The Cane Corso originates from Italy and is a descendant of the Roman Molossian, likely mixed with the ancient British Mastiffs (pugnaces Britanniae). The latter were used for bear- and bull-baiting, and by British soldiers in war as early as 55 B.C. The Romans were so impressed by the aggression of the English mastiffs that they considered them superior to their own Roman war dogs.
Grattius wrote of them in 8 AD: “ Although the British dogs are distinguished neither by colour nor good anatomy, I could not find any particular faults with them. When grim work must be done, when special pluck is needed when Mars summons us to battle most extreme, then the powerful Molossus will please you less and the Athamanen dog cannot measure up to the skill of the British dog either. ” 1
Both the Roman and the English ancestors of the Cane Corso were bred for hunting large game, to battle in warfare, as a guard dog, and for arena blood ‘sports’. As a hunting dog they were selectively bred to attack game such as wild boar or cougars. One ancient writer described them thus: “not speedy but impetuous, a fighter of great courage and incredible strength, to be employed against bulls and wild boar, undaunted even when confronted with a lion.” They were called canis pugnaces because of their willingness to fight to the death and their function of attacking wild animals. As guard dogs, they were always chained and never had the run of the property, because they were too dangerous. In the arena, they were used in spectacles that involved three or four of these pugnaces / molosser types mauling a bear, a horse or a lion to death slowly, though until the fall of the Roman Empire the victim could also be human (a slave or prisoner)2,3
The Cane Corso once was popular throughout Italy as a guard dog and fighting dog, but now is most common in Southern Italy. These dogs were just another regional variation of the generic fighting molosser type, sharing its ancestry with the pit bull types and other fighting molossers. In later days, this local Italian fighting molosser was back-crossed to the English fighting pit bull types to improve its performance as a fighting dog and to get its present day appearance – as were most of the various regional molosser types across the world. In 2008, the Cane Corso was accepted into the AKC’s miscellaneous class and declared an official ‘breed’. It remains in fact a molosser – pit bull mix.
Cane Corsos are, as adults, very calm house companions. They like to be near their family, but they aren’t fond of cuddling nor demanding about attention. They can react to many things as if they perceive a threat. It is essential to get a puppy from a breeder that keeps the pups inside the home from birth, so they are socialized from birth to understand what is and isn’t a threat in normal household activities. The same intense exposure is necessary to out-of-home things such as pedestrians on the street, people getting in and out of cars, people coming in and out of shops, so the dog will understand that these things are normal and also no threat. That said, there is no amount of socialization that will make the Cane Corso friendly to strangers inside or outside the home. They may do well with some strangers if properly introduced, but the owner must be present at all times for close supervision.
Training must begin early in life, must be intensive, and must be maintained for the life of the dog. The training should be without violence, but it should be constant. The Cane Corso pup must be asked to obey a command for everything he gets, from a treat or a toy to his dinner to the opening of a door for a walk. This must continue throughout the dog’s life.
Due to their history as a guard dog, Cane Corsos are very protective of their families and territory. Proper fencing at least six feet in height and structurally sound is necessary to ensure they cannot leave the property to handle perceived threats. The fencing is also needed to prevent other animals (or unfamiliar children) from invading the dog’s territory and being attacked. Electric fences are never appropriate containment for this breed – Cane Corsos have no issue enduring the brief electric shock when they are alerted, and electric fencing doesn’t keep children out4.
If raised with other animals, they can sometimes get along well with them. They usually will not accept dogs that they are not raised with. You should not to try to keep them with a dog of the same sex. They are known for killing cats and small dogs, as well as larger dogs that annoy them or even approach them. The Cane Corso must be walked on-leash when outside the owner’s fenced property by someone big and heavy enough to control the dog. It does not belong at any dog park. Playgrounds should be avoided in case unfamiliar children approach the leashed Cane Corso.
The Cane Corso is a large and powerful dog when it is fully mature, and it is important for owners to maintain control at all times. These dogs do best with experienced owners who are confident, firm, and consistent. They need clear limits established. Even with training and socialization, the dog may still exhibit unwanted behaviors or aggression. Because of the breed’s history and genetics, its original tasks, its tendency to react to perceived threats with aggression, and because of its size, we do not recommend the Cane Corso for families with children of any age.
Cane Corsos are very athletic and enjoy regular exercise. They love long daily walks and are well suited to engage in activities such as jogging. Proper exercise needs to be part of a regular daily routine. Cane Corsos love the outdoors and prefer spending time outside. Even when not exercising, they enjoy relaxing outside – on a leash or in their securely fenced yard.
The Cane Corso is known to drool and slobber excessively, especially after drinking. They require minimal grooming and are light shedders. They may need occasional brushing to remove dead hair. They are prone to medical issues that are common for giant breed dogs, such as bone and joint issues. They can weigh between 88-120 lbs and typically live between 10-11 years.
In North America, from 1982-2015, Cane Corsos have seriously attacked 24 humans that resulted in 15 maimings and 2 fatalities. In addition, a Cane Corso/Pit Bull mix attacked 1 person that resulted in a fatality.
1. Cynegeticon, in J. Wight Duff and Arnold M. Duff, Volume I of the Loeb Classical Library’s Minor Latin Poets, pp141‑20. English translation of the Latin text available at: http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Grattius/Cynegeticon*.html (accessed February 2014), p 169.
2. History and Origin, Dedicated to the Mastiff http://www.mastiffgilardi.com/inglese/razza_sub/storia.htm (accessed March 2014)
3. Corso di Munteanu, History of the Cane Corso http://www.corsodimunteanu.com/about-cane-corso/history (accessed March 2014).
4. http://www.vetstreet.com/dogs/cane-corso , passim (accessed March 2014)