If there is one thing we know about mastiffs, it is that they are exceptionally large and very powerful dogs. And while most modern mastiffs have been bred to be as gentle as any other toy breed lap dog, don’t count the Fila Brasileiro or the Brazilian Mastiff. We’re not saying that it isn’t docile and obedient because it is. However, this dog is also very headstrong, intelligent, active, and powerful. There’s no questioning its bravery, determination, and courage. As such, only a person who has the exceptional qualities of a true leader has the bragging rights to the Brazilian Molosser. Let’s find out why.
History of the Fila Brasileiro
Before we get to the history of the Fila Brasileiro, let’s try to decipher its name. No, this dog didn’t get its name from that famous Italian brand of sportswear we all know, but rather from the Portuguese verb ‘filar’ which translated to ‘grab’ or ‘hold’ or ‘arrest’. This alone will give you an idea of the principal function of this dog – to grab its prey, usually by the neck, until its human hunting partners arrive to deliver the death blow. When you see the words ‘cao de fila’ this usually means ‘catch dog’. In layman’s terms, the dog will bite and will never let go of its grip. Scary, huh?
The true origins of the Fila Brasileiro are muddled at best. Many folks believe that the dog is the result of crossbreeding an Old English Bulldog with a Bloodhound and an English Mastiff sometime in the 15th century.
However, a more credible story is related to the unification of Portuguese and Spanish interests in the late 16th and mid-17th century when the Spanish Crown and the Kingdom of Portugal were dynastically united. This also meant that the overseas possessions (read colonies) of these two powerful sea-going empires were also united.
Since Brazil was already colonized by Portugal as early as April 1500, Portuguese settlers in Brazil brought with them some of the most likely ancestors of the modern-day Fila Brasileiro. These included the Cao de Castro Laboreiro (Portuguese Cattle Dog), the Rafaerior do Alentejo (Portuguese Mastiff), the Cao de Gado Transmontano (Giant Portuguese Molosser), the Cao Fila de Sao Miguel (Catch Dog of San Miguel), and the Spanish Mastiff, among others. It is also believed that the Iberian Alaunt was included in the breeding of the Fila Brasileiro.
The dog was bred for the purpose of guarding plantations and livestock farms against attacks by wild animals such as jaguars. It was also used for tracking and baying wild large game. Its impetuous temperament, aggressiveness, and superior tracking ability made it the pride of Portuguese hunters in Brazil. As a baying animal, the dog will go for the wild game’s neck and latch onto it like a vise. It will never let go of its grip until human hunters arrive to finish the hunt.
When slavery was still legal in Brazil, the dog was also used by slave-owners to track escaped slaves. These dogs were formidable, leading many to believe that they must have a scenthound in their genes. Once the Brazilian Mastiff catches a fugitive, it latches onto the person’s leg and returns him to his slave owner. Surprisingly, the fugitive returns with only a scratch on its leg, but definitely still in one piece.
It is because of this nature that the Fila Brasileiro is banned or is subjected to strict laws in many countries including Denmark, Spain, Italy, the UK, Norway, Turkey, the Bermuda Islands, Portugal, Singapore, Malta, New Zealand, Australia, and the US. It is recognized by the Federation Cynologique Internationale as a Mastiff/Molossian type of dog while the United Kennel Club classifies it as a Guardian dog. The Canadian Kennel Club lists it under Miscellaneous while the New Zealand Kennel Club classified it as a Utility dog. The American Kennel Club, as well as the Kennel Club of the UK, don’t accept the Fila Brasileiro for registration.
There is some controversy with the Brazilian Mastiff’s breed standards. The Brazilian Confederation of Cynophilia (CBKC) puts forth the standards as espoused by the FCI. However, there is another breed club not affiliated with FCI that says the CBKC standards are way different from the characteristics of the original Fila Brasileiro. The Fila Brasileiro’s Enhancement Club or CAFIB developed breed standards based on the dog’s ancient phenotype. Unfortunately, it is the FCI’s standards that are often ascribed to by breeders around the world.
- The Fila Brasileiro is also known as the Cao de Fila, Brazilian Molosser, or the Brazilian Mastiff.
- Males stand between 25.5 inches and 29.5 inches and can weigh between 110 and 181 pounds.
- Females are generally smaller at 23.5 to 27.5 inches and 90 to 160 pounds.
