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History of the Cane Corso

History of the Cane Corso

History of the Cane Corso

In today’s world, the Cane Corso is known as a guarding breed.  They’re intelligent, loyal and eager to please their family.

Despite the rising popularity of this breed, they come from very humble beginnings.

They aren’t a recognized breed by the UK Kennel Club and were only recognized by the Fédération Cynologique Internationale in 2007.  The FCI is the largest canine organisation in the world.

Prior to 1980, these mastiffs were little known outside of their home country of Italy.

Despite only recently gaining worldwide recognition, Cane Corso have been around since the time of ancient Rome.

Throughout history, they’ve been used as guard dogs, in times of war, and were even used to herd cattle.  

This breed has an amazing and rich history that we will be exploring with you today.

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The Cane Corso in Mythology and Ancient Times

It’s no surprise that such a large and powerful breed has history rooted in Greek mythology.  When we think of these canines; myths, gods, goddesses and heroes come to mind.

The story of the Cane Corso starts with the Greek warrior Achillies: hero of the Trojan War.

After the fall of Troy, Achilles’ son and his armies settled into the region of Epirus.  Eventually Achilles’ grandson inherited the kingdom and it was named after him: Molossis.

The Molossian tribe was predominantly farmers.  These farmers used large livestock guardian dogs to protect their flocks of sheep and goats.

These guard dogs were famous for their violent attacks against wolves and other predators.

The resourceful Molossians had a second large and powerful dog as well.  They were primarily used for hunting and guarding their farms and families.

This hunting dog was built to be much stockier than their livestock guarding dogs.  It is also said to be the ancestor of all Mastiff-type breeds that we know and love today: including the Cane Corso.

Records of this Mastiff-like ancestral breed reach back to as far as 1137 A.D.  The people of Molossis were so proud of this breed that they issued silver coins with a picture of the hound on them as an emblem.

The size, prowess and ferocity of this canine was so remarkable that the Molosser Hound found its way into the works of poets and philosophers of the time.  It can be found in the works of Aristotle, Virgil, Horace and many others.

Ancient paintings, sketches and statues also depict the ancestors of modern Mastiffs.  Some features would even be recognizable to us today, showing that our current canine companions aren’t so different from their predecessors.

Most of us today would recognize the dog as a mastiff even if we weren’t certain the exact kind it was.  They were portrayed as large and muscular with wide chests.  They had big blocky heads.  

The depictions included ears that were cropped and they had docked tails as well as loose skin around their necks.  These are all features associated with and recognized in mastiffs today.  

The Cane Corso as Special Ops Soldiers of the Roman Army

The Early Roman Empire conquered Greece in 146 B.C.  Roman soldiers were intrigued by the Molossus Hounds and took some of them back to Italy when they returned home.

They crossed this newfound breed with native Italian dog breeds and created their own war dogs.

These fearless canines are direct ancestors of the Cane Corso and eventually the later developed Neapolitan Mastiff as well.

Polybius, a Greek historian, reported that these war dogs were used by the Roman army to push enemies back on the front lines.  They called these dogs the Canis Molossus.

They were sent charging towards calvary with flaming buckets of oil on their backs.  The dogs would run under the horses and cause them to throw off their riders.

The Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius was possibly the first to formally employ the Canis Molossus in legionary warfare.  The dogs were equipped with spiked protective collars and mail armour as well as chest plates.

They were even trained to run in attack formations.

They are credited for their role in helping secure many Roman victories in battle and even then were renowned for their extremely protective demeanour.

The instinct to protect their owners with their lives is still seen today in their descendants, the Cane Corso.

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The Cane Corso in Times of Peace

The name “Cane Corso” roughly translates into “dog guarding enclosed estates.”  This refers to their role as a guardian, both for the Roman army and after the end of the Roman wars when they stayed with civilian owners.

After the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 A.D, the war dogs had to adjust to civilian life.  They were used as guard dogs on farms and in the pastures of Italy. 

They protected livestock from predators and kept intruders off of the property.  

It was also during these times that the Cane Corso gained its reputation as the perfect guardian for families.  They would protect their owners from other humans as well as creatures such as wild hogs.

