ITALIAN CANE CORSO'S HISTORY
The Italian Molossian dog's origin goes back to time immemorial that neither history nor archaeology can give univocal certainty. First of all, we have to precise that when we talk about Italian Cane Corso, at the same time we also mean the Neapolitan Mastiff because (at least this is certain) they share the same genetic heritage (the Neapolitan Mastiff is a created breed, just like the modern Italian Cane Corso that looks like to the Boxer dog; but we will talk about it later). It can be assumed considering the word history of the named used to call the Italian Cane Corso:massatinus, that means guardian of the farm; cohors, that means double meaning courtyards dog and cohort dog at the same time; for example, in Puglia he is Cane corzu o Can ' Corz, understood as tough, strong.
According to some theories, the Italian Cane Corso comes from the big molossian dogs common among middle east populations: Assyrian, Babylonians, Greeks of Epirus and was imported in europe by Phoenician people, who used these kinds of dogs as guardian and as commodity; Pliny the Elder quotes this dog in his book "Naturalis Historia", where he tells about the two big dogs which king of Illyrians gave Alexander the Great as a gift.In addiction to these dogs already living in the italic peninsula (we have just said: They have been imported from other countries by Phoenician people), other kinds of dogs were added by Romans who brought them after the military campaign in Gallia: so, Romans crossbreed their molossian dogs and celtic dogs.
The Romans had a very strong interest in fighting dogs indeed (canis pugnax o pugnaces). In fact, perhaps during the Britain military campaign, they did create the figure of “ procurator cynegii”, a special kind of officer who had to choose the most suitable dogs as necessary: First of all in warfare, to crossbreed other bloodlines so as to create dogs suitable for the big game hunting, but also dogs suitable for circus, where they did fight against bears, lions and tigers. According to the tales of that time, four dogs were able to kill a lion. At that time, a very common custom was the “Tauromachy”, (from ancient greek, tauros (ταύρος) = bull e máchē (μάχη)=battle) that still exists in Spain and did exist even in Italy, although illegally, up until a few years ago. The skill of the group of dogs (made by four dogs) or even of only one dog, was to immobilize a bull and tackling it by the ear or by the muzzle, two very sensitive points, so as to keep the bull fixed because of the big pain.
But the most important purpose of using dogs was the war and they did train thanks to some human beings, perhaps prisoners or doomed to die, and, in the absence of them, thanks to the puppets fulled up with blood and guts of some dead animals so as to dog could link eating and enemies: dogs did harnessed with a harness made by leather or light metal provided with some rostrums that can be useful in case of fighting against the cavalry of the enemy.
Using warfare dogs has lasted for centuries in some different ways: by Spanish conquistadors so as to kill as many South American Indians as possible and, more recently, by the Italian army, during the italic Turkish war (1912), when some subjects of "Dogo Sardo" became involved in war .The Romans certainly did use some dogs already living in Italy – native sheepdogs - in order to increase the genetic makeup of dogs imported from other countries; so they did obtain some different kinds of working dogs. As a result of this, they mainly got two types: the heavy and the lightweight; the first fit for war and fighting against wild beasts and second for hunting, sometimes conveniently crossbred with greyhound dogs so as to highlight the velocity and the grasp. After the fall of Roman Empire, only few lords, who were landowners and often cattle farmer, could afford having these kinds of dogs; in fact, they did need them and were able to keep them. According as needs, these dogs were crossbred with greyhound dog or hunting dog or tough sheepdog "canis pastoralis" in order to obtain a more dreadful shepherd dog. It was not rare that these dogs – born thanks to the selection based on the needs – could mate with some original bloodline molossian dogs. Besides, lords used to give these dogs to their servants who did take care of them and did arrange mating with similar dogs and then did create new bloodlines featured by white spots, by homogeneous white coated, lighter than usual and provided with a hair coat more long; in this way they did get more fit for fighting against bad weather and fit for the poor diet given them by servants; at the same time, main features of the breed could be preserved.
These dogs had to earn a living and, in case of absence of war, they had to do as best as they could to help their owners in the life and death struggle; people who lived in the countryside did avail themselves of these dogs in order to take care of beef cattle. Among the few people who could afford to keep heavy bloodline dogs there were butchers, who used to take advantage of dogs so as to keep fixed bulls during the catch and during the killing; this is a custom that has been lasted until the first decades of the 20th century, getting a spectacular appearance, which is the heritage of the ancestral Tauromachy. Another way of using this breed was as a caretaker of pigs, sheep and sometimes as shepherd, in any case as guardian and even as "bodyguard dog" so as to dissuade the spiteful persons.
