Meet the Perro De Presa Canario
A rare and robust Molosser-type breed from the Canary Islands of Spain, the Perro De Presa Canario was traditionally used to herd cattle. They are a strong-willed, courageous breed that’s sometimes referred to simply as the "Presa Canario."
The Presa Canario is a firm and alert yet balanced and confident dog. They are extremely territorial and make powerful guard dogs, so they must be properly trained and socialized. Not surprisingly, they are suspicious of strangers and have some natural aggressive (or “alpha dog”) tendencies. The Presa Canario will not hesitate to demonstrate their physical dominance when necessary. They are related to other ancient Greek battle dogs due to their strength, size, and durability.
Although the Presa Canario is known for its intimidating appearance and muscular body, these dogs can become devoted, obedient, and affectionate family pets--as long as they receive the proper socialization and training. Though they can be headstrong, they are also highly intelligent and owner-focused. The Presa Canario is a true pack animal that can enjoy the company of other people, kids, and even pets— as long as they become a trusted member of his pack.
Here's our guide to this unique breed.
Unique Physical Characteristics
The Perro De Presa Canario is a Molosser breed. These solid, large dogs include the Mastiff and Rottweiler. They are not, however, a particularly common breed. Though they are similar in appearance to breeds like the Cane Corso, Presa Canarios are massive dogs with thick, rectangular bodies, a black mask, and attentive expression.
The Presa Canario can weigh upwards of 125 pounds. They are also tall (generally 22 to 26 inches), and have a large jaw, distinctive square-shaped head, and thick front quarters. Their broad, brachycephalic heads will often have cropped ears (this was traditionally done to prevent damage while working with cattle).
These dogs can come in all shades of brindle, from pale gray or blonde to a warmer dark brown color, as well as all shades of fawn to sandy. They sometimes have white marks on their chest, base of the neck, or throat.
Among it’s most unique characteristics? The Presa Canario’s paws resemble those of a cat, and even their movements are often described as cat-like. Though these are tough, rugged dogs (with a deep bark), they can walk as gracefully as their feline counterparts.
History of the Presa Canario
Sometimes referred to as the “Canary Dog of Prey,” this breed is believed to date back to the 15th and 16th centuries. The roots of the Presa Canario are related to the cattle breed Iberian Presa (Perro de Ganado Majorero), a medium-sized mastiff and intuitive guard dog. Other Hispanic breeds may have contributed to the formation of the Presa Canario, such as the Presa Espanol and the Bardino Majorero.
After the conquest of the Canary Islands, these larger island breeds had several important jobs: working cattle, guarding farms, and exterminating any wild or stray dogs (or other unwanted animals). Over time, they evolved into separate breeds; the Presa Canario became known for its intelligence and courage as well as its physical strength. This breed was also known for its strong natural guardian instincts…without the need for excessive barking. Presa Canarios were often used as “catch dogs"--they were responsible for driving cattle and hogs or running stray dogs and other animals off their owner's property.
Probably not surprisingly, these dogs became a popular choice for dogfighting. Though the practice was prohibited throughout the islands in the 1940s, dog fights continued throughout the next decade. As a result, the Presa Canario’s numbers dropped to near-extinction (especially as alternate fighting breeds such as the Great Dane, Doberman Pinscher, and German Shepherd were introduced). They could still be found in small numbers as guard dogs for farmers and herdsmen. In the 1970s, reputable breeders began reviving the breed.
The Presa Canario still serves as the animal symbol of Gran Canaria and has been recorded in the Foundation Stock Service since 1996. Though the breed has been banned from several countries, it is allowed in the United States (though it is not currently recognized by the American Kennel Club).
Caring for a Presa Canario
Whether you’ve adopted your Presa Canario as a puppy or are welcoming an older dog into your home, here are some tips for how to care for your new four-legged friend.
Training: The Presa Canario is a complex and unique dog with some specific training needs. Intensive socialization and obedience training is crucial for this breed; they respond best to fair yet firm and consistent training and clear limits. Though the Presa Canario is highly intelligent, observant, and eager to work (and please its owners), they are known to be a bit stubborn.
Whether you’re looking to teach your dog basic obedience cues like “sit” or “come” or have them complete specific tasks within your home or on your property, these dogs love having a job to do. They abide by pack mentality and require a strong “pack leader." That’s why Presa Canarios are best suited for an established family of dog owners who has previous experience raising similar breeds.
Due to their unique history as both a guard and fighting breed, it’s always a good idea to consult a professional trainer to work with your Presa Canario. Trainers will have to be able to assert their dominance and be committed to consistent, patient training. Necessary precautions should be taken at the start of the training process, when aggression could be at its highest. They also have a fairly high prey drive, so they should also be trained not to chase smaller animals.
