The Presa Canario’s black coat has become nothing short of a scandal among the (official ) club’s directors. Some years before this association even came about, I published an article proposing that the Presa Canario’s black coat could have come from crossbreeding with the black Great Dane. Back then I was unaware that there were majorero cattle dogs with black coats. The truth is that in the beginning of the 60’s hardly anybody had done any research at all regarding the origins of these dogs. Today we know something more about them. For instance, presas of centuries past have nothing to do with those of the 1920´s through the 1950´s, and these latter have little -if anything- to do with present-day presas. Furthermore, we must never make the mistake of relating or confusing the aboriginal Canarians’ dogs with those that the conquistadors and francospanish colonizers brought with them from the Iberian peninsula.
The aboriginal dogs have been gone from these islands for a very long time. Cattle dogs (which were once common on all of the islands and whose only variety now in existence is the majorero), presa (or “seizing”) dogs, water dogs, mastiffs, partridge dogs, beagles, hounds, and dogos, all of which are referred to here and there in historic documents, these dogs were all of Spanish origen. Of these original breeds, (or “seeds” if you will) the only one that still exists today is the Perro de Ganado Majorero (the majorero cattle dog), which is a variety or subspecies derived from the old cattle dogs (again, Spanish in origen) and the Podenco Canario (Canarian hound). Now, given all this and taking into account that the object of this article is the black coat on Presas Canarios, let’s take a look at the first reference which is made to this color on a Canarian dog, or in the hands of a Canarian owner.
The conquest of the Canary Islands was completed in 1497. Throughout the extensive period which entailed the conquest, the aboriginal Canarian population was decimated, their society was completely debunked. Their lands were divided up among Europeans and a small aboriginal minority that collaborated with the conquerors. After the discovery of the Americas, part of the Canarian conquistadors moved on to the new world, taking with them some aboriginal Canarians to help in the new conquest abroad. And “on the Spanish island Juan Canario and his black dog were famous” (quote from Historia General de las Islas Canarias by Joseph de Viera y Clavijo). It is needless to say that it is very probable that this dog earned a salary, like many others did, such as Becerrillo and Leoncillo used by Diego de Salazar’s army. Was this dog of Juan Canario a Presa Canario? We cannot say for sure, but it is highly likely since presa (or “seizing”) dogs were the ones that the Spanish took with them on their conquest expeditions to the Americas (according to all the documentation that I could possibly gather on the topic—which, may I say, is quite a bit). And like many others of its kind, this black-coated dog left the Canaries with Juan Canario for the New World. I would like to make it clear here that the island presa canario dogs (of Spanish origen) were bred quite extensively in order to be taken to the conquest of the Americas. It is also possible that a portion of those dogs were cattle dogs, given their reknowned fierceness and bravery.
If Juan Canario’s dog was black, it is easy to deduce that the number of black presa dogs that were bred in the Canaries was significant. There are still black cattle dogs in the Canaries to this very day. Unfortunately for the Perro de Ganado Majorero, official recognition has only been given to one coat: bardina (brindle). (A grave mistake which will doubtlessly need to be corrected.)
In the present-day we find loads of references to black presa dogs, and we are going to list here just some of the more famous specimens.
– El Negro (black, as its name indicates), which fought with Muchacho in Gran Canaria in 1928;
– El Negrito owned by Salvador Hernández Rodriguez in Gran Canaria in the 1950’s;
– Nauce, also black, owned by Luis Barrera (Gran Canaria, 1950’s);
– Asesino, owned by Demetrio Trujillo Rodriguez (Gran Canaria, 1950’s);
– An excellent photograph has been preserved of Juan Falcón Lorenzo with his black presa in the town of Bañaderos (Gran Canaria) in 1957;
– There is another photograph taken in Bocabarranco de Gáldar (in Gran Canaria) of the black presa named Moro, owned by Panchito Saavedra in the 1950’s;
– From the 1960’s we have an extraordinary photo given to us several years ago by José Rivero from Las Mercedes (in Tenerife), where he is seen with some friends and his impressive black presa;
– Del Tinto is the name of another black presa that was born in Vecindario (Gran Canaria) in the 1970’s and owned by Demetrio Trujillo Rodriguez, of which I myself took several photographs, as I did also of Moreno, the black brother of Del Tinto’s same litter, owned by Pepito alias “El Cojo” in Las Palmas (Gran Canaria); there are several others which I shan’t bother listing here.
