With its massive size made even more imposing by its abundant loose skin and dewlap, the Neapolitan Mastiff may have the most alarming appearance of any dog, and some say this look was purposefully bred in order to scare away intruders without the dog having to act. However, when forced to act, the Neo can spring into action with surprising speed. Its massive muscular body can knock down almost any intruder. Its huge head with short, powerful jaws and large teeth can crush or hold an opponent. The skin is tough and hanging, adding to the imposing impression of size as well as formidable expression.
Heavy-bodied dogs with powerful grips have been known since ancient times, tracing to the giant war dogs of the Middle East and Asia. They were used to control livestock, guard homes, or even fight men, lions, and elephants in battle. Around 330 b.c. Alexander the Great dispersed some native giant Macedonian war dogs in the lands he conquered, and crossed some with shorthaired dogs from India. The resulting Molossus became the progenitor of many modern breeds. When the Romans took over Greece they also took their Molossus dogs. In 55 b.c. the Romans invaded Britain, where they admired and appropriated fierce British mastiff dogs that fought valiantly in defending Britain. These British mastiffs were even better gladiators than the Molossus dogs, but when bred together they produced an unsurpassed strain of giant gladiators and war dogs. These dogs, called “mastini” (Italian for mastiffs), were dispersed further. In the Neapolitan area in the south of Italy, they were perfected over the next centuries for guarding estates and homes. Still, the breed remained virtually unknown to the rest of the world until a chance sighting at a Naples dog show in 1946. Piere Scanziani recognized the dog and solicited other fanciers to help rescue the breed from obscurity. They drew up a standard and petitioned the Italian kennel club and the FCI to recognize them under the name Mastino Napoletano. Although a few specimens may have come to America with Italian immigrants, only in the 1970s has the breed been documented in the United States. They immediately elicited great interest and a breed club was formed around 1973. An initial standard was approved by the AKC in 1996, and they entered the AKC Working Group in 2004.
The Neapolitan Mastiff was bred for centuries to guard its family. As such, it is incredibly loyal and devoted to its family, watchful and suspicious of strangers, and tolerant of acquaintances. It is a stay-at-home-type dog. Although it is loving toward children, its sheer size can make accidents possible. It may not get along well with other dogs, especially domineering-type dogs. Because of its size, it should be carefully socialized at an early age.
Neos don’t need a lot of exercise, but they do need a lot of living space. They enjoy the outdoors but do not tolerate warm weather well. As with any giant breed, food, boarding, and even veterinary bills can be higher. They drool and can leave a trail of food and water leading from their bowls. This is not a breed for obsessive house cleaners!