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English Mastiff vs. Labrador Retriever: Breed Differences & Similarities

Are you looking for a loyal canine companion, and can't decide between the Labrador Retriever and the English Mastiff? These two breeds are both well known as excellent family companions, but they have some very distinct differences. Find out what you can expect from both breeds!

Emma Braby Picture

Last Updated: July 14, 2021 | 10 min read

English Mastiff vs Labrador Retriever

The English Mastiff and the Labrador Retriever might look somewhat different, but they are more alike than you might think! Did you just recently meet these two breeds in person and are curious about them? Or perhaps you are considering both breeds for your next family pet?

If so, it’s important to understand exactly what sets these two breeds apart, as well as what similarities they do share. In this breed comparison, you’ll learn from a brief history of both breeds. We also compare their temperament, health, nutrition needs, and more. You’ll also learn which dogs are better for certain households, because not every dog is a perfect fit for every family.

While both of these breeds may make great family companions, they have some very distinct differences (especially in size). Let’s jump in and compare their best, and most difficult qualities so you can understand which breed may make a better canine companion for your household.

Breed History

A dog breed’s history is more important than many people think, and it is normally the part people skip. Not only is it interesting, but it can help you to understand a dog much better. So, let’s see how these two dog’s histories compare.

English Mastiff

large cream colored dog standing in field
The English Mastiff was bred for battle, but has since become a very sweet, loyal family pet.

The English Mastiff is a very old dog breed, dating back as far as 55 B.C, possibly more. This year is cited because Julius Caesar documented how impressed he was with their powerful protectiveness during the Roman invasion of the British Isles. Caesar took them back to Rome, where he bred them and fought them in the battle ring against lions and men. Thankfully, the dogs back then were much more aggressive than they are today!

Over the years, the Mastiffs have shown their caring and sensitive side. They soon became a favorite family dog, and are great when it comes to protecting the family. Rich families employed several to protect their estates and hunt big game too. The Mastiff’s huge monthly food bill meant that many families couldn’t afford to feed them. Especially during the time of the World Wars and food rations (English Mastiffs and food rations don’t exist!).

Sadly, this meant that Mastiff numbers dwindled to less than 20. But, English Mastiff breeders in the United States saved the day and sent over some of their best specimens to England to bolster numbers once again. Today, the Mastiff is one of the most popular giant breeds. According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), he commonly finds himself in the top 30 most popular dog breeds.

Labrador Retriever

yellow dog standing in the forest
While originally Labs were bred to be hunting companions, they are now used for many different activities..

Thankfully, the Labrador Retriever has a much less violent history compared to Mastiffs (not that that’s his fault!). The Labrador Retriever breed dates back to the 18th century, making him a newer canine creation. He descends from the now-extinct St John’s water dog. He was created by the local Newfoundland fishermen who needed a hand ‘herding’ the fish into their nets. As well as collecting ducks and fishing equipment from the water.

The Labrador was spotted by traveling English noblemen who were impressed by his swimming ability and work ethic. They took him back to England, and they standardized the breed to what we know and love today. There are slight differences between American and English Labs, which are also called bench and field Labs. Be sure to review and understand the differences if you intend to welcome a Labrador into your home.

Over the years, his intelligence and eagerness to please humans have lent him to roles. Such as assistance dogs, search and rescue canines, and therapy dog, among many other jobs. But he also makes a great family doggo too! These, and many other reasons, are why the Labrador is America’s number one dog breed. And he has stayed in that top spot for three decades!

Appearance

large tan dog next to medium brown dog
The most noticeable difference between these two breeds is their size. The Mastiff can weigh an extra 65-150 pounds!

These two breeds are quite different in their appearance, mainly because of their size. The Labrador is a medium to large size dog that weighs between 55 and 80 pounds. The Mastiff is a ­­colossal canine who weighs between 120 and 230 pounds. Bear in mind that a Mastiff named Zorba (who unsurprisingly still holds the world record) weighed an incredible 343 pounds!

Size is a huge deciding factor for families trying to choose between these two breeds. You could have several Labs to an English Mastiff, so you really need to have the extra leg (or butt and tail) room for the Mastiff. However, both breeds are similar because they are square, stocky, and powerful looking. And both are known to pack too many pounds if overfed! Some say that an Mastiff looks like a Lab on steroids!