You should also take extra precautions when introducing strangers to your Presa Canario. For that reason, you may want to think twice about bringing a Presa Canario into your home if you already have small pets, including other dogs, as well as very young children. Your dog can and will adapt to children who help feed him, play with him, and groom him--he will learn they are part of his family and become loyal and protective over time. The Presa Canario can also get along with other household pets, but they should preferably be introduced (and raised together) as puppies.
When properly trained, Presa Canarios can become docile and friendly family pets, but will always remain incredibly protective. Sometimes they are rescued and trained as guard dogs. Since many Presa Canarios were bred to guard livestock, they will make a dependable watchdog for your home—and, of course, your kids.
Socialization: In addition to training, you'll have to continue socializing your Presa Canario throughout his life. Consider taking your new pet to to puppy kindergarten class, on outings to local shops and parks, and visits with friends and neighbors. These experiences will help minimize your dog's hesitation or wariness about new people, places, and objects. Though the Presa Canario will always be a guard dog--and they take that responsibility very seriously--they can be taught to determine what is a normal part of every day life and differentiate between who may (or may not) be a threat.
Exercise and Play: You’ll want to ensure your Presa Canario remains both physically and mentally stimulated...or they can get into trouble. These are not dogs that will be content to snooze on the couch for most of the day. When they aren’t working with you or their trainer, they should have access to other opportunities to use their brains (like puzzle toys) and athletic abilities (playtime with their family members or long walks each afternoon).
In addition to toys, be sure to stock up on strong bones and other chews, as these dogs have powerful teeth and jaws that they’ll want to use. Daily exercise will also prevent your Presa Canario from becoming bored and being destructive in the home--or exhibiting other behavioral issues.
Though these dogs are high-energy, that doesn’t necessarily mean they will require hours of rigorous exercise each day. However, they will need daily physical activity, which can include a long walk or two or running or playtime in the backyard. Thanks to their strong prey drive, your dog should be secured within a fence (ideally a solid, six-foot fence) when outdoors, and always walked on a leash.
These are strong athletic dogs that love to engage in high-intensity activities, from swimming and hiking to chasing after balls and Frisbees. They also tend to love water, and can be excellent swimmers. Presa Canarios generally tolerate heat better than other mastiff-type breeds.
Families with children are often happy to discover that they can be taught to play games like hide-and-seek—it’s thanks to the fact that they love having a job to do and are so smart. These dogs will be happiest in a home where there’s plenty of room to run around—or a special job to do. As a result, they don't make an ideal choice for apartment- or condo-dwellers.
Hygiene: Since they have a short coat (and no undercoat), the Presa Canario will require only occasional bathing, however you will have to groom and brush your dog regularly. These dogs are not considered to be heavy shedders, but they do have strong, fast-growing nails that will need to be trimmed. You should also ensure your dog’s ears are checked on a regular basis, and brush their teeth 2-3 times per week, if not daily (Presa Canarios can be prone to some dental issues). In the warmer months, inspect your pet for fleas or ticks on a daily basis.
Health: The vast majority of Presa Canarios are healthy dogs, however its larger body stature means they can be susceptible to a few common health conditions, such as musculoskeletal injuries and hip or joint dysplasia, panosteitis, patellar luxation, or bone inflammation. They have been associated with certain heart and eye problems, gastric torsion/bloat, anterior cruciate ligament tears, epilepsy, and even canine leishmaniasis (transmitted by parasites).
The Presa Canario's lifespan is generally 9 to 11 years. Keeping your Presa Canario at an optimal weight is one of the best things you can do to ensure a lifetime of good health. You'll also want to be sure to establish a relationship with a veterinarian to provide routine care for your new dog and help ward off any future health issues.
Diet: You’ll want to be sure to feed your Presa Canario a high-quality, high-protein diet that meets their macronutrient needs. These are tough, rugged dogs, and their nutrition should reflect their needs—especially if you have a particularly active Presa Canario at home. Their diet can be either commercially prepared or cooked at home with guidance from a veterinarian. Since they are larger, active dogs, they may require more water than other breeds, so be sure they always have access to clean, fresh drinking water. Their meals should generally be divided into two or three smaller meals a day to prevent gastrointestinal issues, including serious (and even life-threatening) issues like gastric torsion/bloat.
Choosing Your Presa Canario
If you've decided that the Presa Canario is the right fit for your family, be sure to talk with a reputable breeder and explain exactly what you’re looking for in a dog. You'll also want to be sure to ask about the opportunities provided for puppies to socialize.
Potential adopters should inquire about any health or behavioral issues (and request information about the puppy's parents), as well as ask for a description of the puppy's temperament.
A Presa Canario breeder interacts with puppies every day and can provide assistance in selecting the right four-legged friend for your family.