Living with Gentle Giants

By Dana Moeller

Redgate Mastiffs of Greeley Colorado


They say, mastiffs, are addicting ~ like Fritos ~ No one can have just one.

No truer words can be said about this breed.  I know now, most people aren’t aware of how addicting this breed is when they buy their first mastiff.  I know I wasn’t…


I grew up with Rottweilers and when my husband and I got married we owned Great Danes for almost 12 years.  Because we live out on a farm in the country, after our last Great Dane died, I wanted another nice big dog to stand at our gate and keep people on the other side.  


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Reading up on the temperament of the mastiff, I was convinced this was the perfect dog for us.


Redgate Mastiffs was established in 1995 when I purchased our first mastiff, Sunny.  Several months later, Sunny was joined by a female named Rosie.  Soon, there was a Grizz, a Haley and a Baby.


In the past 14 years, many rescues and a number of litters I have had… the number of mastiffs IN my home has been as high as 23.  Currently, there are just a dozen.  Yes, all living together~ loose in my home.


Living with this ever changing pack of mastiffs has been an eye opening experience. 


I have bred 4 generations of Mastiffs.  I made the decision years ago to keep at least 2 promising girls, or in some cases 3 from each litter to establish my Redgate line.   It never fails, that my favorite puppy at 10 weeks wasn’t my favorite at 10 months. 


Keeping 2 sisters also proved to be beneficial as far as keeping the pups mentally stimulated and physically fit.  The older girls sometimes grow tired of the exuberant puppy who yearns for a good romp.   Needless to say, this decision added quickly to the number of mastiffs living in my home, but watching the family unit develop  generation after generation has been very rewarding…


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At about 12 weeks old, the sisters start getting introduced for extended yard time with the other adult dogs in the pack.  While Mom has been a symbol of security, she may not be one of the Alpha girls in the pack.  I usually start the introduction with the lowest ranking girl; they are excellent babysitters and enjoy the ascension in rank.  When that girl has approved of the pups and no longer finds them a keen interest, I introduce the pups to another girl. All these introductions have to be monitored to ensure the pups don’t get hurt, their inexperience to the hierarchy within the established pack may need some guidance.  Needless to say, a puppy who tries to nurse on their dad doesn’t go over too well. 


Once the pups have all been properly introduced to all the members of the pack, they get to meet the bosses, the old matron ladies.  These are the girls who rule the roost. I think, that sometimes the grey faces on these old girls act as a warning sign to the pups that this dog is not the one to be toyed with.  Wise and tolerant but only to a point these grey haired ladies teach the pups the etiquette of the pack.  I’ve watched 2 youngsters come bounding around a corner and Grandma is standing in their path they hit the brakes and sober up really quick....  Lest, Grandma turn into a Great White Shark.


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Some other examples of the etiquette the pups learn along the way are...


-Dogs of lower rank are never to step over the heads of higher-ranking dogs.

If one of the higher-ranking dogs is laying in the hall it may as well be a road block at my house.  No one will pass until someone eventually figures a way around the backend of the dog who is sleeping.  Or the older dog raises up to its elbows and turns their head.  Then the last resort, I plow the road by standing over the head of the sleeping dog so they know the coast is clear and they can pass without incident.


-Who can get pushed off a bowl and who can’t.

Puppies will often surf from bowl to bowl looking for a yummy morsel after their meal is gone.  Some dogs don’t mind but others take great offense.  A quick correction by the offender hopefully leaves a big impression that is learned quickly.


-Who is first in line to get a pat on the head when we humans come home to the pack after a long day at work.

It’s important to move everyone back off the gate and into the open as quickly as possible.  I always say hello to my boy first, then work my way through the pack from the highest to lowest in rank.  Younger dogs can get caught up in the excitement at times and can get a harsh correction from the next dog in line.


Once home, it’s my job to take over as the Alpha in the pack.  I now dictate what the pack is going to do.  Depending on the hour, I find they all seem to enjoy a group walk around the yard perimeter or if time allows a stroll around the entire property.


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This walk around to property reinforces a feeling of peace and security in the pack.  Once WE are all assured that the boogey man hasn’t snuck into the yard and is lurking under some bush or behind a tree.  They now can relax into a state of happy mastiffness, knowing they have done their part of holding down the fort while I’ve been at work.


So now that everyone is content and we’ve all settled in for the night, its time for us all to relax.


It took me a while to figure out what the secret language was between pack members to tell everyone its time to rest.   I finally noticed what the older dogs did to telegraph this message to the pack.  The Alpha’s gave out one or two deep audible sighs and they all would follow suit and their heads would start lowering into sleep.  Sure enough, when I started giving out one or two big sighs, it worked like a charm.


Some other things the Alpha’s do to signal to the pack are.  Shaking their head or beating their tail on the floor.  Which means, its time to get up and do something.  Yawning can mean its time to sleep or its time to get up…


Howling means, reform the pack, that someone is missing.  It can indicate that someone was left outside when everyone else was let in.   It’s usually instigated by the one who wants in or wants out to rejoin the pack.  Or sadly, howling can be for someone in the pack who has died.  I lost a beautiful young bitch named Pebbles not too long ago and she had a best friend named Brittney, they were the best of girlfriends.  After Pebbles was gone, Brittney would get everyone singing.  They all howled for Pebbles 4 or 5 times a day for a week.   When Pebbles never answered, the howling slowly dwindled down in intensity but it broke my heart everytime they would start in. 


