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Neapolitan Mastiff

Nicole Cosgrove

neapolitant mastiff_Ricantimages_Shutterstock

The Neapolitan Mastiff is a giant purebred from Italy also called the Italian Bulldog, Italian Mastiff, Mastino Napoletano, Italian Molosso and Can’E Presa. It is an ancient breed that was bred to be a guard dog and defend properties and families in the south of Italy. Despite is size and fearsome appearance it is one of the giant mastiffs also known to be a gentle giant. It does well in the show ring and makes a very steady and calm companion.

The Neapolitan Mastiff at A Glance
Name Neapolitan Mastiff
Other names Italian Bulldog, Italian Mastiff, Mastino Napoletano, Italian Molosso and Can’E Presa
Nicknames Neo, Mastino
Origin Italy
Average size Giant
Average weight 110 to 154 pounds
Average height 24 to 31 inches
Life span 7 to 10 years
Coat type Harsh, rough, short, dense
Hypoallergenic No
Color Blue, Black, Grey, Brindle, Tawny
Popularity Somewhat popular – ranked 99th by the AKC
Intelligence Fair to average – not especially quick but certainly steady
Tolerance to heat Moderate – can handle warm weather but nothing more!
Tolerance to cold Low – not good in any kind of cold weather
Shedding Average – some hair will be around the home
Drooling High – slobbers and drools a lot
Obesity High – prone to weight gain so measure its food and treats and make sure it is well exercised
Grooming/brushing Low to moderate maintenance – regular grooming needed
Barking Low – not a dog prone to barking a great deal
Exercise needs Slightly active – but in this sized dog that still amounts to a lot of exercise needed
Trainability Moderate – can have stubborn moments, experience helps a lot
Friendliness Good with socialization
Good first dog Low – not a dog for inexperienced people
Good family pet Very good with socialization
Good with children Good with socialization – best with older children
Good with other dogs Moderate – needs good socialization and strong leadership
Good with other pets Good but needs good socialization
Good with strangers Low – suspicious of strangers, socialization, training and supervision are essential
Good apartment dog Moderate – needs a home with room and a yard
Handles alone time well Low – does not like being left alone for long periods
Health issues Somewhat unhealthy – does suffer from a number of health issues such as hip and elbow dysplasia, heart problems, eye problems and cleft palate
Medical expenses $485 a year for basic health care and pet insurance
Food expenses $270 a year for a good quality dry dog food and treats
Miscellaneous expenses $245 a year for basic training, license, toys and miscellaneous items
Average annual expenses $1000 as a starting figure
Cost to purchase $1,200
Rescue organizations Several including the United States Neapolitan Mastiff Rescue
Biting Statistics Mastiffs are reported to have been involved in 28 attacks that did bodily harm, 23 were child victims, 5 deaths and 17 maimings

The Neapolitan Mastiff’s Beginnings

The Neapolitan Mastiff is believed to be descended from an ancient breed of dog, the Tibetan Mastiff. There are a couple of schools of thought on the spread of the Mastiff. One suggest that Alexander the Great brought Asian mastiffs to Greece sometime around 300BC. They were then admired and adopted by the Romans. The word Mastiff comes from the Latin word ‘massivus’ which means massive! Other experts suggest that around 500 BC the Phoenicians brought it to England and it spread from there to Europe and the Romans. It was used as a war dog dressed in its own armor even, in Roman arenas, and as a guard dog.

In the south of Italy, near Naples the mastiff there was developed into the Neapolitan Mastiff we know today. Breeders focused not just on size and guard dog ability, they also focused on its temperament, wanting a dog that would make a great and loyal companion. They kept its loose skin and ugly looks! For may years it remained relatively unknown anywhere else other than the south of Italy. Having survived hundreds of years it was the arrival of World War II that almost saw it disappear.

New Lease on Life

After the war an Italian painter called Piero Scanziani saw the Neapolitan Mastiff at a dog show in 1946 and realized it was a descendant of the ancient Roman Mastiffs. Realizing the breed was low in numbers he started a breeding kennel. He worked to develop a breed standard and to bring it to the attention of more dog lovers. His work also led to it being recognized by the Italian national dog registry in 1949 where it was called Mastino Napoletano. It soon became an Italian national treasure.

