Canary Islands Mastiffs, or the Presa Canario, have a rich history dating back for centuries. When the Spanish began to colonize the Canary Islands in the 1400s, they brought along cattle herding dogs that would eventually develop into the breed known as Bardino Majorero. Settling mainly in Fuerteventura, the colonists named the breed for the aboriginal people of the island known in their own Guanche language as Majorero (or Mahorero). After years of selective breeding with Molossian Hounds, a breed from Ancient Greece now considered to be extinct though its ancestors live on, the Presa Canario emerged as the predominant breed of the Canary Islands garnering the unofficial name “Canary Mastiff”. It became a popular breed among ranchers that settled on the islands, but cattle ranch numbers dropped in the early 1900s and along with it the number of cattle ranchers looking for herding or guard dogs. By the late 1960’s numbers dwindled so low on the island that the Presa Canario was threatened with extinction. Were it not for the Club Español del Presa Canario, a society formed in 1982 to standardize the breed and promote its numbers, the Canary Mastiff might not be around today. The Presa Canario was officially recognized worldwide by the International Canine Federation in 2011 thanks to their efforts.
While Canary Mastiffs can look quite intimidating, any owner will tell you they act more like pussycats! That may be in part due to their astonishing anatomical similarities with cats! As with most mastiffs, the Presa Canario has a massive, broad and almost square-shaped head on top of its muscular, heavy build. They have somewhat droopy lips, a feature that allows them to be more sensitive to scents that have been absorbed and are no longer airborne. You may notice they move their lips while sniffing, allowing air to reach the secondary smell system just above the roof of their mouth. Sniffing can only let them pick up airborne smells but they have the ability to detect even the faintest of smells using the secondary system known as the vomeronasal organ. This makes them quite formidable when tracking prey or protecting their territory. Their feet are neat and round, characterized by high-arched toes that are closely held together resembling the paws of a cat. The structure of their feet allows them to use less energy to pick them up off the ground, greatly increasing their endurance while running. Their body is also mesomorphic, meaning they are slightly longer than they are tall. Both of these characteristics give the Canary Mastiff a cat-like appearance and a very feline style of movement. While most individuals weigh between 100-150lbs they still pounce and run with the agility of an ocelot or a lynx.
With such a formidable build and a high sense of smell, the Presa Canario is naturally a great hunter and guardian. While the Spanish were colonizing the Canary Islands they needed to protect themselves and their livestock from wild animals, most notably feral dogs that began to populate the islands alongside humans. The Presa Canario served as an alert and attentive protector for both settlers and their livestock. They were frequently used to guard cattle and sheep and eventually began to be used to help herd the livestock. Being quite large in stature and weight they were able to hold their own against wild dogs seeking a quick meal and against the large beasts they were herding. Having a Canary Mastiff on your farm most assuredly meant you could sleep with ease knowing your life and possessions were safe, however the sheer size and fierceness of the breed led to a ban on ownership unless you were a hunter or farmer. As is true with most bans, some still illegally purchased or bred Presa Canarios and unfortunately many of those banned dogs were used for dog fighting until it too was outlawed in the late 1930s. Since then the Presa Canario has been kept by many dog enthusiasts simply for their beauty and companionship, though the breed is still used in many rural areas to guard or help herd cattle.
Whether you are a first-time owner or a pooch professional there are a few things you should know before purchasing or rescuing a Presa Canario. When considering owning a Canary Mastiff it’s important to remember it is a very big dog with a lot of energy. Exercise is extremely important to keep your dog in shape both physically and mentally. Having a large yard to play in will help, but a daily routine of walks will be most important to maintaining your Canario’s muscular build. They are a working dog breed and can easily become overweight without plenty of activity to keep them occupied. They also have a high prey drive and will need plenty of training at a young age to prevent them from chasing after small animals, other dogs and most importantly humans. Giving them plenty to chew on and play with is key to maintaining a friendly attitude and healthy mentality. Without plenty of stimulation, they can become agitated, destructive, or eventually aggressive. Don’t let that dissuade you, however, while the Canary Mastiff is a big, powerful breed when raised properly they are very loving, affectionate, and loyal companions. If you do decide the Presa Canario is the right fit for your family you can expect lots of butt wiggles, the occasional giant head plopped on your lap for scratches, and a very big and fuzzy cuddle buddy!