A Brief History of the English Mastiff

The Mastiff is our most ancient breed and has been in our country for 2,000 years.  They are thought to have arrived into England from Asia, brought by the Phoenician traders.

Any large dog was referred to as a Mastiff - the name probably derived from the French word Mastin meaning ‘watchdog’.  They were used for guarding livestock and homesteads from Bears and other wildlife that roamed the forests and woodlands.

Impressed by their size and courage, the Romans took them back to Rome to use for ‘entertainment’ in the arena - fighting bears and lions in packs.

In Medieval England 1500/1600’s (Tudor & Elizabethan times) they were being used for hunting, bull, bear and lion baiting as well as watchdogs protecting property. 

By the 1800’s, they were used predominantly for guarding and as companions being loyal, courageous and protective towards their owners. They were kept on large estates and were known for generally having gentle and placid temperaments.

Many books have been written over the years about Mastiff history starting with The History of the Mastiff by M.B. Wynn, first published in 1886 which is regarded as the most authoritative early book on the breed.

Brief History of the Standard


The Breed Standard was first published in 1859 by ‘Stonehenge’ (Dr John Henry Walsh) in The Dog in Health & Disease stating that the points of the Mastiff are:  A head of large size between that of the bloodhound and bulldog in shape having the volume of muscle of the latter, with the flews and muzzle of the former……….

Stonehenge 2.png

1883 Standard drawn up by O.E.M.C.  One of the founder members, John Sydney Turner later became Chairman of the Kennel Club (from 1899-1920).

1890 A numerical value was given to the points of the mastiff which were printed with the standard until after the Second World War, when the system was abolished for all breeds.

  • Muzzle, 18 points Skull, 12 points           
  • Height and substance, 10 points  
  • Forelegs and feet, 10 points
  • Character and symmetry, 10 points        
  • Hind legs and feet, 10 points
  • Chest and ribs, 8 points   
  • Back, loins and flank, 8 points
  • Eyes, 6 points       
  • Colour, 5 points
  • Ears, 4 points       
  • Tail, 3 points

1949 All Standards taken over by The Kennel Club rearranged, and a gait/movement clause was added.

1995 A slight clarification was made.

2009 Last update