EARLIEST NOTION OF DOGS IN THE CANARY ISLANDS
“Plinio and Estacio Seboso thus named the islands (Canaria), making derive their name from the large dogs they found there at the time of Juba’s famous expedition of which two were to the King of Mauritania”. This etymology, which was originally accepted by all later authors who commented on this famous voyage, has been refuted. Undoubtedly, in the Canaries there were no dogs of any extraordinary corpulence. When describing the island, Bethencourt’s chaplains and historians expressly state, “There are pigs, goats, sheep and wild dogs, similar to wolves but smaller”. (Historia General de las Islas Canarias, de Agustín Millares Torres, t. I, libro IV, I.ª ediction, 1975, pág. 176) In Book II, page 134 of the same work we read, “The true similarity between the names given to the islands by Juba’s men and the names they are known by today has been widely disputed. Though curious, this dissertation does not portray that great historic importance which some of our writers have since wished to give to it. Undoubtedly, the two main islands were named “Canaria” and “Nivaria”, a fact which allows for no speculations as to the exactitude of Plinio’s narration. It is certain, however, that information collected by Juba and transmitted to us by Estacio Seboso and Plinio is incomplete and incorrectly corroborated or connected, either due to inaccurate copyists or ignorance on the part of commentators”. And on page 135, where the author mentions old historians or geographers, we read, “We have seen that Juba, philosopher and naturalist in the universal sense of the word at that time, was the first to obtain the most exact information about the archipelago. And it is evident that since his famous expedition the islands took on the name of “Canarias”, either because of the dogs “ingentis magnitudinis” of which Plinio spoke or for different reasons, the later which others believe is a more sound hypothesis”. “Considering this and other logical observations, other new etymologies have appeared which we will now briefly mention”. Plinio assures us that on the western slopes of the Atlas Mountains some villages existed known as the Canaries and perhaps for this reason Ptolemy named Cape Bojador (Morocco) “Caunaria Extrema”. But did these names come from that name which had first been given to the island “Canaria,” or did it occur the other way around and was it those villages and the African headland which gave the name to the island? Whatever the case, this curious similarity of their names should not be forgotten. Others suppose that the Latin birch, euphorbia canariense, which Juba knew of, wrote about and named after his doctor Euforbio, was what gave Gran Canaria its denomination, derived from the Latin “canna.” Thomas Nichols agreed with this hypothesis in 1525 and added, “I have heard the primitive inhabitants say that it was named “Canaria” because of a certain variety of cane which grew abundantly in the countryside, from which a dangerous, poisonous, milky substance was extracted”. (book IV, t. I., Pág. 176, of the same author). And on page 177 he adds, “The island of Canaria was named “Tamarán” or “Tamerán” by its primitive inhabitants, which appears to mean in their language, “country of braves”.
THE DOGS OF THE CANARY ISLANDS’ ABORIGINAL INHABITANTS
Juba II lived from the middle of 1BC to 23 or 24 AD and the first conquerors reached Lanzarote in July of 1402. That mean that 1379 years passed from the time of Juba’s death to the arrival of Juan de Bethencourt and Gadifer de La Salle with their troops (mostly spaniards) on the coast of the Canary Islands. In all this time, what has happened in the Canarian archipelago? Has its fauna altered? Have new contributions been made by the navigators mallorquin, geoneses, viking, etc? Juan de Bethencourt’s chaplains stated that the dogs were, “wild, similar to wolves, only smaller”. Friar Alonso de Espinosa in his book Historia de Nuestra Señora de Candelaria, page 114, referred to the dogs which ate the aboriginal Guanches’ bodies after the Spanish slaughter of Acentejo (in the north of Tenerife). He wrote, “These were small yapping dogs called ‘canchas’ which the Guanches bred”. Well, were these dogs of the same breed on both islands? Did they have the same origins? Or on which island did they arrive first and when? For to take for granted that dogs existed on the islands from the times of Juba II is a bit risky, to say the least. But what does remain indisputable is their size; they were small dogs.
