The cane corso is an intimidating, large dog that looks like a mastiff, but does not have the typical loose skin of other mastiff breeds. The height and size of this roman canine creates a strong, powerful, and effective guardian.
The cane corso, pronounced “cah-ney cor-soh”, is a member of the American Kennel Club’s (AKC) miscellaneous class in the Foundation Stock Service (FSS). The FSS is the AKC’s record-keeping system for rare breeds. They were recognized by the AKC in 2010, and the plural of cane corso is Cani Corsi.
History and Origin of the Cane Corso Breed
The cane corso, also known as the Italian mastiff, is thought to be an ancient breed able to trace its history back to the Molossus dog of the Romans. Another breed thought to originate from the Molossus is the Neapolitan mastiff, a smaller and darker breed than the cane corso. Of the two Italian breeds, the cane corso is quicker and more agile. The Neapolitan mastiff is known for its strength.
In addition to being a descendent of the Roman Molossus, the cane corso is also thought to be a re-creation of the old Italian herding breed, also known as the Cane di Macellaio, a breed that originally thrived in Sicily, an area in Southern Italy. It is thought that the name cane corso is a derivation of the word cohors, meaning guard of the courtyard.
During medieval times, the roman cane corso was used as a big game hunter and powerful gladiator. As their use in hunting declined, the cani corsi were used as drovers, which are dogs that would move animals to market. As a worker on farms, cane corso dogs are highly effective protectors of property, livestock, and family.
The cane corso did not reach the United States until 1987 when the first dogs arrived in New Jersey. Over time, their popularity has grown, but this breed is still considered uncommon.
Appearance and Size
The cane corso is known for their sturdy muscular bodies paired with an alert, but calm demeanor. These features make them the ideal guardian.
The characteristic appearance of a cane corso includes a large broad head with medium sized ears that are either cropped or left to hang as small triangles close to the head. Ear cropping is a personal decision but considered a basic part of the cane corso tradition. Ears are cropped to minimize trauma that can occur to floppy ears. When cropped, the ears are small, triangular and stand upright. The AKC official standard allows for either cropped or uncropped ears.
The cane corso has medium-sized, round eyes set wide apart upon the head. Dark eyes are preferred in this breed, but the color of the eyes corresponds to the coat color from black to hazel. Their muzzles are broad, square, and deep. They drool much less than other mastiffs.
The hair coat is short, shiny, and dense coming in colors like black, black brindle, red, chestnut brindle, fawn, grey, grey brindle, and blue with white marks appearing on the chest, neck, chin, and toes. Some cane corsos are various shades of solid fawn and red with gray or black masks. They have a short undercoat that can get thicker in the cold weather. The tail of the cane corso is typically docked to one-third of its natural length.
The bodies of cane corsos are large boned, sturdy, and muscular. Their gait is graceful, strong and powerful. The adult cane corso stands 22 inches to 28 inches at the shoulders and weighs from 80 to 140 pounds. The average weight is over 100 pounds and average height is around 26 inches. In general, female cane corsos are smaller than males. The AKC breed standard indicates that the length of the dog, measured from the point of the shoulder to the point of the buttock, should be 10% more than the height, which is measured from the point of the shoulder to the floor. According to the AKC breed standard, the overall conformation of the cane corso should be “well-balanced and proportionate”. Puppies are not considered fully developed until approximately 18 months of age.
Personality and Temperament
Cane corsos have a dominant personality and temperament that can be aggressive toward strangers. Socialization in early life is strongly encouraged. Puppies should begin socialization at birth and begin training as early as eight weeks. Socialization should include supervised exposure to other dogs in all shapes and sizes, different people and children, car rides, and visits to pet stores and veterinary clinics. Diverse socialization experiences will help to create a well-adjusted, sociable adult dog.
Cane corsos are not extremely vocal dogs, but will bark on occasion. They are also known to make woo-woo, snort, and grunt sounds when interacting with people.
This breed should be handled by experienced dog owners and are not for people incapable of controlling a large, strong canine. The cane corso is a very intelligent pet and loyal to their family. They love being active and enjoy daily or twice daily exercise or a job to do. Most need at least an hour of exercise per day. Cane corsos can become destructive when bored or left alone for long periods of time.
