ORIGIN AND HISTORY
The Mastiff is sometimes known as the Old English Mastiff. Most breeds want to claim a long ancestry but ancient artefacts confirm that dogs of the Mastiff type have existed in England since Roman times. These ancient Mastiffs were not identical with Mastiffs today. They are however recognisable as the ancient ancestors of the breed as we know it.
In England, the fortunes and popularity of the Mastiff have waxed and waned over the centuries. The breed very nearly died out at various times, most recently, during the Second World War. Then it was only with the assistance of a small number of Mastiffs imported from Canada after the war that the breed was saved.
It appears to be generally agreed that, with one exception (the famous Lyme Hall Mastiffs) it was during the early nineteenth century that Mastiffs owners began to breed them to a plan and to keep records regarding breeding. While Mastiffs had previously been bred for what they could do, breeders began to be concerned with what they looked like.
In 1873 the Kennel Club was founded in England and a formal system for the keeping of pedigrees began.
Mastiffs have been bred for all manner of tasks over the centuries. They were used as dogs of war, for gladiatorial contests in Roman arenas, for bear baiting and as draft animals. Their main use was as guardians of people and property.
Today Mastiffs are bred almost exclusively as a superb companion animal and they are not generally regarded as a working breed. That having been said however, there are Mastiffs today who compete in obedience trialling work, agility trialling, tracking trials and who work as therapy pets.
The first definite records of Mastiffs in Australia date back to shows in Sydney and Melbourne in the 1850ís. After the turn of the century, numbers declined. It is only in quite recent years that numbers have begun to increase. It is not possible to say exactly how many Mastiffs exist in Australia today but the number would probably be in the region of several hundred.