The ancestors of the Mastiff probably originated in the mountains of Central Asia several thousand years ago. The name Mastiff probably comes from the Latin, either “massivus,” meaning huge, or “mastinus,” meaning house dog. The early Mastiffs were called molossers and were used for hunting, guarding and fighting. From Tibet or northern India they accompanied traders and nomads throughout the world, making their way to the Middle East, the Mediterranean, China and Russia. Ancient Egyptians depicted massive dogs on the walls of the pyramids, and in Greek mythology the three-headed canine guardian of the underworld is a mastiff-type dog. Greeks, Romans and other peoples all used mastiffs in battle.
In medieval times, Mastiffs patrolled estates at night, ever on the alert for poachers or other intruders. Through the 16th century they were still used as war dogs in Europe. One famous line of English Mastiffs descends from a female Mastiff belonging to Sir Piers Legh of Lyme Hall, who was injured at the battle of Agincourt in France in 1415. She guarded him until he could be removed from the field and cared for and was later returned to his estate in England. The Lyme Hall line of Mastiffs lasted into the 20th century.
Mastiffs as we know them today began to be developed in England in 1835. That was the same year that dogfighting was outlawed, making it a turning point in the breed’s temperament. If Mastiffs were to survive, they needed to have a more peaceful nature. The breed continued developing through the end of the 19th century, but World War I, with its food shortages, almost led to the demise of the Mastiff. The same thing happened during World War II. Fortunately, the breed was rebuilt and is moderately popular today.
The American Kennel Club recognized the Mastiff in 1885. The Mastiff ranks 28th in AKC registrations, up from 39th in 2000, showing a steady increase in popularity.
Vet Street. (2001) Mastiff. Retrieved from http://www.vetstreet.com/dogs/mastiff