After an ardent fight, on April 28, 1989, in the First Registry of the Breed which was held in the Las Palmas Fairgrounds (on the island of Gran Canaria), the black Presa Canario dog was accepted by the Spanish Central Royal Canine Society and several black presas received Initial Registries.
ORIGINS OF THE BLACK COAT
As to the origins of Juan Canario’s black (presa?) dog, I am tempted to say that perhaps the black coat was just as common as the bardina (brindle) coat or the sandy coat were in those days. It probably went back pretty far, too, both in presa dogs and in cattle dogs.
The black coat of the presas that were around from the beginning of the century til the 1960’s could have inherited it from the Canarian cattle dogs, the black Spanish Mastiff, the Great Dane, etc. By the 1920’s with no more of the old Presas Canarios around anymore (about whose morphology we know practically nothing), the Canarians started crossing different types of dogs in order to obtain specimens which would serve them well in pechadas (the particular Canarian word for dog fights). These specimens, which were the outcome of several types of crossbreeding, were given the same name as the previous dogs (“presas”)—though they actually had nothing to do with that old Presa Canario.
And just as I defend (without the trace of a doubt) the thesis that the Presa Canario of centuries past has completely disappeared from the map, I am also more and more likely to believe that in present-day majorero cattle dogs with high levels of racial purity there still exists something of the old Presa Canario. There are phenotypical traces, morphological similarities and behavioral patterns which confirm this.
Actually, it isn’t a strange supposition at all, given the mixing that was going on for one reason or another between both breeds during the four long centuries that these two breeds coexisted in the Canaries. We won’t enter into a discussion here on the possible occasional influence of some dogs of other origins. Such an influence could have existed between the beginning of the conquest and the end of the 1800’s. But such influence would be small and, hence, if it even did exist, it is clear that little or no modification was made on the racial characteristics of the island dogs, whose caste was regenerated with periodical imports from the Iberian peninsula.
THE BLACK COAT IN THE PRESENT-DAY PRESAS
The black coat on a “modern” Presa Canario has been picked up from the Perro de Ganado Majorero, the Great Dane, the Neapolitan Mastiff and the American Pit Bull Terrier, more or less. Purists that are against the black coat of the Presa Canario say that this color is the result of crosses of Presas Canarios with black Great Danes (basing their story, I think, on an article of mine which makes reference to this idea).
Sure, some black Presas Canarios are descendents of one or another branch of Great Danes, just as some sandy, tawny or striped specimens are descendents of one or another branch of Bullmastiff, Mastiff, Neapolitan Mastiff, etc.
Now we are at the point where everybody knows that Presas Canarios are the result of crossbreeding severalbreeds, some of which were presas, and others not, in the very recent past (in the past 25 years), with the exception of some rare specimens that by one branch or another of their heritage go back yet further. And I think that at this point insisting on not accepting the black coat on a presa canario because “it comes from a Great Dane” is just pure hastiness. For if we apply that same rule to other colors, we would also have to reject a sandy-colored coat, which was transmitted by reiterated crossings with the Bullmastiff, and on and on. None of the colors accepted in the official standard of the Presa Canario are defendable on the grounds of antiquity or racial purity.
For these reasons, it seems to me that we need to focus our attention on defending the standard of the Presa Canario, without giving in an inch on its integrity. And under no circumstances should we allow the official standard of the Spanish Central Royal Canine Society to be modified—especially the section which talks of all the acceptable coat colors, among which BLACK is included.
Published in Canidapresa Nº 8 March- April, 1999.
Manuel Curtó Gracia
-Irema Curtó Kennels-