We have been lucky enough to have Dr. Paola Breber, the worlds leading authority on the CC and person directly responsible for the recovery of the breed, agree to provide some articles just for us! As most people are aware, there is alot of confusion about this breed here in the United States. Hopefully Dr. Breber can lend some insight and help clear up many points of interest, while sharing his experiences!
We often get questions about “show dogs” and the Boxer influence within the breed. In this article Dr. Breber addresses that and talks briefly about some of his work with this breed. If you know of any other CC enthusiasts, have them follow this website for the “truth” about the Cane Corso!
Outlaw Cane Corsos
“Dear Mike and Laura,
Here is a short article that explain a few things.
The beginning of the story. Paolo Breber
In 1973 I was living and working in the province of Foggia in the south of Italy. In my spare time I was studying and writing about the Aprutian pastoral dog (misnamed the Maremma sheepdog). Having read an article of mine on the subject, a man called Giovanni Bonatti wrote me asking if I had also come across a dog in those parts looking somewhat like the Perro da Presa Mallorqueno. He himself had actually never seen it and was simply passing on information obtained from another student of dogs, Francesco Ballotta, who had observed many of these mastiffs/catch dogs in the province of Foggia back in the 1930s. This was the cue that set me searching. I began looking around and enquiring. Everyone seemed to know the animal well but no one could tell me where to find it. From what I gathered, it had been a common working dog till the 1950s and then practically disappeared in the 1960s. But a breakthrough came in 1974 when at a dog show in Foggia I was at length able to see six CCs in the live. I did not let pass the occasion and promptly bought one of the females there. Mirak, this was her name, became the foundation of all that came later regarding the breed. When she came into heat I looked up the owner of Alioth, one of the males I had seen at the dog show. The two were actually quite different: Mirak was short and stocky while Alioth was tall and rangy. But judging by results their genes combined very well. On November 14th 1975 Mirak gave birth to seven really good puppies of which Brina, a female, and Dauno, a male, I kept track of for my breeding program. In the mean time I had located another male to the name of Picciutt which I later used with Brina who on 15th January 1978 gave birth to ten puppies.
In May 1979 I received a letter from Stefano Gandolfi, who was then sixteen years old, saying he greatly desired to participate in my project of reviving the Cane Corso. I was very glad of this offer because I had quite soon realised I couldn’t continue all by myself. By this time I had produced many puppies but because of my limited means I could only keep Mirak while the rest were given out to friends and others, most of which became inevitably lost to my breeding program. Thus any collaborators were greatly appreciated. Gandolfi was living in Mantova, in the north of Italy, and was friends with the Malavasi brothers who ran a commercial kennel. In September 1979 I took them all on a tour of my local Cane Corso contacts in the South. I also transferred Dauno, Brina and Tipsi to the Malavasi kennel, Tipsi being a daughter from Picciutt x Brina. Various litters were produced during this collaboration but all within the gene pool of Mirak, Alioth, Picciutt and another unrelated dog, also named Picciutt, that I had later found.
At this stage another person broke new ground in the quest of the Cane Corso. Paolo Paoletti moved independently but he kept me informed of his results. He discovered more very good rustic Cane Corsos from a much wider area that I had explored. He set up his own kennel and produced an excellent line which, however, has since been disbanded.
On 24th December 1980, a litter out of Dauno and Tipsi was born at the Malavasi kennel. One of the male puppies entrusted to Fernando Casolino, a local fancier, turned out to be the best looking specimen we had produced so far. His owner became so enthusiastic with Basir that he, together with Gandolfi and the Malavasi brothers, decided the time was ripe to apply to the Italian Kennel Club for recognition, using Basir as the type specimen. In October 1983 we founded the Cane Corso Breed Club to this purpose. In all this there was only one thing that I really wanted for myself: the writing up of the Standard of Points. But at this point of the story, the others decided I wasn’t needed any longer and so from then on excluded me completely in the business of getting the breed recognised and defining the standard. The standard they produced, besides being too elaborate and mainly concerned with conformation, has one really very bad fault: it allows for an undershot jaw! This happened because Basir, the reference type, had an inverted-scissors bite. As I have at length explained elsewhere the Cane Corso is a working catch dog and therefore requires
a perfect set of teeth and jaws i.e. the scissors bite. Any other type of bite is simply faulty. To really clinch matters these other people acquired a blatant Corso x Boxer mongrel called Otello with a grotesquely undershot jaw and worked his genes into their blood line. So those pedigreed Cane Corsos looking like 19th century boxers that you see at the dog shows are the result. Of course this has betrayed all that I had in mind. I wasn’t interested in creating something novel for the fashion market but in saving a cultural heritage. However, not withstanding all these awful pedigreed mutts, there are also very many authentic Cane Corsos in circulation and in the end they will prevail, if not for any other reason, for being far more handsome.
May 19th. 2020
“Your dogs, judging by your videos, are the perfect old-time cane corso, they even have the famous “fire” in their eyes! The result I hoped for when I started.” …. Paolo Breber”
The Name “Cane Corso”. Paolo Breber
When the Cane Corso was in the fateful process of entering the conventional show-dog universe in the 1970s, newly-coined names like “Mastino Pugliese” were already being proposed by fanciers. But I insisted that the traditional name used by the countrymen should be kept because this has always been the colloquial way the mastiff/catch dog is called in Italy.
