Background and History
The Cane Corso has roots extending back to the ancient Molossian war dogs from Ancient Greece. These huge and powerful hounds where then employed as the Roman empire expanded. The forebear of the Cane Corso, known generically as the Italian Mastiff, was used as a war dog, and to grace the amphitheatres in battles with a range of other creatures including bears and lions.
The other breed that descended from this Italian Mastiff is the Neapolitan Mastiff, the closest relation to the Cane Corso.
As the Roman Empire declined these dogs were highly prized for both guarding and protecting houses and farms, but also in the hunting of large game such as boars and bears. In fact the name of the breed ‘Cane Corso’ translates as ‘catch-dog’. Like the Great Dane and the Rottweiler in northern Europe a ‘catch-dog’, followed the lead of the Sight-Hounds, but was valued for its strength and size in holding down and restraining large prey until the hunters could arrive.
This role was very admirably fulfilled by the Italian Mastiff in southern Europe. As noted the word ‘Corso’ means to catch linked to the hunting role of the Cane Corso in catching and holding large prey. But this word also carries suggestions of guarding signalling the other important role of this dog in protecting homes and farms.
The formidable physical presence and ‘catch-dog’ ability also transferred well to cattle driving as they as well as protecting herds of sheep and cattle from wolves
During the 20th century, following the two world wars, the Cane Corso went into serious decline, possibly due to the huge food requirements of this dog in times of hardship, and only vestiges of the breed remained in rural areas.
But it was saved in the 1970s by a group of enthusiasts and by 1996 was recognized as a breed in Europe. Interestingly the United Kingdom Kennel club remains the only registering society that has refused to officially accept the Cane Corso as a breed, but the AKC gave them full acceptance in 2010.
Due to the biddable nature of this Mastiff, the gentle temperament combined with superlative abilities as a watch-dog (the Cane Corso comes with an impressive resume having fulfilled this role for over a couple of thousand years), the Cane Corso is now ranked as 25th most popular dog in the United States according to to the 2020 registration data .
This adaptable nature of the Cane Corso is also reflected in the diversification of roles for this breed in recent years. Cane Corso’s have proven sensitive and gentle enough to make good therapy dogs and have also excelled as search and rescue dogs.
Linked Hybrid Breeds:
Cane Corso Great Dane Mix, Cane Corso German Shepherd Mix, Cane Corso Boxer Mix, Cane Corso English Bulldog Mix, Cane Corso Neapolitan Mastiff Mix, Cane Corso English Mastiff Mix, Cane Corso Dogue de Bordeaux Mix Cane Corso English Bullmastiff Mix, Cane Corso Rottweiler Mix, Cane Corso Doberman Mix.
Character and Temperament
The Cane Corso is a very exciting and lively breed who do make excellent protection and guard dogs, but are also fantastic family dogs for those who are willing to invest the time in training and socialization.
These dogs do have very strong protective instincts towards the family, particularly towards any children. They are unswervingly loyal and there is no breed which lives up to the familiar canine epithet of ‘man’s best friend’ than the Cane Corso. They absolutely adore the children in the family but must be trained to be careful due to their size and bulk and for this reason any play must be very closely supervised. It is also highly advised to continue to encourage ‘soft-mouth’ during socialization from the transition of puppyhood avoid any unintended injury to small children or any other dogs in the household.
But this does mean that this tendency to guard will need moderating through socialization to ensure these dogs are fully welcoming to visitors and unfamiliar people met outside on walks. A well-socialized Cane Corso will enjoy meeting new people and is likely to be playful and gregarious with other dogs, although this breed can certainly be characterized as more human-oriented than dog-focused
But although they have a very large, powerful physique they are mostly celebrated by owners for their huge and lovable personalities. These dogs are playful and gentle when at home and will form very strong bonds with the whole family rather than being a ‘one-person dog’.
It is very important that the Cane Corso receives plenty of mental and physical stimulation to ensure that they are calm and relaxed as a pet in a home environment. Like other working breeds including the Border Collie, Australian Shepherd and Doberman Pinscher these dogs are very task-oriented and are never happier when they have a job to do. This means it is important to take every opportunity to interweave a game of fetch as well as obedience training into walks and interactive play at home.
