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Presa Canario: Breed Characteristics, Temperament & More

If you're an experienced dog handler who wants a guard that is calm, loyal, and territorial, look no further than the Presa Canario. This big dog has a unique history.

MJ with dog

Last Updated: June 6, 2023 | 10 min read

Presa Canario Breed laying in the grass

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The word Molossoid Mastiff even sounds massive. Modern breeds descending from these Molossoid-type dogs are known for their size and mass. The Presa Canario, or Canary Island dog, is a dog in this tradition. Formally known as the Perro de Presa Canario, the breed was initially used for herding and as a guardian.

Although the Perro de Presa Canario is calm and obedient, he’s less of a family companion than a breed for handlers experienced with extreme breeds. Although the Presa Canario is highly loyal to his family, his size, strength, and the breed’s history of occasional aggression can’t be ignored. Many states have banned Presa Canario accordingly.

If you’re an experienced dog handler who understands the needs of dogs like the Canary Island dog, he can win your heart with his obedient self-confidence. Having a dog with such strength and power look up to you as his person is flattering.

Perro de Presa Canario
    • weight iconWeight84-110 pounds
    • height iconHeight22-26 inches
    • lifespan iconLifespan9-11 years
    • color iconColorsbrindle and fawn with white markings and black mask
  • Child Friendliness
  • Canine Friendliness
  • Training Difficulty
  • Grooming Upkeep
  • Breed Health
  • Exercise Needs
  • Puppy Costs

Breed History

Tan and Black Brindle Dog
Presa Canarios were bred as herding dogs, but today, they are mainly guard dogs.

The Presa Canario originated in the Canary Islands, a group of small islands off the coast of Spain. The Canaries were considered a link between the four continents of Africa, North America, South America, and Europe. At their closest point to the African mainland, they are a little over sixty miles west of Morocco.

The ancestors of the Presa Canario have existed in the Canary Islands at least since the 1400 or 1500s, per the documentation of dogs used for guarding farms, working cattle, and guarding against and eliminating wild or stray dogs that could attack the farm. One theory about how the Canaries got their name is that the name Canary came from the Latin for dog, canis. The two islands on which they originated are Tenerife and Gran Canaria. The dogs existed on the island before the Spanish arrived, and the islands were referred to as the “islands of dogs.”

Many believe the Iberian Presa was the foundation breed at the base of the Presa Canario. Other breeds contributed their bloodlines and attributes, specifically the Presa Espanol and Alano, known for their intuitive bite grip. As more people came to the islands, they brought dogs from their homelands. During the 1700s, English traders visited the islands. They may have introduced bulls and Terriers, Bulldogs, and Mastiffs and began crossbreeding them with the existing Perro de Presa on the island. Over time, the dogs were used as fighters. The outlawing of dog fighting in the 1940s led to the breed’s decline, but enthusiasts in the 1970s carefully reconstructed it to become the dog we know today.

Temperament

Presa Canario with good Temperament sitting in the grass
Even within his own family, the Presa is reserved and independent.

The history of the Perro de Presa Canario is reflected in its modern temperament. The dog still excels as a guardian and has an innate distrust of strangers. Because dog aggression was actively selected over the years, he should be an only dog and strictly supervised around other dogs.

The Presa Canario assisted with cattle by driving and holding them. The breed needed a massive head and super strong jaws to keep cattle effectively. While he is generally docile with family and known for having an even temperament, he’s not an excellent fit for a family with small children who may inadvertently trigger his instincts to hold. They are stubborn and intelligent but do well with routine.

Size & Appearance

The Presa Canario’s appearance impresses everyone who meets him. He’s not the tallest breed, standing up to 26″ at the shoulder, but he has considerable heft at up to one hundred and ten pounds. Although his body appears heavy, his agility surprises those who don’t know the breed. He has plenty of substance, as we can see through his bone.

The Perro de Presa Canario’s massive head distinguishes him from the crowd. His well-developed cheek and jaw muscles are the basis of his powerful grip. His skull shape is brachycephalic, but his wide nostrils help facilitate breathing. The correct bite for a Canary Dog is scissors or slightly undershot. In countries where ear cropping is allowed, his cropped ears stand erect, while uncropped ears fall naturally on either side of his head. His body is thick and muscular from the neck to the hindquarters.

Coats & Colors

Presa Canario with Coat and brown color standing on a path outside
His short, flat, single coat is easy to keep but provides him little protection from the elements.

Your Presa Canario might need a jacket in the winter, depending on where you live.

Living Conditions

Presa Canario running on the beach
Limit strenuous activity on hard surfaces to protect growing or aging joints.

