An ancient dog breed that has existed for around 2,000 years, the Spanish Mastiff was first known in writings from the Iberian Peninsula. It is believed that the Greeks and Phoenicians brought this giant dog breed before the Roman invasion. The Spanish Mastiff is also known as Mastín Español.
Whilst large parts of this dog breed's origins are unclear; some speculate that he was a descendant of ancient Molosser-type dogs. Moreover, the Spanish Mastiff is said to have contributed to the creation of other Mastiff dog breeds. These include the Asian Shepherd, Saint Bernard, and Dogo Argentino.
The Spanish Mastiff was primarily developed to be a fearless and bold livestock guardian dog. He protected sheep from wolves and other predators, including bears and lynxes. In the 10th century, the Spanish Mastiff dog breed's popularity gradually grew. The dog breed skyrocketed in the 12th century as a new breed of sheep called Merino was created.
According to the Spanish Shepherd's Association records, this herding breed became the lead guard dog during the migration of 3.5 million sheep in 1526. These large dogs travel with shepherds and their flocks from the south of Spain to its mountainous slopes in the north every year.
For every 100 sheep, at least one Spanish Mastiff was guarding them. Their white coat allows them to blend nicely with the flock. At the same time, it distinguishes them from the predators.
Spain's fondness for this large breed can be seen in various literary works and arts found within the country. One of most renowned is the painting of Diego Velázquez called Las Meninas made in 1656.
It depicted a brown Spanish Mastiff type of dog relaxing while together with his family, composed of adults and children. The Las Meninas painting can be found in Museo del Prado in Madrid today.
In the early 20th century, the Spanish Mastiff was often shown in various dog shows. However, it was not until 1946 that the dog breed's standard was established. Major kennel clubs do not yet recognise this large breed.
However, he is acknowledged by the American Kennel Club within their Foundation Stock Service. It is a step to getting the Spanish Mastiff accepted as an official breed.
In the present day, Spanish Mastiffs continue to become famous herding dogs and guard dogs in Spain. They were even titled as the country's national dog breed. There are over 24,000 Spanish Mastiff dogs found in Spain.
Most of them can be found in the province of Leon located in northwestern Spain. This place is now dubbed as the Spanish Mastiff capital.
Although this large breed is greatly favoured in his native land, not much of him is heard outside Spain. Thus, he is a very rare breed in other countries. Today, the Spanish Mastiff also excels in tracking, hunting, and police and military work.