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Fila Brasileiro: What's Good About 'Em, What's Bad About 'Em

Fila Brasileiro temperament, personality, training, behavior, pros and cons, advice, and information, by Michele Welton, Dog Trainer, Behavioral Consultant, Author of 15 Dog Books

Fila Brasileiro dog breed

The Fila Brasileiro (FEE-la brah-zeel-YAIR-o), also known as the Brazilian Mastiff, was developed to be a hunting dog, and a ranch and plantation dog.

The Fila would guard the estate, hunt big game animals such as jaguars, and work with livestock, driving it around the farm and "catching" individual cattle (grabbing hold of its neck) for the Brazilian rancher. The Fila would also track runaway slaves for the plantation owner.

You can see the Bloodhound ancestry in the Fila's loose skin and superb tracking skills.

The Fila has an unusual way of moving. With his hindquarters raised slightly above his forequarters, the Fila moves like a great feline, with a long, low, stalking stride. He tends to amble or pace and there is a rolling motion to his gait.

So far, so good. The Fila Brasileiro sounds like a great all-around working dog.

But then we get to the Fila's temperament.

"Faithful as a Fila dog" is an old Brazilian proverb. With good reason, because the Fila has a temperament unlike that of any other breed.

Docile with his own family and immensely loyal, the Fila has an extreme aversion to strangers and detests being touched by outsiders. The Portuguese have a word for their temperament: Ojeriza, roughly meaning dislike and distrust.

Fila puppies should be friendly and trusting, and with proper socialization  become more discriminating as they mature. Their eventual degree of aversion to strangers depends on genetics (parents and grandparents) and environment (socialization and training). Some lines are milder, while some lines are extremely sharp, i.e. extremely aggressive toward all outsiders.

One might take the Fila's massive bulk for laziness or clumsiness – and one would be terribly mistaken. Like all Old World mastiffs, the Fila Brasileiro is calm and quiet, until aroused. Then he shifts into his fierce protector's role in an instant, moving with tremendous speed and athletic agility.

People who keep this dog need to be fully aware of their responsibilities in protecting the innocent public. That includes your own friends and relatives if they don't visit often enough for the dog to accept them as part of the family. Yes, a Fila will attack your Uncle Bill for scooping up little Johnny to give him a hug.

Do you have casual visitors or acquintances dropping by? Do you take frequent trips and think that a neighbor or pet sitter can drop by and care for your Fila the same way one might care for a Labrador Retriever, or even a German Shepherd? Do you think you can take your adult Fila to the local park where people will wander past and pet him? How easy do you think visits to the vet are going to be?

Most people interested in this breed have not thought it through. They see a YouTube video or visit a Fila site where the aggressive "virtues" of the breed are proclaimed to the heavens, where the breeder boasts about the "toughness" of their dogs. Your Uncle Bill is seldom mentioned on these sites.

So we've seen how the Fila behaves with people. Let's look now at the breed's behavior with other animals.

Although the Fila was not used for dogfighting (indeed, they often hunted in packs and got along fine), dog-to-dog aggression is a problem in modern lines. The Fila Brasileiro "may" live peacefully with other pets in his own family, but he may not, too.

I wouldn't keep a Fila Brasileiro with another dog of the same sex. Honestly, I wouldn't keep one with another dog at all, especially a smaller dog. No cats, either. Remember, this was a hunting breed, which means a strong prey drive (instincts to chase and grab things that run).

Is the Fila Brasileiro hard to train? It depends on how good you are at establishing the proper Leader-Follower relationship with a huge, powerful dog who cannot be out-muscled. This strong-willed breed does want to please his owner IF you are a confident leader who understands how to read and respond properly to canine body language and how to elevate yourself above your dog in the pecking order. Consistent rules and cheerful praise are mandatory.

Let's talk about a few more practical realities of owning a Fila Brasileiro:

  1. Shedding. People often think that shorthaired dogs don't shed much. On the contrary, many shorthaired dogs shed more than longhaired dogs. The short hairs of the Fila Brasileiro come out all over your clothes and furniture.
  2. Slobbering. Most people are not prepared for how much the Fila slobbers and drools, especially after eating or drinking. When they shake their heads, you will be toweling saliva and slime off your clothes, furniture, and walls.
  3. Gassiness (flatulence) that can send you running for cover. (Dogs who are fed a natural raw diet have much less trouble with gassiness.)
  4. Health problems. Filas have extremely high rates of hip dysplasia (38%) and elbow dysplasia (32%) – that's horrible. The breed is being destroyed by irresponsible breeders who don't screen their breeding stock for these two conditions that can cripple your Fila and cost you a fortune in surgeries and pain medications.
  5. Legal liabilities. The Fila Brasileiro is banned or restricted in a number of countries, including the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Denmark, and others. In the United States, insurance companies may cancel your homeowner's policy. In this day and age, the legal liabilities of owning a giant breed that looks intimidating should be considered. People are quicker to sue if such a dog does anything even remotely questionable.

    The Fila Brasileiro is far too much for the vast majority of households, and I mean 99% of households. This breed was more suited to the past than to our modern society.


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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.

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