CANE CORSO VS GERMAN SHEPHERD
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And we begin with the fascinating history of the Cane Corso – an amazing Italian Mastiff descended from the legendary ancient Greek Molossus Hounds. These massive guardians caught the attention of Roman soldiers occupying Greece in the time after the Macedonian wars. And when these soldiers returned to Rome, they took some of the fearsome Molossus Hounds with them. Soon, the ancestors of today’s Cane Corso proved themselves as the fearless battle dog of the ancient Roman army.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Cane Corso took over duties as property- and livestock guardian as well as personal protection dog for its owners and families. The Mastiff’s natural strength and agility made it an excellent hunting companion for the pursuit of wild boars and other large game. As well, Corsos proved themselves as invaluable cattle driving dogs, as they could do what other breeds could not, in this case effectively control large aggressive bulls.
Unfortunately, this magnificent farm-, hunting and cattle herding dog was nearly driven to extinction after the second World War. Saved by relentless breed-enthusiasts during the 1970s, the Corso was introduced to the United States and the rest of Europe in the early 1980s. In 2010, the breed gained recognition by the American Kennel Club that listed it as number 40 in their list of the most popular dog breeds in the US in 2019. Today, the versatile Italian Mastiff has gained worldwide fame as service-, therapy- and guard dog.
And now, let’s look at the German Shepherd’s history. Obviously, these dogs are not of the Mastiff-type and have a very different genetic make-up. However, they do share one historical similarity: Both were utilized as herding dogs and livestock guardians, even though the German Shepherd’s name indicates its predilection for working with sheep, rather than cattle. Few people know that the German Shepherd was not only tasked with herding flocks of sheep, but also with protecting them.
However, this breed is much younger than the ancient Cane Corso and was developed only in the late 19th century by the renowned dog breeder Maximilian von Stephanitz. Eager to create the most enduring sheep herding dog possible, this man started his project off with
a medium-sized dog of wolf-like appearance. A supple, yet powerful dog built for endurance, this famous “grandfather” of all modern German Shepherds was called “Horand von Grafrath.”
Soon, it became clear that the new breed created by Maximilian von Stephanitz could do much more than just herd sheep. And today, Germany’s most popular dog is used in many different fields, including police service, search and rescue, canine sports, and last but not least, sheepherding. German Shepherds are superb natural guardians as well as loyal, active companions.
DIFFERENCES IN LOOKS
Both breeds are large and beautiful dogs in appearance: well-muscled, strong, and yet athletic, their physique holds the promise of great strength and endurance. However, the Corso is much larger and heavier than the slender and elegant German Shepherd.
Equipped with the massive, blocky head typical for Mastiff-type breeds, the imposing Cane Corso is muscle-packed from head to tail but comes with a longer muzzle than most other Mastiffs. Traditionally, the Corso has cropped ears and docked tails – however, the practise of cropping and docking has become illegal in many countries, such as the UK, Germany, and Austria.
The German Shepherd has a very balanced body structure that is designed more for endurance than for explosive strength. These dogs are slightly elongated with a downward sloping backline. All in all, the German Shepherd is built for trotting efficiently over long periods of time, whereas the Cane Corso – due to its origin as fighting dog and catch dog - is designed for vigorous, explosive action.
Fully matured Cane Corso males can reach heights up to impressive 70 cm at the withers – which amounts to almost 28 inches. And they can weigh up to stunning 68 kg – that is 150 pounds. As with any breeds, the females are slightly smaller and lighter.
German Shepherds “only” reach a height of 60 to 65 cm – or 23 to 26 inches -, for adult males, with a weight of 30 to 40 kg, or 66 to 88 pounds. Again, the females are built slightly smaller and lighter.
The Cane Corso has a short and tight-fitting coat that can come in black, fawn, red, grey, or brindle – with or without white markings. For German Shepherds, breed standards allow for the following colours: Black & Tan, Red & Black, Black, Sable, Grey or Black & Silver. Their rich double-coats can either be long or short.
INTELLIGENCE & TRAINABILITY DIFFERENCES
Now, let’s look into the intelligence and trainability of these striking guardian breeds. And we can safely say that both the Cane Corso and the German Shepherd come with high levels of intelligence. However, the Cane Corso’s intelligence is combined with a tendency to think and act independently. Let me explain what I mean by that: When given the opportunity, the Italian Mastiff will make its own decisions. Which is not a good thing, because such decision can include destructive or even dangerous actions, like digging up your garden or attacking another dog on the street.
