Presa Canario: 9 Facts To Know Before Getting One
Aggressive fighting dog or playful family dog? With the Presa Canario (in German Canarian Mastiff) the spirits are divided.
One thing is certain, no dog is born as an attack dog – it is only made into one by humans.
So it is the responsibility of breeders and owners to bring out and promote the many positive characteristics of the Presa Canario.
History of the Presa Canario
As the name suggests, the origin of the Presa Canario is in Spain, more precisely in the Canary Islands.
Its ancestors can be found in the Great Dane, which was used in many different ways on the Spanish mainland in the Middle Ages.
The Spanish Mastiff – in ancient writings usually referred to as “Alano” – was kept both for hunting fortified game, as a cattle dog for herds of cattle and as a watch and protection dog.
This type of dog was also used in the traditional fight against bulls or in dog fights.
Particularly as a hunting dog, which stood in the way of bears, deer and wild boars without fear or compromise, the old Spanish Alano enjoyed great popularity with the nobility in the late Middle Ages.
His reputation as an unsurpassably courageous “packer” finally led to his use as a so-called war dog, where he was not only supposed to guard the tents of the soldiers.
Equipped with a spiky tank, he was supposed to penetrate the enemy army in battle, inflicting severe injuries on men and horses.
In the 16th and 17th century these defensive mastiffs were carried along by the Spanish conquistadors to conquer South America.
The geographically well situated Canary Islands served the conquerors and colonialists as a stopover, so that many of these molossoid dogs came to the Canary Islands.
This laid the foundation stone for the gene pool of today’s “Presa Canario”, which probably resulted from crossbreeding with the native island dog “majorero” and the Spanish Alano.
On the Canary Islands, where there was little to hunt and no battles to be fought, the dog breed was mainly used as a guard dog for the farm and livestock.
Hunting instinct and readiness to fight took more and more a back seat to the breeding aims, now rather breeding animals were in demand, which combined in their nature a high alertness with a pronounced nerve strength.
Some decades after the conquest of the Canary Islands by the Spanish, dogs were mentioned for the first time in the documents of the Council of Tenerife.
In view of the devastating damage caused by dogs to herds of cattle, it was decided to destroy them completely.
On 5 February 1526 this decision was approved and ordered. Only one couple survived the massacre.
They were those who needed the butchers for their work.
Don Pedro de Lugo was entrusted with the task of training these dogs to help the butchers pack and hold the animals for slaughter.
The 16th and 17th centuries are rich in historical documents. Especially in the “Cedularios de los Cabildos”, the administrative register of that time, there are numerous allusions and quotations concerning the working dogs of the Canary Islands.
The population is described as a genetically homogeneous group (biotype), which also explains the evolution of the functions they performed.
Their tasks are essentially the guarding and driving of cattle.
His services to the butchers who subjected or held the cattle to them are also often cited.
These particular functions therefore show us a robust morphology, characteristic of a Molosser, but with agility and prey drive.
During the conquest of South America by Spain, the Canary Islands were a strategically important port of call due to their geographical position in the Atlantic Ocean.
Due to this circumstance, the Spanish conquerors and colonists on their way to the new world brought again and again different dog breeds from the Spanish mainland to the Canary Islands.
They were mainly prey, hunting and herding dogs.
These matings with the breeds from the Spanish motherland, consisting of varieties of large and small, light and heavy Molosser, were used during the conquest of South America; the Presa Canarias – the dog of the Canary Islands.
During the 18th century many English settlers, including merchants and traders, moved to the Canary Islands.
They became partly sedentary, partly they temporarily populated the islands to trade.
Characteristic for the British is their preference for dog-fighting and brings this tradition to the Canary Islands.
The typical gladiators used especially for dogfighting, the ancestors of our bulldogs and bull terriers, introduce them from their country.
Which of course inevitably led to these dogs mixing with the local population.
The English enthusiasm for dogs with a combative basic mood can be described as a typical “island peculiarity”.
This preference can also be found on the Balearic Islands with the Ca de Bou or in Japan with the Tosa Inu as a national sport.
Therefore, certain morphological changes arise from the remoteness of the islands.
The ability not only to think like a bloodhound in order to develop a proper job as a guard and protector with the strength of an ox, but he must also have the willingness to fight.
Regardless of this situation, we must consider the existence of the Canarian Majorero or Bardino, an indigenous dog of the island of Fuerteventura and widely distributed throughout the archipelago.
This hard working dog, which was used especially for herds of goats, was also an excellent protector, combined with qualities such as high physical strength, sobriety and great physical endurance and extraordinary courage.
He was incorruptible at work.
Because of these excellent attributes, the Majorero or Bardino is used for the improvement of the crossbreeds created by the English influence.
This genetic enrichment gives the Presa Canario its typical expression and its characteristic brindle coat.
