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Honest FAQ for Cane Corsos

By Michele Welton, Dog Trainer, Behavioral Consultant, Author of 15 Dog Books

Cane Corso

The Cane Corso is a bit of a "splintered" breed in that there are a number of competing clubs and organizations, both here and abroad, that don't agree on what the breed should look and act like. You need to make sure your breeder is producing the type of Cane Corso you're looking for.

What kind of temperament and personality does the Cane Corso have?

The most descriptive words that come to my mind regarding Cane Corso temperament and behavior are:

powerful, vigorous, intensely loyal, protective, aloof with strangers, strong prey instinct, often aggressive with other animals, assertive and willful yet more trainable than other mastiffs, messy (slobbers, splashes in water, digs in dirt).

I give you my honest opinions about Cane Corso temperament and personality traits and characteristics – positives AND negatives – in my dog breed review, Cane Corso Temperament and Personality Traits (What's Good About 'Em, What's Bad About 'Em).

How do you pronounce Cane Corso?

KAH-nay (or KAH-neh) KOR-so. It comes from Latin, with a rough translation being "bodyguard dog".

Where does the breed come from, and what were they used for?

The Cane Corso, along with other mastiffs such as the Bullmastiff, Old English Mastiff, Neapolitan Mastiff, etc. are descended from a very old class of dogs known as Molossans  or Molossers.

It is thought that ancient Greek Molossan tribes were the first to breed massive dogs for guarding, for war, and for fighting other animals "for sport." Because invasions and conquests were so common, these huge dogs became dispersed throughout Europe and crossed with native breeds to form a mastiff variety specific to that particular area.

For example, the Cane Corso is a product of molossan dogs crossed with native Italian dogs. When the Roman Empire fell, the Cane Corso was shifted from war dog to hunting wild boar, driving unruly cattle, and guarding family farms.

What traits would help Cane Corsos accomplish their work? That's right... high energy, strong instincts to pursue and confront other animals that run, high tolerance for pain, athleticism, courage, toughness, determination, independent thinking but also trainability, and loyalty to his owner.

Many of the ancestral Molossan traits that resulted in a formidable war dog are still in the DNA of modern Cane Corsos. But much (not all) of the ferocity has been bred out.

How big are Cane Corsos? Height and weight?

Size is controversial. There are multiple Cane Corso clubs and registries, both here and abroad, and they often recommend different heights and especially different weights.

In general, males are about 24-28 inches at the shoulder, while females are about 23-26 inches.

According to the various clubs and registries, weight should range from 90-110 lbs for males, and 85-100 lbs for females. But I've worked with a number of Cane Corsos who were well over those weights.

American breeders are especially prone to increasing weight to 130 or 140 lbs, to the detriment of the dog's joints, working abilities, and overall health.

It's safe to say that most Cane Corsos are easily in the GIANT category.

What colors do Cane Corsos come in?

Black, gray, red, fawn, and brindle (black stripes on a fawn, red, or gray background).

On brindle Cane Corsos, the stripes may be few in number but clearly defined, or the stripes may be so numerous and heavily concentrated that you can hardly see the fawn background peeking through; in other words, the dog might appear black from a distance. The latter dogs are, in fact, often called "black" brindles or "reverse" brindles.

Do Cane Corsos come in different "types"?

Yes. There is enough variation in height and weight that one Cane Corso might look quite different from another. For example, one dog might be tall but lithe and agile, while another dog might be squatter and more ponderous.

There are also different temperament types:

Cane Corsos may be bred by show breeders  simply for exhibition in the dog show (conformation) ring. This requires nothing from the dog other than standing and trotting while the judge examines his structure and gait. So these dogs tend to be the most mellow.

Performance breeders  focus on producing serious protection dogs, or competition dogs for protection dog sports such as schuzhund. Cane Corsos from performance breeders tend to be more energetic, more rugged, more dominant, and more protective. No surprise there!

Do Cane Corsos have a doggy odor?

Cane Corsos sometimes have an odor, but not from their skin or coat. Rather, all of the mastiff breeds tend to be flatulent/gassy.

How much exercise do Cane Corsos need?

Individuals from show lines need moderate exercise: long brisk walks or jogs, a good-sized yard to romp in, and active games of fetch and tug-of-war (if your dog will play).

Be cautious with the game of Tug. If you play it the wrong way, it could cause or exacerbate dominance/aggression issues. Play it the right way, though, and it can be a fantastic exercise/bonding experience for the two of you. My book, Teach Your Dog 100 English Words, explains how to play Tug properly.

Cane Corsos from performance lines want all of the above exercise and more   more vigorous exercise (jogging on a soft surface, not concrete) and more challenging activities: weight pulling, agility, protection dog sports, hunting. Anything less is just wasting the breed.