Certain states have passed or tried to pass legislation banning breeds associated with a high incidence of attacks. This breed under any of its names may be included on these lists. Before seeking a pup, ensure it is legal to own a breed like this in your area. You’ll need a securely fenced yard to ensure your dog cannot gain inadvertent access to your neighbors or their dogs.

Enjoy quality time with your Perro walking, jogging, or other interactive activity. Although calm in the house, he comes from working stock and benefits from structured interaction. Inside the house, the Presa Canario is relaxed and enjoys his family. Consistent training and reinforcement of positive behaviors and immediate correction of any aggression help him be a good canine citizen.

Because of his power and instinct to eliminate anything perceived as a threat, he should be supervised around children and introduced carefully to people outside the family unit. Canary Dogs aren’t a high-energy breed but need a daily walk or easy jog. They have a brachycephalic profile, so monitor their breathing, especially in hot weather. Puppies and senior dogs need less activity.

Training

Presa Canario Training outside in the grass
When your Presa Canario is just a pup, teach him basic obedience commands calmly and assertively.

Early and frequent socialization is a necessity for the Presa Canario. To temper his innate suspicion of strangers, expose him to as many people and situations as possible as a pup. The Perro benefits from an owner who is experienced in training powerful breeds and understands how to correct aggressive behavior without encouraging more aggression.

He must see you as his leader. Although the breed is intelligent, they are also stubborn and may take longer to train than easier breeds. Be consistent and patient, and focus on positive reinforcement instead of negative, which may lead to aggression.

Health

Presa Canario with Health issues being comforted by woman owner
Many of these health issues affect large breeds.

Although the Presa Canario is overall a healthy pup, he is predisposed to a few conditions.

Cryptorchidism

Cryptorchidism, or undescended testicles, is one of the most common congenital disabilities in male purebred dogs, and it may affect your pup. One or both testes fail to move from the abdomen into the scrotum, where they should be palpable by four months of age. Because this disorder is genetic, neutering the dog with incisions to the abdomen to access the retained testicle is the best plan.

Cryptorchids might be less fertile than dogs with normally descended testes, but they have an estimated ten times greater risk of testicular cancer. If both testes are retained, the dog will likely be infertile. Another health risk is spermatic cord torsion, which causes severe and sudden pain as the testicle can twist upon itself.

Demodectic Mange

Parasitic causes of hair loss include demodectic mange, to which the Presa Canario may be more susceptible than other breeds. Pet owners may notice a few dry, irritated, hairless lesions in mild cases. These often occur on the face or feet and may or may not be itchy. Secondary skin infections may occur. Both fungal and bacterial infections of the skin can cause excessive shedding.

Entropion

If you notice your Presa Canario pup squinting and tearing from both eyes, consult your veterinarian. His distress could be caused by eyelid entropion, a disorder where the eyelid rolls inward towards the eye. Entropion irritates the eye by the eyelid rubbing against the cornea, causing subsequent pain and possible corneal ulcers, perforations, or pigment on the cornea. Surgery can correct entropion so vision problems won’t occur. After your pup is six months to a year old, he may have surgery to remove a section of skin to alleviate the irritation.

Epilepsy

Epilepsy exists in the Canary Island Dog. During an epileptic seizure, a sudden surge in the electrical activity in the dog’s brain causes visible symptoms like shaking, convulsion, or spasms. Generalized seizures that affect the whole body are more common than local and may include the dog falling over, drooling, paddling limbs, losing control of his bladder, defecation, vocalizing unusually, and trembling. Seizures may last as long as a few minutes and leave the dog disoriented.

Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism is when a dog does not produce sufficient thyroid hormone for his body to function as it should. Symptoms of hypothyroidism in dogs are similar to those in humans, including lethargy, hair loss, changes in behavior, and obesity. Luckily, his imbalance can be remedied by prescription thyroid supplementation. See your veterinarian to have his levels tested.

Joint Dysplasia

Canary Dogs can suffer from hip and elbow dysplasia, painful conditions where the joint ball doesn’t properly fit into the socket. The condition stems from genetics and controllable factors like feeding for rapid growth. Feeding your puppy for steady but slower growth may help avoid this condition. Any potential breeding dog should have an Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) or PennHIP Evaluation, and buyers should seek puppies from parents with good evaluation results.

Osteochondritis Dessicans

Osteochondrosis Dissecans (OCD) is a developmental issue resulting from a disturbance in bone formation. OCD often occurs on a dog’s shoulders. In dogs that grow rapidly, the growth may be faster than the blood supply can support. Their cartilage can develop abnormally and cause pain, lameness, and degenerative arthritis. Some instances may advance so that flaps of diseased cartilage separate from the remaining cartilage surface.

