“War Dog”: Is the Mighty Cane Corso Right for You?

portrait silver Italian cane Corso in the Park on the green lawn. Strength, power, muscle, dog

Weighing over 100 pounds and standing over two feet tall at the shoulder, the Cane Corso is a large Italian dog breed that happens to be the direct descendant of the fearsome ancient Greek Molassus dog.

Although they are fearless fighters, the Cane Corso pup is also known to be fiercely loyal to their owners and make excellent companions. Combined with their unique communication style and high intelligence, the Cane Corso is a dog breed that is both challenging and rewarding to train.

If you’re looking for a large guard dog that will be a loving companion to your family, the Cane Corso may be the right breed for you.

History of the Bloodline

This noble breed has a long and storied history, dating back to the ancient Roman times. The name “Cane Corso” is said to derive from the Latin “cane” — meaning dog — and “cohors,” which means”protector” or “guardian.”  This is appropriate since the Cane Corso is an excellent guard dog with a natural protective instinct.

Other sources say the breed’s name is Italian for “Corsican dog.”

Descended from Rome’s “War Dogs

The Cane Corso is a direct descendant of the Canis Pugnax (also known as the Molassus), a now-extinct breed used by Roman legions in battle. When the Roman Empire occupied the Greek Islands, they brought back this giant breed of dog and bred them with local Italian dogs to produce the original Cane Corso.

These dogs, called “war dogs” and officially known as Neopolitan mastiffs, were much bigger than today’s Cane Corso. Military dogs were made to charge the enemies while carrying flaming oil buckets to torch them.

They were also used as guard dogs for Roman soldiers’ tents and kept as guard dogs by wealthy landowners. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Neapolitan mastiff eventually disappeared from history. 

Cane corso puppy lies in a field of grass

The Renaissance and the Re-Emergence of the Cane Corso

During the Renaissance, there was a renewed interest in all things Roman. This included a resurgence in the popularity of the Cane Corso’s predecessor, the Canis Pugnax.

By this time, the Canis Pugnax had become so rare that it was difficult to find any purebred specimens. This forced resourceful Renaissance-era breeders to crossbreed other Molosser breeds with local Italian dogs to recreate the Canis Pugnax. One of these crosses eventually produced the Cane Corso known and loved today. 

The Modern Cane Corso

The Cane Corso was once a common sight in rural Italy, where it was used as a hunting dog, guard dog, and farming dog. However, by the 1970s the breed was on the brink of extinction.

Dedicated breeders tirelessly worked to revive the Cane Corso breed.

Introduction of Cane Corso in North America

The American Kennel Club (AKC) reports that “prior to 1988, the Cane Corso was known only in southern Italy, and was even considered very rare.

Although the Cane Corso made its way to America in 1988, the breed remained relatively unknown until the 1990s. In 2010, the AKC officially recognized Cane Corso as a member of the Working Group. Today, this loyal and loving breed is prized as a working dog and a beloved family companion. 

Standard Traits of the Breed

The Cane Corso is a very large breed of dog. Males typically weigh between 110 and 130 lbs and females weigh between 88 and 110 lbs. The dog is large-boned with a proportional rectangular build. The males typically range between 25″ to 27.5″ at the shoulder, while the females stand between 23.5″ to 26″ inches.

Coat and Eye Colors

These muscular, athletic dogs are known for their short, dense coats. The Cane Corso coat is not smooth, but rather stiff, coarse, and thick to give it a waterproof quality. During winter, the undercoat becomes even thicker to protect them from the cold weather.

The Cane Corso can come in a variety of colors. Black muzzles and dark brown eyes often accompany black and red colors. The lighter shades — such as grey and fawn colors — are usually paired with grey muzzles and lighter colored eyes.

Although blue and yellow eyes may occur in the breed, they are viewed as non-standard colors according to AKC standards.

Puppy cane corso dog sleep on white surface


The Cane Corso is an intelligent breed of dog that is easy to train with the proper techniques. They are loyal and protective of their family, and gentle and loving with their owners and the children. Overall, they are excellent guard and working dogs who protect livestock.

One of the most endearing qualities of the breed is their ability to vocalize their emotions. Although they have an assertive bark, they usually “talk” to their family by making noises that often resemble grunting, sighing, snorting, snuffling, howling, and sometimes singing like huskies. This is the Cane Corso’s way of showing their affection towards their loved ones.