To the inhabitants of Canaria and La Palma, “the devil often appeared by night and day as large, hairy dogs and as other figures which they named ‘Tibisenas’ and ‘Irnene’, (Fray Juan de Abreu Galindo). On this occasion we are told of an imaginary demon god in La Palma, where it seems there were no real dogs, I mean of meat and bone, before the conquest. Nor were there any in Lanzarote, Fuerteventura, La Gomera or El Hierro. Luis Diego Cuscoy says in his book Los Guanches, page 108, “In Tenerife although we do not know of the evidence of the dog related to myth, it is an animal which is present in the worship of the deceased. There is no chronicler or other ancient source which refers to the role played by the dog in Guanche funeral rites. Archaeological excavations have revealed the presence of dogs alongside the deceased, probably their owners. That would represent the animal’s part in guiding the spirit of the dead to the land of the deceased. It is possible, almost certain in fact, that the animal would be sacrificed at the time of its master’s death. We have verified the finding of a dog beside its master in various sepulchral caves in Tenerife. But it was at the Llano de Maja necropolis where, beside the shepherd’s body (together with a complete collection of funeral offerings: bead necklaces, burins, pieces of obsidian, ceramics, teak firebrands) that a skull was found corresponding to the mummified remains of a small-sized dog which had short, dark, cream-colored fur. . . It formed part of the natives’ source of alimentation, but on a small scale”. This is all we know about the Canary Island dogs prior to the conquest. Therefore, anything else which is not supported by new archaeological findings is meaningless, purely speculative and pure invention.
PRESA DOGS OF ANCIENT TIMES
Since this article is about the Presa Canario dog, we will concentrate on this and ignore the other canine breeds mentioned over and over in the the Agreements and decrees of the Cabildo of Betancuria (Fuerteventura) and of Tenerife. The “perro de ganado” (or cattle dog) from Fuerteventura and the podenco Canario have been disclosed in depth in articles published earlier in this magazine. On September 3, 1515, it was recorded that “it was agreed that since the ordinances regarding dogs are rather severe (being understood that in previous years, right after the conquest of the island), nobody could have a dog unless it was kept indoors or within the confines of one’s property and tied up all day and pig herders could have one dog in each hut as long as it was not a dog of Presa…” (San Cristobal de La Laguna, Tenerife). In another agreement dated 1516 it was authorized that “butchers, whose job it was to chop and weigh meat, could each have two dogs at their service, tying them up by night and day and only letting them loose to seize or immobilize the cattle.” It is inferred that these two dogs were Presa dogs, since they were the type of dog always used for this job. And so the ordinance goes on to say, “Furthermore, because there are two dogs on this island who kill wild dogs (it is understood here, ‘untamed dogs’) and because they were kept for this purpose, these two were allowed to stay. For example, in Adexe and Abona (in the south of the island) where Pedro de Lugo was alderman, the dogs were trained and kept as long as they did not come into the village.” These two dogs were probably Presa dogs too, fast on their legs in order to give chase and strong enough to kill the wild ones. The 5 of January of 1526 in the Cabildo of Santa Cruz de Tenerife is agreed that “to excuse the great damages that the great dogs of presa do in the big and smaller cattles, than always there have been many complaints and it cannot have better remedy to kill them all, and for it, be choose a person who kills all and take the people that will be necessary, except the gentlemen with bovine cattle have dogs, because they cannot govern nor subjugate their cattles without them, provided they are not harmful and they have them tied in their houses and in the town and when there are necessity for this cattle that takes them responsible person so that they do not do damage, and this is not understood against the dogs of Pedro de Lugo that are taught to kill the wild dogs and those of the butchers, according to what is ordered. And also some gentlemen of gañanías can with license of the Cabildo have dogs in their houses, provided they have them tied; that if damage will do they pay it. That to all