He was and he still remains the boar hunting dog per excellence and it is not rare that two Italian Cane Corso well trained since they were puppies, can kill one boar, although it should be perfect being four dogs: in fact, two dogs should tackle the boat by the muzzle and the others should tackle the boar by the genitals in order to keep him fixed because of the great pain and allow the hunter kill the boar with the knife (this is a traditional custom that is today performed together with using the gun); after killing, the hunter cuts the genitals of boar as soon as possible in order to avoid that meat becomes inedible because of the bad taste.
Another ancient custom linked with Italian Cane Corso was hunting for porcupine whose flesh is delicious (reminds of pork flesh, but being low fat). This kind of hunting did happen during the night, using lightweight and quick dog that were white or "frumentino" so as to be viewed better. The Italian Cane Corso is fit for this because he is provided with a very strong reliance, nevertheless he has to face the porcupine quills that often can blind dogs; after the prey has been caught within the lair by dog, the hunter pulls the dog taking him by the tail, extracting dog and prey at the same time.
The preservation of this “dog population” (the idea of breed spread only in the 19th century) has been carried on mostly in the south of Italy by people who used working dogs (farmers, hunters, lords, land owners, soldiers, gangsters) who seemed to be the last keepers of this cynognostic genetic heritage; by the way, there are the well - known paintings and en carvings of Bartolomeo Pinelli, roman artist known as the quintessentially painter of dogs and swindlers, Who was a doglover he himself.
During the last century, it did happen the decline of Italian Cane Corso, even emphasized by the economical crisis due to the wars. Only in the 1946, during the first official dog show that took place in Napoli, Italian Cane Corso was rediscovered by the writer – journalist Piero Scanziani, who was very interested in dogs; in fact, his tale – (taken from “Il cane utile” “The Useful dog”, Helvetica Edizioni), concerning his first meeting with the real molossian dog, has remained popular.
In the 1949 was officially recognized the breed status; at the beginning the breed was called “Mastino Napolitano Cane Corso cane da presa” that was changed in “Mastino Napoletano” because of the pressure exerted by Napoli's breeders who claim the right to name the breed saying that only thanks to them the breed could be kept. On the contrary, Piero Scanziani would have preferred to name him “ Molosso italiano” (italian Molossian) or “Molosso romano" (“Roman molossian”). The breeding was planned to prefer the heavy type in a such strong way that during the last decades it has been undertaken a process of typifying by lymphatic being, gigantism and a stop increasingly shorter just to please the business and the latest trends; so, here it is the Ipertypic Italian Cane Corso. A plenty of different bloodlines were left out so as to achieve this “result” and those that once were some proper features of Italian Cane Corso, just like the "fromentino" coloured and original texture of the hair, were discarded. As a consequence of this, the present Italian Cane Corso that is a descendant of ancient noble guardians of many farms, has got a satin and shiny hair that is completely improper to live outside. We also can see some morphological features and some colours that have nothing to do with the original variety of the breed; this is the case of some subjects of Italian Cane Corso defined by fawn colour, (the colour typical of Dogue of Bordeaux) which is a feature that many “mastinari” has never seen in all their dogs.
It makes you wonder what this short live expectancy dog, who has a lot of difficulties so as to breathe, to move and to mate, has in common with the working molossian dogs whom you could admire in the south of Italy up until 40 years ago, that only a few breeders still treasure. This is a breed artificially kept by now. In fact, the breeders often rely on the artificial insemination, there are often caesarean sections and the breeders choose to bottle feed the puppies or sometimes they use another female dog that wet nurse the puppies on behalf of the mother. In any case, the natural mother of the puppies cannot feed them because after long years of artificial breeding these bitches have no more maternal instinct. Besides, as a consequence of the caesarean section, these bitches have no feeling of giving birth and can't stimulate the puppies so as to activate their ancient and ancestral mental mechanisms necessary for their adult mental health, to interact with human beings and other dogs and last but not least, in order for the species to persist.
