Cane Corso Dog Breed Origins – according to the breed standard of the Fédération Cynologique Internationale, the Cane Corso descends from Ancient Rome’s molossoid dogs; it was once distributed throughout much of the Italian peninsula, but in the recent past was found only in Puglia, in southern Italy.
The Cane Corso is a descendant of the Canis Pugnax, dogs used by the Romans in warfare.
Its name derives from cane da Corso, an old term for those catch dogs used in rural activities (for cattle and swine; boar hunting, and bear fighting) as distinct from cane da camera, which indicates the catch dog kept as a bodyguard. In the recent past, its distribution was limited to Southern Italy districts, especially in Basilicata, Campania, and Puglia. The Cane Corso is a catch dog used with cattle and swine, and wild boar hunts. It is also used by night watchmen, keepers, and, in the past, by carters as a Drover. This breed was common all over Italy as ample iconography and historiography testify in the more distant past. The breed was recovered from near extinction through enthusiasts’ efforts in the 1970s through cross-breeding appropriate type selected breeds. The Cane Corso of today is a very different looking dog in comparison to its pre-80’s forefathers. The drive has somewhat come down, the breed has more bulk, and generally, due to the shortening of the muzzle and widening of the skull, it has lost its scissor bite. The United Kennel Club recognized it on July 15, 2008, under Cane Corso Italiano’s name, and subsequently by the American Kennel Club in 2010 as Cane Corso.
This breed’s origins could be traced back to the Mesopotamical Molossians, as could most Mastiff type dogs of Europe. These ancient Molossors are depicted in several sculptures and paintings from the period. These relics depict a large ferocious dog with heavy bone, a short blunt muzzle, and cropped ears. There are differing theories on how these predecessors to the Cane Corso eventually arrived in Italy; one hypothesis is that they traveled through China, India, finally reaching Europe with the migrations of the Assyrians of Alexander the Great, Phoenicians, and Romans. Another school of thought is that ancient tribes (called Molossians) arrived in Greece during the Greek-Persian wars, with Xerxes and the Cirrus Army. The Greeks and Macedonians brought with them large dogs that they utilized for warfare and the hunt. Marco Polo described these dogs as “large as donkeys” The Greeks colonized Italy and brought these ferocious Molossans with them. When the Roman Empire conquered Italy, they discovered the Molossiod dog’s virtue as a fighting dog. The Romans developed from these Molossiod dogs what came to be known as Canis Pugnax (the Roman war dog).
It is believed that from this Ancient Molosser, the modern-day Cane Corso and Neapolitan Mastiff have been developed. The name doesn’t derive from the geographical origin of the breed; some believe that the name comes from the Latin “cohors,” which means “guard” or “protector” (examples are: “praetorian cohors”= Praetorian guards and, more recently in the Vatican City, “Cohors Elvetica”=swiss guards) concerning this theory, it’s fascinating the hypothesis which identifies the roots of the Corso in the Greek word Kortos, which means “enclosed court,” and from which derives the above-mentioned cohors.
Consequently, Cane Corso would mean “the dog that watches the court.” If true, this hypothesis would take us back to the “Magna Grecia” (the ancient Greek colonies of southern Italy) and the attractive oriental origins of the Molossian. Others believe that Corso is derived from an ancient Celtic-Provincial acceptation under which “strong and powerful” was understood. This latter theory is equally plausible, as it is nowadays in some words like the English “coarse” (as opposed to “fine”) and in some southern Italian dialects where “Corso” means coarse, strong, or bold. What is certain is that from the origination of the Italian language, the Molossian was always called “Corso.” There are numerous references to the Cane Corso throughout history in terms of art and literature, i.e., Teofilo Folengo in the “Maccheronee” (1522), Konrad von Gesner in the “De Quadrupedibus” (1551), Erasmo di Valvasone in his poem “Hunting” (1591), Mina Palumbo in the “Mammiferi di Sicilia” (1868), Giovanni Verga in the “Malavoglia” (1881), Erasmo di Valvasone’s (1523-1593) poem “La Caccia” (the hunt) from 1591, Giovanni Battista Marino (1569-1625) mentions Cane Corso, in his book “La Sampogna” paintings and sculptures of Corso like Molosser’s appear in the Royal Palace of Caserta and the prints of Bartolomeo Pinelli’s (Roma 1781-1835) Pinelli’s depictions, in particular, stand out as they are graphic in their detail, they show the Pugnaces devouring Christians in the coliseum, locked in combat with each other, and bull-baiting. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Cane Corso proved its versatility by being employed in numerous varying tasks, mostly in Southern Italy in provinces like Foggia, Puglia, Bari, and Campobasso.
