Almost 2,000 years ago, the Greek writer Oppian described the ancestor of the cane corso as having "great courage, incredible strength ... undaunted even when confronted by a lion." Knowing that this modern breed is the descendant of legendary war dogs could give you the wrong idea about its nature. Handsome and dignified, the cane corso -- also called Italian mastiff -- is protective rather than combative. He's trustworthy around kids. And after a cane corso is properly trained and socialized, he's a threat only to someone who's trying to harm his family or home.
The cane corso, originally bred in the Greek state of Molossus, is a direct descendant of the Molossian war dog. It's said that the Romans, impressed by the strength and courage of this breed, strapped buckets of flaming oil onto the mastiffs' backs and then sicced these canine incendiary devices on the enemy. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the cane corso moved to the countryside, guarding property, herding cattle and hunting wild animals. In the 1970s, Italian admirers rescued the breed from the brink of extinction. The first litter of cane corso puppies in the United States arrived in 1988. In July 2010, the breed was awarded full recognition by the American Kennel Club.
Physique and Temperament
A so-called giant breed, male Italian mastiffs can be 27 inches tall at the shoulder and weigh up to 120 pounds. Females are slightly smaller. As a guardian, this dog is without equal -- although even the mere sight of that massive head and muscular, athletic body is a powerful deterrent to bad guys. A properly socialized cane corso has a laid-back personality; he's neither friendly nor hostile when meeting new people, merely indifferent. These dogs love their families but tend not to display or solicit affection. Vetstreet gives this breed full marks for intelligence and four points out of five for child-friendliness, but it indicates that cane corsos typically aren't fond of cats.
The folds of skin on mastiffs' faces make them vulnerable to eye problems that include cataracts, retinal conditions and irritations caused by eyelashes scraping against the eyeball. The cane corso is also at risk for three types of heart disease, as well as for joint problems including hip and elbow dysplasia. The Mastiff Club of America reserves its most urgent health warnings for the "hideous killer of giant breed animals" -- bloat. For a variety of reasons, a dog's stomach can suddenly fill with air and twist around, cutting off blood and oxygen to vital organs. Without immediate emergency veterinary treatment, the dog can die within three hours of the first symptom.
Tips for Prospective Owners
Inexperienced dog owners should take a pass on the headstrong Italian mastiff, who gladly moves into alpha position if he senses a vacancy at the top. Early socialization is vital, so when choosing a breeder, give preference to those who raise pups in their homes. By the time your pup's guarding instincts kick in, he must be able to discriminate between real threats and business as usual, so start introducing him to new people, places and experiences immediately. Training inside and outside the home should also begin as soon as possible. Cane corsos need to walk or jog at least a mile a day.
By Rebecca Bragg
About the Author
Rebecca Bragg has been a writer since 1979. From 1988 to 2000, she was a reporter for Canada's largest newspaper, the "Toronto Star," specializing in travel. She holds a Master of Arts in English literature and creative writing and has lived in India and Nepal, volunteering in animal rescue organizations in both countries.