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Ron Willbie, Animal Photography
The confident Neo is not a gentle giant; he's protective of his family and quite suspicious of strangers. He needs an experienced owner who can command his respect without being physically or verbally abusive. He can form an extraordinary bond with his people and is affectionate with them. Since he's big on drooling, get used to carrying a towel.
The Neapolitan Mastiff is sensitive to heat. Don’t leave him outdoors in hot weather unless he has access to plenty of shade and cool, fresh water. Limit exercise to cool mornings and evenings.
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 Mastino, or Neo, as he is sometimes nicknamed, is a giant breed, weighing 110 to 150 pounds or more.
The Neapolitan Mastiff has many good qualities, but he is not the easiest dog to live with. If you want the calm, confident dog that is the Neo at his best, be prepared to do a lot of homework to find him and put in plenty of effort training and socializing him once you bring him home.
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.
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 may not 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.
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. While it’s good for the Neo to have access to a fenced yard, he should live indoors with his family.
The Neapolitan Mastiff’s roots go deep into Italian soil. He descends from Roman war dogs who, already big, were crossed with giant British mastiffs after the Roman invasion of Britain. The powerful dogs with their seriously protective nature were turned to new careers as estate and farm guardians after their masters had finished conquering the known world. For 2,000 years, they were “the big dog of the little man,” but wars and industrialization nearly brought an end to them. After World War II, however, Italian dog lovers made a concerted effort to save the breed. They were exhibited at a dog show in Naples in 1946, and a breed standard was written by Piero Scanziani in 1948. The Federation Cynologique Internationale recognized the breed in 1949, and the breed standard was rewritten in 1971 to be more precise.
By the early 1970s, the dogs were known in other European countries as well as in the United States. The American Kennel Club recognized the breed in 2004. It ranks 113th among the dogs registered by the AKC.
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.
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. Never wait until he is six months old to begin training, or you will have a more headstrong dog to deal with. If possible, get him to puppy kindergarten class by the time he is 10 to 12 weeks old, so you can start building a strong working relationship. However, be aware that many puppy training classes require certain vaccines (like kennel cough) to be up to date, and many veterinarians recommend limited exposure to other dogs and public places until puppy vaccines (including rabies, distemper and parvovirus) have been completed. In lieu of formal training, you can begin training your puppy at home and socializing him among family and friends until puppy vaccines are completed.
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. Once your vet gives the green light, continue socializing your Neapolitan Mastiff throughout his life by taking him to puppy kindergarten class, visits to friends and neighbors, and selective 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. These experiences as a young dog will help him grow into a sensible, calm adult dog.
Talk to the breeder, describe exactly what you’re looking for in a dog, and ask for assistance in selecting a puppy. Breeders see the puppies daily and can make uncannily accurate recommendations once they know something about your lifestyle and personality. Whatever you want from a Neapolitan Mastiff, look for one whose parents have nice personalities and who has been well socialized from early puppyhood.
All 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. 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 hypothyroidism. 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 Registration 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.
Remember that after you’ve taken a new puppy into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the most common health problems: obesity. Keeping a Neo at an appropriate weight is one of the easiest ways to extend his life. You do not need to overfeed a puppy to make him big. He will still grow to his genetically programmed size if you keep him lean. Make the most of your preventive abilities to help ensure a healthier dog for life.
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.
The rest is basic care. Trim the nails as needed, usually once every few weeks. Brush the teeth frequently with a vet-approved pet toothpaste for good overall health and fresh breath. Check the ears weekly for dirt, redness or a bad odor that can indicate an infection. If the ears look dirty, wipe them out with a cotton ball dampened with a gentle, pH-balanced ear cleaner recommended by your veterinarian.
Whether you want to go with a breeder or get your dog from a shelter or rescue, here are some things to keep in mind.
Finding a good breeder is the key to finding the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy, and will without question have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as possible. He or she is more interested in placing pups in the right homes than making big bucks. Be wary of breeders who only tell you the good things about the breed or who promote the dogs as being “good with kids” without any context as to what that means or how it comes about.
Good breeders will welcome your questions about temperament, health clearances and what the dogs are like to live with and come right back at you with questions of their own about what you’re looking for in a dog and what kind of life you can provide for him. A good breeder can tell you about the history of the breed, explain why one puppy is considered pet quality while another is not, and discuss what health problems affect the breed and the steps she takes take to avoid those problems. A breeder should want to be a resource for you throughout your dog’s life.
