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All About the Fila Brasileiro (a.k.a. the Brazilian Mastiff)

The Fila Brasileiro (a.k.a. the Brazilian Mastiff) is one of the few breeds that canine experts would recommend to experienced dog parents only. Find out why — and what makes this breed so unique.

Allan Reznik  |  Oct 11th 2018


There are a few large working breeds whose fearless guardian traits are so pronounced that canine experts would never recommend them for the average home. Two such dogs are the Fila Brasileiro (Brazilian Mastiff) and the Perro de Presa Canario (Canary Island Dog of Prey). In the right, experienced hands, and given a job to do, they can serve their owners well, but their strength, dominant temperament and potential for aggression make them completely inappropriate for most situations. Let’s learn more about the Fila Brasileiro (a.k.a. the Brazilian Mastiff) here.

The Fila Brasileiro history

The Fila Brasileiro.

The Fila Brasileiro. Photography ©Artush | Getty Images.

Given the breed’s unusual appearance and loose skin, it is believed that the Fila Brasileiro was developed by crossing the English Mastiff, the Bloodhound and the old Bulldogs of the 15th century. Filas were bred and raised on the large Brazilian plantations and farms. They were taught to chase down jaguars, cattle and other animals. The dogs would grab the animals by the neck and hold them until the farmer arrived. This instinct can be observed among puppies during play.

Unusual look

The Fila’s appearance and movement are unique in dogdom; once you witness this breed in person, you will never forget the experience. Not only does the Fila Brasileiro sport wrinkles but, unlike most breeds that have a level back, the Fila’s back end is higher than its shoulders and front end. In motion, the breed takes “long and elastic feline-like strides whose principal characteristic is the pace,” according to the breed standard. The standard uses the phrase “camel’s pace” and describes the Fila Brasileiro as carrying “the head lower than the back line.” However, make no mistake: The Fila’s “gallop is powerful, attaining unsuspected speed for such a large and heavy dog.”

The name says it all

The word “filar” in Portuguese means to “hold, arrest, grab.” The breed is known to be instinctively protective, extremely wary of strangers and incredibly agile when protecting its master. The breed’s historic dedication gave rise to the Brazilian saying, “As faithful as a Fila.” The Fila Brasileiro temperament is what characterizes the dog. The Portuguese word used to describe Fila temperament is “ojeriza,” which means dislike and distrust.

Even with extensive socialization, the breed is naturally protective. This breed is not the best choice for anyone who has frequent visitors to their home. In countries where the Fila Brasileiro is exhibited in dog shows, it is expected that the dogs will have been exposed to strangers, yet the Fila Brasileiro is a “hands-off” breed, and judges assess the Fila Brasileiro entry by means of a visual examination only.

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Dogster magazine. Have you seen the new Dogster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting room of your vet’s office? Subscribe now to get Dogster magazine delivered straight to you!

Thumbnail: Photography © fotocelia | Getty Images.

About the author:

Allan Reznik is a journalist, editor and broadcaster who specializes in dog-related subjects. He is the former editor-in-chief of Dogs in Review and former editor of Dog Fancy magazine. A city dweller all his life, on both coasts, he now enjoys the rural South with his Afghan Hounds, Tibetan Spaniels and assorted rescues.

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