Mastiff Temperament By Lisa Nicolello
As stated in the Breed Standard for the Mastiff: "A combination of grandeur and good nature, courage and docility. Dignity, rather than gaiety, is the Mastiff's correct demeanor. Judges should not condone shyness or viciousness. Conversely, judges should also beware of putting a premium on showiness."
Temperament: A characteristic way of thinking, behaving, and reacting: disposition. Temperamental; undue irritability or sensitivity.
Personality: The distinctive qualities and traits of an individual. Social and personal traits that make a person (or Mastiff) appealing.
There are many different personalities found in Mastiffs. When I am asked what the temperament of this breed is, I am forced to deal in generalities. I stress that the correct attitude is gentle and quiet. They should be calm in the house and alert outdoors. They should easily understand and follow the household rules. They should not be nervous, destructive or aggressive.
If you are walking your Mastiff in public, any child should be able to pet, hug, kiss your dog, with only a good natured reaction from your dog. Adults should be able to approach you, talk to you, and pet your dog, with no problems.
There are exceptions to every rule, but the following are good guidelines to temperament types.
Shyness is unfortunately common in the breed. What can be confusing about shyness, is that often socialization, obedience training, and dedication on an owner's part, can help overcome shyness to a point. The dog can be taken places, and shown with success, but its owner must be tuned in constantly to the dog to keep its behavior in line. These dogs show their true nature when startled, and cannot be truly trustworthy.
Shyness is considered an inherited trait, and shy parents often produce shy offspring. A shy dog that is aggressive when cornered or forced to stay in what it feels is a frightening situation is a very dangerous animal! Severe bites have occurred when ashy dog is trying to escape from an imagined danger.
A shy temperament can take many forms. Some shy dogs are okay with people when carefully introduced, but are always suspicious of strangers. Some are fearful of objects as simple as a piece of paper. I know of a Mastiff who has caused major damage to himself and his house, when running away from a sheet of typing paper that fell from his owner's desk. Some Mastiffs are afraid of their owners when their owners change clothes, shoes or hats. They react by barking, snarling, running away, falling down in submission, or attacking. Some run into another room and peek around the corner at the feared item.
I've had people giggle when I said their dog was shy. The average pet owner thinks of "shy" as cute and charming, like a demure, sweet child. Most see nothing wrong -- until the dog bites someone.
Puppies that have not been exposed to children, strangers, other dogs, and all kinds of noises, may act fearful, or even aggressive when facing these stresses for the first time.
Socialization is not optional to responsible dog owners. Save yourself and your dogs a lot of trouble -- play loud music, run the blender, the vacuum, have the neighborhood kids over (if you have no children), and take your puppies everywhere you can to socialize them. When you go to the grocery store, train your puppy on the shopping center walkway for five or ten minutes before you go inside. This is also a great place to perfect obedience training for an older dog.
Although I have owned shy dogs that I dearly loved, this is not the correct temperament! Most shy Mastiffs act loveable with their owners when no strangers are around. Most make very nice house pets. Don't count on their help though, when needed as guardians. Be very, very careful when considering breeding a shy dog. If it has shy littermates, or a shy ancestor, forget it, it's not worth it to reproduce this problem.
Another common problem is the aggressive Mastiff. I have heard that some Mastiff breeders like to see a dog-aggressive temperament in their dogs, because their dogs look more alert, and "up" at shows. A Mastiff should not be dog aggressive! Males with correct temperaments, who do not know each other, should not snarl or threaten each other upon meeting. Good tempered dogs simply sniff each other, then either play, ignore the other dog, or take a nap.
However, you will see Mastiffs at shows who are kept well away from the other dogs. These are the dogs that if bumped, or stepped on by another dog, even if the blunder is by a pup or bitch, will attack. Not my idea of a good tempered dog, though many will disagree. Some breeders prefer a "macho" dog.
Dog aggression is inherited, but can be acquired if your male pup is not allowed to play with friendly male dogs. You should be calm and happy when introducing your male pup to "buddies." You should let him play with other breeds, larger and smaller, on a loose leash. The more friendly males your dog meets as a pup, the more inclined he will be to look at other males as playmates, rather than enemies. If he is a dominant pup, let a gentle, but strict adult male teach him manners. Your pup will learn respect, and how to behave correctly. Breed doesn't really matter when teaching manners, other than your Mastiff may develop a lifelong attraction for his role model. My "Chopper" was best friends with a Doberman. He was attracted to all Dobies, all his life. I think the fact that he approached all Dobermans with good intentions, prevented him from ever having problems with them.
