The Mastiff is said to be of an original breed indigenous to England, whence some were exported to Italy in the days of the Roman emperors. The breed has since been crossed by stag and blood hounds and the present is a magnificent animal of great power and noble character. The ancient breed was brindled yellow and black, the present is usually deeper or lighter buff with dark muzzle and ears. The mastiff is sometimes twenty-nine or thirty inches in height at the shoulder.
The Mastiff is the best of watch dogs, for he brings an intelligence to bear upon his duty which is in the highest degree surprising. He has been known to walk by the side of an intending thief “forbidding his laying hands upon any article, yet abstaining from doing him any bodily harm, and suffering his escape over the walls,” but leaving his master’s property intact. A mastiff who had been left by his master, who was a sweep, in charge of his bag of soot in a narrow street in Southampton, refused to leave it either for coaxings or threats, and rather than desert his duty allowed himself to be run over and killed.
The mastiff has a powerful scent, and remarkable skill in discovering the lost property of his master. Captain Brown gives the following extract from a letter from St. Germains: “An English gentleman some time ago came to our Vauxhall with a large mastiff, which was refused admittance, and the gentleman left him in the care of the body-guards, who are placed there. The Englishman, some time after he had entered, returned to the gate and informed the guards that he had lost his watch, telling the sergeant, that if he would permit him to take in the dog, he would soon discover the thief. His request being granted, the gentleman made motions to the dog of what he had lost, which immediately ran about amongst the company, and traversed the gardens, till at last he laid hold of a man. The gentleman insisted that this person had got his watch; and on being searched, not only his watch, but six others, were discovered in his pockets. What is more remarkable, the dog possessed such a perfection of instinct as to take his master’s watch from the other six, and carry it to him.”
Mr. Jesse gives the following story which he as reprinted from a contemporary newspaper:
“A most extraordinary circumstance has just occurred at the Hawick toll-bar, which is kept by two old women. It appears that they had a sum of money in the house, and were extremely alarmed lest they should be robbed of it. Their fears prevailed to such an extent, that, when a carrier whom they knew was passing by, they urgently requested him to remain with them all night, which, however, his duties would not permit him to do; but, in consideration of the alarm of the women, he consented to leave with them a large mastiff dog. In the night the women were disturbed by the uneasiness of the dog, and heard a noise apparently like an attempt to force an entrance into the premises, upon which they escaped by the back-door, and ran to a neighbouring house, which happened to be a blacksmith’s shop. They knocked at the door, and were answered from within by the smith’s wife. She said her husband was absent, but that she was willing to accompany the terrified women to their home. On reaching the house, they heard a savage but half-stifled growling from the dog. On entering they saw the body of a man hanging half in and half out of their little window, whom the dog had seized by the throat, and was still worrying. On examination, the man proved to be their neighbour the blacksmith, dreadfully torn about the throat, and quite dead.”