The Cane Corso (KAY-NAY KOR-SOH), Italian Mastiff, or just “Corso”, is one of the most athletic of all the mastiff breeds. Derived in Italy from some of the great molosser war dogs, the Corso is a strong, dominant, loyal dog that requires an owner committed to consistent and constant training.
Although sharing similar lineage to the Neapolitan mastiff, the Corso remains a smaller and far more athletic breed. If you want a mastiff you can take jogging with you in the morning, this may be the breed for you. Weight for males and females range from about 88-110lbs, but should be proportional to height and frame. The coat colour can be Fawn, Black, or Blue (Grey), always with a black nose (or dark grey on a Blue). The Fawn can be a light, sandy brown to a dark red. Brindling of the Fawn, Black or Blue coat, and small patches of white on the chest and toes are also acceptable. Traditionally the ears are cropped and tail docked at the fourth vertebrae, but it is becoming commonplace to see natural ears and tail. Some argue that cropping the ears reduces chance of infection, but in fact diet and grooming are the most influential factors in healthy ears, and cropping does nothing to reduce risk of infection. The breed had to be brought back from near extinction in the 1970s, and the post-1980 is a different looking dog altogether. The breed has lost some of the athleticism as they were being bred to be larger, and heavier with broader heads and shorter noses. The skin on the body should be tight, dewlaps on the neck are common, with the jawline defined by a hanging lip.
Lifespan and Health
The average lifespan for the Cane Corso is 10-11 years, but as with most of the mastiff breeds they have a long list of common health problems, including heart disease, hip and elbow dysplasia, bloat, entropian eye, and thyroid problems. As they are large, athletic dogs it is important to keep them lean, and have proper nutrition, and exercise in an effort to be proactive in reducing health problems later in life.
The origins of the Italian Mastiff are not well defined. They are strongly linked to the development of the Italian people and seemed to have been developed to rise to whatever occasion their master’s needed. Often thought to have been derived from the great war dogs, Corsos have also been used for work with farmers, guardians of estates, and for personal protection. To this day they remain a working breed in every sense and are well suited for an active lifestyle and having a “job”.
Temperament and Training
The Cane Corso is often seen as one of the most difficult to train of the mastiff breeds. The combination of athleticism, dominance, and intelligence can be a lot to manage for a new or inexperienced dog owner. A well-bred, well-adjusted Corso will be calm yet alert, and although wary of strangers will be friendly when signaled that the stranger is no threat.
Proper socialization is imperative with puppies, as these easy-going pups grow up quickly, and proper, early stage socialization will set your Corso up to be a healthy, confident adult. As with most mastiff breeds, Corsos will start to test their boundaries, abilities, and dominance as early as 6 months but more often around 18 months. If you have taken the time to train and socialize your Corso, and have a healthy respectful relationship, you may not notice this “testing” period as you have already addressed many of the issues that may appear around this time. The “testing” can involve anything from attempts to dominate other dogs and puppies, to growls, nipping, and biting at humans in attempt to see what they can get away with. All correction should be firm, yet never abusive, as having a mastiff’s trust will be your most effective tool in developing a balanced Corso. It is important to set the “rules” you want for you adult mastiff at an early age. Too often part of the reason a mastiff is surrendered is that a once cute puppy quality (e.g. nipping at hands, jumping up when greeted, pulling on walks) becomes dangerous and difficult to manage as a 110lb adult. It is not mean to give your puppy guidelines to follow as to when it is appropriate to exhibit certain behaviors, and it will make handling you adult infinitely easier, but don’t expect to be able to stop the training as soon as your Corso reaches adulthood. Corso owners will tell you that you never stop training your Corso. It certainly will get easier, but this cheeky breed won’t let you get away with slacking-off for too long.
Exercise is the best friend of a Cane Corso owner, and you should be prepared to take your adult Corso on several long walks per day, and even better if one of those can be a nice jog. Backpacks are a great tool, and nothing is more convenient than making your Corso carry their own poop bags and water! Simply putting your Corso out in the backyard will not be enough to satisfy them mentally or physically, and under-stimulated Corsos can be destructive, and difficult to handle. As an added bonus the bonding time spent while walking will be an immense help in developing a strong, healthy relationship. This highly intelligent breed can also greatly benefit from mentally stimulating extracurriculars such as agility, obedience, or Rally-O.
The Cane Corso can make a wonderfully loving, and loyal companion, but requires a confident, dedicated, owner who is fully aware of its, sometimes, strenuous training and exercise requirements. Unfortunately many owners are unprepared for the level of commitment and we see far too many Corsos end up in rescues and shelters.
If you think the Corso is the right breed for you, please continue your research, meet and talk to as many Corsos and owners as you can find, and keep and eye on our Adoptables page!