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The Cane Corso – Born to Protect
The beautiful Cane Corso whom we know and love today has a long history. In fact, dogs of similar appearance and description as the modern Corso appear in paintings, statues and even in the literature of classical antiquity - a period reaching from the 8th century BC to the 6th century AD.
Like many of today’s Corsos, these large, bulky ancient dogs are depicted with cropped ears, docked tails and lose skin around the neck. These traits protected the dogs from injuries, whilst their enormous size and weight made them formidable opponents for man and beast.
We are speaking of the famous Molossus Hounds, whom the Romans encountered during their occupation of Greece after the Macedonian Wars.
The Romans were so impressed by the strength and ferocity of the Molossus dogs that they took some of them back to Rome. Soon, the new dogs from Greece distinguished themselves as valuable assets of the Roman army: Clad with chain mail armour, metal chest plates and collards adorned with metal spikes, these canine warriors bravely fought alongside their human counterparts.
When the Roman Empire fell, the era of professional war dogs came to an end – and the ancestor of today’s Cane Corso proved itself to be extremely adaptable to changing circumstances: The awe-inspiring battle dogs became the cherished property guardians of many farms throughout the Italian countryside. Soon, their owners discovered the breed’s extraordinary abilities to drive and control cattle – as well as their aptitude as Coursing Mastiffs, which basically means dogs sent after game by hunters.
After the World Wars, the ancient war dog and later flock- and farm guardian expanded again from a breeding stock of very limited numbers. This time, the breed not spread through all of Italy, but all across the world. Today, the Cane Corso is a sought-after personal protection dog, family guardian, therapy dog as well as search and rescue dog. Because of its versatility and intelligence, the breed is becoming more popular as we speak.
The Cane Corso Today – The Smart Guardian of the Canine World
Unlike many other guardian breeds, the Cane Corso does not require guard dog training to know when to protect its people and property: These muscular dogs are very intelligent and tuned in to their owners at all times.
Which is why they will rarely just blindly attack upon seeing an intruder on their property - or a person coming too close for comfort to their owner. Instead, an untrained Corso will most likely put their massive body between the perceived threat and the building – or person – it is protecting at that specific moment.
Interestingly enough, this behaviour is observable in many large livestock guardians who historically also can be traced back to the ancient Molossus dogs. However, in contrast to those giant flock guardian breeds – such as the Caucasian Shepherd or the Great Pyrenees -, Corsos form immensely strongly emotional bonds with their owners by default.
And it is precisely that bond, that close connection, which allows the Cane Corso to quickly interpret any given situation – simply because of the emotions they can pick up from their owners. In other words, they are quite able to distinguish a friendly hug from an attempted assault.
Also, Corsos are perhaps the most intelligent and trainable of all the Mastiff breeds – which is why they will absolutely follow the guidance of their human leader. Of course, as a Corso owner, you will need to take the time to establish that leadership. You will need to socialize and train your dog from early on, to make sure it can face any potential real-life situations with confidence.
Owners report that their dog is very friendly towards strangers up to around 12 months of age – Corso puppies love everyone and do not want to miss a chance to meet and greet new people. However, after that magical 1 year mark, a noticeable change occurs in the young dog:
Not only does it lose interest in strangers, but it becomes wary of them, and often can be seen to fall into the protective position we spoke about earlier in this video. Which means, the dog will put itself between you and the unfamiliar person.
Also, in terms of property guarding behaviour, the young adult comes into its own around the age of 12 months: No longer will it welcome visitors as a matter of course, but growl and bark at them, thereby alerting its owners to their presence.
What sets this amazing and very smart breed apart from catch dogs like the Presa Canario or the Fila Brasileiro, is their reluctance to attack and bite without serious provocation. (The term “catch dog” comes from hunting and basically means the dog will catch the prey – in contrast to the “bay dog”, who will merely corner the animal and lead the hunter to the scene by loud barking.)
It goes without saying that the intimidation factor of an adult Cane Corso should be more than sufficient to discourage anyone from trying to assault you or your home: After all, fully grown males can reach a height of 70 cm at the withers (so, 28 inches) and a weight of 68 kg, or, 150 pounds.
