Molossus of Epirus

Linda Simon
Dr Linda Simon (MVB MRCVS, University College Dublin)
 
Photo of adult Molossus of Epirus
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A little-known breed despite their impressive stature and remarkable history, the Molossus of Epirus is recognised in its native land by the Greek Kennel Club. Even within Greece, there are not many breed members left and the ‘Molossus of Epirus Rescue Organisation’ are a local group who are trying to turn this around.

A large breed with a colossal head, the Molossus of Epirus is an imposing specimen that is certainly well-suited to its role of guard dog. Kind and gentle with those it loves, this breed can be hostile and wary of strangers so requires thorough socialisation in early life.

About & History

The Molossus of Epirus is thought to have existed since before 400 BC and was a well-known dog breed within Ancient Greece, as well as Ancient Rome. They were mainly used as livestock guardians; essential farmyard workers who protected the flocks of sheep and cattle from deadly predators, such as wolves and bears. While it is difficult to prove their exact location of origin, they certainly have a strong connection with the region of Epirus. Epirus is a historical region that today is split between Greece and Albania. This area is mountainous and rocky and would have been a tough place for a dog to work.

As well as their rural farmyard duties, the size and strength of this breed was taken advantage of during times of war when they were used in battle. In fact, it is even claimed that Alexander the Great would take these courageous dogs to fight with him.

The Molossus of Epirus is native to Greece and is a likely ancestor of some of today’s better known breeds, such as the Neapolitan Mastiff. However, some experts are divided on this and question if perhaps this link has been fabricated or exaggerated through the years. Several reports suggest that the original Molossus looked more like a herding-type dog than a guardian and their appearance may have changed substantially throughout the years.

Appearance

A strong-boned, large dog with a giant head and powerful jaws, the Molossus of Epirus is an intimidating specimen. Their dark brown eyes are relatively small and sit quite far back in their face. Similarly, their ears are not particularly big and hang down in close contact with their head. Their neck is substantial – thick and muscular with loose folds of skin. They have a deep chest and sloping shoulders with a body that is rectangular in shape. Their medium-sized tail is thick at the base and often more densely furred than their body.

Their short coat is quite smooth and most dogs are a mixture of brown and black. Some will have white patches and a brindle pattern is also a possibility. It is not unusual for the facial mask and ‘eyebrows’ to be a different shade to the rest of the fur.

Perhaps best known for their epic proportions, the Molossus of Epirus can reach a substantial size. A fully grown female will weigh from 40kg to 60kg and measure 64cm to 74cm. The male is slightly larger, weighing in at 45kg to 65kg and reaching heights of 66cm to 75cm.

Character & Temperament

The Molossus of Epirus has always been bred to be extremely loyal, whether it was when accompanying their master to battle or protecting their home and possessions. They form close bonds with their family members and will pay them a great deal of respect. This faithfulness they have for their owners is generally a positive trait but can make them wary of new people and they can grow to be quite territorial. As both a watch dog and a guard dog, the Molossus of Epirus excels but they can be unnecessarily hostile in certain situations, such as when a friend comes to visit. Early training and very intensive socialisation can prevent this from becoming a major issue down the line.

Bold and courageous, the Molossus of Epirus is not daunted by much. Having stood up to hungry wolves, this is not a dog that would shy away from confrontation or new situations. They are confident and self-assured, which equips them with a certain tranquil and calm disposition.

While this breed would likely give up its life for the children of the home, they should always be closely monitored when in their company, due to their size and strength. With unknown children, they must not be trusted.

Trainability

Unsurprisingly, for a dog that has previously worked alone for long periods of time on barren mountains, the Molossus of Epirus doesn’t love being told what to do and can be independent. As long as trainers convince the dog that they too will benefit from the task, they will be more than happy to oblige.

An experienced trainer is advised to prevent dominance and territorial behaviour, as the Molossus of Epirus needs to be taught its place. They appreciate gentle and patient trainers who will reward them for good behaviour.

Health

While generally touted as a ‘hardy and healthy’ pet, little is actually known about the health status of the Molossus of Epirus, as no relevant studies have been performed and the population size is so small. Given their conformation, we can assume that there are certain health issues that they suffer from more frequently than the average canine.

Ear Infections

When a dog has an ear infection, the skin inside their ear becomes red and sore and they will produce foul-smelling discharge, which may be flaky, pus-like or waxy. Dogs are often so irritated by their ears that they will rub their head on the ground, whine and shake their head incessantly. A vet may take a swab of the ear contents to determine which type of infection is present in order to treat it appropriately. As well as a course of medicated drops, ear cleaning will be advised.

Bloat

Large dogs with deep chests are known to be more predisposed to developing bloat. It is not fully understood why, but during an episode of bloat, a dog’s stomach will fill up with gas and food and may then twist over on itself. Bloat can be straightforward to diagnose as affected dogs will have a distended abdomen and will become distressed quickly.

An X-ray will show an enlarged stomach that is not in the correct position. Immediate stabilisation of the patient, followed by surgery, yields the best prognosis, though many dogs will pass away from bloat.

Hip Dysplasia

Dogs will usually start to show the first symptoms of hip dysplasia from 6 months of age, when they may begin to walk in a funny way, refuse to go on walks or take longer than normal to stand up. Imaging studies, such as X-rays or CT scans, can diagnose the condition.

Mild cases of hip dysplasia can be managed conservatively. Affected dogs should be kept lean and slim and must not be over-exercised. They benefit from joint supplements and some will also require anti-inflammatory and pain relief medication. Sadly, the disease will worsen as the affected dog ages. In severe cases, surgery may be an option.

Exercise and Activity Levels

A dog that enjoys being outside in the fresh air, the Molossus of Epirus may not be particularly fast or nimble, but they do have quite good stamina. Most will be content with a couple of 30-minute walks a day and they will generally choose to walk rather than run. Owners should be cautious to not over-exercise these guys when immature, which could lead to orthopedic issues in later life.

An intelligent dog with a sharp mind, keeping the Molossus of Epirus mentally stimulated is important. On top of their daily exercise, they should receive frequent training and be allowed to participate in a variety of canine games and activities.

Grooming

The most important thing when it comes to the grooming of this breed is to introduce a grooming programme from a very young age. As tricky as it may be to trim the claws and clean the ears of a wriggly Molossus of Epirus pup, it is infinitely harder to try to introduce these tasks for the first time in a strong and wary adult.

The short coat can be brushed once or twice a week, focusing on the denser fur around the neck and on the tail. Ears should be cleaned about once every two weeks, depending on how dirty and waxy they get.

Famous Epirus Mastiffs

Whilst there are not any famous Epirus Mastiffs that we know of quite yet, there are a few sweet every day examples on the famous photo sharing platform, Instagram, if you search #mollosusofepirus.

Cross-Breeds

There are no documented crossbreeds of the Molossus of Epirus.

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