He is popularly called Verdino, his coat is rustic, he has an enormous talent for working with cattle herds.
Later in this century, the enthusiasm for dog-fighting is constantly increasing.
They fight freely and where they meet, people choose the specimens with the best conditions for the fight and not because of their characteristic breed features.
This situation determines the choice of the Presa Canario from a purely functional point of view.
In other words, an ethnic grouping with excellent conditions has always developed on the islands, since ancient times.
Unfortunately, no attempt was ever made to establish a phenotype that could have given us its true identity.
When dog fighting was banned in Spain, the Presa Canario lost popularity very quickly.
The situation on the islands became all the more serious as there was a huge interest in foreign imported dogs. Around 1960 the Presa Canario reached the stage just before extinction.
It was 1970 when the population slowly recovered. Its revival is slow but steady.
Interest in the Presa Canario, as a native heritage and part of the Canary Islands, is widespread.
However, selection and breeding programmes for the essential genetic strength to sustain the breed are still lacking.
From war dog to family dog – Presa Canario
In Lanzarote and also in all other Canarian Islands there are two typical dog breeds that repeatedely catch the eye: One is the Podenco Canario, which is kept by the locals as a hunting dog, and the other dog breed typical for the Canary Islands is the Dogo Canario, which is kept as a court and guard dog.
The Podenco and the Dogo Canario have been kept and bred by the Canarian people for centuries.
The Podenco as a pure hunting dog, until today an absolute “must” for every Canarian hunter, and the Dogo Canario, a massive dog similar to a Bulldog, which served the Canarios almost as a guard and family dog, and is currently enjoying increasing popularity in Germany and many other European countries.
At this year’s “Lanzametal”, a fair which is held every year alternately on Lanzarote and Fuerteventura, I happened to come across a “Dogo Canario Show” and met this dog breed for the first time quite consciously.
Impressed, with great respect and – I confess – at a safe distance, I let Laureano Álvarez, the chairman of the Lanzarote Dogo Canario Association “Guadaneth”, based in the Complejo Agroindustrial in Teguise, explain to me everything about this dog, which at first sight seemed to me to be a fighting dog, although it is the opposite.
The growing demand for the Dogo Canario, which has only been “provisionally accepted” as an independent breed by the FCI, the largest international umbrella organization for dog breeds, since 2001, is precisely because of this:
This dog does not only look powerful and impressive, but for laymen it also looks threateningly like a “fighting dog”.
But the Dogo Canario is not considered a fighting dog and is not classified as a fighting dog in any of the countries where there is a so-called fighting dog regulation, i.e. neither in Germany, nor in Holland, the country with the strictest fighting dog regulations, or America.
Of course, this pleases all those who – and I mean completely value-free – like dogs of this type and would like to keep such a dog without having to submit to strict governmental regulations.
At the same time, it also opens the door for all those who – to put it mildly – want to “impress” with their dog and feel comfortable when others almost wet their pants in front of their four-legged friend.
This dichotomy also means that the breeders of this dog breed are not necessarily all green among themselves:
While some insist on breeding a “sociable, strong family dog” and put their emphasis on this, other breeders praise the Dogo Canario’s protective and watchdog qualities, praise its courage and its innate protective dog instincts.
The camps are clearly defined, the intention is clear:
While some are trying to keep this dog as far away as possible from the fighting dog image – also because of the easier sale – others want to breed a fearless, courageous guard dog, accepting that the dog is thereby moved near the dog breeds classified as dangerous.
The Dogo Canario is also fought over its name: In former times – and partly still today – this dog was called “Presa Canario”, “Perro de Presa Español”, “Spanish Bulldog”, “Perro de Presa Canario” or “Alano”.
In Germany he was previously called “Canarian Mastiff” or “Canarian Packer”.
The FCI put an end to this confusion of names in 2001 and officially gave him the name “Dogo Canario”.
The traditionalists among the Spanish breeders would have preferred to keep the old name “Perro de Presa Canario”, but officially submitted to the FCI, which preferred to leave out the word “presa” (span: prey, hunting-prey) when naming this dog.
In German “presa” is also translated as “packer” and packers are also big strong hunting dogs, which are supposed to rush game and are equipped with enough fighting spirit to finally hold on to it so that the hunter can hunt it down.
And indeed, the ancestors of the Dogo Canario in the 15th century were hunting dogs used by the Spanish nobility to hunt bears, deer and wild boar.
A large, massive, Great Dane-like breed that was not afraid of defending game and made it uncompromising so that its master could do the rest with the sword or the spear.
Courageous enough also to go to war with his master and, as a so-called “dog of war”, not only to guard his tent, but also to penetrate the ranks of the enemy, armored with spikes, to confuse him and inflict severe injuries on man and horse.
By the way, this was not an invention of the Spaniards:
The Romans often sent whole dog squadrons equipped like this into battle.