Towards the end of the seventies (the 70s) some Italian dog lovers started to be involved in what was left of the lightweight type still used by people who used working dogs in the rural environment. Researches mostly were focused in the Puglia region, so as so find the typical subjects; the main purpose was to achieve the breed status provided with his own identity and then distinguished by the Neapolitan Mastiff breed. It was far from smooth to achieve a good result as soon as possible. There were too many things that two varieties did share, although in the 70s the Neapolitan Mastiff already got the ipertype.
Just to put forward arguments as much impressive as possible, It was undertaken a policy of separation at any risk. First of all, about the size; in fact were selected many subjects so as to create dogs with 40-50 kg average and than the purpose was to underscore the prognathism which some subjects have got (the Neapolitan Mastiff usually has got the level bite).
Considering that the prognathism is a recessive character, it was very hard to achieve it as a uniform feature in breeding dogs. That's the reason why was used Boxer dog blood (as some official documents report); as a matter of fact, the Boxer breed is defined by the innate prognathism. This decision was made because of some different reasons, commercial and bureaucratic: on the one hand the prognathism was fixed as feature no more recessive and on the other the boxer could less the size of the future subjects and curb their disposition, making them more suitable for dog shows where usually the arbiter have to open the dog's muzzle so as to see the teeth; in fact , it is unlikely that a real Cane Corso can let someone open his mouth in a so intrusive way. Just consider the Fila Brasileiro; it is a source of pride that he can't allow anyone opens his muzzle.
After has been distorted, deprived of some typical colours and provided with some features that got more and more stronger (prognathism, cranial and facial region, the texture of the hair and a disposition like boxer dog), this type achieved the breed status in the 1994.
Thank to some diehard doglovers, at the same time breeders and dog users, the rustic Italian molossian still survives, provided with his all own features: the solid appearance in both varieties usually combined with a depression on the half of shoulder (conversely, the Cane Corso selected for beauty has got a descending shoulder, just like the boxer); the size is between 40 and 70 kg; the muzzle square and the stop well defined and not too much brief such as being useful to cool down the air in every condition, even in the most extreme (indeed, we are talking about a dog that arose in the middle east and has been used for a long time as a working dog in the south of Italy). Besides, he is provided with regular scissor bite, reverse scissor bite, level bite, sometimes with prognathism.
The hair, usually is short, but not shaven and made up of coat and undercoat which is particularly thick during the winter. The range of coloration is larger than that is provided for by the standard and consists of a plenty of colours: "formentino", that usually is treated badly, gunmetal colour, blue, in any case with white patch on the chest, on the feet and, sometimes, on the muzzle (that is provided for the standard). Last but not least, in some cases there is the fifth dewclaw and rarely the trait of double dewclaws, a very unusual feature indeed that I had the opportunity to see in some different litters; that proves the vestigial being of the breed and can show that in the past did happen a crossbreeding between Cane Corso and Abruzzese Mastiff.
There was indeed the custom to plan mating between Italian Cane Corso e Abruzzese Mastiff; there was a functional aim, although sometimes it did happen spontaneously because they both did live in the same environment. The result of this crossbreeding mating has his own name; we are talking about “Mezzocorso”, the typical hybrid that always been planned because of working purpose, so as to provide Cane Corso with a stronger aptitude for guarding livestock and get him healthier and more long lived. On the other hand, molossian Cane Corso's blood can get Abruzzese Sheepdog stronger and braver, and give him a stronger bite; then, over the centuries, as a result of the human selection made by colour, there were white coloured dogs, more suitable so as to fight against wolves and bears.
The personality of original Italian Cane Corso is stable; he is so devoted to his human family and things which he takes care for that could seem fearless facing every threat or everything seen as a threat.
He is very affectionate and so protective that can be possessive; in fact, he wants to have a corner on affection!!
He is naturally protective towards other animals of the family and towards everything that is propriety of the family. He has got such a strong courage that could be reckless and needs to have an exclusive connection with humans; he is serious and not fold of joking because he is aware of being the guardian, even if in a balanced way. This breed is naturally predisposed to be guardian in such a way: in case of some spiteful persons get in his territory he can pounce immediately on the bad guy without barking at all; but, at the same time, he avoids biting strongly, unless it is necessary; in fact, he only wants to keep the spiteful fixed; that makes him "Cane da presa" per excellence.