Character of Presa Canario


„Its appearance is extraordinarily powerful. Harsh gaze. Especially gifted for guarding and defending and for steering cattle. Firm temperament. An able fighter, a characteristic given to atavism or throwback. Deep low bark. Noble and tame in the family and untrusting with strangers.”

This text comes from the standard of the breed. But what does it mean in the reality?

To know and understand character of the real Perro de Presa Canario we must go very deep in the past. We have to imagine journey to the Canary Islands many centuries ago.  We have to go back in time to see the culture and the people that made this extraordinary breed and it’s character.

First references to the dogs on Canaries dates back to times of big conquests. And Canary Islands were also concurred at these times. The Portuguese occupation last for many years but they couldn’t defeat proud Guanches people that were living there since many centuries. When the conquest failed Portuguese left these Islands for Spaniards. And these are the times when we hear about big dogs for the first time. Natives called them demons making much devastation. Many thought that these are only some kind of myths correlated witch religion because these dogs were showed as monsters. But we have to remember that in every myth there is always some truth.

Going a little bit further in time and living Canary Islands we find Christopher Columbus and his conquest of New Word. We all know that he was the one that discovered Americas (even if he never knew it thinking he came to Indies). Yes most of us know about this fact. But not many know that this conquest couldn’t be such a big success if Spaniards wouldn’t have help – their war dogs. This is also the reason why they did what Portuguese couldn’t do for many, many years – conquer the Canary Islands. What were these dogs? We don’t know how they looked but we can make some conclusions from descriptions from these times:

“…The Spanish military had recently learned to appreciate the effectiveness of dogs against men with little or no armor. When Spain took the Canary Islands away from Portugal, they were resisted by intelligent, brave and proud natives called Guanches, whom the Portuguese had never been able to subdue. The governor effectively used large war dogs to wreak havoc, resulting in the loss of many native lives. When the military saw how useful the dogs had been in that campaign, they decided to employ dogs in their struggle with the Moors of Granada. The lightly armored Muslim fighters were no mach for the mastiffs of that era, which could weigh 250 pounds and stand nearly three feet at the shoulder. Their massive jaws could crush bones even through leather armor. The greyhounds of that period, meanwhile, could be over one hundred pounds in weight and could stand thirty inches at the shoulder. These lighter dogs could outrun any man, and their slashing attack could easily disembowel a person in a matter of seconds. Several of the men who had served as dog masters at Grenada and helped to disperse the Moors would be among the crew of Columbus’s second voyage…”

 “…He gathered the dogs on the far right flank and waited until the battle had reached a high level of fury. He then released all twenty mastiffs, shouting “Tómalos!” (meaning “take them” or “sic ’em”).  The angry dogs swept down on the native fighters in a raging phalanx, hurling themselves at the Indian naked bodies. They grabbed their opponents by their bellies and throats. As the stunned Indians fell to the ground, the dogs disemboweled them and ripped to pieces. Spinning from one bloody victim to another, the dogs tore through the native ranks. One observer of the battle, Bartolome de las Casas, reported that in less then one hour each dog had torn apart at least one hundred Indians. Recognizing that his readers might find this difficult to believe, de las Casas explained that these animals had originally been trained to hunt for wild game. In comparison, they found that the skin of their naked human opponents was far easier to tear apart than the hides of deer or boars…”

“…While these dogs were considered to be mere weapons and sometimes instruments of torture, some of them became famous as individuals, and their names have been preserved in the histories of the time. There was Amigo, the dog of Nuño Beltran de Guzman, who played a pivotal role in the conquest of Mexico. Bruto, the dog of Hernando De Soto, was a vital factor in the takeover of Florida. In fact, when Bruto died, his death was kept secret because the simple motion of his name was capable of striking terror into the natives and causing them to submit immediately. There was also Becerillo, the dog of Juan Ponce de León, and the dog’s son, Leoncico (the name means “little lion”), who belonged to Vasco Nunez de Balboa. Leoncico would evaluate each situation and respond accordingly. When he was sent to apprehend a native, he would race out and grab the man’s arm in his mouth. If the Indian did not struggle, but came along, he would be lead safely back to Balboa. If the Indian resisted, he would be killed and torn apart immediately. Leoncico was considered to be so valuable that he was awarded the rank of a caporal, including pay and entitlement to share any goods or gold obtained as booty…”

