COMMENTS TO THE NEAPOLITAN MASTIFF STANDARD
BY MARIO PERRICONE
To fully understand the Neapolitan Mastiff, before even reading the breed standard, one needs to sit down calmly in front of it and patiently observe the rippling movements of its body while listening to its guttural rumblings. One must scrutinize the expressions created by the wrinkles and folds of the skin on its head: in order to notice the fasciculation’s which alternately intensify or soften the features of the mask designed on its face, or which ruffle the great coat which drapes its body. Only then can someone seek to understand the message it is trying to convey when it widens the thick eyelids to expose its eyes (like crevices in a mountain), revealing an expression of joy and intelligence. Only someone with passion and concern for the breed who can decode its body language, vocal and visual expressions, will be able to gain a true understanding of its personality, and thereby learn the secrets hiding behind its enigmatic expression, which is both serious and smiling at the same time. After becoming better acquainted with the Neapolitan Mastiff, one will more easily understand the breed standard, which may otherwise seem somewhat obscure. It will then be easier to interpret the standard and thus understand and evaluate this dog, whose long evolution has produced characteristics which may seem nonsensical, and which gave it a flavour of the fantastic and even surreal. I make this observation on the grounds of my conviction that a breed standard cannot be satisfactorily interpreted through straight evaluation based on purely standardized measurements of canine conformation. One cannot treat the assessment of a dog as one would a mathematical problem.
The study of the breed standard of the Neapolitan Mastiff should provide a means of appreciating its living and dynamic structure, as a complement to the emotions and impressions it arouses in one who has been fortunate enough to uncover its complex and often contradictory personality. Measurements of a dogs body parts, while necessary, can never create a thorough description of a whole breed. One would run the risk of examining a dog as if it were nothing but a piece of machinery or an animated domestic appliance. Rather a breed commentary should help breeders, judges and enthusiasts to gain an overall picture of the breed by nothing more than explaining the individual characteristics, which can be defined as typical of the breed.
The head is unique. There is none like it among all other canines. It is difficult however, to describe it and just as difficult to acquire the correct concept of it. It is massive and brachycephalic. This means that the bone structure is very heavy and that the width of the cranium as measured between the cheekbones (zygomatic arches) is greater than the total length of the head.
It is covered by loose skin, which forms well-delineated wrinkles and folds. If these wrinkles and folds should be missing, the head would not be the head of a Mastino. If on the other hand, the skin were too copious, to the point of excess, then the wrinkles and folds would be improperly formed and confused in their design, and therefore would not make a correct head type. In addition, this overly excessive loose skin is an indication that the bone structure of the entire head, and the muscles which cover it, are not strong as they should be in a dog, which is bred to be able to use its jaws for biting. Also, this excessively loose skin is often a sign of a lymphatic problem that is associated with a generalized constitutional weakness.
Viewed from the side, the head must show absolutely perfect parallelism of the craniofacial axes. Convergence of these axes (the top planes of the cranium and the muzzle) is a serious fault. Divergence of these planes is worse yet.
The cranium is broad, flat between the ears, slightly convex in the anterior part, and should never tend towards the spherical. Any rounding which extends towards the posterior part of the cranium should be penalized, as this would make the head too much like that of the Bulldog.
The stop is well defined. The muzzle measures half the length of the cranium, and as viewed from the front, is wide, deep and more or less square. The head is adorned with abundant, thick lips, which should never be flaccid, the upper lips, seen from the front, join an upside-down ‘V’ shape, with the chin very pronounced between the two halves. Seen from the side, the upper lips form the lower profile of the muzzle. The mandible is large and powerful with well-developed incisors that close in either scissor or level bite. The teeth should be present in their entirety. The closure of the incisors, as specified by the breed standard, has caused some perplexity; in fact cases do occur in which the maxilla (lower jaw) is shorter than the mandible (upper jaw), with the result that the lower incisors protrude beyond the upper ones, forming a prognathism or undershot jaw. This prognathic complex is further characterized by converging craniofacial axes and an unusually short muzzle. In such a case, the Neapolitan Mastiff would loose its typical expression to the point that it would seem ‘Boxerish’ and bear too close a resemblance to the Dogue de Bordeaux. Since the past decade, prognathism in the breed has become more rare, and when it is present, certainly less pronounced. This is not, therefore, a thing that should worry anybody too greatly. Unfortunately, some breeders who do not understand the true spirit of the breed standard have been worried that a dog with an undershot jaw might be eliminated from shows as a result of this defect. This is a very remote possibility, it may occur if the prognathism is so pronounced that it deforms the muzzle. If it is not so prominent, it should be considered one of the many possible deviations from the standard, and indeed it does not disqualify a well-built and exemplary dog from gaining the highest honours available.