they kill them if they will not be gozques (small dogs) of one span”. And the 10 of December of 1526, within the house the Advanced “Was speak on the decrees that arrange that there be not dogs, that those be fulfill. Because it is damage that the breeders of cattle have dogs. It is ordered that the cattle man do not have dog of presa nor of another kind, but for taking and subjugating the cattle are four great dogs of presa, that are in hands of four of the gentlemen, each one his dog, tied, under control; and when there are to use them to take some cattle, takes it under control and in the one of the dogs that Pedro de Lugo, already late, had, in Abona, to kill them, that succeed the licensed Valcárcel, stay according to the decree to kill the wild dogs and the dogs of Juan Alonso and of Francisco de Berlanga, guanches, whom also wild dogs kill, provided they have them under control and tied them, and in all the others the decrees are valid. And that all those that they have small and great dogs males and females come to register them within ten days in front the justice of this city and its regions and the other parts of all the island, after it is announced ten days”. In an Agreement of date 25 of August of 1617 (Villa de Betancuria – Fuerteventura) we read: “They agreed that all neighbor who will have dog of presa loose and without chain, it can kill any person without being punished”. In another one with date 19 of February of 1618 (Villa de Betancuria – Fuerteventura), we read: “They sent that those that will have presa dogs not bring them loose, but they have them under control, in such a way that they do not damage the cattles. Their owners will not give them to slaves, young soldiers nor boys so that they take them to grasped “- to pursue to the goat cattle that walked loose by the field semi wild- In the Agreement of Betancuria (Fuerteventura) dated October 21, 1624, we read, “Dogs cause a great deal of damage to goats and sheep, whereby it is agreed that within eight days all but one dog per household will be killed, one dog being left for guarding the home. And this means hunting and Presa dogs.” On August 16, 1630, it is agreed (Betancuria) that “in order to have a Presa dog one must make it known to the local authorities.” And in January of 1645 a document written by the General Representative, Sebastian de Betancor (Betancuria) requested that the dogs on the island be killed because of the great damage they cause. It is agreed on Sunday 22 in a public announcement that “all neighbors, inhabitants and residents kill all their dogs, except one, which they are allowed to keep to guard their homes, but if it is a Presa dog or a cattle dog it must be tied up.” Adrian El Luchador, a Canary Island wrestler, born in Fuerteventura, commented to me on one of my visits there to study the indigenous Perro de Ganado (recognized in 1996 by the Spanish Royal Central Canine Society as the Perro Majorero) that with the help of a number of friends, he was very successful in using a strong Perro de Ganado Majorero of his own to give hunt to various wild dogs who fed themselves basically off goat and sheep in an area known as Pozo Negro, an open area where volcanic lava predominated. According to Adrian, that dog was a pure breed, and it behaved as its ancestors had. But such dogs are no more, or are very few, and in any case, he did not know where any could be found. After several years of study and going over the matter again and again, I have reached the following conclusion. Presa dogs and Perros Majoreros on that island, as on the other islands, coexisted and bred amongst themselves throughout various centuries, from the beginning of the fifteenth century to the end of the nineteenth century. And sometime afterwards, we do not even know the approximate date (I personally think maybe at the end of the last century, beginning of this one), the Presa disappears, only traces of it remaining, no doubt in decline, basically due to negligence on the part of the herdsmen. Crossbreeding did the rest. The Perro de Ganado Majorero in Fuerteventura, or its sort, disappeared from the other islands just like the Presa did. I wish to say that if the old Presa Canario of Iberian stock disappeared as a breed, it has continued in the purest of the Perro de Ganado Majoreros to the present day. It is true that very few of these dogs are of significant pure breed, but they do exist. In fact, right now we are trying to recuperate the breed with part of this genetic material.