Bitches should get along well with each other. It should be very rare to have fights among Mastiffs. Unfortunately, some breeders keep their dogs in kennels and the dogs are not allowed to interact and play with each other. They can harbor grudges, and resent the attention given to kennel neighbors. This practice can result in fights to the death among dogs that, if allowed to socialize with each other, would be the best of friends. I don't see how an accurate assessment can be made of dogs' personalities when confined to a kennel 24 hours a day with little or no socialization.
There are, of course, dominant and submissive Mastiffs. In a pack situation (all dogs together) most disputes are settled peacefully, with the dominant bitch and boss dog ruling. There may be a show of fangs and some stiff-legged posturing, but in my 14 years of raising Mastiffs, I've never had a Mastiff-to-Mastiff fight. (My Bullmastiff has been in several battles though; he is very macho!).
Many breeders do keep "kennel" dogs. It is much easier to lock them up, than to train them, housebreak them, and find out what each dog's temperament is really like. Kenneled dogs tend to bark furiously at visitors.
Many dogs act ferocious behind a fence. Some are aggressive, some shy, and some are perfectly normal. Kenneled Mastiffs get very excited at any change in the usual boring routine, so visitors are something to "talk" about loudly! Once out of the kennel, a more accurate assessment of temperament can be made.
AGGRESSION TOWARD HUMANS
A Mastiff should not be aggressive toward people! A giant dog that bites is a liability. If you are breeding Mastiffs to be ferocious guard dogs -- you are making a huge mistake! I hope you have lots of insurance. At this time, Mastiffs do not yet appear on most lists of dogs that are on the homeowners insurance blacklist. But this status can be changed if Mastiffs become a contender on the dog bite lists. A dog this size can easily kill a person! A Mastiff that is aggressive toward children or adults should be put down; never given away and certainly never bred.
A well-trained dog, with self-confidence, will be bold and alert. If truly challenged, he will look an aggressor in the eye, and not back down. I trained two CH, obedience titled Mastiffs in Schutzhund. Never, ever did they have to do anything but look at a suspicious person in a real life situation. No one was fool enough to try to see what they would do. The dogs were totally under control, standing by me, just glaring at the person. No barking, just a show of fangs, a level gaze and an aura of strength and determination. They saved me from harm on several occasions!
The "up" temperament in Mastiffs is often spoken of as an asset. It is not! An "up" Mastiff is hard to live with, as they are very excitable, and often act like they are on "fast-forward." I have no objection to a happy Mastiff, but although a lively (wild) attitude can be helpful in the breed ring, it is a pain to live with! Judges do tend to look approvingly on Mastiffs that are high stepping, spirited and very alert in the ring.
This is not correct Mastiff temperament! A calm, easy-trotting dog is more true to the breed than a dog that speeds around the ring, fidgets, and leaps at the bait. The Mastiff should be dignified!
I used to make an example of good temperament with my old girl "Amy." She was very friendly and obedient with visitors. Her sweet disposition was always remarked upon, but puppy buyers would ask, "would a Mastiff this gentle protect you?" To show her other side, I would slide a panel of chain-link fencing between me (with Amy) and visiting puppy buyers. The instant the fence was up, Amy would roar, and stomp her feet. When the fence was drawn aside, she was as sweet and outgoing as a Mastiff can ever be. It was a good demonstration of the guarding abilities of a Mastiff who had a perfect temperament. She loved people, but behind a fence, she was a capable protector. We live in a rural area (lots of 1-1/2 acre minimum). The neighbors behind me have a swing set for the kids that is close to my fence. One day a visiting child playing on the swing,kicked her flip-flop over my fence. In my yard were, six adult Mastiffs and one adult Bullmastiff. I found out much later, that this child climbed my fence, retrieved her shoe, and climbed back over the fence. The dogs watched her, but made no aggressive moves. Of course, none were called for, but with another breed, this could have been a tragedy!
A Mastiff with the correct temperament is the easiest of dogs to live with. He adapts to all situations with an immediate understanding. He greets grandma with a wagging tail, but doesn't bump her. He softly rests his great head on his owner's feet while they are watching TV. He is an alert watchdog -- barking only when there is a good reason. He does not chew, soil, or knock over household items. He is tolerant of children, puppies and other animals. He has great patience with people who pull his ears, look in his mouth, use him as a pillow and trip over him. He loves to go for rides, is very obedient (his owners trained him), and he is welcomed at all the relatives houses. He is a family member, and he returns the attention many times over. He is a priceless treasure!
We are getting a great range in temperament in our breed. Many Mastiffs have a combination of the different personalities. Some are only slightly shy, some are aggressive only under stressful situations. Our goal should be the correct disposition, as well as type, or we might as well be satisfied with a mutt from the pound!
I'd like to start a column on Mastiff personalities. All of you are welcome to submit stories about your experiences with a Mastiff "personality." It can be about a good or bad experience, and does not have to be about a dog that you personally own. We welcome your input!