Neapolitan Mastiffs

The Neapolitan Mastiff is a guardian breed from Italy. Characterized by his heavily wrinkled face, loose skin and imposing size, he has strong protective instincts and is commonly found as a family companion or show dog. The Neo, as he is nicknamed, is a giant breed, weighing 110 to 150 pounds or more.

Traits, Personality and Behavior

The Neo is quiet, watchful and protective of his family, including other pets. Although he may have the appearance of a gentle giant, he is not a mellow, easygoing dog. He is suspicious of strangers and can be aggressive toward dogs he doesn't know.

Because they bond so closely to their people, Neos may not like the intrusion of anyone else into the family circle. Their possessiveness extends beyond people to anything within their territory, and their desire to always be with their family can contribute to separation anxiety.

While his protective nature is attractive, the Neapolitan Mastiff is not an appropriate choice for a novice dog owner. He needs someone who can guide him with kind, firm, consistent training, never force or cruelty. He is an independent thinker but responds well to routine.

Begin training as soon as you bring your Neapolitan Mastiff puppy home, while he is still at a manageable size. That 20-pound puppy will quickly grow much larger. A nothing-in-life-is-free program, requiring puppies to "work" for everything they get by performing a command before receiving meals, toys, treats or play, works well with this breed.

It's always a good idea to take a Neapolitan Mastiff to puppy kindergarten followed by basic obedience class, especially if you are working with a trainer who understands the Neapolitan Mastiff mindset.

Early, frequent socialization is essential to prevent a Neapolitan Mastiff from becoming overly suspicious or fearful of anything new or different. Purchase a Neapolitan Mastiff puppy from a breeder who raises the pups in the home and ensures that they are exposed to many different household sights and sounds, as well as people, before they go off to their new homes. Continue socializing your Neapolitan Mastiff throughout his life by taking him to puppy kindergarten class, visits to friends and neighbors, and outings to local shops and businesses. This is the only way he can learn to be discriminating, recognizing what is normal and what is truly a threat.

The Neapolitan Mastiff has a low activity level, even as a puppy. A brief walk will give him the exercise he needs and won't stress his growing skeleton. Avoid taking him to dog parks since he may be aggressive toward dogs he doesn't know. He is best suited to a home with a large yard surrounded by a solid fence that is at least five or six feet high. This is a territorial breed, and he must learn his boundaries. Do not rely on an underground electronic fence to keep him contained. The shock it provides is nothing to this tough dog, and he won't let it deter him from leaving the yard if that's what he wants to do.

Like any dog, Neapolitan Mastiff puppies are inveterate chewers and because of their size can do a whole lot of damage. Don't give them the run of the house until they've reached trustworthy maturity. And keep your Neapolitan Mastiff puppy busy with training, play and socialization experiences. A bored Neapolitan Mastiff is a destructive Neapolitan Mastiff.

The Neo drools. When he shakes his massive head, slobber goes flying. You'll need to get in the habit of carrying a hand towel with you at all times so you can wipe his mouth, especially after he drinks.

While it's good for the Neo to have access to a fenced yard, he should live indoors with his family. Chaining a Neapolitan Mastiff out in the yard and giving him little or no attention is not only cruel, it can also lead to aggression and destructive behavior.

The Neapolitan Mastiff has a short, dense coat with oily skin that has something of a musky odor. You may want to bathe your Neo regularly to keep the scent at bay. Brush or comb him daily to remove dead hair and keep the skin and coat healthy. Wipe out his wrinkles often with a damp cloth and dry them thoroughly to prevent skin fold infections. Clean the ears and trim the nails as needed, and brush his teeth to prevent periodontal disease.

Health Issues Common to Neapolitan Mastiffs

All purebred dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run, don't walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines.

The Neapolitan Mastiff has some health conditions that can be a concern, especially if you aren't cautious about whom you buy from. They include orthopedic problems such as hip and elbow dysplasia; eye problems such as cherry eye, entropion, ectropion and progressive retinal atrophy; a heart condition called cardiomyopathy; and autoimmune thyroiditis. The breed may also be prone to gastric torsion (bloat) and cancer such as osteosarcoma.

Ask the breeder to show evidence that a puppy's parents have OFA or PennHIP clearances for hips and elbows, OFA cardiac and thyroid clearances, and certification of eye health from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation. Do not purchase a puppy from a breeder who cannot provide you with written documentation that the parents were cleared of health problems that affect the breed. Having the dogs "vet checked" is not a substitute for genetic health testing.

Condition Risk Profile Cost to Diagnose and Treat
Hip Dysplasia Medium $1,500-$6,000
Elbow Dysplasia Medium $1,500-$4,000
Entropion Medium $300-$1,500
Cardiomyopathy Medium $500-$1,500
Gastric Dilatation Volvulus (Bloat) High $1,500-$7,000
Cruciate Ligament Injury High $1,000-$3,000

5 Tips to Bring Home a Healthy Neapolitan Mastiff Puppy

A list of breeders can be found on the websites of the United States Neapolitan Mastiff Club. Choose a breeder who abides by the USNMC's Code of Ethics, which prohibits sales to pet stores or wholesalers and outlines the breeder's responsibilities to the breed and to buyers. Be patient. The Neapolitan Mastiff is an uncommon breed, so you may have a wait of six months or even a year or more before a puppy is available.

Consider an adult dog from a shelter or a rescue group. Many of the health problems in Neapolitan Mastiff aren't apparent in puppyhood, but by adopting an older dog, most of them can be ruled out. Since a Neapolitan Mastiff can live to be at least 10 to 12 years old, even an adult dog will be with your family for a long time.

Puppy or adult, take your Neapolitan Mastiff to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot visible problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.

Don't ever, ever, ever buy a puppy from a pet store or Internet site that offers many breeds and popular mixes, or that ships with no questions asked. If you buy a puppy from these sources, you'll be more likely to get an unhealthy, unsocialized and difficult to house-train puppy and will be supporting the cruelty of high-volume puppy mills.

Make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. In states with "puppy lemon laws," be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.

Pet Insurance for Neapolitan Mastiffs

Pet insurance for Neapolitan Mastiffs costs more than for mixed breed dogs. This is because Neapolitan Mastiffs are more likely than mixed breed dogs to make claims for hereditary conditions that are expensive to treat.

Embrace dog insurance plans offer full coverage for all breed-specific conditions (excluding those that are pre-existing) to which Neapolitan Mastiffs are susceptible. The best time to get pet insurance for your Neapolitan Mastiff is when he's a healthy puppy. You can't predict what will happen in the future, and pet insurance is the one thing you can't get when you need it the most.