Home and Family Relations
As characteristic of the mastiff breeds, a well-trained and socialized cane corso makes a wonderful companion. They are excellent house dogs, despite their size. The cane corso is quiet around the house until disturbed by unwanted strangers on their property. They make great watchdogs and develop strong bonds. They love their family. Their innate friendliness will vary based on individual personality and socialization experiences. The cane corso gets along with children they know and can become gentle and protective around them. This dog breed should be supervised around all babies and cats as well as dogs that are unfamiliar to them.
The cane corso is an easy to train breed. They are intelligent, active, and energetic dogs that naturally thrive on pleasing their owners. They need firm and sensible handling and early socialization by their owners. When properly raised and trained, the cane corso can be loving, gentle giant and gentle with familiar children.
Without training, the cane corso has the potential to be aggressive and threatening, which is a characteristic of most mastiffs. This breed is a natural protector and watchdog. These characteristics make obedience training critical to help the owner ensure that they are boss in the home.
The cane corso has a moderate energy level and enjoys being active and getting exercise. Great activities for cani corsi include walking, running, playing fetch with a ball, and other types of sports agility exercises. Young dogs should have high-quality chew toys.
Training should begin early in puppies with basic obedience and continue as they grow.
Cane corsos have minimal grooming requirements. The short, dense coat on the cane corso does not require a great deal of grooming to keep it clean and shiny. They have minimal shedding and periodic or weekly brushing to remove dead hair is generally sufficient to maintain their coat. They can benefit from bathing four to six times a year, depending on their environment and how dirty they get.
Regular nail trimming and dental care is recommended, as with any dog breed. Tooth brushing, nail trimming, ear cleaning, and the occasional bath should be started at an early age with a lot of positive reinforcement. This early exposure with puppies can encourage a good experience and minimize later behavioral problems when trying to complete these routine grooming procedures.
Cane corso dogs are territorial and have an above average intelligence. It is important to understand that an untrained, unsocialized cane corso can be difficult to handle. Regardless of his training, owners of cane corsos should not be allowed to roam freely and should be leashed when in public. Good quality, tall, six-foot, solid fencing is recommended, due to their high prey drive, which puts small dogs and cats in the neighborhood at risk.
It is also important to note that some homeowners or renters insurance policies may require liability coverage.
Common Diseases and Disorders
Although most cane corso dogs are healthy, conditions that can occur in the cane corso puppies and adult dogs include the following:
- Demodicosis, also known as “demodex”, is a skin disease caused by a microscopic mite called demodex canis. Symptoms include thinning of the hair coat around the eyelids, mouth, lips, and front legs. The hair coat is sometimes described as having a moth-eaten appearance.
- Entropion or ectropion is a condition of the eyelid margins. With ectropion, there is a rolling outward of the eyelid margin and with entropion there is an inward rolling of the eyelid edges. It is most common in the lower eyelids. Common signs are excessive tearing and/or inflamed conjunctiva.
- Epilepsy refers to a seizure disorder that has no identifiable cause. It generally occurs in young dogs age one to three. A seizure is also referred to as a fit or convulsion.
- Gastric torsion (bloat) is a life-threatening sudden illness associated with the stomach filling with air and twisting. Common signs of bloat are restlessness, pacing, and unproductive retching.
- Cherry eye is a condition resulting from the prolapse of the gland of the third eyelid. It may occur in one or both eyes. It appears as a protuberance of pink fleshy tissue on the corner of the inner eye.
- Hip dysplasia is a malformation of the hip joint that results in pain, lameness, and arthritis.
When choosing a cane corso, breeders should be knowledgeable about the above listed conditions. Ideally, breeders will have documented screening for hip dysplasia by a licensed vet.
The average lifespan of the cane corso is 8 to 11 years of age with an average of just over 9 years.
Tips on Choosing the Right Cane Corso
As you look for a cane corso, talk to reputable and experienced breeders. The average cane corso litter includes 4 to 6 puppies and leave the litter around 8 weeks of age. When considering a cane corso puppy, discuss what are the most important traits and characteristics in your ideal dog. This will help a good breeder select the right cane corso for you. Ask the breeder how they socialize the puppies, their schedules for vaccinations and deworming, and other health screens they have completed in their breeding program such as screening for hip dysplasia. Request an opportunity to meet the dogs parents, so you can evaluate their personalities to determine if they are friendly and if their offspring is a good fit for you.
A quality breeder may also know about possible rescue opportunities or cane corsos in need of fostering or adoption. You can learn about opportunities at your local breed clubs or cane corso rescue organization.
We realize that each cane corso is unique and may display other characteristics. This profile provides generally accepted breed information only.