Most dogs with OCD show signs before they are a year old. Common symptoms are pain and subsequent lameness, stiffness, swelling, unwillingness to play, or general depression. See your vet for an evaluation if your dog displays joint pain symptoms. Radiographs, CT scans, or MRIs may be necessary to diagnose the issue properly.

Panosteitis

Panosteitis is a disease that generally affects large breeds. They have painful inflammation of the outer surface of one or more of the long bones of the leg. Sometimes known by the innocent-sounding “growing pains,” the condition causes sudden unexplained lameness and soreness, most commonly in the humerus or upper arm. All four legs can be affected. The pain may worsen then resolve, only to worsen again. It may also move from leg to leg. Check with your veterinarian about pain mitigation until the condition resolves, which should happen spontaneously by around two years of age.

Patellar Luxation

If your dog is limping, he may be experiencing a dislocated kneecap or patellar luxation. Patellar luxation is usually a genetic condition affecting small breeds. Your dog may hold up a hind for a few steps as he runs but then switch back to using it typically. This condition can lead to stiffness and arthritis later in life, and treatment varies with the severity of the disease. While mild cases of patellar luxation may be treated with NSAIDs to alleviate discomfort, severe cases generally require surgical intervention.

Wobbler Syndrome

Wobbler Syndrome is a condition that affects the cervical or neck area of the spine. There are several scientific names for the disorder, including spondylomyelopathy, but the term “wobbler’s” accurately describes the gait of the affected animals. They walk with wobbly hindquarters and often a lowered head, showing pain. Eventually, the dog may become so weak he falls over, and five percent of all dogs with wobblers may become paralyzed in all four legs. It typically affects large breeds; its cause may have a genetic component. Medical management is possible with corticosteroids, but surgical intervention has a higher success rate.

Nutrition

Presa Canario Exercising in the grass outside
How much you’ll need to feed your specific dog to keep him fit will depend on weight, age, and activity level.

The average adult Presa Canario eats approximately two pounds per day. Because the Presa Canario is prone to joint dysplasia, providing him with slow, steady growth in his first year and a proper calcium-phosphorous ratio is significant.

Choose a high-quality formula that matches your pup’s age to keep this large breed healthy and reduce the health risks associated with dysplasia. A high-quality kibble including meat protein, fiber, healthy carbs, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals will meet your Presa Canario’s nutritional needs without additional supplementation.

Grooming

As weather allows, you may bathe your Presa Canario once every four to six weeks with a shampoo and conditioner made specifically for dogs. This breed sheds seasonally, but brushing him a few times weekly with a bristle brush will help remove the dead hair and keep his coat healthy. His sleek, low-maintenance coat benefits from regular currying with a hound mitt to stimulate oil production in his skin and give him a healthy shine.

With a two-sided grooming mitt, hair loosened while currying can be brushed out immediately. Although the breed is low maintenance to groom, they still need proper nail trimming and dental care. Because they are so large in adulthood, they start early and get used to handling their nails and teeth with veterinary toothpaste and a canine toothbrush.

Breeders & Puppy Costs

Presa Canario puppy standing
Be sure it is legal in your area to own a Presa Canario before committing to one.

Although the lower end of the cost spectrum for a Presa Canario pup is around $1,300, the price will carry based on demand in your location and pup quality. Reputable breeders should be able to show you Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) certification for their parent dogs, and you should see how the parent dogs react to visitors when you visit your future pup.

Rescues & Shelters

Presa Canario Rescues sitting on the ground with white background
You may be able to find a Presa Canario in a local shelter because the breed can be so challenging.

An adult Perro may not have been adequately trained or socialized, so find out as much as possible about his background before bringing him into your home. Rescues specializing in Mollosoid breeds understand their unique needs and can assist in your search. Check out the following rescues: The Bullpen Way Station & Sanctuary, Castle of Presa Dog Rescues, or Cane Corso Rescue.

As Family Pets

In general, this breed is:

  • An instinctive guardian.
  • Not recommended for a home with other pets or small children.
  • Easy to groom.
  • Intelligent but stubborn.
  • Calm yet confident.
  • Extremely territorial.

Final Thoughts

Although the Presa Canario is illegal in some locations, he has all the attributes a guard dog should have: imposing but agile, innately suspicious of strangers yet obedient to his person. An experienced trainer familiar with mastiff-type breeds should handle any hint of aggression. The Presa Canario can be a loyal best friend for an adept handler.

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