Certain words taken from the Neapolitan dialect exist which are useful for the description of various serious defects of the head (‘a capa). It is “tonna” if the cranium is rounded and the muzzle too short, “camusa” if the muzzle is arched downwards and the nose droops, “cinocogna” (donkey like) if it has no stop, with a long and even divergent muzzle, ” ‘e pecora’ ” if the chin is too weak.
The dog should be massive and powerful with heavy bone structure and full, solid muscles which, though covered at all times by thick, loose skin, should be visible when the dog is in action. To serve its purpose in supporting the head and in balancing the complex movements of the dog, the neck should be extremely powerful. To protect the throat, the lower part of the neck has a dewlap, which is divided, into two parts, beginning at the jawbone and finishing halfway down the neck. If this dewlap is too profuse and looks like a bib or ruff, it should be heavily penalized as a sign of lymphatism.
The standard requires that the length of the trunk should be 10% or greater than the height at the withers. What are we expected to do if it exceeds the height at the withers by 9% or 11% throw the dog away?? As long as the thickness of the spinal discs give the trunk the appearance of a compacted rectangle, this does not matter in the slightest. Indeed, the thorax should be very broad and deep, with ribs that extend well back and lumbar region that joins smoothly with the back and has a well-developed lateral musculature.
The chest is ample and has full muscles. A chest that appears to be suspended between the upper sections of the forelimbs is a sign of constitutional weakness that should not be tolerated in a dog that must have great explosive power. The top line is straight with exceptionally powerful layers of muscle and a slightly sloping rump. The withers should not be too elevated. Particular attention should be paid to this factor at the current stage in the breed’s evolution, because many dogs, owing to a lack of good musculature or to a hunched spine, seem to be camel backed. A dog showing these defects in my opinion cannot be awarded a maximum rating, even if the form of the head is exceptional.
The limbs have an extremely robust bone structure, and should seem as straight and strong as granite columns. Unfortunately today, short narrow or overly sloping rumps often lead to weak hindquarters, which lack suppleness and look like the thighs of weak chicken. These should be heavily penalized, both by the judge in the ring and the breeder in selecting animals for breeding. The requisite angles for the limbs are well explained in the breed standard, but are difficult to evaluate in a meaningful way, indeed, owing to the looseness of the ligaments, which is a physiological characteristic of the Neapolitan Mastiff, they are very variable. Therefore, to accurately judge the dog’s conformation, which is actually an assessment of its function, it is necessary to pay close attention to the dog’s movement.
If the dog is walking at its slow and shuffling gait, it appears indolent and lazy, incapable of the explosive power needed for a guard dog, which must be able to chase and bring down an intruder. As a breed, the Neapolitan Mastiff often paces and the bear-like gait does not constitute a defect.
At the trot, especially in action such as patrolling the boundaries of its territory, the Neapolitan Mastiff becomes a different, more determined and agile dog. The hindquarters have ample power to propel its considerate weight and the forelimbs stretch well forward. The Mastino movement is fluid and flat, and the bones and articulating joints may be seen to undulate beneath the thick skin. It is more feline than canine, it seems to be a panther, capable of overcoming impossible obstacles to bear down upon its prey.
Its expression, which at first sight seems to be so detached and aloof, while at the same time attentive and alert, cannot hide its unconditional and absolute attachment to its home territory where it lives with the family members and property entrusted to its protection. It is such a loyal and resolute guardian that it will not go far from home even if the territory is not enclosed. It is a true-armed guard, always aware and ready, and it will allow no stranger to violate the boundaries of its territory.
It is not by nature an arrogant or proud dog. Perhaps it has occasionally been made so by people who believe they are the masters of a killer rather than of a sensitive, and at times, shy creature. It should be remembered that the Neapolitan Mastiff shows its true personality when it is defending the living space of its friends, especially at night when it is silent, tense, and as vigilant as a spider waiting in the shadows for the insect, which sooner or later will become entangled in its web.
Source: A.T.I.MA.NA. Associazione Tecnica Internazionale Mastino Napoletano – 3rd edizione 2002.
(International Technical Association Neapolitan Mastiff)