Much speculation has been made about the origin of the Presa dogs mentioned in the official documents which we have cited above. Some wrote and spoke about their descendence from the aboriginal dogs which the conquistadors found on the islands. Nobody thought there was any connection between the Canary Island dogs (Presa dogs, Perros Majoreros, perdigueros, podencos, etc.) and the Spanish ones, which were undoubtedly brought to the islands already in the first dates of the conquest. The great animosity that the “nationalists” of the times (1970’s) felt towards the Spanish conquistadors and colonizers lead them to not only ignore but also to silence such a possible reality. What is certain is that immediately after the conquest of the throne of Castilla, a wide variety of fauna was introduced into the Canaries. Spanish dogs, in all their diversity, were an important part of this fauna. These dogs (in the hands of their owners) established themselves day by day on the islands conquered by their owners, and continued with the same functions they had on the continent. As we have seen, Presa dogs were used by butchers to immobilize the cattle at slaughter time and they were also used to guard homes and properties. Nobody knows whether they were used to hunt the wild animals (goats, sheep and pigs already extinguish) of the aborigines. Nothing is known of those dogs’ phenotype, nor of how they evolved in their crossbreeding, or how they adapted to the surroundings, climate, etc. Nor do we know anything about their size or their color. This is the truth of the matter. In the past two decades, much has been said and written about the influence of English dogs in the Presas Canarios. I was the first to put forth that idea (1982). Later, having more knowledge about the history of the Canaries, I defended the Spanish origin of the various breeds introduced into the Canaries from the very beginning and through conquest and colonization. Anyway, the dog continued along this path until the end of the nineteenth century, with no more genetic influence than that derived from the periodic imports from the Spanish Peninsula. José de Viera y Clavijo (1731-1813) wrote in his Historia Natural de las Islas Canarias (page 348), “In 1764 there was an outbreak of rabies brought on by dogs from Spain and it affected some dogs in Tenerife but no new outbreak has been reported since.” In a separate paragraph he wrote, “The most common dogs in our Canary Islands are mastiffs, sheepdogs, podencos, perdigueros, pachones, dogos, waterdogs, bloodhounds, etc.” In other words, as I say in my work the Perro de Ganado Majorero published in this same magazine, typically Spanish dogs. Limiting ourselves to the period from the beginning of the 1400’s until the 1800’s the relations between Spain and England were continuously hostile, due to religious motives and expansionist policies. For these reasons the Canaries were constant victims of acts of English piracy. Although commercial relations from the 1700’s on were very important, the number of English residents in the islands was insignificant. Throughout the XVI, the canarian society was perfectly consolidated, and already was basically Iberian and Spanish-speaking. And the dogs, the bovine cattle, the pigs, goats, sheep, part of the equines, etc., of the time are of Spanish origin. When referring to English dogs in 1982 I affirmed nothing in particular. And as I have already mentioned, I was totally ignorant of a great part of the history of the Canaries and knew nothing at all about the historical documents of the town councils in Tenerife or Fuerteventura. Soon others have followed year after good year giving by good the aforesaid (hypothetical) origin exposed by me, ignoring deliberately my later works which was much better documented. Considering all that has been stated above, I believe it pertinent to state that the English bulldog, the bullmastiff, the mastiff, the bullterrier, etc., as breeds, do not go back much further than the end of the last century. This means they have been created since then by crossbreeding dogs brought in from mainland Spain. Setters, cockers, pointers, etc., have no other origin. Clearly, anybody could counter with the fact of the famous pugnaces britanii which were taken to Rome from England in the times of Caesar and put to fight Epiro’s molosus. True. But do those English dogs of more than 2000 years ago really bear any relation to the English mastiffs, bulldogs, bullterriers, bullmastiffs of our day and age? That is the question. Given the knowledge we now have about the origin of these breeds, I am inclined to believe that there is no relationship whatsoever between the present day dogs and those of 2000 years ago. So, as we have been saying, this hypothesis which assumes the influence of English “presa” dogs on the old Presa Canario dogs does not seem valid. The possibility exists, sure. Though we don’t have any details or references on English dogs to support such an approach, it is possible that some British dogs (note: British, not English) were brought in by their owners who lived in the Canaries. Moreover, it is quite likely that Stafford-type dogs were brought over. This is the oldest English presa-type dog, but we hardly know anything about its roots either. If this were so, in what way could those dogs have influenced the Canarian presas, the waterdogs, the perros de ganado, the podencos, the pachones, the perdigueros, etc.? In fact a question comes to me which has not been posed before. The English could have taken the presa dogs from the Canaries back to Britain, the same as they took other dogs from the Spanish Peninsula (I shall leave out the remaining Canary canine breeds as they have nothing to do with my objective here). And who knows how many times these presas went on to increase the canine population of that nation, and what influence they had on their presa-type dogs.