- It has a lifespan of 9 to 11 years.
- This is a muscular breed with rather loose skin.
- The Fila Brasileiro is massive, complete with large bones, but its agility is never questionable.
- It has a big and heavy head, matched with the dog’s deep muzzle.
- It has a relatively short, but dense smooth and soft coat.
- The coat can be solid, patched, brindle, or even dappled.
- The color of the Fila Brasileiro’s coat can be black, fawn, or brindled. White markings on the dog’s chest, feet, and the tip of the tail are permitted as long as these markings do not occupy more than a quarter of the surface area.
- Solid white, mouse-gray, blue, and black-and-tan colors are not allowed in show rings, although these colors can be seen in working dogs.
Things You Should Know
Because of its massive size and fearsome reputation, the Cao de Fila is never for the faint of heart nor is it for the dog owner who doesn’t know how to effectively manage the dog’s innate needs. To give you an idea of how challenging it can be to become a pet parent of this large dog, read the following.
Make no mistake; the Fila Brasileiro is an intelligent breed. While it is not as smart as the German Shepherd or as aggressive as the Doberman Pinscher, the Cao de Fila is a formidable dog that requires the patience and firmness of a true pack leader. It is a very determined breed, and rightfully so. If it has to protect its owners or the livestock of its owners, then it must be able to go after and fight wild animals. It is brave, courageous, active, powerful, and very headstrong. It responds only to someone who can show consistency and firmness in training without having to resort to cruelty or the use of force.
Like most hunting dogs, the Fila can have a really stubborn streak. Sadly, this can be worsened by its single-minded determination. It is unyielding, obstinate, and very strong-willed. It won’t hesitate imposing its will on its owner. That is why only an equally-strong-willed individual can be rightfully called its owner.
Training is best accomplished while the Fila is still a puppy. From housebreaking to potty training to basic obedience training, the Cao de Fila puppy is way easier to train. However, patience and perseverance are still a must. Punishing or showing cruelty to your puppy is also no way to go. What needs to be taught to puppies is that things in life are never free; they have to work for it. And if they work, you should be prepared to reward them for a good job. And if they fail to perform a good ‘job’ you cannot punish them, otherwise, they will make life a lot more miserable for you.
This giant dog requires premium quality raw dog food. This is the best diet that you can give the Fila Brasileiro since such diets come complete with all the right proteins and amino acids that this be-muscled behemoth needs. Providing whole-prey raw foods is important – flesh, bone, and all – since this dog will also need the calcium and phosphorus from the bony ingredients and chondroitin from cartilage.
If you cannot give such a diet, then you should be prepared to give the Brazilian Molosser only the best dog food you can possibly find. Skip those that put plant proteins or even grains like corn, wheat, or soy as their first ingredient. You should know better than dogs were never designed by nature to feast on plants; although they occasionally do, but only if prey animals are scarce. Fruits and vegetables are okay since these contain antioxidants and other substances that work to improve or enhance the different functions of your dog’s body. High-quality animal proteins and healthy fats are a must for this dog.
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A 150-lb Brazilian Mastiff requires about 2,600 to 2,800 calories of premium-quality dog food every single day. To minimize gastric torsion or bloat, it is best to divide this into 3 to 4 equal feedings. Know that this amount is based only on a 150-lb neutered Brazilian Molosser with an average level of activity. The higher the activity level, the more calories the dog needs.
The Cao de Fila may look like a lazy dog, but it’s not. This giant loves patrolling your property in pretty much the same way it did when its ancestors were guarding their owner’s property and livestock. A mighty hunter by heart, the Cao de Fila doesn’t like being idle at home, even though you may see them lying around. They are not like other Molosser types of dogs that wouldn’t mind lounging all day. This four-legged hunter needs something to do.
Twice daily walks of up to 60 minutes per session is all this dog needs to stay healthy, calm, and well-behaved. If you happen to own a fenced property with ample backyard space, just let the Cao de Fila loose and it will be a merry hound. However, you should always give it the attention it needs, although it doesn’t really crave for it. What it does need is the mental stimulation of well-designed human-dog interactive activities. You don’t want this dog to grow bored.
Brazilians have a popular proverb likening someone who is loyal only to his family as being ‘faithful as a Fila’. True to its ancestors, the Fila Brasileiro is one very loyal and faithful breed. This is one of the most loyal breeds you can ever find. It will protect you and defend you no matter what the cost. It may not be advisable for families with very small children owing to its size, but it is a great family dog.
