Saturday, September 06, 2008

The Mastiff

MastiffIf the Pyrencan dog is one of the most beautiful dogs in the world, surely the English mastiff is one of the most famous. It is regarded as probably the oldest of all British dogs, and, as we have seen,
its ancestors were used by the Assyrians for hunting big game.

It is believed that this large, powerful dog was introduced into Britain in the sixth century B. C. by the adventurous Phoenician traders, and was used by the Britons in hunting and in warfare. The Romans found him well established when they invaded the island in 55 B. C., and thereafter mastiffs, because of their great size, strength, and courage, were used to fight in the Roman amphitheaters.

In more recent times the breed has become heavier and less active and has been used chiefly as a companion and a guardian of property.

Perhaps the most famous strain of mastiffs in England is at Lyme Hall, in Cheshire ; it is said to have come down in unbroken descent from the fifteenth century. When I [Mr. Baynes] was a small child my father's place, "Harcwood." was close to Lyme Park, and one of my earliest recollections is of going with my parents to an entertainment at Lyme Hall. Coming away we descended into a flagged court-yard, and I remember that we were at once surrounded by a number of huge, tawny dogs which I was told were the Lyme mastiffs.

Many stories are told of the services rendered by these splendid dogs to their masters, the Lees of Lyme. It is said that when Sir Peers Lee lay wounded on the battlefield of Agincourt, he was guarded by a mastiff which had followed him to the war and which lay beside him through the night. Sir Henry Lee, of the same family, was saved from death by one of the dogs, which pinned to the floor a valet who had come to his master's bedroom to murder him.

The perfect mastiff may be cither fawn with a dark face, ears and muzzle, or brindle. He stands about 28 inches, and should weigh about 170 pounds. There should he no dew-claw, and the small, dark eye should show no haw. Strong, straight and heavy, both of body and limb, with a deep chest and massive square head, the perfect mastiff is an exceedingly splendid-looking animal.

He is now bred mostly as a companion, and never sees service in his old romantic calling. He is probably part ancestor of the great Dane, whose principal other component is greyhound. One of the noblest of dogs, it is to be regretted that his unwieldiness and expensive keep have rendered him rather unpopular, so that now he is indeed rarely seen.

Points to avoid are a light, narrow, or undershot head, cow-hocks, sagging back and rolling gait, weak legs and bent pasterns, curly tail and pale face.

From The Book of Dogs: An Intimate Study of Mankind's Best Friend By National Geographic Society (U.S.), Louis Agassiz Fuertes, Ernest Harold Baynes Published 1919. 109 pages Original from Harvard University.

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