When the Spanish conquistadors later set off for South America and used the Canary Islands as a stopover, they brought exactly these dogs to the Canary Islands and thus laid the foundation for today’s gene pool of the “Canary Dane”.
But because there was little to hunt on the Canary Islands and dogs were not needed for warfare, the dog was mainly used as a guard dog on the Canary Islands to protect the farm.
Hunting or even war tasks were not in demand here.
And not least therefore the FCI has probably preferred to erase the aggressive word “presa” from the breed name of this dog, in order to avoid any proximity to packer dogs.
A purebred Dogo Canario costs between 1200 and 1600 Dollars, and a list of US breeders who are approved for this breed can be obtained from the National Breeding Association.
Here in Lanzarote you can contact Laureano Álvarez, the chairman of the Dogo Canario association “Guadaneth” (www.presalanzarote.com) with its headquarters in Teguise.
Laureano Álvarez will certainly be happy to give you addresses of “criaderos autorizados” (authorized breeders) on the island.
You can reach Don Álvarez by calling 619 504 011 or directly at the clubhouse in the Complejo Agroindustrial in Teguise, where the friends of the Dogo Canario meet every Friday from 7 to 9 pm.
Appearance of the Presa Canario
Characteristic for the Canary Island Mastiff is its stately, strong body and the massive, broad and cubic head, which clearly shows its affiliation to the Molossian dogs.
With a height at the withers of 61 to 66 cm and a maximum weight of 65 kg, males give a very imposing shape.
But also bitches impress with a height at withers of 56 to 62 cm and a weight of at least 40 kg and maximum 55 kg.
Their stately size and their muscular, strong body probably instill a certain respect in every counterpart.
And surely it even seems threatening to some people, especially to people who are ignorant of this quite rare breed and do not see the peaceful and friendly nature behind these dogs.
In spite of its heavy build, the Presa Canario seems anything but ponderous or cumbersome.
His well-proportioned physique testifies to his extraordinary strength and agility.
His movements are agile, lithe, almost graceful. His body length exceeds the height at the withers, which is especially visible in bitches.
The head is carried only slightly above the back line.
In colour the Canary Island Mastiff presents itself quite varied.
The varieties of his brindle coat range from a warm dark brown to a pale grey and light blonde.
All shades from fawn to sand colours are permitted.
White markings may appear on the chest, the base of the neck and the throat, although the standard in breeding is to aim for rather little white.
The mask of the Presa Canario is black in all shades.
His short, smooth coat without undercoat looks quite rustic and feels rough and harsh.
On his ears, which may still be docked in his country of origin Spain, the coat is very short and fine.
At the withers and at the back of the thighs it is a bit longer.
The tail, which is broad at the base and tapers towards the tip, should not extend beyond the hocks.
At rest it hangs straight down with a slight curve at the tip, when the dog is more attentive it is straightened.
Presa Canario Character
According to FCI, where the Presa Canario is listed under the standard number 346 within the Molossoid section, aggressive behaviour is to be considered as an excluding fault.
Aggressive or frightened dogs are therefore not allowed as breeding animals.
Basically, the Dogo Canario is a very balanced and calm dog, which has a strong protective instinct, but which can be easily controlled if kept in a species-appropriate manner and trained consistently.
His remarkable nervous strength and self-confidence, combined with his innate distrust of strangers, make him a good watchdog.
Within his family, on the other hand, he is always friendly, docile and docile.
Despite the intensive bond to his master, he behaves loyally and good-natured towards the other members of the family.
Once he is integrated into the family, a Presa Canario will faithfully stand by his humans for life.
His resilient and robust nature makes him an uncomplicated and reliable partner and protector.
He shows his moods and intentions straightforwardly, falsehood is foreign to him.
With his typical loud and deep voice he likes to express his lively temperament.
The Presa Canario is a peaceful dog, with a balanced temperament. He is not quarrelsome, remains good-natured with peaceful people and dogs, but reacts very quickly when other dogs or persons behave aggressively.
He is non-aggressive towards smaller and weaker dogs, masters the perfect realization of his physical advantage.
As a defender he is tough, determined and unstoppable in case of an explicit provocation, but at the same time obedient to his master, whom he trusts blindly.
He is incorruptible, very intelligent, has a perfect memory and shows good results in training.
With natural ease and satisfaction he carries out tasks that really satisfy him and his master.
The dog needs a strong will in training, but without violence.
The breed is predestined for guarding and defense. Its loyalty and devoted character make the dog perfect for family life.
Gentle and sensitive, he is particularly understanding and patient in dealing with children.
He is closely connected with his family, is friendly and obedient, shows great affection for his master.
He is suspicious of strangers and sometimes unfriendly.
Despite all these attributes he is a playful, loving dog, who needs and gives a lot of affection.
