The expression of the Presa Canario

Every breed of dog is identified and is differentiated from other canine varieties thanks to a number of genotypical and phenotypical characteristics. Between these differentiating aspects there is one that is especially evident, and that is of total and absolute importance for a breed: the head.

Without undervaluing the importance of  good structure,  good bone,  adequate muscular development,  typical movement, a firm and equilibrated temperament, and a good harmony between his proportions, from a breed point of view it is clear that the head defines, at first sight, the rest of the animal.

This appreciation may seem partial, but it is not, as the more as we observe every  specimen of more consolidated breeds and then  look to our present day Presas, the more the lack of homogeneity between them is clear. Even if originally the task of this canine variety was to fight against their kind, today we must recognize that the utility of the Presa Canario is very different and that the actual canine bloodlines underline a high grade of definition and selection aimed to either gain a seat in the world of dog shows or obtain the qualification of “breed”.

Because of  this, and considering that we are dealing with a relatively young canine grouping, at least in his modern evolution, it is clear that we have to define in a definitive way the correct head of our Presas, and the adequate expression, as breed characteristics. This concept, abstract in a certain way and very badly defined by the specialists (even in the breed standard ), is confusing to the enthusiasts and on many occasions it is used with a certain irresponsibility in order to justify doubtable show results, which reveals not only a very rude lacking of knowledge about the breed, but of this particular sign of identity itself.

The preoccupation of the late breeders has been directed to reproduce some morphological characteristics that, even if  important, are not more so than the expression and the suitable temperament of our Presas, whose importance has been irresponsibility relegated to a second plane, and that, in reality must be developed together.


It is certain that everyday we can find specimens of better structure and presence, with a good general aspect and, in certain cases, with a correct temperament. But it is also true that the expression of theses same dogs is every day more and more distant from the one which originally was. The incorporation of molosser breeds and of the bull type of Terriers, to the scarce population of the Presas Canarios that still lived on the islands in the decade of the seventies, has produced, logically, the loss of some characteristics that once were very well defined. To this we should add the evident lack of knowledge of breeders as to what the old Presas really were and actually should be. This is more evident with the decline of the traditional dog fights and, with them, the historical background of the Presas of the past. Another key aspect is the fast popularity gained by this breed. His evident appeal captured many enthusiasts, not only coming from the islands but also internationally and the serious demand which was generated caused a dramatic increase of the number of undesirable crossings with different breeds which had little to do with the original type during the boom of the Eighties. All these aspects put together have caused day after day and in major or minor measure the progressive loss of these typical characteristics to which I am making reference and  in the canine world are known as “expression”.

Not that the old “perreros”(men with lots of experience with dogs) of once upon a time made efforts to preserve this breed singularity ;on the contrary, they used to search for dogs who were just effective as far as fight was concerned.But at that age the canine population of the Presas in the Canaries was more genetically enclosed and so it had much more uniformity thanks to the strong isolation that defined and uniformed it without efforts.

But once this reality is known it is just useful to consider the needed actions in order to correct that situation before it would be too late and become even more difficult to obtain breeding stock with typical and transmissible traits for future litters. It would then be necessary to define as it must be the typical appearance of the head of the Presa Canario and which aspects we should consider as priorities as far as breeding  one specimen with another.


The breed standard of the Presa Canario elaborated upon  and agreed to in 1989 by the associations of Gran Canaria and Tenerife and some independent breeders was taken as a recognized model for the breeding and the recuperation of the actual Presa Canario, counting with the blessing of the Real Sociedad Central para el Fomento de las Razas Canina en Espana (Central Royal Society for the Promotion of the Canine Breeds in Spain) and, as its validity and utility is every day more and more evident, we make reference to it as the compulsory step in the next occasions and will be useful in order to determine this confused aspect of the morphology of the Presa Canario.

In it the head is defined as of cuboid tendency, this means of squared aspect, to this contributes his wide skull, with an essentially flat forehead and a great development of temporal and mastoid muscles. The importance of the choking muscles has a lot to do with the volume and size of the head, giving a solid and compact impression. Seeing the dog in profile and if we would draw a line from the superior part of the forehead and another one on the upper part of the muzzle, we would see two parallel lines. So, cranium and muzzle must be parallel and not diverging, even if it could be admitted a slightly convergence between these two lines, but never the inverse tendency which would show the profile of a Bullterrier. The importance of the powerful jawbones with a wide implantation in the cranium gives the idea of the basic functionality of the breed: the subjection of the prey with its jaws. The correct proportion between the length of the cranium and the muzzle must be of 3 to 2 (3 referred to the length of the cranium and 2 referred to the length of the muzzle – or of 60% to 40% if preferred. The distance measured from the occipital bone to the end of the nose should be about 25 cm. ( 9.8 inches) and the cranium perimeter in the males should be about 60 cm. (23.6 inches). Lowering this proportion in one way or another would alter the image or typical appearance of the breed. It must be taken into account that the muzzle should not look like an abrupt narrowing of the cranium dimensions, while it gets gradually narrowing towards the nose, with a wide implantation basis and reducing itself going towards the end of the muzzle.

