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The Cane Corso Origins
The Cane Corso (KAH-neh-KOR-soh; plural: Cani Corsi) belongs to a subcategory of working breeds called mollosus dogs, or mollosers, named for the Molossi, an ancient Greek people thought to have bred giant, big-boned guardian dogs of Mastiff type. At the height of the Roman Empire’s power, the legions that subdued and occupied the Greek islands brought mollosers back to Italy and bred them to native Italian breeds.
The offspring produced by these crosses were ancestors of the modern Corso and it’s larger relative, the Neapolitan Mastiff. The original Corsi were used as dogs of conquest who earned their stripes as “pireferi,” fearless dogs who charged enemy lines with buckets of flaming oil strapped to their backs. It is supposed that these early Corsi were bigger, more lumbering dogs than today’s sleeker version, which moves with a catlike grace.
With the dissolution of the Western Empire in the fifth century, Italy’s legions and their dogs were out of work. Corsi adapted to such civilian jobs as wild boar hunting, farming, livestock droving, and most famously, guarding farmsteads and henhouses. The Corso was for centuries a familiar sight on the farms and pastures dotting the Italian countryside. But the effects of constant invasions of the Italian peninsula and Sicily, economic and political upheavals, and mechanized farming conspired to reduce the Corso population to precariously low numbers. By the mid-20th century, the breed was all but extinct.
Specimens did survive, however, in Italy’s back country. In the 1970s, a group of Italians banded together to revive the breed of their rustic ancestors. The Society Amorati Cane Corso (Society of Cane Corso Lovers) was formed in 1983, and by the following decade Corsi were being exhibited in European dog shows. The first Corso import arrived in America in 1988, and in 2010 the breed was recognized by the AKC.