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The Mastiff Breed Standard

The oldest reasonably comprehensive description of a mastiff was written in 1631 by Barnaby Googs which reads as follows:

The mastie that keepeth the house. For this purpose you must provide you such a one as hath a large and mightie body, a great and shrill voyce, that both with his barking he may discover, and with his sight dismaye the theefe, yea, being not seene, with the horror of his voyce put him to flight. His stature must neither be too long nor short, but well set; his head, great, his eyes sharp and fiery, either browne or grey; his lippes, blackish, nether jaw, fat and comming out of it on either side a fang appearing more outward than his other teeth, even with his neather, not hanging too much over, sharpe and hidden with his lippes; his countenance, like a lion; his brest, great and shag hayrd; his sholders, broad; his legges, bigge, his tayle, short; his feet very great. His disposition must neither be too gentle nor too crust, that he neither faune upon a theefe nor flee upon his friends; very waking; no gadder abroad, nor lavish of his mouth, barking without cause.

It was in 1859 that a standard description of what a mastiff should look like was first puplished by Stonehenge (Dr H Walsh). Stonehenge was a noted authority on all breeds of dogs in the later half of the 19th century; he went on to produce futher and more detailed and descriptive standards in 1866 and 1878.

In 1873 the 'Standard of Points in Breeding Mastiffs' was adopted by 'The Mastiff Breeding Club'. This was the first to be written largely, if not entirely, by breed specialist Rev M B Wynn. This gentleman almost certainly had considerable influence, even if he didn't in fact write the 1880 standard of 'The Mastiff Club'

The 'Old English Mastiff Club' came into existence in 1883 and produced a standard the same year, which they inturn amended in 1890.

All these standard would have produced very similar dogs. They vary in the amount of detail given to different aspects, in some cases mentioning actual dogs as examples. It is also interesting to note that, all black and black and brown and white were acceptable colours in those days.

Until 1949, when the 1890 standard was rearranged, there was a scale of points attached to it. The way in which these points should be allocated did vary considerably from one early standard to another.

With the exception of the addition of a 'note', concerning male animals, the standard remained the same until 1986. At which time the Kennel Club rearranged it adding a gait/movement and a faults clause and removed the word 'THE' from 38 places.

New colour restrictions have been applied with effect from 1st April 2005.

The Standard describes how the perfect specimen of a mastiff should look. To quote a well worn, but true, cliché "such an animal has yet to be born".

The Kennel Club Breed Standard Description of the Mastiff
General Appearance

Head, in general outline, giving a square appearance when viewed from any point. Breadth greatly desired; in ratio to length of whole head and face as 2 : 3. Body massive, broad, deep, long, powerfully built, on legs wide apart and squarely set. Muscles sharply defined. Size a great desideratum, if combined with quality. Height and substance important if both points are proportionately combined.


Large, massive, powerful, symmetrical, well knit frame. A combination of grandeur and courage.


Calm, affectionate to owners, but capable of guarding.

Head and Skull

Skull broad between ears, forehead flat, but wrinkled when attention is excited. Brows (superciliary ridges) slightly raised. Muscles of temples and cheeks (temporal and masseter) well developed. Arch across skull of a rounded, flattened curve, with depression up centre of forehead from median line between eyes, to halfway up sagittal suture. Face or muzzle short, broad under eyes, and keeping nearly parallel in width to end of nose; truncated, i.e. blunt and cut off squarely, thus forming a right angle with upper line of face, of great depth from point of nose to under-jaw. Under-jaw broad to end. Nose broad, with widely spreading nostrils when viewed from front, flat (not pointed or turned up) in profile. Lips diverging at obtuse angles with septum, and slightly pendulous so as to show a square profile. Length of muzzle to whole head and face as 1 : 3. Circumference of muzzle (measured mid-way between eyes and nose) to that of head (measured before the ears) as 3 : 5.




Small, wide apart, divided by at least space of two eyes. Stop between eyes well marked but not too abrupt. Colour hazel brown, darker the better, showing no haw.


Small, thin to touch, wide apart, set on at highest points of sides of skull, so as to continue outline across summit, and lying flat and close to cheeks when in repose.


Canine teeth healthy; powerful and wide apart; incisors level, or lower projecting beyond upper but never so much as to become visible when mouth is closed.


Slightly arched, moderately long, very muscular, and measuring in circumference about 2.5-5 cms (1-2 ins) less than skull before ears.


Shoulder and arm slightly sloping, heavy and muscular. Legs straight, strong and set wide apart; bones being large. Elbows square. Pasterns upright.

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