Before we get into specifics about the Cane Corso, a word about pronunciation: I have heard many people (even breeders) mispronounce the name as “Kane Korso.” It’s actually “Kah-nay Korso.”
Okay, lesson finished! Now we can talk about this remarkable breed.
Something else, though, that should probably be mentioned at the outset is that the Cane Corso is most definitely not a dog for just anyone. This is a large dog that is not for the novice owner. He’s best suited to someone who can offer loving but firm guidance. He can be aloof toward strangers, or even suspicious of them, and is very much a one-family dog. He’s also not going to be happy just hanging around the house all day; he needs a job, and if you don’t give him one, he’s likely to become destructive. So unless you’re operating a farm or a ranch and can use him for herding and other tasks, you should get him involved in activities like tracking, nose work or agility trials. A bored Cane Corso is, simply stated, not going to be a whole lot of fun to be around.
If you’re not scared off at this point, and still think that a Cane Corso might be right for you, keep reading to learn more.
The Cane Corso (often referred to as simply a “Corso”) is a mastiff-type dog that originated in Italy, most likely as a descendant of the Roman war dogs. He somewhat resembles the Neapolitan Mastiff but is lighter and less wrinkly. The Corso was bred to guard property, hunt game, and serve as a sort of general farmhand, rounding up livestock and helping his owner drive the animals to market.
Over the years, as farming became increasingly mechanized, the Cane Corso came dangerously close to extinction. Fortunately, though, in the 1970s some dog fanciers began to reestablish the breed. Then, in the late 1980s, Michael Sottile brought the first Corsos to America. The rest, as they say, is history. In 1993, the International Cane Corso Association was formed, and, in 2010, the AKC recognized the breed. So, although the Cane Corso is actually a very old breed, it is very new to the United States.
The Cane Corso is a substantial dog, very large and very muscular. A male Cane Corso typically stands 25-27.5 inches at the shoulder and weighs anywhere from 90-120 pounds. Females stand 23.5-26 inches at the shoulder and weigh within the same range as the males.
The Cane Corso is often described as being able to “meet any challenge.” This is not always a good thing, though, and it’s why the Cane Corso needs a firm leader. You may recall the case of the Michigan jogger who was killed by two Cane Corsos in 2014. This is an example of prey drive gone horribly wrong, and an owner who should never have had this breed in the first place.
In the right hands, though, the Corso’s confidence and strength can make him a very good family dog. The ideal owner will possess a fair amount of physical strength along with a strong will; Corsos can be extremely dominant, and will often test their owners to see just how much they can get away with. If anyone in your family is afraid of dogs, don’t choose a Corso. The dog will pick up on that fear and attempt to dominate that person.
Of course, that being said, firm leadership does not mean that you should ever “get physical” with a Cane Corso. If you do, even at the puppy stage, what you’re communicating is “might makes right.” The puppy will probably submit to rough handling, but you can bet that once he realizes that he could “take you” in a battle, you could have a very dangerous situation on your hands. So, be quiet, calm, self-assured and consistent. Positive reinforcement is always better than brute force.
Cane Corsos are like any other dog in that early socialization is very important. You should expose your puppy to as many different smells, sights, sounds, people and experiences as possible from the minute you bring him home. You shouldn’t expect your Corso to warm up all that much to strangers, though. Properly socialized, this type of dog will likely be pretty much indifferent to strangers, unless he perceives a threat, in which case, you can probably expect him to become a force to be reckoned with. Early exposure to lots of people will help your dog to learn the difference between neutral and threatening behavior. If he can’t tell the difference, despite early socialization, then you have a dog with a temperament that is not in line with the standards for the breed, so you should not allow him to reproduce.
The Cane Corso is typically healthy. However, as is the case with most large breeds, he could be prone to hip dysplasia. Other conditions that may affect your Cane Corso are gastric torsion (bloat), demodectic mange, and eyelid abnormalities like ectropion and entropion.
Your Corso could very well go through life without developing any of these conditions; they’re just things you should be aware of. Your breeder should be able to provide you with health clearances certifying that the parents of your dog are free of hip dysplasia or eye disorders. It also wouldn’t hurt to ask the breeder if any of their dogs have ever developed mange or bloat.
Caring for Your Cane Corso
Since the Cane Corso is a working breed, he will need lots of physical activity. You should plan on daily walks of at least a mile for an adult Corso. If you like to cycle, you can have him run alongside your bike; just make sure that you get an attachment that will prevent his leash from tangling up in the spokes. Puppies should be walked shorter distances; cycling isn’t an appropriate activity for a puppy. Your Corso’s musculoskeletal structure won’t be fully developed until the age of about a year-and-a-half, so hold off on the shared biking until then.