“…Despite the cruelty of the time, there was one incident in with a dog caused the invaders to question the morality of their actions, at least for a short time. This involved Becerrillo, the dog of Juan Ponce de León. He was a large dog (his name means “little bull calf”), who also looked quite fearsome due to his scars from many battles (…)In battle, this dog was devastating. For example, when the natives decided to band together to kill all of the Christians, they sent a chief, Guarionex, to lead a surprise attack against the village where Salzar and his troops were staying. In the middle of the night, the raiders began setting the straw-thatched huts on fire. Becerrillo began to bark frantically, waking the troops. Salzar leaped out of bed with a shout, and naked except for his sword and shield, he rushed into battle with Becerrillo at his side. The clubs and darts of the Indians were no match for Becerrillo’s teeth. Although the battle only raged for about a half hour, at the end even the Spaniards were surprised to find that the casualties included thirty-three natives killed by Becerrillo’s savage fangs. Over the next several months, Salzar and Becerrillo went in pursuit of Guarionex and the other surviving raiders. The Indians came to fear this beast to the extent that they would more readily stand and fight a hundred Christians without him than ten with him (…)Salzar decided to relieve the tedium with a bit brutal entertainment. Calling over an old Indian woman, he gave her a piece of folded paper and told her to carry the message down the road to the governor. She was told that if she did not do this, she would be cast to the dogs. The old woman was frightened, but also hopeful that perhaps this errand might somehow lead to some freedom and respite for her people. She had not gone far toward the road when Salzar laughed and unleashed Becerrillo with the attack command, “Tómala!” (take her). The great dog dashed toward her as expected, and the amused soldiers waited for Becerrillo to tear her to pieces and then gorge himself on her flesh, as he had done with so many other Indians before (…)Who knows what went through the mind of Becerrillo. Those who saw the event claimed that the dog displayed almost human intelligence and compassion. Perhaps it is the fact that the woman had assumed such a humble and non-threatening posture, or perhaps it was the soft tones of her quiet qords that soothed the dog and demonstrated that she was not hostile. He stared at the woman’s face as she gingerly held the sheet of paper with both hands in front of her chest – to show him that what she said was true, or maybe to hide behind it as if it were a shield. Becerrillo sniffed at her, nudging her with nose, and then sniffed at her hands and the paper. This fearless killer then turned away from terrified woman, lifted a leg, and sprayed urine at her. He then walked to the side and watched as she shakily rose to return to the soldiers who had planned to have her killed…”

Looking on this descriptions and few more that we can find we can imagine a powerful and very intelligent animal. And if we consider appearance of this animal we can only imagine how did it looked and every single one of us will have different dog at his mind. But when it comes to character… well, now we can say for sure that this animal had enormous psychic strength and balance. He could act adequately to situation. For sure witch this animal nobody could flirt. This animal knew no fear and was dedicated to his master’s commands ready at any time to stand by his side and fight. And this kind of dogs also helped Spaniard in conquer of Canary Islands.

This quotes show us much cruel but we must remember that this was not nature of dogs to kill people but they were made to be like his. They were trained and learned to be war machines, not men’s best friend. And history of big conquest is one of the bloodiest histories in history of dogs.

Looking further we’re coming back to Canary Islands. Some of this dogs that were used in conquest stayed on Canaries, like some more other dogs that came there witch people. Then these dogs crossed witch other dogs. We don’t know what dogs and what breeds made Presa Canario. We only know that on Islands there lived few kinds of Presa Dogs that are now extinct. These dogs were types, not breeds. They had strict functions to make. And for sure we can say that they crossed between themselves. The most important of original canary Island breeds in creating Presa Canario was Perro de Ganado Majorero witch is still used to reconstruction of original Presa. What is this Majorero? This is a short description of this dog:

Traditionally on the Islands it was used as a cattle dog and also for guarding properties. This is quite active animal (but balanced), and always anxious what is happening around. He is very serious and has only few friends. Because of his character in the past he was used in dog fights.  Quite often he was crossed witch Perros de Presa. He is very loyal to hi master, he likes companion of children witch he defends and accepts their brutal treating. He doesn’t accept brutal treatment and punishment in rising. For strangers he can be dangerous. This dog is absolutely confident of his power. He doesn’t have anything useless.”