That standard was revised in 1971 and by this point it was more well known across Europe and also in the US too. While Italian immigrants likely brought some with them in the 1880s the first known Neo was owned by Jane Pampalone brought over in 1973. 1973 was when the Neapolitan Mastiff Club of America was started and then 20 years later two other clubs were started, the United States Neapolitan Mastiff Club and the American Neapolitan Mastiff Club. It got full recognition from the AKC in 2004 and today is ranked by them as 99th in popularity.

The Dog You See Today

This giant breed weighs 110 to 154 pounds and stands 24 to 31 inches tall. It is a powerful, rectangular shaped massive dog. There is lots of loose thick skin on the body and when you first see it there is a look of a Great Dane crossed with a Shar Pei! It is actually smaller than the English Mastiff but seems larger. It holds its tail up straight and then bends over its back, in countries where it is still allowed the tail is docked. It has round and large feet and in show dogs dewclaws are not removed. The coat is short, straight and dense and smooth, with a length no longer than one inch. Common colors are chocolate, tawny, blue, black, grey and mahogany. Only a little white is allowed in show dogs.

The Neapolitan Mastiff’s head is a large part of its ugly appearance! It is wide, large and flat and the broad muzzle is a third of the length of its head. The head is a lot larger than is proportionate for its size. There are lots of hanging wrinkles and folds and it has a big dewlap and pendulous lips. The nose has wide open nostrils and is large and comes in a color that changes with the coat color. Its eyes are deep set , brown or amber and have dropping upper eye lids that almost cover them and drooping lower lids too. Ears can be cropped or left natural depending where you are.

The Inner Neapolitan Mastiff


The Neo is an alert dog and makes a very good watch dog and guard dog. It will bark to let you know of any intruders and being very protective, will act to defend you and the home fearlessly. It will do what it feels is needed so it does have the potential for aggression. It is not the best dog for new owners, it is too large, dominant and needs experience to best handle it. It is a very loyal dog and while it looks intimidating and those with ill will should beware, with its family and the right raising it is affectionate, sweet, gentle, calm and loving. It loves to be with the family and be a part of family activities and it is actually a very sensitive breed so is best in homes that are not full of tension and raised voices.

It is independent and fairly smart and is not a dog for just anyone. It is a quiet dog, so should not bark a lot but it does drool and slobber a lot especially in the heat and after drinking some water. Males tends to be more heavier droolers than females. Around strangers it is reserved, even suspicious, until it is sure of you, owners should make sure it is well socialized so it does not over react to strangers and make sure introductions happen with supervision. It needs a lot of attention and does tend to bond more closely to one of its owners and will shadow them around the home and yard. It loves to cuddle and will lean on you, put its head on your lap, and do the giant sized version of being a lap dog!

Living with a Neapolitan Mastiff

What will training look like?

Mastinos are moderate to train, they listen to commands and are inclined to obey, and are smart but they are large and independent so if they do not want to do something it is hard to get past that. Experienced owners may find it takes less repetition than some dogs, but if you cannot be firm and clear about being the leader its dominance levels can slow things down. With a dog of this size and nature starting the training early is especially important, you can get it working before it reaches a size and independence that is less manageable. Be very consistent and confident and avoid being too repetitive. Using physical punishment and scolding is not going to be successful for a couple of reasons, it is too sensitive for such methods and it has a high threshold for pain. House training should go well as long as you set a regular schedule and keep it positive.

Early socialization is also very important with the Mastino. Otherwise their reserved nature around strangers can become aggressive, and their natural guard instincts can turn to over protectiveness, where it does not know what are real threats, so it acts aggressively to protect you or the family even when the situation is not called for. From a young age, really as soon as you get it home, introduce it to different places, sounds, people, animals. Let it learn acceptable behavior and reaction versus over reactions. Often this breed is more friendly and accepting as a puppy then grows to be more serious so always reenforce its good behavior. By exposing it to good people it is more easily able to discern when the bad ones come along.

How active is the Neapolitan Mastiff?

The Neapolitan Mastiff is slightly active, it likes to laze around although that can be deceptive as it can have bursts of energy. It is also alert all the time and surprisingly agile and quick if it deems a threat needs responding to, whatever it is doing at the time. It is not suited to apartment living due to its size though, and access to even an average sized yard is good though a large one is best. It is good in colder climates but will need extra care when it is too warm or hot. Owners will still have to give it daily exercise to keep it healthy and happy and that should include at least two daily moderate to long walks.