Due to their strength and versatility, the Cane Corso also excelled in driving cattle.  

It was also this versatility that allowed this breed to fulfil many other rolls as well.

They were used to hunt large game such as boar, deer and bears.  Their strength, speed  and agility combined with their high trainability made them perfect for the job.

Their role as a hunting companion was what gave the Corso the designation of “coursing Mastiff” with coursing being another term for having a dog pursue game.

It was during this time period that the breed's popularity started to expand in Italy.  It wasn’t uncommon to see them on farms and in pastures during the centuries to come.

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The Cane Corso Conquers the World

The Cane Corso thrived in its native Italy after the fall of the Roman Empire, but the first and second World War almost saw the end of this breed.

After World War II, life in Italy drastically changed.  The number of farms decreased and firearms became more common.  Less and less people felt the need for a large guard dog to protect themselves, their family and their property.

The Cane Corso was saved thanks to dedicated enthusiasts and breeders in the mid 1970’s.  They put huge amounts of effort into locating dogs suitable for breeding on farms in the Italian backcountry. 

Selective breedings successfully revived the Cane Corso and in the 1980’s these unique Mastiffs were introduced to the rest of Europe and the United States.  In 1996, the World Canine Organization (FCI) formally accepted the breed on a provisional basis.

In 2010, the breed was recognized by the American Kennel Club and it was listed as number 40 on their list of the most popular dog breeds in the US in 2019.  Though they remain unrecognised by the Royal Kennel Club, they are still a popular breed among citizens.

Today, the Cane Corso has gained worldwide recognition and fame.  They still serve predominantly as guard dogs, but have embraced many other roles in this modern world.

They are family companions or Service and Therapy Dogs.  They’ve found their way into being used for search and rescue or personal protection.  Their versatility has helped them find their way in the 21st century.

They’re good with children of all ages, therefore companies that train personal protection dogs often give them to families with children rather than other breeds that are known for their guarding such as Rottweilers, Dobermans and German Shepherds.


This breed has a rich and deep history and in many ways they have succeeded where their original masters failed.

They quickly spread from their native Italy and while they didn’t conquer any countries, they have certainly captured the hearts of many.

The versatile Mastiff has won respect and recognition by way of their outstanding performance as a working and guardian dog.  Families and dog enthusiasts around the world love them for their loyalty, devotion and affection.

There isn’t a love that runs deeper than what a Corso has for their family.  In this way, the Cane Corso is still expanding in popularity and number. 

Are you a Cane Corso enthusiast? Or maybe you want to learn more about the Cane Corso? Do you know any fun facts about the breed that you would like to share or about their history?

Come over to our social media and tell us all about it.  We can’t wait to hear from you!

FAQs: Cane Corso History

Where does the Cane Corso breed originate from?

The Cane Corso breed has its origins in Italy, dating back to ancient times. They were primarily used as guard dogs, war dogs, and for herding cattle.

What is the significance of the name "Cane Corso"?

The name "Cane Corso" roughly translates to "dog guarding enclosed estates," reflecting their historical role as guardians for both the Roman army and civilian owners.

How did the Cane Corso contribute to ancient Roman warfare?

Cane Corsos were used by the Roman army to push back enemies on the front lines. They were equipped with spiked protective collars, armor, and were trained to run in attack formations, playing a crucial role in securing many Roman victories.

What happened to the Cane Corso breed after the fall of the Roman Empire?

After the Roman Empire's decline, Cane Corsos transitioned to civilian life, becoming guard dogs on farms and pastures in Italy. They protected livestock and families, gaining a reputation as a loyal guardian.

How did the Cane Corso breed survive and gain worldwide recognition after nearly disappearing?

After World War II, when the need for guard dogs decreased, dedicated enthusiasts and breeders in the mid-1970s worked tirelessly to locate suitable breeding dogs in Italy's backcountry. Selective breedings successfully revived the breed, and they were introduced to the rest of Europe and the United States in the 1980s. Today, the Cane Corso is recognized by various kennel clubs and is popular worldwide for its versatility and loyalty.