The Presa Canario hails from the Canary Islands, a volcanic archipelago of seven islands and several islets that lies off the coast of Africa. For thousands of years, the islands were inhabited by a people known as the Guanche, whose origins are shrouded in mystery. Various historical documents show that the Guanche civilization may have trained their dogs for hunting and for war.
History tells us that the Canary Islands derive their name from the writings of Pliny the Elder. According to Pliny in his Natural History, King Juba II of Mauritania sent an expedition to the then mythical Fortunate Islands in 60 AD that returned with a pair of dogs for king. The expedition found throughout one island in particular, a breed of large and ferocious dogs and named the island "Canaria" derived from the Latin word for dog "canis." Interestingly, the island known today as Gran Canaria was inhabited by a tribe who called themselves the "canarii." Eventually, all of the islands came to be known as the Canary Islands, the Isles of the Dogs.
For the next millennium, the islands remained relatively untouched by the outside world. In 1402 Jean de Bethencourt set sail to the Canary Islands, returning in 1404 to begin the conquest in earnest. Some islands fell quickly to the invaders- Gran Canaria, Tenerife and La Palma fiercely resisted for nearly a century until they were finally conquered in 1495. One Canarian legend relays how the Guanche warriors sent their fierce war dogs down to the beachheads where it is claimed these dogs massacred the marauding invaders. Eventually, the Guanche could not withstand the superior weaponry of the Conquerors and the Guanche people and language were vanquished.
CREATION OF THE PRESA
The role the mythical dogs of the Canary Islands played in the development of the Presa Canario is largely unknown. However, the role of one indigenous breed in the composition of the Presa Canario is clear. The Perro de Bardino Majorero, a prehistoric herding dog believed to have originated in Fuerteventura that was well dispersed throughout the archipelago. According to the history of the breed, the "Majorero" (formerly believed to be extinct) provides the "verdino" (greenish-tinted) brindling, rustic coat, expression, courage, remarkable set of teeth, and disposition for "bullfighting" with cattle.
It is also believed that a number of Spanish and breeds may have contributed to the development of the Presa Canario. The Perro de Ganado Majorero was an Iberian cattle dog who it is believed is almost certainly a component in the breed. Also important were the various types of Presa Español and Alano Español (the alano actually refers to Spanish bulldogs and not the modern breed) that were also used in the conquest of the Americas. (What is particularly interesting here is the origin of the Alano. In 1556 Philip II of Spain introduced great numbers of the "English Alaunt"- the old bulldogs of England)*. The mestizo or mixed breed created by the combination of the Spanish breeds was used widely by butchers and farmers as holding dogs, catchdogs, and guardians for cattle and livestock. Historical documents list the Bardino Majorero as a co-existing separate breed until the 18th century.
During the 18th century, English traders and merchants came to the Canary Islands as temporary and permanent residents, bringing with them their working and gladiator dogs, notably the Mastiff of England and the Bulldog. Equally importantly, the English brought with them their traditions of pit fighting for which their breeds and the island dogs were inevitably mixed and eventually bred to produce the ultimate fighter.
Perro de Presa Canario literally means the Canarian Dog of Prey. The word presa can also be translated to mean catch or hold and also means the dog's actual grip. Presa Canario can even be loosely translated to mean Canarian Bulldog. At the time, the dog was bred solely for function and not for type. For these working dogs, both as combatants and livestock catch dogs and guardians, physical power and stamina combined with heart, drive, and gameness to produce low-slung, muscular dogs with large heads and strong jaws. No phenotype existed, but the traditional coat patterns would eventually emerge as fawn, brindle, and black, many with white markings.
In the 1940's dog fighting was banned and the Perro de Presa Canario decreased greatly in numbers. It was relegated to farms and hillsides primarily as a guardian for domestic livestock which was clearly far less widespread than it was during the late middle ages.
RECONSTRUCTION- THE CREATION OF A MODERN BREED
Reconstruction of the breed began in the early 1970's by various aficionados who sought to preserve the heritage of the Presa Canario. Throughout the next decade, breeders began searching for what they believed were the most traditional examples in temperament, courage, guard instinct, and aspect. Several breeds were used in the reconstruction by several breeders for various objectives. These breeds may have included the Bullterrier, the American Pit bull Terrier, the Great Dane, the Neapolitan Mastiff, the Fila Brasileiro, the American Bulldog, the English Bulldog, the Bullmastiff, the Spanish Mastiff, the Doberman, the Dogue de Bordeaux, the Spanish Alano and the Perro de Ganado Majorero. Clearly, the gene pool for the modern Presa Canario is quite extensive and can still produce atypical specimens of this nascent breed.
In 1982 a group of breeders formed the CEPRC (Club Español del Presa Canario) in Tenerife which was recognized the following year by the RSCE (Real Sociedad de España) in Spain to further their breeding ideals. This group of breeders continued breeding and developing the Presa Canario breed through today. Several dogs were exported abroad during the 1980's, including the United States. In 2001, the Presa Canario name and standard were amended to gain admittance to the FCI (Fédérattion Cynologique Internationale). Black was excluded as a traditional coat color and the Presa Canario distanced itself from its working and fighting heritage by changing the breed name to "Dogo Canario" or Canarian Dog. Canario Club Of Canada was established in retalliation to all kennel Clubs that have failed to acknowledge or recognise this tremendous breed Presa Canario and its beautiful and bold colour black.
According to some of the most respected Presa Canario breeders and judges, the Presa Canario breed in Spain has undergone an enormous evolution since the early days of the reconstruction and is truly a modern breed.
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM YOUR PRESA CANARIO
The Presa Canario breed is known for its great loyalty to its human family, natural distrust of strangers, severe gaze, and nobility in temperament. The Presa is never known to stray and is a superior guardian.