It touches me now that they howl for me.  Sometimes I’ll go out to do something in the yard, that I don’t want help with (like planting flowers), and I’ll leave the dogs locked in the house.  Then one of them will see me through the window and they think I can’t find my way back home, so they all start to howl to guide me home.  I can’t help but stop what I’m doing to go enjoy a big reunion beause I was lost in their eyes and now I’ve miraculously been found J


The Mastiff, to me, seems to be a dog that enjoys living in groups.   I’ve observed on numerous occasions two older sisters resting on a dog bed using each other as pillows.  There also seems to be much grooming between my females and pups, eye and ear licking seems to be a very pleasurable pass time for them.  Like most mammals it seems to reassure the social bond of the pack.  There also seems to be a great deal of submissive licking of muzzles by the pups when the higher ranking dogs join the group unexpectedly.


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It does my heart good to gaze out at a large gathering of Great Grandmas, Grandmas, Mothers and Daughters under the shade of a tree in the yard on a beautiful day.  They resemble a pride of lions…  But sometimes its not all harmony.


Because I try to let them settle most of their own squabbles as they grow up together the pack order appears to be established early and any disagreements are usually brief.  The only confrontations has been when one of the older dogs passes away and there is are two contenders who wants to move into that position.


Fighting between most dogs, while extremely rare at my house, usually sounds worse than it really is.  Lots of noise but usually not much damage.  I did have two boys once, that once they fought  they could never be trusted together alone.   I ended up dividing the house with baby gates so I didn’t have to worry about them getting into it again.  Years later when the older boy passed, I made the decision that from here on out only one male in my house at a time.   That was one of my smarter decisions I’ve ever made.  One boy to deal with bitches in season is much easier to deal with than two boys whose hormones are raging.


People are always amazed when they come over, that a babygate leaning up against a doorway is enough to hold back one dog, let alone hold back 10 or 12.  But they all had that gate crash to the floor when they bumped it as puppies, so no one dares to touch it anymore.


Needless to say, having this many dogs getting chores done and still having time for a cup of coffee requires streamlining…


Feeding, Grooming, Bathing, Toe, and Nails are an assembly line process.

My counters at feeding time are covered with bowls from one end to the other.  All the bowls are put down at the same time and spaced out 6 feet apart across my patio.  The pups get fed in a separate yard until they learn to stay on their own bowls.   When they start to eat with the adult groups I usually make an extra bowl so there is always an open bowl to bump to.


Bathing is always interesting.  When I break the hose out in the summer time to give a bath, inevitably turns into a car wash affair…. They line up to be next in line.  The same goes for brushing, its hard to finish the one you started with first.  Just the opposite is true for toenails.  They see those clippers and they scatter to the four corners of the yard.  So when there is 200 plus toe nails to cut, you have to have your game face on and some help is nice too.


I think everyone, hates Poop Detail…

My yard is divided into 3 separate areas, encompassing about a half acre.  This makes it possible to split up dogs according to age groups, sexes, visitors, whatever…

When there isn’t any need to split everyone up there are gates between yards that can be left open so the dogs can make the loop around the house and pick out a favorite spot wherever they choose.   This also makes it easy to make a quick loop for clean up.  The best thing I have ever found for yard pick up is my horses stall rake.  I have a wheel barrel in a centrally located spot and spend about 5 minutes per yard doing pick up after morning feeding.  Its made clean up a breeze.  I also use my tour of the yards to double check the fences.  My dogs can’t seem to decide where they want to dig the pool, so everyone puts their two feet into digging a new spot.   In my spare time I fill up holes.


My fences are post and rail with stock wire.  This makes it easy to see whats going on from  almost any angle outside and nearly any window inside.  On that note.  I think if someone were planning landscaping, it would be a good idea to plant deciduous trees on the inside areas of the yard with evergreens to the perimeters for privacy and tall shade trees to the south end of the yard for shade.  Most landscaping isn’t safe with a mastiff in the yard.  They are keen to dig up flowers, trim branches and chew the bark off of everything.  So if you don’t plan on putting fences around your flower beds or wrapping your trees with some stock wire its important to not get to attached.  Same for the deck, steps and patio furniture.  I think its just natural for mastiffs to “customized” anything that could bump them in the shoulders or hit them in the head, by chewing the corners off.  Just another thing to learn to live with I guess.  Best thing to put in the dog yards for sitting around talking dogs with friends is boulders.


While my other Mastiff friends understand what living with these big dogs is like, most people would probably think I am crazy. As a breeder of these noble creatures, you have to be dedicated because there are many highs and lows along the way. Redgate Mastiffs has seen its share of victories in the ring  and I am always proud of my pups that go on to be wonderful companions in some family who just wants a pup to love.  But living with my pack of gentle giants is truly a joy that sustains me.


The  Redgate Saga continues….