If you are not as active and want a similar dog with lower energy levels then the Neapolitan Mastiff offers a good alternative. They are slightly bigger and heavier but need less physical and mental stimulation than the Cane Corso as well as less walking time.
The Cane Corso is an intelligent dog who lacks the general trait of stubbornness associated with Mastiffs and related breeds such as those based around the Bulldog. They are also very eager to please which assists with this dog being biddable and trainable. But despite their bulk and formidable physical exterior these dogs can be very sensitive. They are not quite as quick to learn as hyper-trainable breeds such as the German Shepherd or the Doberman, and can have small bouts of independence, so they do require gentle but firm patience in training.
The Cane Corso also has a high prey drive so the will require a careful and structured approach if you are introducing them to a house with established felines. For tips on how to do this sensitively introduce a dog or puppy to a cat then click here.
A well-trained and socialized Cane Corso will offer a predictable and adaptable temperament and will be able to cope with going out to new places and travelling with their owners. Again this bucks the general Mastiff trend of struggling to cope with changes in routine.
Although these dogs generally manage to keep clean outside, as you might expect with Mastiff type dogs you must prepare yourselves for lots of saliva even if every dribble is laced with love. Also it is important to ensure any outside area is fully secure as the Cane Corso has a reputation of being an excellent escapologist able to climb, dig or even push over fences in a bid for freedom.
Links to other breeds: The Cane Corso is a cousin breed to all Mastiffs but it is most closely related to the Neapolitan Mastiff as they are both thought to have descended from the same breed of Italian Mastiff.
Early socialization and training will need to be consistent and firm for this large, powerful breed and in order to manage their highly developed guarding instincts. This will ensure harmonious relationships with new people and unfamiliar dogs.
The Cane Corso is intelligent and will thrive if constantly mentally stimulated with fetching games based around balls or a Frisbee. They also have a herding background so will enjoy any obedience based trials or dog sports. It is advised that on any walks these dogs are offered obedience drills to help their socialization and ensure they are fully biddable outside of their home.
Due to their strength and bulk, it will be important to prioritize leash training and heel work.
A Cane Corso is likely to test boundaries but their sensitive temperaments mean that training needs to be focused around positive enforcement with lots of praise heaped upon them for desired responses and behaviors.
Sadly, although a potentially brilliant dog, a number of Cane Corsos find themselves up for re-homing due to unprepared and inexperienced owners not being able to offer them the training and support they need to become a calm and relaxed pet.
These dogs should be kept lean and healthy and require a good level of physical and mental exercise. A Cane Corso should receive around 1.5 hours of walking each day and this ideally should include games such as fetching games such as Frisbee and ball games. It would also include, ideally, obedience drills as this working dog will enjoy learning a range of commands.
At home this dog will be keen to engage in interactive play at every opportunity and mental stimulus may be provided by puzzle games and toys, as well as ‘treasure hunts’ and similar activities which involve challenge
The Cane Corso has a more graceful and streamlined appearance than the typical Mastiff breed and should be kept lean in order to relieve any strain on joints or the heart. The body frame is very compact and muscular with a characteristically broad head in keeping with the Mastiff shape.
The ears tend to be high-set and triangular in shape with a dark medium length muzzle. The almond-shaped eyes offer an alert expression. The top-line of the Cane Corso is straight leading to a thick tail that is generally carried low.
The height range is generally between 24-27.5 inches (60-69cm) for the male with the female only slightly shorter between around 23-26 inches (58-66 cm) from feet to withers.
The weight should be proportionate to the height of the dog for the leaner working appearance at around 88-110 lb (40-50kg).
Coat and Grooming
The short, sleek coat requires very little grooming and these dogs have a reputation for being clean animals (apart from the drooling). This means a weekly brushing will suffice to remove dead hair.
Lifespan and Health
The lifespan of a Cane Corso is somewhere around 10-12 years
The main concern characteristically for a Mastiff breed is Coronary Heart Disease. They are also susceptible to allergies and eye conditions such as cherry-eye and PRA. Like many large breeds they can also suffer from hip and elbow dysplasia and reputable breeders should provide documentation of screening for these conditions.