They both have short, dense, double-coats. The Lab often has a slightly longer coat than the Mastiff, which keeps him warm in the freezing cold waters of Canada. The Labrador sports three coat colors, yellow, chocolate, and black. Similarly, the Mastiff also enjoys three colors, apricot, fawn, and brindle. Many Mastiffs have a darker colored muzzle, unlike the solid colored Lab.

Temperament

tan dog and brown dog looking into camera
These two breeds are known to be well-mannered and calm, making great pets for families with kids.

The personalities of both breeds are similar in some ways and different in others. Let’s start with the similarities. They are both well-mannered dogs that are calm in the home, which is mainly why they appeal to many families. They also both know how to have a good time and are fun and goofy. Children love them, adults adore them, and other dogs appreciate their company.

They are also both loyal to their loved ones and would do anything for their family. Their closeness to humans is what makes them super loving. And it is why they are both top candidates for therapy dogs too. Mastiffs quite loyal and friendly, which is why he’s often compared to the Lab, but also compared to other family-friendly dogs.

The main personality difference between these two breeds is that the Mastiff is a much more dominant character than the Lab. The Labrador is an obedient and submissive dog who is always keen to please his humans. This is why he is so trainable and chosen for most canine jobs. Although the English Mastiff isn’t as dominant as a Cane Corso, he still needs an experienced dog owner. Labs are a great pick for first-time dog owners.

The Mastiff’s dominant character means that he is also quite protective of his family and estate. Mastiffs will bark at visitors and those who he thinks pose a danger to his family. Thankfully, he will warm up to strangers over time compared to some other breeds. The Lab is super friendly and makes a terrible guard dog – he wants to be everyone’s new best buddy!

Exercise

two different tan dogs running
The single biggest difference between these two breeds is their exercise needs.

When it comes to exercise, these two breeds are on opposite ends of the exercise spectrum. And after their size difference, this is often the biggest deciding factor between the two breeds. The English Mastiff is a low-energy breed that only needs between 30 and 45 minutes of steady exercise – nothing too strenuous or intense. The Lab needs at least 60 minutes (preferably more!) of intense exercise, plus lots of playtime at home.

Mastiffs not only don’t want intense exercise, but it isn’t great for their strained joints either. He is happy going for a stroll and then chilling for the rest of the day. The Lab is a working breed that is full of energy. This breed needs an active family who can commit to lots of physical and mental exercise and mix things up to keep it exciting for him.

They both need mental stimulation throughout the day too, but particularly the Labrador. The Lab will benefit from a wide variety of toys that he can chew, chase, and challenge his clever canine brain. The Mastiff is likely to prefer larger chew toys that will keep him out of trouble. Both breeds will enjoy a tasty treat-dispensing toy too. Bored Labs and Mastiffs are both recipes for dug-up flower beds and chewed furniture.

Training

big tan dog and medium tan dog sitting down
The Mastiff is known to be a bit more stubborn compared to the eager to please Labrador.

One of these dog breeds is relatively easy to train, and the other, not so much. The Labrador is an obedient, intelligent, and eager to please pup. This is why he is the prime canine candidate for assistance, therapy, and search and rescue jobs. For this reason, he is a great pick for a first-time dog owner looking for a reasonably easy welcome into the world of doggy training.

Although Mastiffs aren’t stupid by any means, they are completely stubborn. And it is this character trait of theirs that can make training difficult. If it doesn’t interest them or there are no treats involved, you can be sure they will not partake in training sessions. This is why they need a more experienced dog owner who can get the best out of this breed.

Positive reinforcement training is the best way to train both of these pups. By rewarding good behavior and ignoring the bad, research shows you are more likely to encourage desired behavior again and again. You need to work out what motivates your pup. The Lab is likely to be motivated by yummy treats, toys, and praise. Whereas the Mastiff is likely to be motivated most by treats.

They both need to be socialized from a young age. Otherwise, they might not develop into the friendly Fidos that you expect them to be. The Mastiff and his protective nature will need extra socialization than the Lab. But by mixing them both with as many dogs and unfamiliar humans as you can from day one, you will increase their confidence. And teach them the skills to be happy and polite dogs.

Health

large tan dog sitting and medium tan dog standing
Both breeds are fairly healthy, however, due to their size, the Mastiffs have a shorter lifespan.

Both the English Mastiff and the Labrador are relatively healthy dog breeds. However, the Labrador has a longer lifespan than the Mastiff. This is mostly because most giant dog breeds have a relatively short lifespan than other breed sizes. But overall, their health is average. Keep them as healthy as possible by keeping them fit, feeding them high-quality nutrition, and keeping up to date with health check-ups. You also need to research their most common health concerns.

