He’s tough, but sensitive; serious, but playful; strong, but elegant; rare, but popular. He’s the newest big dog on the block, but he has an ancient history. And while most people don’t recognize his breed, its one of the fastest growing in the U.S. in terms of popularity. He’s the Cane Corso, an ancient Italian guarding and farm dog.
Cane Corso is pronounced KHAN-NAY Corso.
The name was used to describe these dogs as early as the 12th century. After the fall of the Roman Empire, Corsos were used to guard farms, hunt tough prey such as wild boar, and control livestock.
The dogs were chained during the day in the area they needed to guard in order to protect visitors and to prevent fighting amongst themselves; they were let loose to guard flocks against wolves. The dogs also subdued sows, boars, and bulls, and they were sometimes used in bull baiting. They worked with other dogs, as well, to hunt wild boar, badger, and porcupine, pulling an animal from its den or holding a cornered animal until the hunter could dispatch it. They even rounded up and controlled sheep, goats, and semi-wild cattle.
The Cane Corso is the more streamlined of two Italian breeds descending from the ancient Roman Molossian war dogs, the heavier version being the Neapolitan Mastiff. While the Neo evolved as a dedicated guard dog, the Corso became a versatile farm dog.
With the onset of modern times, jobs for Corsos declined; then World War I and especially World War II decimated the Corso population in southern Italy. Recovery efforts focused on other more important aspects of life, and by the 1970s the breed was all but a memory; a few still survived with peasants in the countryside.
In 1973, one of the few people to remember the breed enlisted the help of another eminent dog fancier to locate surviving specimens. The dogs were collected and bred, and a decade later a breed club was formed. By 1996, the Cane Corso was recognized by the Federacion Canofila Internacional.
The first litter of Corsos was imported to the United States in 1988. The AKC approved the breed for its Miscellaneous class in 2007 and for full Working group recognition in 2010.
The Cane Corso ranks as the 50th most popular AKC breed, up from 60th last year, and from being virtually unknown a decade ago. It is one of the fastest growing of the new AKC breeds. Unfortunately, it is attracting many unsuitable owners who are impressed by the tough dog image but are not prepared to control him. This is a domineering but sensitive breed that is naturally wary of strangers and needs extensive socialization and confident leadership.
Owners include LeBron James, Patti LaBelle, Tracy Morgan, Vin Diesel, and Christina Milian.
Do you own a Cane Corso? Have you spent time with one? Let’s hear what you think about this fascinating breed in the comments! And if you have a favorite breed you’d like us to write about, let us know that, too!
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About the author: Caroline Coile is the author of 34 dog books, including the top-selling Barron’s Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds. She has written for various publications and is currently a columnist for AKC Family Dog. She shares her home with three naughty Salukis and one Jack Russell Terrier.