First Presa Canario National Specialty by Fred Lanting
First Presa Canario National Specialty
Report by Fred Lanting
The first national specialty show of the reorganized Presa club in America known as the United Perro de Presa Canario Club was held on the grounds of Purina Farms near St. Louis, MO. This organization supplanted the strife-torn and somewhat disorganized predecessor club, with improved communications and management, using mostly the same members. It is affiliated with the UKC, the all-breed registry devoted to the total dog and a fun, family-oriented show and working trials atmosphere.
This molossoid breed gets its name from its action of seizing predators and cranky bulls, and from the Canary Islands where it was perfected from stock originating on the Iberian peninsula of Spain and Portugal. “Presa” means to grab or seize. The FCI, probably bowing to some anti-biting movement common to Europe as well as the U.S., decided to re-name it “Dogo Canario”. It is descended from an older type of Presa Canario now extinct, and from the Perro de Ganado Majorero, a cattle dog native to the Canary Islands, both with very strong temperament. The breed has undergone a recent reconstruction and the present examples are impressive and useful. Further back in its history, it shares some common ancestry with the Spanish and Portugese mastiffs and bulldogs, as well as with the Fila Brasileiro, which latter stems mostly from the Bloodhound and Spanish/Portugese Mastiffs. “Fila” in Portuguese also means “seize” or “grab”. In spite of the ancestry and reconstruction efforts, some authorities assert that “the actual Presa of today has almost nothing in common with the “ancient” Presa that is mentioned in some law acts of the 16th Century, and that it is even more important to stress that the Presa Canario is a different breed from the Dogo Canario, recently recognized by the F.C.I.”
In the 1970s, Manuel Curtò and a small number of enthusiasts and breeders started to rebuild the breed, with the help of such crosses. They included the Ganado, what remained of the Presa of the first decades of the 20th century, and other molossers breeds. Up to that period there were two difference types of Presa Canario: one very large type with a strong character was from Gran Canaria Island, and was a result of the crosses with the Neapolitan Mastiff and (in smaller part) with Old English Mastiffs and Great Dane; coming from Tenerife was the more agile Presa Canario despite being the result of the native crosses with Bulldogs, Bullmastiffs, Great Danes, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, “Pit Bulls” and Dogue de Bordeaux.
The key molders of the Presa in the Islands tell us that the official FCI Standard of the Dogo Canario does not specify a maximum weight which, for the Presa is set at 57 Kg. to prevent the proliferation of overly-heavy dogs, unable to work. Another difference is that of the coat color; the solid black one is admitted in the Presa Canario while it is not for the Dogo Canario. They draw an analogy with the American Pit Bull Terrier and the American Staffordshire Terrier, but that is not quite accurate in my view. I judge both, and many AmStaffs are dual-registered as APBTs. Presa people feel that even if the Presa Canario and the Dogo Canario originated from the same type of dog, they are now effectively different breeds.
One of the characteristics the Fila and Presa share is the high-in-the-rear topline. Both are required to have the iliac crest of the pelvis higher than the withers or shoulder blade, or at least not lower than the shoulder. By the way, those islands off the coast of Spanish Sahara, Africa get their name not from the little yellow bird, but from the Latin word for dog, Cane. You may have heard of a somewhat similar Italian breed called the Cane Corso. The songbird’s name is derived from the islands, not the other way around.
The custom was to crop the ears so that there would be less for a fighting enemy to latch onto, and most Presas are still cropped. But there was an excellent female at this show with uncropped ears, showing the typical semi-rose shape that comes from the deep antiquity of the breed’s development from prototype Greyhounds and Bulldogs.
It was my pleasure and honor to substitute for a judge from the breed’s homeland, who had to cancel late in the planning stage. It was my job to conduct the “Critiques”, which is like a breed survey in miniature, without the measurements that are taken in many foreign breed surveys. I dictated comments on each dog’s character, gait, and anatomy to a scribe (who, forgive me, had to write fast), and these data are archived by the club. I hope some day they use the same system that the SV does, which has been described as “See everything, say everything”. This would be helpful in refining the Standard in the future. I also was asked for input into the Standard’s wording, which had been awkwardly translated from the Spanish. Thanks to my SV training, experience in teaching anatomy, and background as a college professor, I was able to give some guidance to the process. It will be interesting to see how the breed develops in the U.S. compared to in the islands.
Presas are very utilitarian, performing the functions of family companion and playmate for the children, managing stock, guarding flocks and herds from predators and poachers, and protecting persons and property. Presas should be willing to grab a cantankerous bull by the nose and keep it subdued until the owner can hobble or control it. The same with wild and semi-feral boars. Since canaries aren’t much in the way of predators on goats, sheep, and cattle, the job of fighting carnivores on “the islands” is merely honorary. However, the capacity and willingness to do so is present, as ably demonstrated by a bitch named Isis. Unfortunately, she was not entered in the critiques or the conformation show, but I did see her admirable performance in the ATT temperament test and her demeanor while just walking around. I was later sent a picture of her and her kennel-mate, Gotti, with a kitten-killer coyote he had chased down and dispatched. Sam Nelson owns these two farm dogs, both good examples of breed purity and utility.
The Presa club says, “All Presas used for breeding programs should be temperament tested, and certified to be free of hip dysplasia.” The ATT test is, in my mind, a poor one, or at least poorly envisioned and practiced. I have seen innumerable dogs get a passing grade that you and I would never want to own or trust around people; many are spooky fear-biters. (There were none at the Presa specialty, and it is very unusual in this rather gentle breed.) I have also seen dogs (as Isis did) unjustly fail the test yet demonstrate the confidence and willingness to protect their owners, and the next or preceding moment show the calm nerves and sociability you want when walking in crowds or meeting neutral or friendly “strangers”.
Much better would be something like the German BH (a combination of traffic sureness, safety with people, unconcern with distractions like other dogs, bikes, noises, etc.) or even the more demanding Schutzhund test. Even the “Good Citizen” type evaluation should give the judge/evaluator a good look at character, if he is willing to observe and penalize bad nature. Isis, by the way, was a perfect, gentle lady up to the point of threats such as suspicious rattling noises, weird stranger attacking, and perceived attack by a person opening an umbrella much closer than is supposed to happen in the test. The owner was told she was too aggressive, which points out the fallacies of expecting guard dogs to behave like Beagles, Shelties, and Goldens. The test needs to be reformed or discarded, especially if clubs like the UPPCC require passing it in order to be granted club sanction for breeding!