As previously mentioned, a Cane Corso needs a job. If he can herd livestock, that’s great. If not, get him involved in a sport, take him to obedience class, or teach him some tricks.
If you’ve decided that the Cane Corso is the right dog for you and your family, you absolutely must have a securely fenced-in yard. Don’t waste your time and money on electric fencing; if a Corso wants to get out of the yard, he’ll happily take the jolt as a tradeoff. Additionally, electric fencing isn’t going to protect another animal that might wander into your yard under the fencing. Given the high prey drive of the Cane Corso, this could result in serious harm – probably death – to another animal.
I hope you don’t mind huge dog food expenses, because the typical Cane Corso will need 4-5 cups of quality dog food each day. Given that the Corso is remarkably long-lived for a large breed (10-12 years), this is going to add up!
Of course, every dog is a bit different, so how much you feed your Cane Corso will depend in large part on how active he is. Again, though, keep in mind that a Cane Corso in the prime of his life is going to be very active indeed. He might slow down a bit as he ages, though.
To determine if you’re getting the portions right when it comes to your dog’s food, take a close look at him. Stand behind your dog, and look down. You should be able to identify his waist. Then, with your hands on his back, thumbs on either side of the spine and fingers pointing downward, find his ribs. You should be able to feel them without pressing much, but you shouldn’t be able to see them. If you can’t feel your Corso’s ribs, cut back a bit on the food. If you can see them, increase his food.
The Coat and Grooming
The Cane Corso has a stiff, short coat, and a lighter undercoat. The coat can be gray, black, fawn or red, sometimes with a brindle pattern. You can expect your Corso to shed heavily in the spring and again in the fall.
Many Corsos go through life hardly ever being bathed, but since the need for a bath is always a possibility, it’s a good idea to get your dog used to soap and water when he’s a puppy. Trust me, introducing an adult Corso to a bath is not likely something you want to attempt. So when he’s still small enough to be handled easily, bathe him every week or so. Praise and treats will go a long way toward helping your dog accept a bath.
Brushing your Cane Corso a few times a week will help with loosening hair and dandruff. A soft-bristled brush will get the job done.
You should also get your dog used to having his teeth brushed at an early age. It’s best if you can brush every day, but if this isn’t possible, at least do it two or three times a week. This will help to minimize the need for costly dental care as he gets older.
You should also trim your dog’s nails every so often if he’s not accustomed to walking on surfaces that would wear them down naturally. If you hear “clicking” when he walks on a hard surface, that’s a tip-off that it’s time to get out the clippers. Trim carefully, though, because if you cut into the quick, your dog is not likely to feel disposed to having his nails clipped the next time around. If you’re not sure where to stop, you could always have the first nail trimming done by your vet or a groomer while you watch and learn how it’s done. Keep in mind, too, that dogs can often be stubborn when it comes to having their feet handled, so make it a game when he’s still a puppy; play with his toes, baby talk him and give him treats. This will make nail care a lot easier down the road.
Kids and Other Animals
As I’ve already pointed out, the Cane Corso has a very high prey drive. If you train your dog properly and make sure he is well-socialized, he will likely be good with kids. If raised with other animals, he will probably be good with them, as well. However, I would strongly advise against bringing another animal into a household with an adult Corso, unless it is another Corso of the opposite sex, or unless your Corso is neutered and you are bringing in another of the same sex who is also neutered. Otherwise, your Corso will probably see the other animal as prey, and might kill it.
You’re also going to have to train the kids – and not just your own kids, but any others who might come into your home. One thing that kids have to understand is that this is not a breed that they can “play tag” with. Never allow your Cane Corso, at any age, to chase the kids, and don’t let the kids try to chase the dog.
You should also teach the kids not to make high-pitched sounds. Your own kids might get away with it, but if others do it, the dog could interpret the sounds as aggression, and might think that he has to protect “his own” children.
Kids also need to know that there could be bad outcomes from tail- or ear-pulling, waking up the dog suddenly from a sound sleep, or getting too close to the dog’s food.
Don’t let this scare you off, though. These are actually good guidelines when it comes to any breed of dog, not just the Cane Corso. The main issue here is that because Corsos are so big and so powerful, even a nip can cause serious injuries. Proper training and socialization, on the part of both the dog and the kids, will go a long way toward ensuring that this doesn’t happen.
Of course, as I’ve always pointing out, don’t leave any young child alone with a dog, no matter how good-natured the animal might be, and no matter what the breed.
The Final Word
The Cane Corso is a large dog, highly intelligent, and possessed of a tendency toward extreme loyalty and protectiveness. He needs a confident, consistent owner, regular exercise and a securely fenced-in yard in which to play. With good training and early socialization, the Corso can be a good family pet and a loving