The Neapolitan mastiff is a giant of a dog, but don't assume the phrase "gentle giant" applies in his case. He's usually good with his family, but people he doesn't know are a different story. He makes a great dog for the right person, but that individual should have prior large-breed dog experience and the ability to understand this dog's temperament. Proper training of this massive canine is a must.
In order to understand the nature of a purebred dog, you must know the history of the breed and what it was originally intended to do. The Neapolitan mastiffs' heritage traces back to the dogs of war of the ancient Roman army, according to the United States Neapolitan Mastiff Club. Since that time, it has guarded farms and estates across Italy. A formal breed standard was not enacted until after World War II.
Your Neapolitan mastiff is calm, but he's all business when it comes to guarding your home and family. Because of his size, he's not a good choice for families with small children, so wait until your kids are older and understand how to treat a dog before bringing home a mastiff puppy. This smart dog thrives on steadiness and routine.
Neapolitan mastiffs often aren't good with other dogs. Their sheer size means they can easily inflict serious injury on smaller canines. As for people, Neos will protect their family with their lives, but those outside the immediate family circle must be wary of sudden moves that might be misinterpreted by the dog. Not the most active canine, short daily walks or outings in a well-fenced backyard suffice for him. Tall, strong fencing is necessary, because Neos are quite cognizant of their territory and will defend it against imagined intruders. That might include someone walking his dog down your street.
While it's important for the owner to serve as "leader of the pack" for any dog, it's especially crucial when the canine in question is a giant guarding breed like the Neapolitan mastiff. Start taking your dog to obedience school in puppyhood. Besides basic obedience skills, your mastiff must learn submission to you. This isn't accomplished with yelling or punishment, but by simple exercises that signal you're the boss. For example, you always enter and exit the door before he does when going for a walk, as pack leaders always go first. Before feeding him, make him sit and wait a few seconds before he gets his meal.
Because of his basically suspicious nature, make sure your dog becomes well-socialized. The USNMC recommends that your dog experience people of different races; folks wearing hats, sunglasses and various garb; adults and children and "even people who wear perfume." He must learn that humans aren't threatening if they differ somewhat in appearance.
By Jane Meggitt
United States Neapolitan Mastiff Club: Temperament and Training
American Kennel Club: Get to Know the Neapolitan Mastiff
Vetstreet: Neapolitan Mastiff
Vetstreet: Neapolitan Mastiff Temperament and Personality
United States Neapolitan Mastiff Club: Breed History
About the Author
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.