Cane corso – When the Roman Empire conquered Italy, they soon discovered the Molossoid dogs’ power as war and fighting dogs. They worked very seriously and purposefully to improve the breed in the second and first centuries BC. They developed what we today call the Canis pugnax (the Roman Wardog)
Cane corso – The Canis pugnax became the progenitor of the Italian molossoid dogs: Cane Corso, and its local varieties – Mastino Napolitano, Dogo Sardo, Cane Di Mannera, Branchiero Siciliano, and the Sicilian Vuccerisco.
Cane Corso – The appearance of Canis pugnax in antique statues and mosaic works is well documented.
They have a striking likeness with our Cane Corsos, which apparently haven’t changed much in the 2000 years that have passed since the days of the Roman Empire.
The Canis pugnax were muscular and powerful without any excess of weight. They were very mobile and had staying power. Mentally they must have been very aggressive.
The term Cane Corso has been used for many centuries in Italy.
Pronounced Car_nay Corso (Cane being Italian for ‘dog’ and Corso derived from the Latin Cohors meaning protector), the breed’s name literally means ‘guardian’ or ‘protector dog’.
Historically, this term perhaps initially described a type of dog rather than a specific breed. The Cane Corso is of mastiff origins and was most commonly used to protect property, livestock and family; as a dog of war; to herd stock and hunt game and also possibly for entertainment – fighting lions and bears in the colosseums.
The Cane Corso type became less popular in Italy preceding the 1950s and a subsequent recovery process was put in place by Italian enthusiasts. The type was formally recognised in Italy in 1987 and an approved standard was written. In 1996 the breed was recognised on an international level.
The history of the “Cane Corso”, coincides extraordinarily with the history of the Italic peoples, in all the splendor and their misery. Unfortunately this breed, saved in the last few years from what seemed an inexorable and fatal decline, reaches us with a scanty but still significant historical and iconographic background from which a few enthusiasts have tried to reconstruct the origins of this breed.
The etymology of the name “Corso” is still uncertain. The most credible hypothesis are those which indicate Greek origins: KORTOS = wall and from the Latin: COHORS = guard of the courtyard. Until recently the oldest documentation citing the name of the “Cane Corso”, consisted of a few poems and some prose dating from 1500.
The use of the breed was very diversified. The primary task was the guarding of property and protection of cattle against wolves and cattle thieves. When the dogs protected the cattle, they wore an iron collar to protect them against wolves. This spiny collar was called “Vraccale”
For decades, the Cane Corso has been used for hunting large game such as boar, wolf and bear. The hunting of these animals were very popular among the nobles. Usually they used both trcking dogs (Segucio) and Cane Corso together.
They also were used for hunting (The now extinct) Italian forest cat, badger and porcupine. Their hunting instinct was, and still is, very developed and often they brought back a good meal for the shepherds.
Cane Corso was a popular breed among butchers, who used the dogs as assistants. The dog would help to control and move the cattle before slaughtering. Then it would be ready to help the butcher to block the animals if the slaughtering went wrong. In Italy they slaughtered with knife, and they only slaughtered bulls since cows were needed for the production of milk. If the “operation” went wrong the bull would become very dangerous and the dog would immediately stop it by biting its nose or lips and force it on its knees.
In some places they believed that the quality of the meat would be better if the bull had “run tender”. This happened in special yards were the bull was ttacked by a couple of Corsos. Bullbaiting became popular and and often the butcher could earn some extra money by selling entrance tickets to this particular “show”.
From the 50′s up to the early 80′s the breed was kept alive by a few shepherds, cattlemen, hunters and farmers in the most isolated parts of S Italy (Puglia and Calabria). They were simple people and bred working dogs by the methods handed over generations.
In 1998 the A.I.C.C. or “Associazione Italiana Cane Corso” published a study on the breed which brought to light the military use of the “Cane Corso” in 1137 in Montopoli di Sabina (near Rome), the finding of kennels from the period and the close links between the breed and Roman history. All of this allows us to consider the “Cane Corso”, as the principal evidence of an ancestral breed which has maintained particular characteristics over the centuries, which take us back in time, not just to the period tied to agricultural economy immediately prior to the industrial revolution, but even further back linking dog fanciers with the great civilizations of the past; the rise and fall of the Roman empire, the middle ages and modern times.
The “Cane Corso”, has maintained through natural selection over the centuries, the closest possible contact with environment and the roles which man has asked this precious companion to play. We are talking about hard times when the success and survival of a breed depended exclusively on their ability to render work, so the choice of raising and keeping a dog was a purely economic one. A responsibility taken which had to correspond to the acquisition of a good or service, nothing superfluous was allowed. The “Cane Corso”, which we can admire today is the best evidence of the theory which sustains that when a breed exhibits certain morphological and behavioral characteristics relating to the work it is required to do, then that breed shows harmony of form and balanced character. The past of the “Cane Corso”, is not only largely present and alive but also extraordinarily current, as if time had just slipped away.
