog. If he feels his owner is in danger, he will act immediately, and usually doesn’t need to be taught to do so, as he does it instinctively. As a mastiff, he tends to get a little distracted at times, but he likes to have a job to do. It does not respond at all to punishment-based training. Because he is instinctively wary of strangers, it’s a good idea to keep him company from a young age so he can get to know and get used to as many things as possible.

Ideal environment

Because of its size, it is not a typical house dog, and is better in a home where it has plenty of space. It is not a sedentary breed, but of course it is important for it to walk several times a day. Great as a family dog, but because of its size it can easily knock children over, so it’s worth keeping an eye on. Despite this, he is an extremely patient, non-aggressive, child-friendly dog.

Although not particularly playful or eager as an adult, it’s a different story as a puppy. Neapolitan Mastiff puppies are generally energetic and playful, but their owners need to set limits. Because their bones are large, joints can be easily damaged. It is important to limit the running and jumping of puppies, while also ensuring that they do not stomp too often. This way, they will develop healthily.


Grooming a Neapolitan Mastiff is not a difficult task. His coat should be brushed once a week and bathed if he gets messy. However, this is a real challenge for such a big dog! Care should be taken to keep folds and wrinkles clean, and these should be wiped dry frequently to avoid any resulting skin disease. As he drools a lot, it’s a good idea to have a wipe handy to wipe off the drool. Eyes and ears should be checked frequently.

Common health problems

Being a very large dog, dysplasia and gastric torsion can be a threat to the breed. If wrinkles and folds on the head are not regularly wiped dry, skin infections can develop. A common disease in Mastiff dogs is cherry scab, which often requires surgery. Arthritis can also develop in this breed, so it is a good idea to buy a very comfortable and soft bed for him, which is good for his joints.

(Literature: János Szinák – István Veress: A világ kutyái II., János Szinák – István Veress: Kutyakalauz, David Alderton: Kutyák, Joan Palmer: Advisor’s Guide to Choosing a Large Dog, Dr. Pál Sárkány: International Dog Encyclopedia, Dr. Klára Király: Poems, Legends and Wisdoms for Dog Lovers).

children dog in family family dog friendly dog friendly dog breeds guardian-protector large dog molosser Neapolitan Mastiff

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