The history of the Presa Canario can be traced back to the Presa Ibérica (Perro de Ganado Majorero), a medium-sized mastiff breed and intuitive watchdog. Several other Hispanic breeds may have contributed to the formation of the Presa Canario, in particular the Presa Española, as well as the Bardino Majorero, a pre-Hispanic sheepdog originating from the island of Fuerteventura.
The roots of the Presa Canario can be found in the Canary Islands, specifically in the islands of Gran Canaria and Tenerife. In fact, one theory suggests that the Canary Islands owe their name to these dogs, which have inhabited them since ancient times. Can-arias would refer to “can”, which means dog in Latin.
First origins of the Presa Canario
To go into the ancestry of the Presa Canario dogs, even considering that they are the basic descendants of those English and Peninsular fighting dogs, is the reason for the passionate debate, even today, whose opinions are so extensive – Bulldog, Mastiff, Bullmastiff, Bull Terrier, Stafford Bulterrier, Mastiff and Presa Española (now extinct). The British and Spanish settlers who brought to the islands these dogs of prey in ships in the 17th century in their transit to America. They had already been crossed in the islands with native dogs called majoreros, which gave rise to the current Presa Canario.
The inhabitants of the Canary Islands at that time had a very recent knowledge of agriculture and livestock breeding methods, which were introduced by sea, and saw the immense qualities of this new breed for livestock handling and property security. Thus, the new breed of dog was chosen by farmers for its functionality. An identity was thus developed.
Evolution of the breed
With males and females having to survive in an environment so hostile that it hardened their existence, this new breed of dog had to make a difficult choice in which the reality was that only the best would survive.
The Presa dog was created by natural selection, a fierce and strong animal that was appreciated by the people for its ease of movement, musculature and temperament, which helped it in hard work.
Under strict British intervention, based on the stabilization of the sea route through the Canary Islands in the 18th and 19th centuries, the breed begins to receive genetic influence from their British gladiator dogs, which positively determines their status as prey dogs. The result is an animal with a strong, loyal and balanced character, called “pero verdino” or “earth dog” by the islanders, which gained fame on the island for its qualities as a guard dog in rural areas and for hunting.
The Presa Canario as a fighting dog
However, it was the British who once again set the standard for this animal, and the excessive enthusiasm of the British for dog fights turned them into tireless fighters.
Little by little they infected the islanders -especially in Gran Canaria- with this enthusiasm and drastically changed the peasant habits of these animals for the sole function of the Canarian Presa dogs, and thus the Canarian Presa dog was born. They began to hold dog fights in the villages (it should be clarified that in rural areas they were not fought for bets, but for the personal pride of the villagers), traditionally called “pechadas”.
At that time the search was for the strongest dog, so the fights were not like today’s, as they were interrupted when the strongest candidate was judged to be the winner: hence the little harm done to the dogs in these fights. As it was part of the Anglo-Saxon culture, the contests in which betting took place at that time took place at events attended by English amateurs, but betting was hardly rooted in the rural environment of the villages of the islands.
The dog gradually evolved into a light and robust animal, with a massive head, never with a short muzzle, and preferably with a black, fawn, brindle or white coat, the result of various genetic combinations.
However, with the arrival of the forties, the law of the country strictly prohibited this type of bloody practice in all Spanish territories, since then little by little forgotten, causing a considerable loss in the genetic line of this gladiator dog breed.
Near extinction and recovery
Little by little, the dogs began to have a very small utility in the field and this was lost in history. Little by little, they practically disappeared due to the little utility they had for the rural population of the time and ended up becoming extinct.
Fortunately, during the 1970’s, renowned breeders bred Presa Canarios that were both massive and courageous, such as Manuel Curtó’s, a reference in the breeding and research of the Presa Canario.
They were also highly functional dogs with keen watchdog instincts, a stubborn and courageous temperament, and an extremely territorial nature. The full recovery of the Presa Canario breed began in 1982 when a group of breeders on the island of Tenerife formed an association to support the revival of the Presa Canario. Today, the breed is the animal symbol of Gran Canaria. It has been registered in the Foundation’s Stock Service since 1996.
Recognition of the breed
The Presa Canario has been banned in some countries such as Australia for being considered aggressive or dangerous. However, the breed is permitted in many other countries such as Spain, Mexico and the United States, but is not currently recognized by the American Kennel Club. However, the AKC Foundation Stock Service has accepted them as a breed, which provides a secure location for their registrations and allows the dogs to compete in AKC companion events.