Perro de Presa Canario

Linda Simon
Dr Linda Simon (MVB MRCVS, University College Dublin)
 
Photo of adult Perro de Presa Canario

A formidable dog whose name is often in the media for all the wrong reasons, the Perro de Presa Canario, or Canary Mastiff, is probably best known for being the aggressor in a large number of fatal dog attacks. Despite this, if raised responsibly and given adequate socialisation and training, the Perro de Presa Canario has the potential to make a caring and well-mannered pet.

Originating on the Canary Islands, this big Mastiff has a giant head and a large, athletic body. Generally calm, they do not have particularly high exercise requirements and are happy to lay in the sun and amble about. However, always alert, if they sense a threat, they will quickly respond, and often in an aggressive manner. Once used by farmers to protect their cattle and kill any wild dogs on the property, they have more recently been employed by dog fighters. Despite the banning of this inhumane sport in most countries, it is still a clandestine hobby that authorities struggle to control today.

About & History

Native to the Canary Islands, the Perro de Presa Canario, or Presa Canario for short, is thought to have developed from the Perro Majorero and the Alano Español (Spanish Bulldog), amongst other breeds. The Perro Majorero is a large, sturdy dog that is now close to extinction. It was originally brought over from Spain in the 1400ss when the Canary Islands were colonised and was used as a cattle dog. Similarly, the Alano Español is a rare breed of dog, native to Spain. It was traditionally used in bull fights and for hunting animals, such as wild boar. As well as these two Hispanic breeds, it is likely that English Mastiffs brought by British colonists also contributed to the genetics of the Presa Canario.

There are many local stories that date from the 15th and 16th centuries that feature the Molosser breed dogs on the island, the Presa Canario included. It is said that they would kill wild dogs to protect livestock, and at one stage, it was banned for anyone other than farmers to own them. One supposed role that they filled was ‘guarding the villages’. Apparently, a pair of Presa Canarios would be left on the border of the town with the purpose of scaring off any potential intruders. Sadly, these dogs were all also commonly used for dog fighting throughout the ages. While the fighting on the Canary Islands was banned in the middle of the 20th century, it has continued, though not to the same extent.

With the introduction of new dog breeds to the island in the 1950s and 1960s, the population size of the Presa Canario decreased dramatically. However, in the 1970s there was a concerted effort to ensure the breed’s survival, and not long after, in 1982, an official group was established on the island, whose purpose was to safeguard the breed from extinction.

Nowadays, the Perro de Presa Canario is recognised around the world, though the sad truth is that its celebrity status is mainly brought about by the negative press it receives. In fact, within Australia, the Presa Canario is a restricted breed and is considered a ‘dangerous dog’. This means that they are not allowed to be imported into Australia, although there are some currently residing in the country.

Appearance

Perro de Presa Canario Large Photo

A large and impressive Molosser type dog, the Presa Canario is incredibly strong and remarkably well-muscled. Their body is longer than it is tall, and their rump should be higher off the ground than their back. Their brachycephalic head is strikingly large, square in shape, with a powerful jaw. Their eyes are oval, and dark in colour. It is rare to find an example of the breed without their ears cropped. The ears have been cropped in the past to reduce trauma when dog fighting or working with cattle, and also to give the dogs a more menacing appearance. When left in their natural state, their ears hang down and are of a moderate size. Their tail is of medium length and thickness and will taper to a point.

The male of the breed will stand between 55 and 66cm, while females measure 54 to 64cm. Not surprisingly, given their thick musculature, breed members can reach weights of up to 70kg. Their coat is short and coarse. Typically, their muzzle is a darker colour than the rest of their body, often black. Accepted fur colours are as listed below with white fur acceptable as coat markings only:

  • Fawn
  • Bindle
  • Black

Character & Temperament

Infamous worldwide for their potential to be aggressive and intimidating, it is of paramount importance that this breed is adequately socialised with both people and animals from as early an age as possible to ensure that they develop into well-adjusted and non-confrontational adult dogs.

The Perro de Presa Canario is loyal to its owner and can be defensive in certain situations. This breed makes naturally good guard dogs as they are highly suspicious of strangers, while protective of their territory. They will warn away any threat with their deep and powerful bark but will not hesitate to become violent if they sense danger. Never lacking in confidence, Presa Canarios are strong-willed and often independent. They are respectful of their family and can be loving and gentle when in their company.

Trainability

Absolutely not a dog for a novice trainer, the Presa Canario should always command great respect. They require a good deal of commitment and patience, and trainers will need to assert their dominance and not tolerate any bad behavior. Obedience training needs to be life-long and the importance of maintaining this understanding with the dog should never be underestimated.

Forceful or punishment-based training is to be avoided at all costs, as it will only lead to resentment and a hostile dog. Instead, good behaviour should be consistently rewarded with praise and treats. This breed must be taught from a young age to ignore their prey drive, as they have the potential to cause a lot of damage to other pet animals, as well as local wildlife.

Health

With an average lifespan of 9-12 years, the Perro de Presa Canario is prone to a number of health problems, including:

  • Hip & Elbow Dysplasia – The Perro de Presa Canario is more prone than most to developing these life-limiting orthopaedic conditions. It is known that excessive exercise when still growing can be detrimental to joint health and is to be avoided in young dogs. Equally, a well-balanced diet must be provided to juveniles to help prevent developmental abnormalities. Joint screening programmes should be encouraged in order to remove any badly affected animals from the breeding population.
  • GDV – This is an acronym for Gastric Dilatation Volvulus, and like any deep-chested dog, the Perro de Presa Canario is at an increased risk of experiencing a GDV. Owners should be on the lookout for sudden abdominal bloating, accompanied by panting and drooling. If brought to a veterinary clinic immediately, this condition can be corrected with abdominal surgery.
  • DCM – Dilated Cardiomyopathy generally occurs in middle-aged to older Perro de Presa Canarios. The chambers of the heart enlarge to the point that they are no longer able to contract adequately. While this condition can be managed with cardiac medication, it carries a guarded prognosis.
  • Dirofilariasis – Studies conducted on the Canary Islands found that a large proportion of Perro de Presa Canarios were affected by heartworm – more so than other dogs in the vicinity. The increased prevalence within the breed may be due to the fact that they spend a lot of time outdoors. Heartworm can be prevented with routine anti-parasitic therapy. Dirofilariasis is not an issue in cooler countries, such as in the UK.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Due to their sheer size, Presa Canarios need plenty of space, preferably in the form of a very secure, large garden. While not particularly energetic, they do enjoy going on long walks once or twice a day. They should never be walked by children, as they need someone powerful to control them if they become aggressive with another dog or see something that they perceive to be prey.

Introducing a variety of activities to them from a young age is advisable, and boredom can be prevented by bringing them hiking and swimming and through the use of toys and puzzles. Extreme caution is advised when exercising growing Presa Canarios, as over-exertion can lead to long-term joint problems.

Grooming

Due to their short coats, the Presa Canario only needs brushing once a week. They are not heavy shedders. Owing to their defensive nature, it is fundamental that you get them accustomed to routine tasks, such as bathing and claw clipping, from when they are young.

Famous Perro de Presa Canarios

There are no famous examples of the Perro de Presa Canario in popular culture, however, the tags on Instagram, #perrodepresacanario, #presacanario, as well as it's other name #canarymastiff, yields plenty of great examples of the breed.

Cross-Breeds

While many people have crossed their own Presa Canarios with similar large breeds, such as Pitbulls, American Bulldogs and Staffordshire Bull Terriers, there are no official or well-recognised cross breeds.

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