The Cane Corso – Devoted Family Companion and Housedog
Apart from perhaps the Bullmastiff and the English Mastiff, the Cane Corso is quite possibly THE best family guardian breed on the planet. Of course, just like with the Bullmastiff, I might be biased, as I have had the pleasure of owning a Corso myself, and have worked with a great number of these amazing dogs over the years.
However, many owners report that their Cane Corso absolutely adores their children. Despite their enormous size and bulk, these dogs are the proverbial gentle giants in a home environment. They love children and display an astonishing amount of patience with them, for example, remaining friendly whilst toddlers poke their little fingers into their faces. Of course, as with any large breed, you should never leave your dog and your young kids play together unattended, as the dog can knock small humans over by accident.
It is quite amazing how gentle these massive Mastiffs are in the house: They tend to move around very carefully, cautious not to knock over anything in their way. Other large breeds, like for example the Rottweiler, quite often continue on their path through the house, carelessly shoving aside items like coffee tables or technical equipment as they go.
The Cane Corso - Exercise and Strong Leadership are a MUST
Despite their high prey drive, Corsos – when trained properly in obedience and manners - are astonishingly calm house companions who even can live in an apartment, if provided with sufficient opportunity to run off-leash at least twice a day. Thanks to their history as Coursing Mastiffs, tasked with the pursuit of game, these dogs come with a high prey drive – comparable to that of a Presa Canario or a Fila Brasileiro.
Fulfilling these active giants’ need for exercise and mental stimulation can be quite a bit of work, so it is advisable to make obedience drills, good long walks and vigorous playtimes part of their daily routine.
With a bit of training, a Cane Corso will be quite happy to accompany you whilst you are jogging or riding a bicycle – calmly trotting beside you on a lose leash. Due to the breed’s intelligence and trainability, it is easy to teach a Corso to play fetch and tug-of-war with you, for example. Another excellent way of helping your Corso burn of its excess energy is to provide them with a spring pole – or to simply attach a strong rubber band, with a biting toy roped into it, to a tree in your backyard. Once your Cane Corso is fully grown, energetic play sessions with a flirt pole have proven highly effective and fun for both dogs and owners.
Apart from walks and playtimes - if you want to own a Cane Corso, you simply cannot slack on the socialisation- and obedience front. These extremely powerful Mastiffs have a long history as battle dogs, after all, and they can turn aggressive when not led with a strong, but gentle hand.
They are not at all suited for novice dog owners. In the words of an experienced Corso owner: This breed is the Ferrari of the canine world – and you would not learn how to drive in a Ferrari. In other words: If you have never had a dog before, you want to start with a mellow breed like a Retriever – a breed that will forgive any beginner’s mistakes you might make in their training. Because a Corso is everything but forgiving – not because the dog wants to get you into trouble, but due to its enormous sensitivity: Corsos react very badly to harsh training methods or to any inconsistencies on your part as their leader. If they feel that they cannot trust or respect you, Corsos will take matters into their own hands. They will try their best to assume the role of pack leader and make their own decisions. Unfortunately, in my role as Canine Behaviourist specializing on large Mastiff and Guardian breeds like the Cane Corso, I see every day how very wrong things can go with these dogs.
On the other hand, in the care of a knowledgeable and capable canine leader, the Cane Corso is a dream – these affectionate dogs are a sheer joy to work and live with for the expert owner. Your patience and perseverance will be more than rewarded by a dog whose devotion and genuine affection for you have no match in the canine world. – To the point where seasoned Corso owners are convinced that no one in their entire lives loves them as much as their Cane Corso loves them.
Not only is the Cane Corso an extremely powerful guard dog who comes with a sky-high natural intimidation factor – this Italian Mastiff also is an absolutely loving, loyal and deeply affectionate companion. Due to their ancient history as guardians and protectors, Corsos come with a genetic predisposition to defend what is theirs. This includes their territory, their owners as well as their owners’ families and other animals living on the property. The deep emotional bonds these giant dogs from with their owners, combined with their patience and love for children make them an ideal choice for families who are looking for an affectionate yet active canine companion.