By Cliff Sawit
Photos by Jeffrey C. Lim
Say hello to Animal Scene’s newest cover model, a gentle giant known as the Neapolitan Mastiff. It’s easy to spot the Neapolitan Mastiff in a crowd, because your eyes will be drawn immediately to its imposing size and loose, wrinkly skin. This proud, ancient breed belongs to the category of large, muscular canines known as Molossers, which all come from the same common ancestor. Their bodies are covered by loose skin, with a short-haired coat of either black, blue, mahogany, brindle, or tawny.
Neapolitan Mastiffs are powerful dogs that most commonly serve as guard
dogs. Male Neapolitan Mastiffs grow to about 63-77 centimeters (cm) in height, while females average about 58-70 cm. They are fiercely protective of their human families, and may be wary of strangers and unfamiliar dogs. They are pretty laid-back despite this, and Neapolitan Mastiffs are typically not as active as other dog breeds, even as puppies!
To learn more about this unusual and uncommon breed, we sat down with Alvin Tan, who has been breeding Neapolitan Mastiffs since the 1990s, and who also raises other breeds such as the Tibetan Mastiff, Chinese Crested dog, Chinese Sharpei, Shih Tzu, and Caucasian.
“Neapolitan Mastiffs are very gentle, friendly,” Alvin explains. “They are a great companion for kids. They’re not aggressive dogs. Like other large breed dogs, they eat a lot, but they aren’t very active because of their excessive skin and wrinkles. But they do need daily exercise.”
When selecting a Neapolitan Mastiff, Alvin says the criteria are very simple. “It’s easy to choose a Neapolitan Mastiff. Just look for the best and most wrinkles! The more wrinkles a Neapolitan Mastiff has, the better. The skin must have wrinkled, shaggy folds…from the mouth to the neck. Some world class Neapolitan Mastiffs even have wrinkles at the legs down to their feet. Some breeders crop the ears, but I prefer not to, because I think [the dog] looks so much prettier with the ears.”
Despite being one of the oldest dog breeds in the world, not many Filipinos outside dog fancier circles have heard of it. However, the Neapolitan Mastiff has adapted well to the Philippine climate. “They have adapted quickly because of their short hair, I think,” says Alvin. “Not like other breeds with long coat hair, which have a much harder time adapting here, in the Philippines’ much warmer climate.”
For the summer months, Alvin recommends using an electric fan and providing ice cold water to drink, in case you find your Neapolitan Mastiff feeling hot.
Healthy Neapolitan Mastiffs are healthy eaters, and Alvin feeds his own dogs Beefpro Dog Foods mixed with “sawdust.” (No, sawdust does not refer to wood chips and shavings—which you should never feed your beloved pooch—but to the small pieces of meat that fall off the meat cutter machines in butcher shops, which are ground up and sold as dog food.)
“Just like any other breed, you have to deworm and vaccinate regularly,” Alvin says. “Give them a bath twice a week, and clean their ears on a regular basis. They need a clean environment and room to walk and exercise.”
He cautions city dwellers who might be interested in the breed. “I think they are not suitable for living in condos, because they are prone to hip dysplasia, which requires exercise to prevent. A walk once a day should be sufficient.”
Although some sources state that Neapolitan Mastiffs do not bark as much as some other breeds, Alvin assures us that this is not the case. “Our Neapolitan Mastiffs bark a lot. When we have guests over, they will bark until they can’t see the guest anymore. Because of this barking, they are very good guard dogs, although they don’t bite.”
Neapolitan Mastiffs are smart dogs, and they require intellectual stimulation. Alvin says, “Like other breeds, Neapolitan Mastiffs need attention from their owners. So we always walk and play with our dogs, at least once a day. They are very happy when we play with them.”
It’s this sweet, loving disposition that makes the Neapolitan Mastiff a good family dog, suitable for all ages, according to Alvin. “The Neapolitan Mastiff is well-suited to any family. Even my grandparents and young nephews love the Neapolitan Mastiff.”
This appeared in Animal Scene’s December 2016 issue.