The “Corso” has conserved from its ancestors the “Molossi” of Epiro and the “pugnaces” of Rome, used in war and for fighting in the circus, the aggressive and combative nature necessary for successfully reaching its goal, with no hesitation and with surprising potential force. Through contact with man in social situations he has learned to react only when necessary, becoming an excellent interpreter of human gestures. With these characteristics the “Cane Corso”, has survived until today. In small settlements in the south of Italy where they have maintained an archaic system of agriculture and a multi purpose dog is an essential partner. The modernization of agriculture and systems of breeding, in particular the disappearance of breeding in the wild and semi-wild state. The disappearance of wild game and the use of firearms with the consequently different techniques of hunting have reduced the traditional uses of the “Cane Corso”. It is for this reason that the diffusion of the “Corso” has suffered drastic reduction since the Second World War.
The situation at the beginning of the 1970’s was worrying for the very survival of the breed, then reduced to a modest number of examples and no longer considered by in official dog-fancying circles despite the efforts of individuals like the Count Bonatti and Professor Ballotta. It was in the 1976 that an enthusiastic dog lover and researcher of the rural traditions of Italy, Doctor Breber, brought the “Cane Corso”, to the attention of the public and official dog fancying circles in an article published in a number of the ENCI (Italian Kennel Club) magazine. He followed this first step with the setting up of a rescue mission carried out by a group of enthusiasts who had made contact with Dr. Breber in the meantime. In October of 1983 these enthusiasts formed the S.A.C.C. (Società Amatori Cane Corso). The common intentions of rescuing the breed were the basis for the forming of the SACC, which suffered its first shock in 1986 when Dr. Breber abandoned the society. This fact has little resonance at the time as the group was not well known and lived on the edges of dog-fancying officialdom.
This was a determining factor in the future direction of the breed as was the contribution of the man who was among the first to contribute to the new interest in the breed and who provided the dogs for the first litter: Basir the model for the standard of the breed was the son of Dauno and Tipsi, two dogs of the Dr. Breber. When Dr. Breber left the SACC centered itself around the kennels in Mantova run by Giancarlo Malavasi with the entire breeding program of the breed and the running of the SACC in the hands of Stefano Gandolfi, Gianantonio Sereni and Ferdinando Casolino. The need to move the breeding program forward at all costs become the justification for centralized running of the association which was not very democratic and often object of not positive chattering. For these reasons the SACC, two vice-presidents from different times stand out, Mr. Oreste Savoia and Dr. Flavio Bruno.
In this period it must be highlighted that the activities of the SACC for the recognition of the “Cane Corso” were carried out with energy and appreciable results. Unfortunately the same cannot be said from the dog fanciers point of view because the level of quality of the litter thrown by Basir in 1980 were never repeated and the subjects produced, appeared and today still appear distant from the desired model and show considerable variation. In that period the SACC successfully organized dog fanciers meetings with the scope of making the breed known and allow the judges of the ENCI to carry out tests and measurements. This activity produced an official standard document edited by Dr. Antonio Morsiani ratified by the judging committee of the ENCI in 1987.
In the same edition of the standard, perhaps because of the need to differentiate the “Cane Corso” as much as possible from the other Italian Molosso hounds, the Neapolitan Mastiff, for the purposes of recognition, some inaccuracies were allowed which led to considerable discussion. The most important regards the closure of the teeth in that the standard requires a slight prognathism. The level bite is only tolerated, however being just as common in the “Corso”.
This is shown not only in the many positions taken by enthusiastic breeders (including Breber) but also in the official records of the first convention, “Convegno nazionale di Civitella Affadena, June 16th 1990″. In 1992 in order to better follow the evolution of the Breed the ENCI decided to record the births of “Corsi” born of parents verified by the judges and as such considered heads of blood lines, in an unofficial book called the “Libro Aperto” or open book. The data contained in this book was transferred into the official books when the breed was officially recognized on January 20th 1994.
The enthusiasm for this breed, the curiosity and the knowledge that a greater number of dogs and a greater interest in the breed would have helped in the push for recognition, lead to an uncontrolled increase in the production of litters with a consequent reduction in the average quality of the offspring. In this phase the SACC, not only omitted take any action to inhibit this phenomenon, but rather took every opportunity to publicize the breed and themselves as its saviors. Under this pressure the number of “Corsi” produced jumped from a few tens of animals at the beginning to the current 2500 annual registrations. Given the lack of improvement in the quality of the animals produced the success of the breed was vaunted in terms of numerical increase. This choice penalizing the zootecnical aspects paid of in terms of political ratification. On May 22nd 1996 at Arese the best “Cane Corso” were gathered. CH Boris was used as the model for the presentation of the characteristics of the breed at the upper levels of the F.C.I. A few months later in November 1996 the “Cane Corso” was recognized at an international level.This seemed a positive result but it lead to further worsening of the system because many enthusiast from outside of Italy, inspired by the novelty of the situation bought the “Corso” without due care or consideration. Often their chose was based on lack of information, ready availability, colour or the price of the puppies. What has been revealed in the last few years is the total lack of a serious information service and management of the breed at an international level.