THE PRESA CANARIO IN THE XX CENTURY
Viera y Clavijo wrote, “the most common dogs on our islands are mastiffs, shepherds, podencos, perdigueros, pachones, dogos, water dogs, hounds, etc.” How many of these canine breeds existed in the Canaries at the beginning of the XX in Canarias? Today, at the end of the century, we still know practically nothing about this. We don’t know exactly when, but water dogs, beagles, mastiffs, hounds and perdigueros became extinct here. On the other hand, there are many podencos to be found on our islands nowadays. And surely this is partly–and only partly–due to crossbreeding basically with Ibizan podencos which were brought generation after generation to refresh the castes of “indigenous” podencos which actually were derived from those podencos of the eighteenth century. With reference to sheepdogs, it is reasonable to deduce that from them descend the Perro de Ganado Majorero (Fuerteventura Island), the so-called perro de ganado (“cattle dog”) which is cited in the official ordinances and agreements of the Cabildo of Tenerife and Fuerteventura. On the rest of the islands the Perro de Ganado disappears as well. And with respect to the dogos that Viera mentions, well, this could be a reference to the presas that are repeatedly named in those same official documents I just mentioned. But in the first three decades of this century, if not sooner, the few remaining specimens of this breed disappeared as well. So? The aficionado who is concerned with retaining the indigenous fauna of the Canaries could rightly be rather upset and worried that it seems to be happening before everybody’s eyes and nobody has done or is doing anything about it. That’s right. As we shall see, that is precisely the case. In the early 1970’s there was absolute ignorance of the concept of the modern breed. But generally one spoke of presa dogs (in the Canaries), perros de la tierra (in Gran Canaria), perros de ganado (in Fuerteventura), perros bastos (in the north of Tenerife), bordones (a derivative of bulldog), bardinos (berdinos, degenerated from bardino, in the north of Tenerife), verdugos (in Fuerteventura) and the word “lagarteado” was used to refer to any dog of bardina (brindle) coat, and occasionally the word “mastiff” took the floor, that someone related (in the 1980’s and early 1990’s in the north of Tenerife) with the dogs of presa. The truth is that when one went around asking about these dogs and the racial differences that might exist amongst them, the aficionado of the times would respond in a less than convincing manner. Dogs of presa were or could be those specimens that in earlier days were used for pechadas (fights). The perro de la tierra was similar to the Perro de Ganado Majorero and was similarly used for conduct the cattle or for guarding (in Gran Canaria). The perro basto (coarse dog) (north of Tenerife) referred to all dogs of a certain size (compared to the smaller hunting dogs, principally podencos) that were good for guarding. Bordón referred to all those presa crossbreeds in which the English bulldog blood was predominant. And depending on the island and on the canine knowledge of whom you spoke to, bardino could refer to all specimens from Fuerteventura with a bardino (brindle) coat, or all presa dogs, whatever their descendence be (in Tenerife it was spelled berdino). And verdugo, (Fuerteventura), was a dog with a bardino (brindle) coat or similar. In Extremadura, among cattlemen, this term still remains, and in some hispano-american countries, as well–which means that it has its original roots in Spain.
In the late 1980’s, given the poor results up till then of my research on Canarian presa and cattle dogs, I had the idea of coming up with a questionnaire of 16 questions for three old dog fighters from Gran Canaria. These men were Francisco Saavedra Bolaños, Salvador Hernández Rodriguez, and Demetrio Trujillo Rodriguez.
The first question was: Do you recall the first dog fight that you ever attended in your life?
Francisco Saavedra Bolaños replied:
“Yes, I do. It was a fight with “El Muchacho,” a dog with a bardino (brindle) coat, against a black dog named “Negro”. I was fourteen years old. The black dog was a real dog.”
The second question: In what year was this?
The third question: What were those dogs like?
“They weren’t old Presa Canario dogs.”
