History of the Cane Corso Italian Mastiff

An ancient and loyal breed, the Cane Corso, also known as an Italian Mastiff, has a long and interesting history dating back to the Roman empire. While they’re now quite popular among giant dog enthusiasts, the Cane Corso was once considered very rare. Here’s a look back at the evolution of this intelligent, assertive, and protective breed.

A Fierce Beginning: Fearless Roman War Dogs

The Cane Corso is part of a sub-category of dog breeds known as mollosers. These large mastiff-type guard dogs were bred by the ancient Green Molossi tribe as far back as 1137 A.D. When the Roman empire invaded the Greek islands, they took some of these dogs back to Italy and bred them with native Italian dog breeds. The two breeds that emerged were Cane Corso and its larger relative the Neapolitan Mastiff.

Curt Gebers as a Roman warrior with his Cane Corsos

The name Cane Corso loosely translates to mean “Bodyguard Dog,” or “Guardian.” They lived up to their name by accompanying soldiers into battle and serving as auxiliaries to the military. Larger and more lumbering than modern-day Corsi, the Cane Corso originally made its mark as a fearless Roman war dog. They were known for fiercely charging enemy lines with buckets of flaming oil attached to their backs. This extremely protective and tenacious breed served Roman soldiers well on the battlefield and are credited for assisting in many Roman victories.

A Change in Culture: Adapting to Civilian Life

After the period of Roman wars had ended, the Cane Corso had to adapt to civilian life. They were often used on farms to protect livestock from wolves and other wild animals. They were also tasked with keeping strangers away from farm buildings and barns.

The Cane Corso was known for protecting farmers from ill-tempered semi-wild hogs and aiding them with tracking down mother hogs who would hide with their piglets after giving birth. Corsi were also used to herd cattle on their way to slaughter since they were strong and tenacious enough to grab a wild bull by the neck or nose and completely incapacitate it.

Although they were often used for driving livestock, helping farmers, and hunting large game including bears, deer, and wild boar, the primary role of the Case Corso was that of a guard dog. Their naturally protective instinct made them an ideal breed for keeping watch over homes and families. The breed grew in popularity and it became very common to see Corsi on farmsteads and in pastures throughout the Italian countryside.

Overcoming a Brush with Extinction

The first and second World Wars had a devastating impact on the Cane Corso population. With almost all of the Italian men being drafted into the military, many of the farmers who bred these dogs were no longer around to care for them. While some were abandoned, it’s likely that many more were killed during invasions as a result of their fierce loyalty and unwillingness to leave their owner’s side.

There was a small resurgence of the breed after World War I, but it was short-lived. By the end of World War II, life in Italy had changed. There were fewer farms, less livestock, and fewer threats from wild animals. The farms that remained began to convert to mechanical farming methods which took over many of the jobs the Cane Corso was once trusted to perform. The growing popularity of firearms also made it easier to protect your home without the assistance of a large guard dog.

Eventually, the population of the Cane Corso began to fade to dangerously low levels. By the mid-20th century, they became so rare that they almost fell into extinction.

In the Italian backcountry, however, a few of the species did survive. In the mid-1970s, a group of Cane Corso enthusiasts worked together to locate Corsi from rural Italian farms. They began selective breeding and the species was revived.

Introduction to Europe and America

While the Cane Corso was largely unheard of outside of Italy, this started to change when the breed was introduced to the rest of Europe and the United States in the early 1980s. The following timeline illustrates just how quickly this majestic breed grew in popularity:

  • 1983 – Cane Corso enthusiasts formed the “Society Amorati Cane Corso” (Society of Cane Corso Lovers)
  • 1988 – the breed was first introduced in the United States
  • Early 1990s – Corsi began to be exhibited in European dog shows
  • 1994 – the breed is officially recognized by the Italian Kennel club (ENCI)
  • 1997 – the World Canine Organization (FCI) accepts the breed on a provisional basis
  • 2007 – the Cane Corso breed is fully recognized by the World Canine Organization
  • 2010 – the American Kennel Club (AKC) officially recognizes the Cane Corso.

As of January 2019, the AKC now lists the Cane Corso as the 40th most popular of 193 recognized breeds.

The Modern-Day Cane Corso

The modern-day Cane Corso is now known primarily a family companion and a guard dog. They quickly bond with their owners, are naturally good with children, and enjoy being included in family activities. With family and close friends, they’ll display an almost goofy personality. However, the breed is generally not recommended for first-time dog owners. As natural guard dogs, they have a tendency to be protective of their families and suspicious of change. They require strong and constant leadership, but their undying loyalty makes them easy to train.

Although they might appear intimidating, these dogs highly sensitive. A harsh word is typically sufficient to discipline a Cane Corso and they will often sulk for hours after receiving a reprimand. They crave love and affection so much that they’re often described as “velcro dogs,” and can sometimes suffer from separation anxiety. Although their sleek and athletic bodies lend themselves well to activities like running, swimming, and hiking, they’re generally very calm when indoors. They are quiet dogs and typically only bark as a way to alert you of intruders or other strange situations.

For families willing to make the commitment, the Cane Corso is one of the absolute best breeds you can choose. If you’re ready to be completely, fiercely, and unconditionally loved by a pet, the Cane Corso is an excellent choice.

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