Because they are emotionally connected with their families, the Cane Corso can develop separation anxiety when left alone for long periods of time. When they become stressed out, they may engage in destructive behaviors, such as chewing and digging.

Breed Intelligence

This breed is known for its high intelligence, and they take exceptionally well to commands and excel at tasks, such as tracking and tracing scents. Although Cane Corsi (the AKC’s official plural for the breed) can do it all — from being a loyal and loving family companion to an impressive working dog — they can also be headstrong and stubborn.

They require high levels of both physical and mental stimulation. For this reason, they are not a suitable breed for first-time pet owners, individuals who work away from home for long hours, and homes with very limited space for the Cane Corso to explore.

Without early and constant training and socialization, this breed can become extremely wary of strangers, territorial, and aggressive.

Energy Level

As a working breed, Cane Corso dogs have high energy levels. Simple daily walks will only allow them to expel some of this energy. They need ample space to run around and explore, such as a backyard, greenbelt, or a wide open dog park.

If they do not have an outlet for their energy, they will become destructive and start chewing on household items, such as furniture and shoes.

Grooming Needs of Cane Corso

Compared to other large dog breeds, grooming the Cane Corso is a piece of cake because of their short coat and low shedding tendencies.

Although they may shed more during the spring and fall seasons, simple brushing two or three times a week will remove loose hair, dirt, and debris from their coat. Be sure to use a stiff bristle brush to avoid irritating their skin.

Although they do not need to be frequently bathed, they should receive a bath every four to seven weeks. Use a mild dog shampoo. The wash will help prevent their skin from becoming dry and irritated. Their nails should be trimmed every two weeks. Their teeth should be brushed every other day.

Two of the most commonly overlooked grooming needs are checking and cleaning their ears and anal glands. Their ears should be cleaned once a week to remove any dirt, wax, and debris that can accumulate and lead to infection. Their anal glands should be checked every month and emptied if necessary.

Cane corso dog on leash during a walk

Are Ear Cropping and Tail Docking Necessary?

The practice of tail docking and ear cropping has been a tradition in the Cane Corso world for centuries. These procedures were initially performed on working dogs to help prevent injuries while performing their duties. Today these procedures are primarily done for cosmetic reasons.

If you want to know whether or not you should have these procedures done to your Cane Corso, consider the following information to may help you make your decision.

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Tail Docking

The majority of Cani Corsi will have their tails docked when they are between two to five days old. This involves removing a portion of the tail, typically anywhere from two to four inches. The procedure is usually done by a veterinarian and does not require anesthesia, although some people choose to use a local numbing agent.

The main reason people have this done is for cosmetic purposes. Some believe it gives the dog a more “finished” look. Others believe the procedure makes the breed appear more powerful and athletic. Some people think it helps the dog move more freely without the weight of the tail.

Ear Cropping

Similarly to tail docking, ear cropping is done for cosmetic and practical reasons. The procedure is usually performed when the puppy is between 8 to 16 weeks old. It involves removing a portion of the earflap, typically between one to three inches. The procedure is usually done by a veterinarian and requires anesthesia.

The Cane Corso ears are born either floppy or v-shaped. Although some owners choose the ear-cropping procedure for aesthetic reasons to make the ears triangular-shaped and stand upright, others decide on the operation for practical reasons. Long ears can be prone to infection for dogs living in humid climates. When the ears stand upright, the risk of yeast infections is minimized.

In addition, Cani Corsi who engage in daily livestock herding, hunting, or other farming duties may prevent ear injuries if they have their ears cropped. With their ears upright, they’re less likely to be bitten by other animals or to get caught in branches or other obstructions.

If you plan to show your dog, you should know that the AKC does not mandate a Cane Corso have their ears cropped, but the ears cannot fall past the jaw bones.

Cane corso dog with ears cropped sits in a field of dead grass

Life Expectancy of Cane Corso

Despite their large size, a Cane Corso can live between 9 to 12 years. Unlike Great Danes, who are known for their large sizes and short life spans, Cane Corso’s genetical makeup allows for a longer lifespan. 

According to scientific research, purebred Cane Corso with four genes — TDRP, MC2R, FBXO25, and FBXL21 — are known to live much longer than those without those genes. In addition, these purebreds are less likely to suffer from common genetic health problems related to Cane Corsi.

Other research finds that Cani Corsi with black brindles have the longest life span compared to those with other color brindles. Out of all the different colors, grey and red Cani Corsi tend to have the shortest lifespan.