The primary tasks were that of guardian, hunter, and farm dog. The Cane Corso’s versatility made it an idea farmhand. He was well suited as a flock guardian, often deployed in the war with the wolves. In these times, the Cane Corso often wore collars made of steel with spikes, so they would have an advantage when they fought with the wolves. Collars were called “Vraccale,” The Cane Corso often would take off after the wolves and abandon the flock; many of these wolves employed tactics similar to the Native American Indians where they would send a decoy to entice the Cane Corso(s) to give chase, thus leaving the flock virtually unguarded. This posed a problem for the Shepards. Their solution was to crossbreed the Cane Corso with a native Italian herding dog, the Maremmano-Abruzzese. The Maremmano had a strong attachment to the sheep and was less likely to take off after the wolves. This produced a dog capable of fighting off a wolf but stayed close to the flock. This crossing was called a “Mezzo-Corso.”
The Cane Corso was also utilized in the breeding of Hogs and Cattle. A testimonial given by Alfonso Comer at the Civitallo Alfedena in 1990 and published in the book IL Cane Corso by L’Orsa describes the utilization of the breed with hogs “The Cane Corso breeders of S. Paolo are or were the Cilla, the Petardi and the Caldarola. This breed is found at S. Paolo because here, until not long ago, there were large hog farms. We are talking of breeding in the wild consisting of about 200 animals of a local breed, small, with a black spot on their back, with lean meat, and when fattened up, they would form a heavy layer of lard. Kind reverse transhumance would be practiced: in the winter, the flock would be taken to the forests to forage, while from June to August they would be brought to the fallow fields, the fields left uncultivated in preparation for the cereals. The fallow fields are superficially worked with the plow and harrow. This type of soil is rich in nutrients, and the hogs, besides vegetable substances, would find rodents, worms, and insect larvae. Because of the seasonal heat, the pigs would graze at night, while during the day, they would seek the cool and humid spots under the scrubs, and they would dig holes and would lie there all day. At dusk, they would start to root about. At midnight they would head to the watering-place, they would be there for about a half-hour and back away till dawn and back to their cool and humid bedding places in the vicinity of S. Marzano, Vena, Orticelli, S. Antonio, and Tono where there was plenty of steady water. Out of everyone’s view, the habit of night grazing created abuse problems for which each herd had a clearly marked zone separated from the nearby one by a free corridor. The Corso would become indispensable when giving birth; the females would go in the thick vegetation and hide. When the farmer noticed that a sow was missing, he would get on his horse and head for the thick vegetation areas that, in his experiences, would be the places that the sows would seek under these circumstances. Soon enough, the dog would locate the female with the litter, but here it became difficult because the sow is a strong animal and would defend its offspring ferociously. Anyway, thanks to its dexterity and strength, the Corso would resolutely seize the animal and hold it immobilized until the farmer had the time to get the little ones in a sack. Once the man was back on the horse, he would give the release command and head back to the Masseria. The sow would anxiously follow her offspring back to the farm, where they would be reunited. The boars would also become very dangerous, especially when they got past a certain age. They would become especially untouchable at the mounts’ time because they were excited from the females’ scent and because they were transported from one farm to the other. Many farmers used one male. Even here, the intelligent, able, strong, and courageous Corso was indispensable, ready to jump the minute the boar would rebel. Many farmers were saved from the tusks of these beasts thanks to the leaps of their Corso.
The Cane Corso was also used as a “cattle dog” or “butcher’s dog”.
The beef was raised in wild pastures until the time came for the cattle to be brought to slaughter by the “butteri” (the Italian counterparts to our cowboys). More often than not, the herds would have to be driven great distances to be slaughtered. These were essentially “wild” animals and had to be treated with great caution. To keep the herd manageable, the bulls had to separate; the Cane Corso accomplished this by using its vise-like grip on the bull’s nose, the pain was so great that it completely incapacitated the bull. This practice became a popular attraction called “bull baiting” The Cane Corso, during these journeys, had to keep a vigilant watch for predators and cattle thieves. Umberto Leone, in his testimonial at the Conference of Civitella Alfedena in 1990 published in the Book IL Cane Corso by L’Orsa, describes the dog’s utilization with cows “The Cane Corso is particularly suitable to the needs of cow breeders. It accompanies the animals to the pastures and, on command, it brings back the ones that venture too far. It is brilliant, and it befriends the cows and calves. It’s a known fact that whenever you have three or four dogs loose, they tend to gang up and attacks the livestock, but with the Corso, this danger is non-existent. Even if a cow gives birth at night, the smell of the blood, the absence of the owner, or the darkness do not tempt him, and he does not even try to eat the afterbirth. If I place a bucket full of milk on the ground, he’ll Approach it with desire, but I’ll look up at me and would not dare touch it Without my invitation.