The Cane Corso‘s geneology can be traced back to the Canis Pugnax, the Roman War dog of the first century.
They would accompany their handler onto the battlefields where they would act as an unprecedented guardian. The tenaciousness of this dog was so extreme they were used in the arenas to fight against lions, bears, and other wild animals.
The Romans were not the first, but may very well have used war dogs the most effectively. The Roman Army had whole companies composed entirely of dogs. They wore spiked collars around their neck and ankles, made more dangerous by the large curved knives protruding from its ring. Sometimes they were starved before battle, then unleashed on an unsuspecting enemy. Their dog of choice was the great Molossian dogs of Epirus, specifically trained for battle. These dogs, halved starved and ferocious, helped spread the Roman Empire across the ancient world. The Corso was also as a “auxiliary warrior” in battles for the Romans.
For years he has been a companion and worker of the Italian people. His job was to protect property and cattle, work as a cattle drover, and for large game hunting. Their power, courage, agility and tracking ability made them especially valuable with wild boar, stag and bear. His name comes from the Latin word “Cohors” which means Guardian or Protector.
With the decline in big game hunting the cane corso found a home with Italian farmers. They were often used as a driver, moving animals to the market and to the slaughter houses. On the farms they protected the livestock from both human thieves and animal predators, also doubling as a guard dog for homes and estates. With the transformation of the agricultural structure in many regions of Italy, this majestic dog was in danger of extinction. However, with the help of some skillful and caring dog lovers in the mid 1970’s success was made in procuring as many good subjects as possible. Selective breeding began and the cane corso was given a new birth.
Since coming to America in the late 1980’s the cane corso is mainly recognized as family companions and guard dogs. The cane corso bonds quickly to his family and becomes quite attached, especially to the children. To the children they are playful, protective, yet gentle, always aware of a child’s helplessness and innocence. They enjoy being included in the family activities. Their athletic ability lends itself to include such activities as hiking, jogging, long walks, swimming, bike riding or just playing fetch. In the house hold they are not overly energetic or spasmatic. They are generally a quiet dog, only barking to alert in strange situations. They are very animal friendly and will get along with any of your other pets.
The cane corso is instinctively a guard dog. Having a strong sense of territory and desiring to be with his family, the corso generally stays on his grounds. With strangers, they are quite aloof, and will be suspicious until the person is welcomed by the family. These dogs don’t need any encouragement to be agressive, they know specifically when and when not to be protective. They should be socialized starting at young ages. The cane corso are able to judge character without exception, always to discern friend from foe.
The story of the Cane Corso, coincides extraordinarily with the history of the Italic peoples, in all the splendor and their misery. Unfortunately this race, 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 race. 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. In 1998 the A.I.C.C. or Associazione Italiana Cane Corso published a study on the race which brought to light the military use of the Cane Corso, in 1137 in Monopoli di Sabina (near Rome) , the finding of kennels from the period and the close links between the race and Roman history. All of this allows us to consider the Cane Corso, as the principal evidence of an ancestral race 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 race 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 race exhibits certain morphological and behavioral characteristics relating to the work it is required to do, then that race 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 1970s was worrying for the very survival of the race, 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 race 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 race as was the contribution of the man who was among the first to contribute to the new interest in the race and who provided the dogs for the first litter: Basir the model for the standard of the race was the son of Dauno and Tipsi, two dogs chosen by 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 race 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 race 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 Race 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 race was officially recognized on January 20th 1994.
The enthusiasm for this race, the curiosity and the knowledge that a greater number of dogs and a greater interest in the race 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 race 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 race 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 race 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.