With good socialization he is compatible with other animals.
The Presa Canario is robust and very undemanding in terms of husbandry conditions.
He can be kept outside all year round, ideally in a pack, but of course he also feels very comfortable indoors.
With a Presa Canario you have a courageous dog, which gives you the feeling of absolute security.
In no case one should underestimate a Presa Canario.
Neither in his strength, his willingness to perform and mobility, but also not in his unconditional love and loyalty to his own.
The choice for the Presa Canario
If you are seriously interested in a Presa Canario, you should be aware that with this breed you are getting an equal partner at your side.
A powerful, self-confident dog with an independent character.
Because of his high self-confidence, training and education is an absolute must.
He is suitable for people who are willing to work with him, who are physically and mentally demanding.
For this reason the Presa Canario is not suitable for everyone.
Clear rules, consistent training as well as foresighted action and guidance on the part of the owner (this applies to all dog breeds) are decisive for a carefree living together.
This presupposes a high observation gift of the owner. He should be able to “read” his dog.
Ideally one is always one step ahead of his dog, should guide him and act for him even before he does it himself.
The Presa Canario is not a beginner dog.
Whoever believes to find in this breed an easy to lead, submissive dog with soldier obedience or who is looking for a dog that is aggressive from home, should first think about his own psychological deficits, is not well advised with a Presa Canario and should, in all fairness, rather devote himself to another breed.
Breeding then and now
On the Canary Islands, the Presa Canario is still kept primarily as a court and guard dog.
Thanks to his excellent work in guarding the numerous rural estates, he is so popular that the government has even declared him a symbol of nature in Gran Canaria.
In the 70s of the last century, the Spanish began the planned breeding of their “national dog”.
In the 80’s the breeding was finally so far advanced that different breeding associations were founded and worldwide exhibitions were organized.
Soon the impressive breed became known beyond the borders of the Canary Islands.
However, there was long disagreement about its name. Presa Canario, Perro de Presa Canario, Perro de Presa Español, Spanish Bulldog, Canarian Mastiff or simply Alano were and are called dogs of this type.
In 2001 the cynological umbrella organization FCI officially recognized the breed as “Dogo Canario” and tried to put an end to the confusion of names.
At the beginning of 2019 the FCI replaced the breed name “Dogo Canario” by “Presa Canario”.
The application made by the “Real Sociedad Canina de España (RSCE)” was confirmed on 01.01.2019.
According to the FCI, in breeding the Dogo Canario, the main focus should be on a balanced and calm character of the breeding dogs.
Even if he still represents an excellent guard dog thanks to his self-confidence and high attention, the level-headedness in his character also makes the Presa Canario a suitable family and companion dog.
Probably it is exactly this combination between a powerful, almost threatening exterior and a gentle nature that fascinates the people at the Canarian Mastiff so much and which also explains the growing demand for this dog breed.
Presa Canario Nutrition
The nutrition of every dog depends on several factors.
These include age, weight and activity levels.
In addition, breed and size play a central role.
Sporty dogs generally have a higher energy requirement than dogs with a less pronounced urge to exercise.
Dogs with health problems such as diabetes also have special nutritional requirements and must be fed accordingly.
Fresh water should always be available to the fur noses.
Irrespective of their breed, all dogs require a diet rich in meat and few grains.
In addition to the usual feeding methods with dry or wet food, self-cooking or BARF (biologically appropriate raw feeding) is recommended. BARF requires a certain amount of expert knowledge and should always be tailored to the needs of the dog.
If this is not the case, dangerous deficiency symptoms can occur.
If in doubt, you can ask your vet or breeder for advice.
Presa Canario Breeding and education
Although the Presa Canario is not classified as such in any country where so-called fighting dog regulations exist, there are some aspects to be considered when keeping it.
One must not forget that this dog breed – based on its history – has an enormous protective instinct, which can lead to problems if it is not trained correctly.
The dog, which tends to dominate and act independently, absolutely needs an experienced and consequent dog owner, who knows how to direct the innate protective qualities and how to handle them responsibly.
The education of the Canary Island Mastiff should start as early as possible.
Already at puppy age he should be able to master a certain number of commands and know who is the master of the house.
Through an early socialization, which should already start at the breeder, he must learn to be physically restrained in everyday situations to avoid collisions with humans.
Even if it happens in a game or out of sheer joy of reunion: Just by its size and its enormous power a Presa Canario can easily bring down a human being.
Under no circumstances does a Presa Canario belong in cramped living conditions.
A dog of his size and temperament requires a lot of space and a lot of activity.
In addition to extensive walking, fetching and bringing games or ball games should be on the daily program.
If you are considering buying a Canary Island Mastiff, you should inform yourself in advance about the keeping, training and care of this dog breed.
A serious breeder should answer all your questions in detail.