Since this breed can be aggressive with other dogs, trips to a dog park are not recommended. Make sure it is always on a leash when out walking and that you have trained it to walk properly not drag you along. If it does not get out enough it can become willful, noisier, hard to control and destructive, as well as more aggressive, and those things in this breed could mean disaster. Along with its walks and play somewhere safe, make sure it is mentally stimulated too. Make sure the yard is well fenced in, at least 5 to 6 feet tall. Avoid roughhousing, even as a puppy, as when it grows up that could be dangerous for you.

Caring for the Neapolitan Mastiff

Grooming needs

The Mastino is a low to moderate maintenance breed. Its coat is short and easy to care for but being a giant dog there is a lot of it. It sheds a moderate amount all the time and regular brushing at least once or twice a week is recommended to keep up with the loose hair and remove dirt and debris. As it has a lot of wrinkles these will need wiping clean with a damp cloth and then drying. It is important the skin there is cleaned and dried regularly otherwise skin infections will be a problem. When brushing a hound glove, bristled brush or rubber brush will be good. If you start grooming and handling when it is young, it will be easier later as it will be accustomed to all of it. Only bathe when it really needs one to avoid damaging its natural oils in its skin. After baths make sure the wrinkles are all dry in between them. If its size makes bathing hard at home, there are professional groomers who have bathing stations suited to all sizes so check to see what is local.

Other needs include taking care of its ears, its nails and its teeth. Its ears should be wiped clean once a week using a damp cloth or ear cleanser and cotton ball. You can also give them a check for signs of infection like redness, sensitivity, wax build up or swelling. Its teeth should be brushed at least two to three times a week. Its nails need to be trimmed when they get too long and this is something you can do yourself if you want to, or you can have a professional groomer or your vet do it. If you opt to take care of them make sure you have the right tools and that you know about dog nails, as they are not as simple as ours! There is a lower section where nerves and blood vessels pass through and if you cut there it will bleed a lot and hurt a lot too.

Feeding Time

A giant breed will eat 4 to 6 cups of a good quality or better dry dog food a day, split into at least two meals. If it is more active it might even need some more. You need to base how much you feed your dog depending on its size, level of activity, metabolism, age and health.

How is the Neapolitan Mastiff with children and other animals?

In general this is not a good breed to have around children unless you are an experienced owner and have socialized and trained it. When it is raised with the children though and with strong leadership it can be loving, and happy to be a back rest as they watch TV together! That extensive socialization is especially important when the kids have friends over, as otherwise the Neapolitan is likely to become overly protective of its kids especially if rough play occurs and that could prove disastrous. It is best with older children as with younger children it is likely to knock them over. It also not a good idea to have a small child running and screaming from it. Make sure all children are taught how to touch and approach it safely and kindly and that there is good supervision.

If raised with them and with socialization it can get along with other pets. However if these things are not in place it may chase and catch fleeing smaller pets like cats and it can injure or kill them. If strange animals, like cats or squirrels are in its yard it is likely to bark at them and make some noise. When out with it, it is a good idea to keep it leashed. With other dogs there are aggression and dominance issues. Most do not outright start fights but if challenged will respond. It is especially not happy when around other dogs of the same sex, especially when they have not been neutered or spayed. If it has been raised with other dogs in the home there should not be any issues when with a strong owner.

What Might Go Wrong?

Health Concerns

Giant breeds do not have very long life spans, this one should live between 7 to 10 years. Unfortunately it is prone to quite a few health issues that prospective owners should be prepared for the possibility of. They include eye problems, hip dysplasia, bloat, pano-ostiosis, cancer, skin infection, elbow dysplasia, hypothyroidism, heart problems, sensitivity to anesthesia, cleft palate, CCL, halitosis and most puppies have to be born via caesarian. It also easily overheats.

Biting Statistics

When looking at reports of dog attacks causing bodily harm in Canada and the US over the last 35 years, there is no specific mention of the Neapolitan Mastiff but there is a mention of just Mastiffs. These are reported to have been involved in 28 attacks, 17 of which were classed as maimings where the victims were left permanently disfigured, scarred or with loss of limb. 23 of the 28 incidents had child victims and out of those 28 incidents there were 5 deaths.