Unfortunately, its extreme loyalty to its people is countered by its extreme aversion to others. The Portuguese have a name for such a temperament – ‘ojeriza’. It means distrust or dislike. These dogs detest outsiders who touch them and will never hesitate to show their disgust. They may show that they are quiet, calm, and very docile. But once their overly-protective nature is triggered, nothing can stand in their way. They can instantly lunge at a stranger with lightning-quick speed. Their massive size belies their athleticism. This is a Greyhound in terms of speed and a Border Collie in terms of agility. Add its Mastiff heft and you’ve got a nimble and speedy four-legged bulldozer going after strangers.
Even family friends and relatives can fall prey to this behemoth. For instance, if they see these ‘other’ persons pick up your child, the Fila might interpret it as a threat and attack this ‘other’ person. To the mind of the Fila Brasileiro, nobody touches its family. That is why these dogs should always be walked on a leash and warn people not to pet it or touch it as it can get really ugly. The mailman or any other frequent visitor to your house is also at risk for the Fila’s extremely territorial and protective nature.
Puppy socialization is the key. If you do not want to have a dog that will be a threat to other people, then you should never get a grownup Fila. As much as possible, get a puppy and have it socialized at once. This puppy should be introduced to other pets and other people as early as possible so that it will learn that ‘other’ people who come into your home are not enemies, but friends.
While the Fila Brasileiro has a short yet dense coat, don’t ever think that it doesn’t shed. It doesn’t blow like the German Shepherd but it can still pose a major concern among those with allergies. If you’re still intent on getting this dog, be forewarned that weekly brushing is needed to maintain the health of its coat as this can help distribute natural oils and circulate blood more efficiently. Bathing is optional; wiping its coat with the moist cloth is often enough.
This dog drools a lot. So be prepared about wiping drool stains on your carpet and other surfaces. It is also ideal to wipe its mouth every now and then so that its drool will not stain its coat. Daily dental and oral care is recommended; although twice a week is fine. Clipping the nails every month and cleaning the ears every week should be observed.
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Hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, and gastric torsion are very common in the Cao de Fila. Bloat is always a major issue as it can lead to life-threatening gastric dilatation volvulus. Joint dysplasia is made worse by the dog’s weight, bearing down on the joints. Managing its weight while strengthening the dog’s joints is crucial.
The Cao de Fila is not for everyone; that’s an understatement. It’s reserved for…
- Dog owners with many years of experience handling Molosser and Mastiff types of dogs
- Individuals who can show respect for the size, power, and explosive temperament of the dog
- Individuals who can dedicate at least an hour of daily exercises plus at least an hour of mental exercises for this dog
- Folks who can show perseverance, consistency, and firmness in training without punishing or being cruel to the dog
- Those without any other pets in the house
The Brazilian Molosser is not for…
- Individuals who are new to pet parenting or dog ownership
- Apartment dwellers
- Those with kids or other household pets
- Bona fide couch potatoes
The Brazilian Army once conducted a study comparing the temperament of the Fila Brasileiro with that of the German Shepherd and the Doberman Pinscher. These 3 dogs were put into the most hostile conditions ever in the jungles of the Amazon. Over the course of 5 years, the Army discovered that the GSD tops when it comes to intelligence while the Doberman is well-known for its aggressive tendencies. The Fila, on the other hand, was superior in terms of sensibility, energy, strength, rusticity, resistance, and energy. It just highlights the Fila’s remarkable, albeit explosive temperament.
It is naturally protective of its family. Its dedication and loyalty to them is unquestionable. It is obedient, but only to its family. Anything and anyone outside its family is considered a threat. This is even with the soundest socialization programs. It may have Hulk’s size, but even the Hulk can display remarkable agility and speed to go with its impetuous, explosive temperament. That’s the Fila Brasileiro.
The Cao de Fila isn’t your ordinary dog. It’s a giant guard dog that will love and protect only you and no one else. It needs a strong and decisive leader. If you’re not this person, better get another dog.
- All About the Fila Brasileiro (a.k.a. the Brazilian Mastiff), Dogster
- Fila Brasileiro, Dog Breed Info
- Fila Brasileiro, VetStreet