During the Middle and Modern Ages the Spanish economy was based on the wool trade. Since the twelfth century production increased continuously, both in volume and quality, thanks to a new breed of sheep, the merinas. Huge herds of merinos spent the winter in warm areas of southern Spain, transhumanting to the mountains of the north in summer. The aristocracy, the main owner of the herds, was grouped in the Honrado Concejo de la Mesta – founded in 1273 and still in operation in the early nineteenth century – to defend the interests of sheep farming against the opposition of cities and agriculture.
In charge of those great flocks were not only shepherds but powerful mastiffs. These frugal and independent dogs not only had a good coat, able to withstand the most extreme weather conditions, but they were able to organize an effective defense against predators and large enough to successfully face wolves.
In Spanish literature, as well as in paintings – Velázquez’s “Las Meninas” are an illustrious example – there are numerous references to our dog, usually with amputated ears and tail.
The atmosphere of the mastiff is the open air, surrounded by sheep, by mountains and valleys and a long road ahead. It was, and still is, a working dog.
In 1946 the F.C.I. approved a racial prototype that took as a reference the biometric measurements of three specimens from the central area of Spain. This prototype reflected a type of mastiff lighter than the current one, usual in the livestock rack and in big game, of good size, long leg and weighing around 50 kilos.
A new prototype was approved in 1981. His main objective was to recover the much larger mastiff used in transhumant livestock. These lines had almost reached extinction due to the sharp decline in wolf numbers. On the other hand, the traditional movement of herds – called transhumance – had been reduced to a few thousand sheep transported by train from the mountains of the north to the pastures of the south. So the big mastiff began to become unnecessary; Many were killed, some were castrated and a handful of them were bought by enthusiastic breeders who, guided more by passion than knowledge, began a disorganized upbringing.
In 1981 the Spanish Association of the Spanish Mastiff Dog (AEPME) was founded as the official club of the breed. It was not easy to reach agreement on the type of mastiff to breed, although the approved prototype was explicit enough. They kept breeding and attending exhibitions the dogs registered according to the old racial prototype, so the lack of uniformity in the type and often defective structures, were the usual image of the breed.
Today, two decades later, I come a long way. A remarkable typological uniformity has been achieved, the movement has improved a lot and a new Breeding Plan is taking its first steps. We hope to start the new millennium by offering the canine world our breed in all its splendor, with controlled breeding and a careful export policy.