And that is exactly why the Corso absolutely needs the strong leadership of an experienced, firm and very patient owner. With such leadership and good socialization, the Cane Corso can reach high levels of obedience – which is why more and more Corso are utilized as personal protection dogs, Search and Rescue Dogs and K-9 police dogs.
The German Shepherd is no less intelligent, but far more trainable, and can look back on a long history as member of military and police forces all over the world. In fact, in its native Germany, this dog was among the first breeds to be formally accepted into the police force. The German Shepherd is an extremely versatile, quick-learning and capable working and guard dog who excels in many kinds of dog sports like IPO and French Ring. Their high levels of trainability and intelligence make German Shepherds a superb choice for experienced owners, especially for dog training enthusiasts.
And this brings us to the temperaments of these amazing working breeds. Thanks to their history as bull fighters, boar-hunters, and Roman war dogs, Cane Corsos make excellent natural guard and personal protection dogs. By “natural”, I mean they do not require any training to defend their owners and homes, as their protective instincts will kick in should the need ever arise.
The German Shepherd is no less efficient and reliable as a natural guardian. Just like the Corso, this strong dog can and will attack in case of a home intrusion or an assault. However, without proper socializations, both breeds can get very aggressive towards strangers. If reared in isolation, the Cane Corso can misinterpret situations and react aggressively – for example to your children’s playmates coming over and roughhousing together with your kids. Therefore, an unsocialised Corso is an accident waiting to happen.
And whilst German Shepherds, of course, also should be socialised, many still are raised in relative isolation, serving as farm- or property guardians. However, as this breed is far more trainable, an unsocialised German Shepherd in the care of an experienced handler will usually not contribute to negative statistics.
Both breeds are wary of strangers once they reach about 1 year of age – the Corso far more so than the German Shepherd.
However, when it comes to both breeds’ displays of affection for their owners, the Corso is king: This dog is famous for forming especially strong emotional bonds with their loved ones, and they lavish their families with affection. Corsos adore children of all ages, which makes them amazing house dogs and family companions.
And whilst no less loyal and devoted to their favourite humans, German Shepherds are less given to displays of affection like snuggling up their owners or cuddling with them. Due to their keen prey drive and generally quite intense temperament, German Shepherds are not the best house and family dogs. That said, again, with the proper leadership, they can be trained to fit that role – they are just not naturally given to an indoors lifestyle but prefer to move around a lot during the day and be active in any way they can.
EXERCISE AND GROOMING DIFFERENCES
Both these large and active breeds need lots of physical exercise and mental stimulation to stay balanced and content - especially if you keep them in the house for the better part of the day. These are serious working dogs who can get very destructive when under-stimulated. They are quite prone to use their pent-up energy for excessive barking or for destroying your furniture.
Another similarity is the strong prey drive of these powerful breeds, which makes them want to chase whichever prey animals that cross their path – be it cats, rabbits or even deer. That’s why you want to keep your Corso or German Shepherd safely leashed when walking them outside of a secured area. At least until the dog has mastered perfect recall.
Normal walks will not satisfy either one of these hardcore athletes. But as they both are very intelligent and adaptable you can teach them to run next to a bicycle. Alternative ways to exercise these active canines is play: Engaging them with a flirt-pole or letting them play with other friendly dogs are excellent ways to satisfy a German Shepherd or Cane Corso. Of course, you still should walk your dog daily, and give them the chance to see new places and new people as well as other dogs.
Now, let’s talk about grooming, and the good news is that outside of shedding season in spring and autumn, the Cane Corso hardly sheds. Grooming them is delightfully easy: Their short and sleek coats require only the occasional brush. As with various other short-coated breeds, bathing them is not necessary, unless they have gotten themselves real dirty. Because of their sensitive skins, however, you should make sure to only use a mild dog-shampoo.
Sadly, German Shepherd owners are not quite so lucky: These beautiful dogs are notorious shedders, and I mean not only in shedding season, but on a daily basis. You will have to either put up with tons of hairs all over your floors and clothes, or you will have to brush your German Shepherd every single day, at least once. Of course, the long-haired version comes with the added challenge of their coats getting dirty far easier, so prepare for regular spray downs with soap.
And this brings us to the end of our discussion of these two intriguing guard dog breeds – the Cane Corso and the German Shepherd. Both breeds are amazing guard dogs to protect your home. On top of that, the Cane Corso is a good family dog who adores children. The German Shepherd’s temperament makes it especially suitable for people who want a very active canine companion, as these dogs were bred for their endurance and agility. Whilst both the German Shepherd and the Italian Mastiff are not the best dogs for first time owners, they thrive in the care of an experienced handler.