The Cane Corso wasn't developed to walk around passively in your house and yard. If you don't provide enough exercise and mental stimulation, this breed might vent his pent-up energy and frustration by destroying your house and yard.

Do Cane Corsos need a fenced yard?

Yes, with a high solid fence.  See-through fences, unless you live in a really private area, encourage barking and aggression. See-through fences also allow strangers of the dognapping persusasion to see what a potentially valuable breed you have.

More on Why a fenced yard? and best and worst fences.

Are Cane Corsos easy to train?

Yes and no. If you are an assertive person who can "read" and respond to a strong-willed working dog and establish a healthy leader-follower relationship, a Cane Corso will be very willing to work with you.

On the other hand, if you're more of a mild-mannered, peaceful, live-and-let-live kind of person... don't get a Cane Corso. He will run the household and you're likely to see increasing aggression issues going forward, which puts other people and animals at risk. This breed is a terrible choice for passive folks.

Are Cane Corsos easy to housebreak?

They're fine.

Are Cane Corsos friendly with people?

With their own family, Cane Corsos are affectionate and devoted.

Toward strangers... some Cane Corsos are friendly, but most are standoffish/aloof. Cane Corsos from working/performance lines often have tougher temperaments toward strangers.

Most (but definitely not all) Cane Corsos have protective instincts. Unfortunately, without actual protection training,  they are not effective protectors. But they can still be excellent deterrents... as long as you stay in charge and immediately stop any unwarranted aggression.

For both ethical and legal reasons, you should require your Cane Corso to be polite (i.e. well-mannered, non-aggressive) with everyone who is not a bad guy. For example, it's okay if the dog doesn't (for whatever reason) like one of your friends or neighbors. But he must not act on those feelings with barking or threatening behaviors. Instead, he must behave politely.

One of the problems with excessive aggression is that you can't always tell whether it's coming from an attitude of true aggression... or from fear. I've worked with two Cane Corsos who were "fear biters." They were skittish or fearful around strangers or in unfamiliar settings. Unfortunately these temperament flaws are serious, as they make the dog's behavior unpredictable when triggered and can lead to defensive biting.

Are Cane Corsos good with children?

Most individuals s are patient with children, yes. But I don't recommend Cane Corsos for children younger than about 10 years old. This powerful, vigorous breed could accidentally knock over a small child.

And let's not just sweep under the rug the reality that aggression is hardwired into the DNA of these powerful mastiff breeds. It's the reason they were created. If your kids are roughhousing or have a heated dispute with their friends, a Cane Corso can't be expected to know whether it's harmless or not. Dogs are wonderful creatures, but they can't read minds.

Are Cane Corsos good with other dogs?

If you're a strong leader, a Cane Corso will usually be fine with other dogs in their own family – but I would make sure the other dogs are the opposite sex. Cane Corsos can be very dominant and pushy toward other dogs of the same sex.

Also, because of the strong prey drive of some Cane Corsos, it's a risk to keep those individuals around very small dogs who might run.

Personally, I prefer to see this breed kept as an only dog.

And yet... true story.... my friend has a lovely, good-natured Cane Corso named Otto. Otto is an adult, intact (non-neutered) male. My friend brought Otto to the dog park but had to leave because Otto was being aggressively harassed and threatened by a male Jack Russell Terrier. "Poor Otto," said my friend. "His stubby tail was tucked and he was trembling, he was so traumatized."

Are Cane Corsos good with cats?

Very iffy. Cane Corsos from show breeders (not performance breeders) usually have a lower prey drive and may be fine with a cat in their own family if they're raised together. However, Cane Corsos with a high prey drive can become cat stalkers/killers.

How much do Cane Corsos shed?

Cane Corsos are average shedders. Their stiff, dense coat sheds moderately in the spring and fall, and occasionally a bit of hair the rest of the year. This is the norm for most shorthaired dogs.

Are Cane Corsos hypoallergenic? Good for people with allergies?

Absolutely not.

How much grooming do Cane Corsos need?

Just an occasional quick brush to sweep the dirt, dander, and loose hair off your dog's skin.

However, when you own a mastiff-type breed, grooming is more than just brushing. On a regular basis you should monitor the loose folds of skin on the dog's head, especially around his lips. A slobbery dog produces a LOT of saliva – now combine that with wrinkles, and you end up with dark, moisty, dirty hiding places for parasites, bacteria, and fungi. So keep these areas thoroughly clean and dry.

What's a good training schedule for training Cane Corso puppies?

Here's the puppy training schedule I use for Cane Corsos: Puppy Training Schedule.

What behavior problems do Cane Corsos tend to have?