The Neapolitan Mastiff is a giant dog with the potential for aggression. If in the hands of owners who are too meek, or ones who mistreat it or do not train and socialize it properly it could be a dog to be very concerned about. However if you have done your homework, and then when you have it put in the proper work needed, it is a lovely, gentle and calm breed. Make sure you are very clear about this dogs needs, about your own level of experience and competence and that you have the time needed to get the best out of the Mastino.

Your Pup’s Price Tag

This is not a common breed in North America, and plus puppies have to have help to be born, so prices can be high. They will start at around $1200 from a decent breeder but can double or even go higher if you use a top show breeder. You will have to be put on a waiting list but it is better to use experienced and decent breeders than to turn to puppy mills, pet stores or back yard breeders. Shelters and rescues are an option, though it is unlikely to find this breed in them. Perhaps though you might see a mix breed that needs a new home and can offer you lots of love and companionship. Rescues can be $50 to $400 to adopt.

When you have your new puppy you should take it to a vet for a physical check up and some procedures. They will include blood tests, micro chipping, deworming, shots, spaying or neutering and come to around $290. Then there are some initial costs for items you should have at home for your dog. A crate, collar and leash, bowls and such. These will cost around $180.

There are also ongoing costs when you have any pet. Things like basic health care, items it needs and food. For the Neapolitan Mastiff the good quality dry dog food and dog treats will cost about $270 a year. Miscellaneous costs like items, license, toys and basic training will come to around $245 a year. Then basic health care that covers things like check ups, tick and flea prevention, vaccination updates and pet insurance will cost at least $485 a year. This gives an annual starting figure cost of $1000.


Looking for a Neapolitan Mastiff Puppy Name? Let select one from our list!

Male and Female Neapolitan Mastiff Names

The Neapolitan Mastiff is quite scarey looking and certainly there is the potential there for aggression. But with strong and experienced owners who are prepared for the time and attention this breed needs it will be devoted, affectionate, gentle and mild-mannered. Its coat is easy to care for but the wrinkles and folds will need special attention. Owners should also be prepared for typical noises that come from this type of dog, snoring, snuffling, grunting, wheezing, farting and then the drooling. Be sure to buy from decent and experienced breeders so that you get one from a good line. Also be prepared for some judgment with such a dog. People will be scared when they see it, and likely to come to some snap conclusions.

Popular Mastiff Mixes

Pitbull American Bandogge Mix
American Bandogge Mastiff
Pitbull American Bandogge Mix
General Information
Size Large
Weight 70 to 125 pounds
Height 19 to 30 inches
Life span 10-11 years
Touchiness Not sensitive
Barking Low
Activity Moderate to high
Breed Traits

Devoted Guardian
Good Family Pet



Mountain Mastiff
Bernese Mountain, Mastiff Mix
General Information
Size Giant
Height 28 to 38 inches
Weight 150 to 200 pounds
Life span 7 to 12 years
Touchiness Quite sensitive
Barking Rare
Activity Fairly active
Breed Traits

Sensitive and Kind
Docile nature
Eager to please
Great family companion



Mastiff and Poodle Mix
General Information
Size Large
Height 15 to 30 inches
Weight 55 to 100 pounds
Life span 8 to 15 years
Touchiness Fairly sensitive
Barking Occasional
Activity Fairly active
Breed Traits

Great family dog


Can be

Labrador Retriever and Mastiff Mix
General Information
Size Large to Giant
Weight 100 to 200 pounds
Height 28 to 36 inches
Life span 8 to 14 years
Touchiness Not overly sensitive usually
Barking Rare
Activity Fairly active
Breed Traits

Good Family Pet



Bull Mastiff, Rottweiler Mix
General Information
Size Giant
Height 24 to 27 inches
Weight 80 to 130 pounds
Life span 10 to 12 years
Touchiness Quite sensitive
Barking Occasional to frequent
Activity Quite high
Breed Traits

Confident and Happy
Loyal dog
Needs experienced owner
Good family dog



Featured Image Credit: Recantimages, Shutterstock

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.