Another important aspect of the conformation of the head of a Presa is the Stop, or depression which is showed from the cranium to the muzzle. The Stop of the Presa Canario is very soft, almost inexistent considering that from the forehead to the muzzle scarcely there is drop, or at least this is desirable. This particularity makes him, in my opinion, different from the majority of the molossers, as they all show strong frontal-nasal depressions, as the Bulldog, the Boxer, the Bullmastiff, the Dogue de Bordeaux, the Mastiff, the Neapolitan Mastiff, etc. Moreover the Presa Canario is characterized for showing a marked furrow between the frontal sinuses, which goes longitudinally splitting in two parts the head, from more or less the middle of the cranium to the end of the Stop and it gives to his expression a serious and frowning aspect. The zigomatic archs are also very developed, as is the suborbital region which is pronounced and provides the head of the dog with strong profiles.

The ears should have a high implantation into the cranium, they give the impression of  alertness and elegance when the dog is in action. They should be medium sized, even if it is preferable when they are smaller, hanging with one or two folds (in a rose shape). The crop of the ears is traditional as it was used in the past era of the fighting. However it should be added that an adequate importance should be given to the animal which show complete ears, as it will be possible to appreciate them in their natural way, without intentional alterations. The start of the ears must be high and coincides with the horizontal imaginary line at the height of the eye, towards the centre of the cranium. An incorrect insertion blurs the rustic and elegant aspect which is produced by their raising in attention.
Even if it shows loose skin on the neck, throat and some parts of the face, it should not be present on the forehead, with the exception of two areas. These are in the superior part of the cranium, just between the basis of the ears (and only when he is in attention) and in the superior part of orbits, where there are two little folds that gives a harsh aspect to the gaze. The abundance of wrinkles in the superior part of the cranium gives the clear impression of crosses with middle European molossers and it alters the correct expressivity of the head.

The eyes are of absolute transcendence for the intonation of the head, as they provide the major part of what we intend as breed expression. The eyes must be dark – the more the better – big, round-like or nut-shaped and well separated. The eyelids should be enough adherent to the eye and should not show the conjunctive, nor be slanted or hanging. One should avoid the specimens with light, slanted, of different colours, very close eyes, or with a lost, timid or strongly wary gaze, which are totally atypical traits in this breed. His gaze is serious, penetrating and harsh, at the same time noble, genuine and self-confident. This is one of the most appreciated characteristics of the typicality of the breed, as it gives a human appearance thanks to his peculiar way of observation.

The upper lips are of medium thickness and slightly hanging covering the inferior ones, but they should not be too  long or hanging. An excess would cause  undesired self bites, besides it would be a disadvantage in the fight as it would offer to the opponent a clear target, and for this reason in the past they were bred with very little dewlap. The lips should hang only a little at the height of the corner of the mouth, where for the need of accessory respiration, the Presa Canario shows an opening which lets him breath with the mouth while he keeps the jaws locked and a firm catch. The inferior lip should be adherent enough to the jawbone, except in the cited corner of the mouth, where it is more detached and his mucosa should be dark. Moreover, it should clearly show the teeth, when he keeps the mouth opened, the contrary is an obvious proof of crosses with other breeds which shows more dewlap, like Bullmastiff, Neapolitan Mastiff, Mastiff, Bulldog, etc.

The nose is wide and with well opened orifices that let him breath well when in action, it is flat in his upper part and forming a slight snub point on the front end. Always must be black. The mask or pigmentation of the face must also be black and cover at least the major part of the muzzle, it is not enough when it arrives till the frontal part of the lips, it is essential that it covers widely the more part of the face possible.

The mouth is a vital aspect, considering that it is the tool with which he carries out the catching task. We said that the jawbones and also the implantation of the teeth are wide, offering a great basis for the subjection, with very developed and strong canines, a complete dentition and a correct occlusion. The typical bite of the Presa Canario, or the way in which the two jaws mesh, is the one known as level bite, this means the lower part of the upper incisives coincides with the upper part of the lower ones, even if other types of bite are allowed, as the scissors bite, when the lower incisives stay behind the upper ones, and the inverted scissors bite, which is the opposite case. It means that the lower incisives stick out from the upper ones. Anyhow these two types of bite are permitted when the separation between both rows of incisives is very reduced, in the opposite case it would produce an excessive prognathism (in the first case) or enognathism (in the second one). It is not even necessary to say that an incorrect bite is appreciable at first sight as the two jaws do not mesh together correctly and therefore the external look of the head is heavily influenced in one way or another  by the jawbone prominence.

The sum up of all these aspect gives shape to the typical breed expression of the Presa Canario. A head that is lacking one of those points will move the specimen far away from the ideal type, while the junction of the same aspects will grant to the dog an impressive, harsh, firm look, and noble when needed, which reveals a good Presa Canario having good harmony between his craniofacial proportions. To obtain animals with these traits it is not easy, all the more since the genetic material which rules on the archipelago. Anyhow, it is an objective to reach, considering that for the breed the “cover letter” is in great part the look of the head, which is the aspect that gives the dog at first sight and that set the differences with the rest of molosser breeds. The breeders who are concerned with the recuperation of this type of dog, who will be responsible of the future of this Canarian dog breed, should take good note of this.

Written by Clemente Reyes Santana 

Ewa Ziemska

Ewa Ziemska

Breeder and researcher of Presa Canario. Lived in Poland, London UK and presently stays in Kentucky, USA and traveled through whole Europe and 22 States discovering the breed. Speaks Polish, English and Spanish. Master of Science of Management and Computer Modeling and Engineer of Production Engineering of Kielce University of Technology. Avid traveler, photographer and dog book collector. Instagram @reygladiador