The easiest way to identify an Old English mastiff is by his sheer size. Simply put, the mastiff is massive. You won't mistake the mastiff for other large breeds, such as the Saint Bernard or Great Dane, since there's otherwise little physical resemblance.
When Marcus Antonius in Julius Caesar says, "Cry 'Havoc!' and let slip the dogs of war," he probably wasn't referring to mastiffs per se, but those were the types of war dogs common in ancient times. The mastiff's history dates back thousands of years, with similar-looking canines appearing in the art of Babylonian, Egyptian and other long-ago civilizations. The English mastiff guarded the estates of the nobility from the 1400s into the 20th century.
The American Kennel Club breed standard for this working dog states that male mastiffs must stand at least 30 inches tall at the shoulder at maturity, while females must reach at minimum of 27.5 inches in height. There's no upper height limit. While there's no weight limit in the breed standard, adult male mastiffs typically weigh between 160 and 230 pounds and females tip the scales between 120 and 170 pounds. The mastiff is larger than any other breed.
The mastiff 's short coat is either fawn, apricot or brindle -- the latter a shade with fawn or apricot base coat and dark striping. Mastiffs sport a dark muzzle and ears. The dog's broad skull is quite wrinkled, and the ears are relatively small. The dog's entire appearance radiates not just gargantuan size, but strength and power.
While he'll frighten away any intruders with his heft and deep bark, the mastiff is an easygoing, calm canine. The American Kennel Club describes him as "courageous, dignified and good-natured." He's good with kids, although his bulk doesn't make him a good choice for small children. He doesn't require a lot of exercise, and easily becomes a couch potato -- although he'll take up most of the sofa.
As with other large breeds, orthopedic issues plague the mastiff. These include the congenital deformities of hip and elbow dysplasia. Surgery is often required if your dog is to move normally and without pain. Heart disease is also a problem, including subaortic stenosis and cardiomyopathy. Your vet should check your mastiff's heart carefully at each wellness examination. Mastiffs are prone to a genetic kidney disorder known as cystinuria, which results in excessive bladder stone formation and urinary obstruction. The latter is always a veterinary emergency. Eye problems are common in mastiffs, including progressive retinal atrophy, which causes complete vision loss, eyelid abnormalities such as entropion, and corneal dystrophy. Like many giant breeds, a mastiff's life span is relatively short. With good care and luck, your mastiff should share your life for eight to 10 years.