Origin of the Presa Canario
A few years following the conclusion of the conquest of the Canary Archipelago, reference is made in the Documents of the Municipal Council of Tenerife to their agreement of February 5, 1526, that in view of the damages produced by dogs to livestock, both small and large, the extermination of the same is ordered, with the exception of the pair which is accepted for the service of the butchers, and it entrusted to Don Pedro de Lugo, who posses two such holding dogs trained to kill. It is probable that these holding dogs were brought to the islands by Spanish conquerors and colonists. Through the XVI and XVII centuries, there are numerous references to the holding dogs Canary Islands as well as other canine breeds, and it is rich in historical documentation following the conquest, particularly in the noted Documents of the Municipal Council of Tenerife, but at no time does it describe the physical characteristics of this dog, but it does explain the function for which they developed. The mission of the holding dog were essentially to guard and to fight with cattle. Mention is made frequently to their service to butchers to subdue the cattle or tied up if for guard. Their function therefore determines a robust morphology, characteristic of a molosoid holding dog, but with agility and drive. The Canary Islands, given it’s strategic geographical location in the Atlantic Ocean had always formed a hospitable resort enroute to the Americas. In the islands arrived the various Hispanic breeds which populated the new continent. Essentially of hunting, scenting and holding dogs which were provided from Spain. Particularly, the Spanish holding dog, the Presa Espańol , in it’s varieties of large mastiff or bulldogs or Alano, used in the conquest of the Americas, contributed to the current blood of the perro de presa existent in the Canaries. As time passed and in the isolation of the islands, this dog began to develop into an completely differentiated breed and due to influences of these other Spanish dogs, it’s characteristics were modified to some extent.
Along the XVII century, the presence of English colonists became more frequent in the Archipelago, normally traders that resided either temporarily or permanently in the Canaries. The British character with their traditions to the fighting of dogs also arrived to the islands. For the fights they used their typical gladiator breeds. Bulldog type or bull & terrier, which they brought from their country. It was inevitable that the cross breeding of their dogs with the perro de presa existent in the Archipelago would occur. This English fancy of fight dogs, which would identify fully with the character of the islands , with combative disposition, repeats itself in the Balearic Archipelago with their Ca de Bou or Perro de Presa Mallorquin and in Japan with their national dog of fight the Tosa Inu Therefore in the different populations of the islands, certain morphological modification took place. Not only was the perro de presa thought of as a breed developed for work as a guardian or cattle driver, but rather developed with the excellent disposition for fighting.
Independently of this situation, we have to consider the existence in the Canaries of the Bardino or Majorero, origination from the island of Fuerteventura and very spread throughout the whole Archipelago. This dog was devoted especially to the management of goat herds and an excellent guardian. Added to this, a great physical resistance, moderation of size, scarce bark, an extraordinary set of teeth and an incorruptible courage. The Bardino Majorero was introduced, for their excellent abilities and to improve upon the crossings that started the type of holding dog that was arising as a consequence of the English influence. The crossing of those holding dogs and the Bardino Majorero, gives today’s Presa Canario it’s unique characteristics which set it apart from the other molosoid breeds. Its current genetic makeup is influenced in great part by the Bardino Majorero including it’s typical expression, bardino (brindle) coat, commonly referred to as “Verdino” (greenish tonality), it’s rustic hair and their good disposition for the fight.
As the century advanced, so did the dog fighting fancy. They fought openly and established sites in which thy would join together and select the best examples to improve the fighting abilities, not for their breed characteristics. This situation determines that the selection of the Presa Canario was from a very functional point of view. This was developing a related group of dogs, which was of very old development. They magnified abilities, but never tried to establish a phenotype which gives their true identity.
Once the prohibition of dog fighting was decreed in Spain, the number of Presa Canario began to decline. The introduction of foreign breeds to the canary islands increased this situation. At that time new guardian breeds were introduced to the islands and interest in this native breed was at an all time low. The Presa Canario reached a phase of near extinction in the 1960’s.
It was almost extinct in 1970 when began its recovery. Their resurgence is slow but uninterrupted. The interest in the Presa Canario as part of the indigenous heritage of the Canario Islands is now generalized.
Recovery of the Presa Canario-historical facts
The presence of the Presa Canario is growing more in the islands beginning from 1970. This dog was in prior decades relegated in scarce numbers to farmers and cattle men. It began to adapt to urban guarding which allowed a entrance to quick diffusion. In 1982, a group of breeders from Tenerife, responsible for most of the existent population of Presa Canario at that time, joined together to further the recovery of the breed which had began in the prior decade. In their work they were respectful of the traditions of the breed, and began a program of selection ruled by a model that was formalized through historical photos, oral history of old time breeders and the population of the most representative examples of the time. The founded the Club Espańol del Presa Canario for such a purpose, properly authorized by the Real Sociedad Central de fomento de las Razas Caninas de Espańa, to begin the incessant work of diffusion of the breed, through any possible way especially dog shows. Regional dog shows were held throughout the Canary Islands and Spain for the purpose of studying and cataloging the physical characteristics and temperament of the Presa Canario as it appeared in different regions of the country. Though those acts, the commission of Spanish breeds had enough documentation for the composition of a breed standard which fixes the physical characteristics of the Presa Canario. This long work culminated with the approval of the Official Standard of the Presa Canario on January 24, 1986. Starting from the official recognition of the breed, the club began to work to further the diffusion and consolidation of the breed and to establish a genetic fixation, which was full of difficulties given the island origination of the breed and it’s two most important populations Tenerife and Gran Canaria. Since 1993 registrations of the breed have extended within the Canary Archipelago to Lanzarote and Fuerteventura. Each year the club holds a National Specialty show, in which they gather the best of the existent population in the country and analyze them in all aspects morphology, temperament, movement and breed expression to continue the selection and improvement of the breed.
Miguel Angel Gonzalez
Judge and Breeder
- Old photos of Presa Canarios - 14 February 2020
- The Character of the Presa Canario – by Paloma Iglesias Sanz - 29 January 2020
- History and Theories Surrounding the Origin of the Presa Canario - 29 January 2020