Responsible Labrador and Mastiff breeders will screen for elbow and hip dysplasia. Although it’s found in most dog breeds, it can reduce mobility and affect the quality of life in their later years. It’s important to ask for the pup’s parent’s elbow and hip scores. Both breeds should also undergo an ophthalmologist evaluation to test for any eye conditions. The most common concern is progressive retinal atrophy and cataracts. The Mastiff is also prone to cherry eye.

The Mastiff is predisposed to cardiac concerns, so Mastiff breeders should also subject their dogs to a cardiac examination. Dilated cardiomyopathy is the main cardiac condition found in the breed. The Labrador should also be tested for something called exercise-induced coma (EIC). A DNA test will identify carriers of the gene, and these dogs should not be bred.

Nutrition

two tan dogs with tongues out
These two pups both need a lot of food, especially the Mastiff!

Both dog breeds are some of the hungriest hounds on the planet, and they will eat anything they can get their paws on! As you might expect, the Mastiff eats more than the Labrador.

The Mastiff can eat up to eight cups of high-calorie Mastiff appropriate dog food a day, sometimes more if you have a particularly big pup on your hands. An average Labrador consumes between two and four cups of dog food per day. Labs perform well on Labrador-focused dog foods that are meant for large or active breeds.

It’s important that whatever kibble you choose to feed your pup, make sure it is high-quality and well-balanced. It also needs to be age-appropriate to ensure that their nutritional needs are met during every life stage.

Both breeds are prone to obesity, so do not free-feed or overfeed these dogs. They are also both susceptible to a condition called gastric torsion, commonly referred to as bloat. It is a life-threatening condition, so you need to understand what symptoms to look for and how to act. Do not feed your pup immediately before or after exercise, and feed them several smaller meals a day rather than a big meal once a day. These steps can lower the likelihood of it happening.

Grooming

two tan dogs shaking off water
Both breeds will need weekly brushing. Expect more shedding during certain parts of the year.

With both dog breeds, their grooming regime is relatively similar, thanks to their comparable coat. They both have a thick double-coat, although the Lab’s coat tends to be slightly longer (but not by much!) The Mastiff needs to be brushed weekly, and the Lab twice weekly. Both will shed heavier during the shedding seasons, so you’ll need to brush them more often during these periods.

The Lab sheds heavier than the Mastiff, but because the Mastiff has more hair on his body, it can be just as noticeable around the home. Brushing and appropriate bathing can help to minimize shedding. Both will need to be bathed once every 8 to 12 weeks. Be sure not to wash them more than this because you will irritate their delicate doggy skin, and always use a dog-friendly formula.

The Mastiff’s nails are likely to need clipping more than the Lab’s because they will not naturally wear down as much as the active Lab. The Mastiff also tends to be a drooly dog because of his droopy dewlaps. Doggy drool doesn’t bother some owners, and others cannot live with it. So, be sure to think about which side of the drool fence you sit on if you’re trying to decide between these two breeds. And tissue/wet-wipe stations around the home will be handy!

Puppy Prices

tan puppy and white puppy standing in grass
Expect to spend $1,000 and up for either breed as a puppy.

The price of a Labrador puppy from a reputable breeder will usually start from $1,000, and the price of a Mastiff puppy will be about the same. The price will vary from breeder to breeder depending on location, demand, puppy lineage, and breeder reputation. There are many Labs and Mastiffs in rescue shelters across the country. So adoption is also an option that you should consider. Plus, it is usually a lower cost too.

If you see a puppy being sold for any less than these prices, it’s a sure sign that they are not responsible breeders. Although you might save money on the initial puppy price, dogs from irresponsible breeders and puppy mills usually cost more in the long run.

Due to medical and behavioral problems. Always do your research when looking for a reputable breeder, and always meet the pups in person. Also, be sure to ask for the relevant health certificates too.

Final Thoughts

The English Mastiff and the Labrador Retriever are loving and sweet dogs who love their families very much. The Lab is the smaller of the two breeds, plus he’s much easier to train, making him suitable for more owners. But the Mastiff doesn’t need as much attention or exercise as the Lab, so he’s the better choice for some families.

As long as you can meet the Lab or the Mastiff’s needs, you will find your new four-legged bestie! If you are still having trouble picking your perfect pup, you could always consider a mix between the two breeds, and adopt yourself a Mastador at a local dog rescue.

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