The tenth question: Do you remember the last typical Presa Canario dog? Please describe it for me.
“The Presa of the land was big, large-lipped, with a lot of head and chest. Its lips were so large that it was said they had to be cut in order to be able to fight. I was four or five years old when I saw two. They said that they were real Presas “de la tierra” (literally “of the land”). They were male and female; they were brother and sister. Their owners were Marcos Mendoza and Antonio Enríquez.”
Salvador Hernández Rodriguez replied to the first question;
“Yes, in the Casino de Armas. The fight was between “El Asesino” and “El Tigre”, two crosses of English bulldog. The owners were Ramón el de Bañaderos and Juan Barriguilla, and the referee was Juan Martín.”
To the second question he answered:
“I must have been about 26 years old. I’m sixty-seven now. So that was in 1949.”
To the third he answered: “‘El Tigre” was very wide and had an enormous head. ‘El Asesino’ weighed 45 kilos (99 pounds) and he was the best dog I’ve ever seen in my life.”
To the tenth question he replied:
“Yes. It was ‘El Molone’, the son of a bitch owned by the Count of Vega Grande. It was dark brindle. It must have weighed 45 kilos (99 pounds). With that dog I won three cups in exhibitions organized by the Cabildo (island council). There were exhibitions of goats, dogs and cows. That dog had a lot of head and a lot of chest.”
Demetrio Trujillo Rodriguez answered thus to the first question:
“I was eight years old.”
To the second: ” In 1936.”
To the third: “They were short, wide and big-headed dogs.”
To the tenth: “I don’t recall the Presa Canario dog. At those times all dogs were crossbreeds.”
From oral tradition we know that sure enough the Presas Canarios were rather short, wide and big-headed dogs. Francisco Saavedra says they were large-lipped. One very important piece of information is the weight–45 kilos (99 pounds). This means that it was a large dog, but not excessively so. Most likely it was just large for the times. But is it certain that those dogs were Presas descending from the Presas of centuries ago? Since we can’t answer that question for lack of information, it must be left in the air. Probably it will never be answered.
To the eighth question (What crosses with foreign breeds were done in those years?) all three men replied the same: “With bulldogs, bullterriers and Great Danes.”
Now, since when were these three breeds (two English and one German) crossed to obtain Presa dogs for fighting? And another really important question: When did dog fighting begin in the Canaries?
It is very probable that Great Danes arrived in the Canaries once the Second World War was over (not before) at the hand of fugitive German nazis who came to the islands in search of refuge. There is nothing, no historical references or oral traditions, which could lead us to believe that in past centuries there were dog fights in the Canaries. So one may think that this practice which did enjoy certain popularity among the lowest classes in the 1920’s until its prohibition in the 1940’s in Gran Canaria and Tenerife (in the rest of the islands, hardly at all) was indeed imported from England.
Of course, nothing can actually be ascertained, since nothing is known about it. But we do know that in the Canaries there were never any organized dog fights and dog fights were much less frequent than it may seem. “There were no dog fighters in those years,” Francisco Saavedra told us on our interview. “There were people that had a dog and would put it to fight with the dog of another man.and, money was not bet. We just went to see which dog was better. That was all.” And to the question, “What did the dog fighters live off of?” he said, “From their labor in the fields.” “From the fields,” answered Salvador Hernández. “We were people of very little money, poor people. Important people almost never got involved in these things. They had other pastimes.” And Demetrio Trujillo said, “We were field workers.” In those years ram fights were also held. Like these, the dog fights just arose naturally amongst the indigenous countryside population. They didn’t necessarily have to be imported. Canarian dog fights had nothing to do with the English dog fights.