Next we have more present dogs – from the beginning of XX century. This is when pechadas began. Pechadas were dog fights witch use of Presa dogs. And to obtain the best fighter, the undefeatable dog Perros de Presa was crossed witch foreign breeds, mostly witch Bullteriers, Great Danes and Bulldogs. And so Presa became dog fighter. Dog fights didn’t last long and after thy were forbidden Presa Canario nearly extinct (it did but it was recreated from dogs that lest) 

And this is the short history of dogs that plaid role in creating this fabulous breed.

And now the culture of Canary people comes to the scenes. In the past Canary people were mostly working in the field. They needed dog to help them in this work. The dog that they needed had to be intelligent and had to know how to help witch the cattle and how to guard. This dog had to be fearless. It also needed to know how to fight because many used their Perros de Presa in “pechadas”. If their dog wouldn’t be good it wouldn’t have chance to live. It was also used as hunting dog. He had to hunt wild goats and… wild dogs. Wild dogs became a big problem on Canaries and in many historical documents from the past we can read about this. Probably this function – killing wild dogs that made damage in the cattle – made easy way for dog fights to came to the Islands. At the same time we have to remember that this kind of dog fights wasn’t the same that were made in Great Britain for example. Old-timers describe them like this “You had a dog, I had a dog and we wanted to know witch one was better. So we put them into the fight. It wasn’t made for money.”

So now having historical background we can imagine more. And we can understand some parts of behavior of this dog. His intelligence, his interest in cattle, his desire to fight – especially dogs of his own sex.

In FCI Presa Canario (or rather Dogo Canario) isn’t considered as “working dog”. But for sure it is a working breed. This dog is very balanced and calm. He always watches his environment carefully to see what is happening around. He is laying mostly witch his head between his legs. If he thinks that something is wrong he is immediately on his legs ready to attack. We can be sure that being witch a Presa when somebody attacks you makes you safe because this dog will defend instinctively. For this reason more and more people start to search for a Presa as a great guardian and defender. Presa is also used in dog sports (from obedience to french ring, PSA and others going for the biggest awards and titles. Words most known working Presa Canario is Volcan coming from Atlas Asio line – witch IPO III title).

Presa Canario is not for everybody. If you consider this dog as a companion you must know that you will have to work witch him. Otherwise it can become a problem. Training these dogs gives much satisfaction because as an intelligent animal it learns very fast. Presa doesn’t like punishments and this is not the way to work this dog. The fastest way to learn this dog is to learn by playing. If you will try you won’t have to wait long for results.

In the everyday life Presa is a loving pet to its family. He is always ready to please and protect the ones that it loves. He is not enforcing attention of his master like some breeds do. He is calm and knows when the time for play comes. Witch children Presas are very affectionate and delicate. When we watch this dogs playing witch “their” children for many times we can observe that this serious dogs change and become very good companions for their little masters. At the same time we must remember that Presa is rather large breed and we can not let this dogs alone witch children (we shouldn’t let alone witch children any dog to be honest). It has power and strength, only waving his tail it can overturn a kid. I don’t want to scare people here but as responsible owners we have to predict some situations and make contacts dogs and children’s contacts happy and friendly.

We also must remember that some species aren’t products of proper selection and don’t have good character. Some can be unbalanced, some scared, some aggressive. Some dogs lost instinct to protect and to guard. And looking for a Presa we are looking especially for its character, not for appearance. This is why we should look for dogs that are functional. Please don’t buy this dog if it will only have to be show dog. It can be much more. Specific appearance should go witch specific character and temperament. And yes, there are still people that care for Presa and that are trying to preserve original character and temperament, only remember that there are still many that don’t care about this and care only for good sell of their puppies.


Ewa Ziemska

“Rey Gladiador”

Presa Canario is a vigorious dog full of temperament…


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