The Temperament of a Spanish Mastiff

by Kat Walden
    Spanish mastiffs often wore spiked dog collars to protect them from the packs of wolves they were bred to defend against.

    Spanish mastiffs often wore spiked dog collars to protect them from the packs of wolves they were bred to defend against.

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    The Spanish mastiff, bred to defend herds of livestock, dates back more than 2,000 years. In 1526, approximately 3.5 million Merino sheep migrated in Spain, accompanied by one Spanish mastiff per 100 sheep to defend the flock against wolves. To this day, the Spanish mastiff has retained his protective instinct and demonstrates many of the same characteristics as other livestock guarding dogs.

    The Spanish mastiff enjoys spending time with and remaining close to his owners. Generally submissive to his pack leader and other pack members, including his family, he is usually tolerant of and patient with children, other animals and other family members. Absent a flock to protect, he is happiest near his humans and loves them fiercely.

    Originally bred as a livestock guarding dog, his innate protective instinct continues with modern-day Spanish mastiffs. Fearless and confident, he does not chase intruders or predators, but rather issues a menacing warning through deep, fierce growls and barks. If the enemy does not back down, he will fight man or beast, to the death if necessary, to protect his family or flock.

    A quick study, the Spanish mastiff possesses great intelligence. He can problem solve and make his own decisions independently, requiring an owner who is a firm, confident, consistent pack leader at all times. When training, you should take care not to repeat a command too frequently, lest he become bored and develop selective hearing. If not mentally stimulated by a firm, confident, calm leader, he will make up his own mind when to follow your commands, and then, do so on his own terms.

    The Spanish mastiff needs a leader, and is not a suitable dog for a beginner. Difficult to obedience train, he can be exceedingly stubborn with a meek owner. Training should begin early in puppyhood, between 3 and 12 weeks of age, and continue consistently into adulthood. Excessive socialization is necessary early in life to ensure he behaves reliably around strangers and other dogs. Expert advice from a dog trainer familiar with livestock guarding dogs is highly recommended.

    As with any puppy, the Spanish mastiff can become exuberant during puppyhood. Slow to mature, don't expect him to grow out of his puppy phase until he is 2 to 3 years of age. Once an adult, though, he is a relatively calm, mild-mannered dog, sometimes appearing outright lazy. Don't be fooled by his quiet demeanor, though. He is always watchful and aware of his surroundings. Due to his tendency to guard his family constantly, a quiet environment without a lot of activity is most suitable for him. He does not fare well in a busy environment, such as a city. Due to his low activity needs as an adult, he is not suitable for busy individuals seeking a jogging or biking companion.

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    About the Author

    Kat Walden, a native of San Diego, Calif., began her work in the animal industry at Sea World in 1986. After years of working with animals large and small, she combined her expertise from the pet industry with her love of writing, and began her career as a pet writer in 2006.

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