The worst problems occur during adolescence (7-24 months) when the hormones are building. Don't make the mistake of leaving a young Cane Corso alone and loose in the house, instead of properly crated/penned/safe.

This critical adolescent period is when you must teach calmness, establish the right leader/follower relationship, and respond properly to behavior problems.

Once through adolescence, as long as you've established the right relationship and you're providing sufficient exercise and companionship, Cane Corsos don't misbehave much.

When they do, the issues tend to center around resource guarding (possessiveness of food or chew toys) or dominance/aggression, usually toward other animals, but occasionally toward people.

What health problems might Cane Corsos have?

Serious orthopedic diseases are rampant in the Cane Corso and lead to lameness and crippling arthritic pain. Two different heart diseases. Epilepsy. Eye diseases. Skin diseases. Bone cancer. And gastric torsion (bloat) is always a worry in large dogs with deep chests, like Cane Corsos.

What breeds are similar to the Cane Corso?

Where can I buy a Cane Corso puppy?

  • If you're looking for a show dog, buy only from a show breeder.
  • If you're looking for a working dog (protection or hunting), buy only from a performance breeder.

Read my article.

Where can I adopt an older Cane Corso?

I am a strong advocate of adopting dogs from Rescue groups. But with this breed, I personally wouldn't do that. I would too concerned about the dog having inherited unstable genes.

Adopting from the pound or animal shelter is even riskier, as you have no idea what that dog might turn out to be like, and the consequences of making a mistake concern me too much. Some shelters won't even offer mastiff breeds for adoption because of concerns about legal liability.

Rescue groups have at least been fostering their Cane Corsos in normal homes, so they have a better idea what the dog might be like in a family setting. Still too risky for my taste, but you might be willing to do it.

So... rescue group or humane society/shelter? Read my article.

I just got a new Cane Corso. Which pages should I read first?

  • Cane Corso Health, which includes my advice on feeding, vaccinations, and daily health care. These pages are very important, because if you start your Cane Corso puppy off on the wrong foot, he will probably experience health problems later on. Starting off right is essential.
  • Training Cane Corsos, which includes my advice on respect training, housebreaking, and socialization. Again, you must start your Cane Corso puppy off on the right foot by teaching him what he needs to know, and you must avoid doing the wrong things with him so that he doesn't develop bad habits that will be much harder to fix later on.

Do male dogs or female dogs make better pets?

Ah, let the debate begin! Honestly, male Cane Corsos have pros and cons, and female Cane Corsos have pros and cons. Visit Male Dogs versus Female Dogs

There's an adorable Cane Corso puppy at the pet shop. The store manager assures me they only buy from responsible breeders. Could this be true?

No responsible Cane Corso breeder would ever place one of their Cane Corso puppies in a pet shop for resale. To find out more about pet shop puppies, visit Pet Shop Puppies: Buying a Puppy From a Pet Store.

How do I pick the best Cane Corso puppy from a litter?

You can do puppy personality tests. Visit How To Choose a Good Puppy.

What's the best dog food for Cane Corsos?

3 Best Ways To Feed Your Dog Healthy Food.

I have to take my Cane Corso to the vet soon for shots. Which vaccinations does he really need?

The schedule of vaccinations that dogs really need has changed dramatically – but unfortunately most vets are not telling you this, because a good chunk of their income depends on frequent vaccinations. Please don't get any more shots for your Cane Corso until you've read my article on Puppy Shots and Dog Vaccinations.

What are the pros and cons of spaying and neutering my Cane Corso, and when should it be done?

Spaying and neutering are often recommended too early, which can lead to health problems later in life. Visit Spaying Your Female Dog or Neutering Your Male Dog for the straight scoop on the safest (and riskiest) times to spay or neuter.

I have a question about Cane Corsos that I don't see answered on your web site.

It's probably answered in one of my free online books.

Michele Welton with BuffyAbout the author: Michele Welton has over 40 years of experience as a Dog Trainer, Dog Breed Consultant, and founder of three Dog Training Centers. An expert researcher and author of 15 books about dogs, she loves helping people choose, train, and care for their dogs.

My best-selling books – now available  FREE  on my website

book coverRespect Training For Puppies: 30 seconds to a calm, polite, well-behaved puppy is for puppies 2 to 18 months old. Your puppy will learn the 21 skills that all family dogs need to know. Click here to read for free.
book coverTeach Your Dog 100 English Words is a unique Vocabulary and Respect Training Program that will teach your adult dog to listen to you and do what you say. Click here to read for free.
book cover11 Things You Must Do Right To Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy helps your dog live a longer, healthier life. Get my honest advice about all 11 Things before you bring home your new puppy, because some mistakes with early health care cannot be undone. Click here to read for free.