Look for more information about the Neapolitan Mastiff and start your search for a good breeder at the website of the United States Neapolitan Mastiff Club. Choose a breeder who has agreed to abide by the USNMC’s code of ethics, which prohibits the sale of puppies to or through pet stores.
Avoid breeders who only seem interested in how quickly they can unload a puppy on you and whether your credit card will go through. Breeders who offer puppies at one price “with papers” and at a lower price “without papers” are unethical. You should also bear in mind that buying a puppy from websites that offer to ship your dog to you immediately can be a risky venture, as it leaves you no recourse if what you get isn’t exactly what you expected. Put at least as much effort into researching your puppy as you would into choosing a new car or expensive appliance. It will save you money in the long run.
Lots of reputable breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags include puppies always being available, multiple litters on the premises, having your choice of any puppy, and the ability to pay online with a credit card. Those things are convenient, but they are almost never associated with reputable breeders.
Whether you’re planning to get your new best friend from a breeder, a pet store, or another source, don’t forget that old adage “let the buyer beware”. Disreputable breeders and facilities that deal with puppy mills can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100% guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick puppy, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals), and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization, or other reliable source for healthy puppies.
The cost of a Neapolitan Mastiff puppy varies depending on the breeder’s locale, whether the pup is male or female, what titles his parents have, and whether he is best suited for the show ring or a pet home. The puppy you buy should have been raised in a clean home environment, from parents with health clearances and conformation (show) and, ideally, working titles to prove that they are good specimens of the breed. Puppies should be temperament tested, vetted, dewormed, and socialized to give them a healthy, confident start in life.
Before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult Neapolitan Mastiff might better suit your needs and lifestyle. Puppies are loads of fun, but they require a lot of time and effort before they grow up to become the dog of your dreams. An adult may already have some training and will probably be less active, destructive and demanding than a puppy. With an adult, you know more about what you’re getting in terms of personality and health and you can find adults through breeders or shelters. If you are interested in acquiring an older dog through breeders, ask them about purchasing a retired show dog or if they know of an adult dog who needs a new home. If you want to adopt a dog, read the advice below on how to do that.
There are many great options available if you want to adopt a dog from an animal shelter or breed rescue organization. Here is how to get started.
1. Use the Web
Sites like Petfinder.com and Adopt-a-Pet.com can have you searching for a Neapolitan Mastiff in your area in no time flat. The site allows you to be very specific in your requests (housetraining status, for example) or very general (all the Neapolitan Mastiffs available on Petfinder across the country). AnimalShelter can help you find animal rescue groups in your area. Also some local newspapers have “pets looking for homes” sections you can review.
Social media is another great way to find a dog. Post on your Facebook page that you are looking for a specific breed so that your entire community can be your eyes and ears.
2. Reach Out to Local Experts
Start talking with all the pet pros in your area about your desire for a Neapolitan Mastiff. That includes vets, dog walkers, and groomers. When someone has to make the tough decision to give up a dog, that person will often ask her own trusted network for recommendations.
3. Talk to Breed Rescue
Networking can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. Most people who love Neapolitan Mastiffs love all Neapolitan Mastiffs. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The US Neapolitan Mastiff Club’s rescue network can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other Neapolitan Mastiff rescues in your area.
The great thing about breed rescue groups is that they tend to be very upfront about any health conditions the dogs may have and are a valuable resource for advice. They also often offer fostering opportunities so, with training, you could bring a Neapolitan Mastiff home with you to see what the experience is like.
4. Key Questions to Ask
You now know the things to discuss with a breeder, but there are also questions you should discuss with shelter or rescue group staff or volunteers before you bring home a dog. These include:
What is his energy level?
How is he around other animals?
How does he respond to shelter workers, visitors, and children?
What is his personality like?
What is his age?
Is he housetrained?
Has he ever bitten or hurt anyone that they know of?
Are there any known health issues?
Wherever you acquire your Neapolitan Mastiff, make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. Petfinder offers an Adopters Bill of Rights that helps you understand what you can consider normal and appropriate when you get a dog from a shelter. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.
Puppy or adult, take your Neapolitan Mastiff to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.
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