Fila Brasileiro

Linda Simon
Dr Linda Simon (MVB MRCVS, University College Dublin)
 
Photo of adult Fila Brasileiro

An extremely strong dog, the Fila Brasileiro (also known as the Brazilian Mastiff) has the powerful and intimidating body of a Mastiff with the large head of a scent hound. They are native to Brazil where they were originally bred to hunt down and capture any slaves that had escaped into the deep, dark jungle. They were well-suited to their task. Due to their versatility, as well as this specific job, they were also used to fight off the local predators and to protect farmers, their livestock and their families.

A breed that is incredibly wary of all strangers, they pose a real threat to the public when untrained. Rarely kept as a pet, they are known for high levels of dog aggression and are actually banned in many countries worldwide, as they are classed as a ‘Dangerous Dog’. Still popular today despite these bans, they are most commonly employed as guard dogs.

About & History

The Fila Brasileiro, or Câo de Fila, is a breed of dog with a very controversial history indeed. They were bred specifically to track down slaves that had fled into the jungle in an attempt to escape their servitude. The Portuguese colonists that had conquered Brazil in the 1500s needed a means of controlling the slaves that they used to work the land.

While we cannot know for sure, it is assumed that the Portuguese Mastiff and the Portuguese Watch Dog were imported from Portugal in order to create the Fila Brasileiro. As well as the Portuguese breeds, it is a widely held belief that the Bloodhound was introduced to the mix for its tracking abilities, and that the English Mastiff and the now extinct Old English Bulldog were bred in for their potential aggression.

The colonists were attempting to produce a dog that could scent humans, track them down, and was aggressive enough to intimidate them into submission. In fact, to prevent the slaves from escaping, they would latch on to their neck with their powerful jaws, not moving until their masters found them. They were not trained to hurt the slaves, as the slaveholders wanted them returned to them unharmed and fit to work. In fact, the verb ‘filar’ in Portuguese means to grab, so while it was desirable to breed the dog to clamp down firmly without releasing the grip of their bite, it was not desirable to train them to aggressively attack and kill. Nowadays, this behaviour can still be witnessed when two Fila Brasileiro puppies play fight.

Living in tropical Brazil, the Fila Brasileiro has become resistant to various tropical diseases and has adapted to life in very humid conditions. More versatile than several of the other breeds used to track slaves, the Fila Brasileiro was also renowned in Brazil for its ability to guard the mansions of the elite as well as to fend off ferocious predators, such as cougars.

Finally, during the 1800s, Brazil began to abolish slavery. Luckily for the Fila Brasileiro, their adaptability meant that despite this, their popularity did not decline. The first breed standard was written in 1946 in the region of Sâo Paulo. In the 1980s, international recognition for the Fila Brasileiro grew, and many were exported to the USA and Europe as guard dogs. Unfortunately, mainly due to the ignorance and irresponsibility of their owners, many of these exported dogs were involved in both dog and human attacks. Unsurprisingly, this led to the restriction, and even the banning of the breed in many countries worldwide. This has not meant that the demand for the breed has decreased, and they are still in employment in great number all around the world, mainly serving as guard dogs, and very rarely kept as solely companion animals.

Appearance

Fila Brasileiro Large Photo

A classic Molosser, or Mastiff breed, the Fila Brasileiro is an impressively large and incredibly powerful dog. While their body is typical of that of a Mastiff, their ears, eyes, muzzles and skin are much more reminiscent of the Bloodhound. Don’t allow their stature to fool you though, as they are an athletic and agile dog. Interestingly, when they walk, they exhibit a ‘camel gait’, walking with their two legs from the same side at the same time.

For many breeders, the larger and heavier the Fila Brasileiro, the better. Males reach heights of 65-75cm, while females stand at around 60-70cm. The female will weigh between 40 and 50kg, while the male will weigh more than 50kg. Often, they will weigh much more than 50kg, reaching astounding weights of over 80kg.

Their head is large and covered with droopy skin. Their ears are long and pendulous, flopping down to the side of their head. Their face should portray a calm and noble expression when at rest. Their body is a rectangular shape, and they will always be longer than they are tall. Their croup must be taller than their back, so their body will ‘curve upwards’ towards their tail, which is long and slim with a curve at the end.

Many breed members have a ‘dewlap’: folds of dense, saggy skin under their neck. In fact, their thick skin folds are a feature all over their body, giving them a distinctive appearance. Their coat is short and dense, and is usually black, fawn or brindle.

Character & Temperament

A Brazilian word that is typically applied to the Fila Brasileiro is ‘Ojeriza’. This basically translates to mean a distrust and dislike of strangers, and for some, forms an important part of the character of the traditional Fila Brasileiro. The ethics of breeding a dog for ‘Ojeriza’ are questionable to say the least, though it ensures an alert and protective guard dog, who is fiercely defensive of its trusted family. Independent, they are loyal only to their master.

Early and intensive socialisation can help the Fila Brasileiro to be more accepting of strangers, but their instincts mean that they will always remain wary. They should never be trusted with children or other animals. They retain a very high prey drive and will likely hunt an unknown animal. They are prone to loud barking and will often bark at the most insignificant of events.

Trainability

Photo of Fila Brasileiro puppy

Training the Fila Brasileiro is not a task for the faint-hearted and will not be achieved by someone that they do not know and trust since puppyhood. The only trainer they will obey the commands of, is an owner that they are loyal to, and that they have grown to understand is the dominant force in the relationship.

Stubborn and strong-willed, they do not live to please, and a good trainer will need patience to spare. While an inherently difficult task, without training a Fila Brasileiro, you risk owning a potentially uncontrollable, lethal weapon.

Health

Living until around the age of 10 on average, the Fila Brasileiro is prone to the same health conditions as other very large dogs. These include:

  • Hip and Elbow Dysplasia – When these important limb joints fail to form properly, it will lead to inevitable mobility issues, pain and osteoarthritis. The severity of the condition varies greatly from case to case, and some dogs will be much more affected than others.
  • Bloat – Also called ‘GDV’ or ‘Gastric Dilatation Volvulus’, this is a life-threatening condition that occurs when a dog’s stomach rotate on its axis trapping the food contents inside. Emergency surgery is required to save the dog’s life.

There is also anecdotal evidence that the Fila Brasileiro is more prone to certain ocular condition, such as ectropion, progressive retinal atrophy and cherry eye. Breeding animals should have their eyes screened by an ophthalmologist before mating.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Typically more active than other breeds its size, the Fila Brasileiro benefits from long daily walks and access to a sizeable, secure garden in which it can roam. They are best suited to rural life and are not recommended for apartment living. Without an adequate outlet for their energy, they will inevitably develop unwanted behaviours, such as incessant barking and destruction within the home.

Grooming

While the short coat of the Fila Brasileiro will never need much maintenance other than the occasional brush to remove dead fur, the other grooming tasks required should not be ignored, and must be introduced at a young age to avoid a disagreement with an adult Fila Brasileiro. Claw clipping, tooth brushing and cleaning in between their facial folds are all tasks that need to be started when the dog is young and more likely to be tolerant.

Famous Fila Brasileiros

There are no well-known Fila Brasileiros at this moment in time, however, you will find plenty of great examples on Instagram.

Cross-Breeds

There are no recognised examples of Fila Brasileiro cross-breeds just yet.

User comments

There are no user comments for this listing.