The most recent mention of “cane corso” in print I am aware of is from 1941 and is found in the Italian glossary of hunting terms (Dizionario della Lingua Italiana di Caccia) by P. Farini and A. Ascari. Another reference relatively close to us is in the 1922 edition of the Italian Language Dictionary by N. Zingarelli. In fact, the Cane Corso is mentioned recurrently in documents all the way back to the Middle Ages. As proof I can cite the following references: Minà Palumbo, 1868; Omboni, 1852; Malacarne, 1851; Martin, 1845; Costa, 1839; D’Alessandro, 1723; Tanara, 1644; Birago, 1626; Valvassone, 1591; Gessner, 1551; Acquaviva, 1519; Baldus, 1517; Macchiavelli, 1517; Monaldeschi, 1327-40. Thus the name which I picked up while chatting with country folk in the south of Italy is in fact a living heritage from a remote past.
But what is its derivation? The most common error is the misleading consonance between the name of the breed and that of the native of Corsica, which spells “Corso” in Italian. Other fanciful interpretations have also been given recently but in my opinion “corso” derives from “cors” which is the word for “body” in the vernacular spoken in some parts of France, Spain and Italy. The root is obviously “corpus”, the Latin for “body”. In this way Cane Corso comes to mean “body dog”. But what is meant by “body dog”? To explain the term, we must again go to past sources.
Hans Friedrich von Fleming in Der Vollkommene Teutsche Jäger (Leipzig. Martini, 2 voll. 1719) thus discourses (in translation). “The English mastiffs which the great lords once used to purchase with great expense from England and Ireland are now also bred in Germany. The larger and comelier become Chamber Dogs (Kammerhund) because their place is in the bedroom to guard their masters from the nightly assaults of assassins. Aside from these, other English mastiffs are called Body Dogs (Leibhund) and serve to hunt Deer, Wild Boar and Wolf. They have to be carefully trained not to attack from the front but to go for one or the other ear because otherwise the bear will tear them apart, the deer will pierce them with its tines, the wild boar will gore them with its tusks and the wolf will wound them with its fangs. In the stables they should be kept on a chain and each dog fed separately.” These terms applied to dogs are obviously borrowed from the way retainers were once distinguished between a household attendant, e.g. chamberlain, and a rustic henchman, e.g. bodyguard. The “chamber dog” and the “body dog” must be understood as being both mastiffs but absolving their function in different contexts: the former moving in a gentler domestic setting while the latter leading a rough rural existence.
Although Britain was for long famous for its mastiff/catch dogs, the basic canine type involved is not a product of that country. The mastiff/catch dog is in fact cosmopolitan, used by drovers, butchers, keepers and hunters everywhere in Europe from Roman times to the 19th century.
And now we come to the English word “cur” which I think is related to “corso”. If we consider how the English word “corps” is pronounced “cor” the step to “cur” is very short. The current meaning of “corps” is limited to a military body of men but it derives, like “corso”, from the Latin “corpus” which means “body” in a every sense.
Nowadays “cur” is a disparaging way of calling any undefined dog, but it seems that once upon a time it specifically indicated the mastiff. According to a 16th century source cited by Ash (1927), curs formed a precise category comprising “mastiffs, shepherd dogs, and house-curs”. The shepherd dogs meant here would be of the large, aggressive, sheep-guarding type which were, and still are in Spain and Italy, known as “mastines” and “mastini” respectively. That a “cur” was once understood to be a mastiff is also confirmed by Manwood, in his Treatise of Forest Laws (1717) where he writes: “The Mastives and such like curres”.
It would seem, therefore, that a “cur” was originally a mastiff/catch dog employed by such people as wardens, gamekeepers, drovers, butchers and swineherds. Since these occupations were servile and rustic the cur was considered of lower rank than the sporting hounds and toy dogs of the gentry. In other words, the cur was a dog employed in coarse occupations (this also makes us wonder whether “corso” and “coarse” might be related semantically). With time the term lost its association with the mastiff type and simply became a general term for any lowly dog kept by rustic folk. The last time we are able to identify the cur as a mastiff/catch dog is in Bewick’s General History of Quadrupeds (1790) where it reads:
“The Cur Dog is a trusty and useful servant to the farmer and grazier; and, although it is not taken notice of by naturalists as a distinct race, yet it is now so generally used, especially in the North of England, and such great attention is paid in breeding it, that we cannot help considering it as a permanent kind. They are chiefly employed in driving cattle; in which way they are extremely useful. They are larger, stronger, and fiercer than the Shepherd’s Dog; and their hair is smoother and shorter. They are mostly black and white colour. Their ears are half-pricked; and many of them are whelped with short tails, which seem as if they had been cut: These are called Self-tailed Dogs. They bite very keenly; and as they always make their attack at the heels, the cattle have no defence against them: In this way they are more than a match for a Bull, which they quickly compel to run. Their sagacity is uncommonly great. They know their master’s fields, and are singularly attentive to the cattle that are in them: A good Dog watches, goes his rounds; and, if any strange cattle should happen to appear amongst the herd, although unbidden, he quickly flies at them, and with keen bites obliges them to depart.”
It is an established fact that men who had to do with cattle like drovers and butchers traditionally used dogs of mastiff/catch dog derivation.
If the word “cur” has a foreign origin this would therefore suggest a foreign origin of the mastiff/catch dog attached to it. Britain was famous for a long time for its mastiffs so much so that the words for mastiff in Germany, France and Spain are Dogge, Dogue and Dogo respectively, clearly betraying an English origin. However, the case of “cur” seems to point in the opposite direction, to a dog imported from abroad, seemingly from Italy in the 16th century, when that country was the centre of excellence for horses, dogs and so many other things.
Trace of the Italian origin of the Cane Corso is found in German sources too. The Swiss Konrad Gesner, in his famous and much quoted History of the Animals (1551), in describing mastiff dogs used in hunting, mentions the “Kursshund” from Italy, which he says was very common in Rome where it was used with wild boar and feral cattle. The last mention in German literature of the “Curshund” as a mastiff used in hunting is in Fitzinger (1876).