Common Health Problems of Cane Corso

Although the Cane Corso is generally known as a healthy breed, its popularity has unfortunately resulted in more frequent inbreeding. Inbreeding often yields a higher incidence of specific genetic health problems.

Hip Dysplasia

One of the most common health problems of this breed is hip dysplasia — an abnormal hip socket formation that can eventually lead to crippling lameness and painful arthritis. The condition is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

According to research done in France between 1997 to 2017, more than 70% of Cani Corsi suffered from various degrees of hip dysplasia. Fortunately, the numbers dropped between 2011-17 to just below 50%.

The study indicates that screening for health problems is a necessary breeding procedure to improve the overall health of Cane Corsi.

To prevent the early onset of hip dysplasia in your Cane Corso, you should provide your pet with a healthy diet and avoid letting them become overweight. You should discourage your Cane Corso from standing upright on their hind legs and excessively jumping because these motions can put unnecessary strain on their hip joints.

If hip dysplasia is diagnosed early enough, several treatments can help improve your dog’s quality of life. These include weight management, glucosamine supplements, exercise restriction, physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medication, and hip surgery.

Cane corso dog stands in a field of flowers

Eyelid Abnormality

Like all molosser breeds, the Cane Corso is prone to eye defects, such as glandular hypertrophy (also known as “cherry eye”), entropion, and ectropion.

Cherry eye is a condition in which the tear gland prolapses and becomes visible as a small, red mass in the corner of the eye. If left untreated, cherry eye can lead to more severe problems, such as corneal ulceration.

Entropion is another common eyelid abnormality in Cane Corsi. It’s a condition in which the eyelid margins roll inward, causing the eyelashes to rub against the cornea and causing irritation. This can eventually lead to corneal ulceration and vision loss.

Ectropion is when the eyelid margin rolls outward, away from the eye. The defect can cause the eyelashes to rub against the delicate tissues around the eye, leading to irritation and inflammation.

All of these eyelid abnormalities can be corrected with surgery. However, catching these problems early can keep your puppy thriving and avoid partial vision loss.


Arthritis is a common condition affecting many large breed canines, and the Cane Corso is no exception. Arthritis is a degenerative joint disease that causes inflammation, pain, and stiffness. The condition is usually caused by wear and tear of the cartilage that cushions the joints, but can also be caused by an injury or infection.

Cane Corsi are more likely to develop arthritis as they age. However, the condition can also be triggered by hip dysplasia. Dogs with arthritis usually have difficulty getting up from a lying down position and may be reluctant to exercise.

The number one tip to prevent arthritis is to keep your Cane Corso at a healthy weight. Obesity puts extra strain on the joints, which can lead to the development of arthritis.

Idiopathic Epilepsy

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that causes seizures. The exact cause of epilepsy is unknown, but it’s thought to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Cane Corsi are prone to idiopathic epilepsy — the most common type of epilepsy in dogs.

Idiopathic epilepsy usually develops between the ages of two and five years old. The seizures can be triggered by many different things, such as stress, fear, excitement, and loud noises. Seizures can range from mild to severe and last a few seconds to several minutes.

If your Cane Corso has idiopathic epilepsy, a blood test will help your veterinarian determine the best course of treatment. Treatment options include anti-seizure medication, dietary changes, and lifestyle changes.

Cane corso dog with brindle coat


Like all large and giant breeds of dog, the Cane Corso is prone to bloat (also known as gastric dilatation-volvulus or GDV). Bloat is a condition when the stomach twists on itself, trapping gas and causing the stomach to expand. This condition can cut off blood flow to the stomach and cause organ damage.

Bloat is a medical emergency and can be fatal if not treated immediately. Statistics have shown that even when treatment is administered, up to 33% of the dogs affected by bloat die from the condition.

To avoid bloat, feed your Cane Corso several small meals daily instead of one large meal. One big meal per day is more likely to cause bloat. It would be best to wait one hour after exercise before feeding your dog. Also, avoid letting your dog drink too much water immediately after eating.

Bottom Line

In many ways, the Cane Corso is a misunderstood breed. This dog is often associated with aggression and fighting, but is actually a loyal, loving, and gentle companion when given proper training, ample physical/mental stimulation, and early socialization with humans and animals.

While the Cane Corso breed is subject to some health concerns, these problems can be easily managed with proper care. If you are committed to providing your Cane Corso with a loving home and plenty of attention, you will be rewarded with a loyal and devoted friend for life.

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