Once the indigenous Presas Canarios of spanish origin had practically disappeared, and given the increase of the popularity of dog fights (or pechadas as they were called in the Canaries), the dog fighters resort to the English bulldog, the bullterrier and the Great Dane the Perro de Ganado Majorero, the Spanish Mastiff, and they cross them in order to obtain adequate products for their dog fights. In reality, the Perro de Ganado Majorero of the times was the base of many of those crosses due to its rusticity, its endurance and bravery. And this is why many specimens had dark brindle coats. It is clear that in those times not all the perros majoreros were brindles. There were black ones, sandy ones, ones with white patches, etc. There were also ones crossed with perros de la tierra (literally, “dogs of the land” of Gran Canaria), which “were similar to the Perro de Ganado Majorero, but maybe a little larger,” Salvador Saavedra Bolaños tells us in the interview. We know very little of the different coats that the old Presas Canarios had. It seems that the brindle coat was the most common. We do know something about the coats of those Presas that were crossbred in the 1920’s and we know even more about those crossed from the 1930’s onwards. The Perros Majoreros and the perros de la tierra transmitted a very high percentage of the brindle coats, then the black coats and the sandy coat sometimes with white patches. The white coat could have come from the bullterriers and the bulldogs, the fawn and black colors, from the Great Danes. In those years and up to the 1960’s, the majority of brindle, black, sandy and fawn dogs were acollarados (had white areas around their necks), calzados (on their feet), corbatos (on their chests), and berrendos (on their lower bellies). White dogs with spots were also frequent. In the early 1970’s there hardly remained any Presas produced from this crossbreeding in Tenerife and Gran Canaria. In the remaining islands they have completely disappeared. Like the Presa dogs, support for them is also a thing of the past. Some elderly men, old fighters, remember out loud longingly to anyone who will listen to them of their Presas’ heroic deeds. I my book The Presa Canario Dog: It’s True Origin the most important moments are mentioned as well as some of the most talked about Presas.
THE MODERN PRESAS CANARIOS
After the 1970’s, support increased for the Presa Canario dog and as a consequence dog fights came back as well. Some of the old fighters participated with their dogs (which, as we have said before, had nothing to do with the old Presas). To obtain Presa dogs, the enthusiast would crossbreed different foreign breeds such as the English bulldog, the bull terrier, the English mastiff, the Neapolitan Mastiff (Mastino Napolitano), the Staffordshire bull terrier, the American Pit Bull Terrier, the Dobermann, the Bullmastiff, the Great Dane, the Dogue de Bordeaux, the Fila Brasileiro, the Spanish Mastiff, the American Bulldog, and the Rhodesian Ridgeback. In Gran Canaria the Perro de Ganado Majorero was frequently used, though not so in Tenerife. The breeds used most often in Gran Canaria were (since the beginning and in order of importance): the Neapolitan mastiff, the Great Dane, the English Mastiff, and the Perro de Ganado Majorero. After the 1980’s the American Staffordshire Terrier and the American Pit Bull Terrier were also used. In Tenerife the most used were the bulldog, the bullmastiff, the Great Dane and sometimes the Dogo de Burdeaux and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. In the 1990’s the American Staffordshire Terrier have occasionally been used. The Rhodesian Ridgebacks and the Fila Brasileiro haven’t been used very much and only in Gran Canaria, as far as we know. The consequence of this crossbreeding is the morpho-phenotypical diversity of the modern Presa Canario. And so it isn’t easy at all to raise and select for a prototype as described in the standard. In order to attain the approximate phenotype that we have set as a goal (not the ideal, of course, which is impossible to attain in any breed), there must be some genetic constant in a good part of the existing Presa population with which to work from. And this is impossible given the circumstances I’ve described above. So someone who attend to a Monograph or a Specialty, although little he or she may know about canine matters, quickly realizes the lack of homogeneity that there is among the dogs. The solution to this serious problem (which has been the case in many of the breeds we know of today that are perfectly established, genetically speaking) will slowly be solved over time as long as only the most robust, similar, healthy (in the broadest sense of the word), functional, etc. specimens are used. To use those Presas with character flaws, psychic imbalance, poor structure, undershot bite, missing premolars, dysplastic, atypical, is a terrible mistake which is committed all too often.
Published in Magazine “Todo perros”
Nº 40 y 41 – Febrary – March, 1998.
Manuel Curtó Gracia
With the kind permision of Irema Curtó Kennels