Cane Corso

The cane corso is a large, dignified Italian breed that is extremely loyal and excels at being a guard dog. Learn more about living with the cane corso.
By Kate Silver
August 24, 2020
Cane Corso
Breed Group
Dog Size
Other Traits
Temperament
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Cane Corso

height
  • 23.5 to 27.5 inches
weight
  • 88 to 110 pounds
life span
  • 9 to 12 years
breed size
  • large (61-100 lbs.)
good with
  • families
temperament
  • willful
  • aloof
  • protective
intelligence
  • high
shedding amount
  • normal
exercise needs
  • medium
energy level
  • active
barking level
  • when necessary
drool amount
  • medium
breed group
  • working
coat length/texture
  • short
colors
  • black
  • fawn
  • gray
  • brown / chocolate / liver
  • red
patterns
  • bicolor
  • brindle
other traits
  • easy to train
  • easy to groom
  • good watch dog
  • highly territorial
  • high prey drive
  • strong loyalty tendencies
  • good hiking companion

Cane corsos are calm, cool, and collected, and they make excellent guard dogs. The breed has a deep history of being a hunter and protector, according to the American Kennel Club (AKC). Because the adorable, wrinkly, eager-to-please cane corso puppy can grow to be a 110-pound willful adult, it’s important to train this breed early and well, so you can maintain a sense of control later on. 

According to Jami-Lyn Derse, DVM, founder of Veterinary Housecall Care in the Chicago area, prospective owners should think carefully before purchasing a cane corso. This ancient Italian breed is a relatively recent addition to households in the United States, and they seem best suited as law enforcement dogs, guard dogs, tracking dogs. “I would never recommend them as a family dog,” says Derse. She adds that the best owner for a cane corso is one that’s experienced in dog training. This breed isn’t a good fit for a first-time dog owner.

Appearance

Large, muscular, and somewhat majestic in appearance, the cane corso’s size and strength are its dominating features—and, of course, among the reasons it’s a popular choice for a guard dog. “They’re these big, beautiful, mastiff-beast-like creatures,” Derse says. The cane corso generally weighs 88–110 pounds. You’ll know the cane corso by its broad chest, wide skull, and wrinkly forehead, and the ears can be cropped or not.

When it comes to cane corso colors, the dog’s short, double-layered coat could be black, gray, fawn, red, or brindle of any of those hues. The texture of the coat is coarse, thick, and sometimes tufted, and some even compare it to the coat of a cow. The dog’s almond-shaped eyes vary in color, and can be different shades of brown, or even yellow or blue. Although, according to the AKC’s breed standard, those with blue and yellow eyes are ineligible to compete in an AKC competition.  

Temperament

With a deep lineage as guard dogs and hunters, the cane corso temperament is calm, sensitive, and serious. Cane corsi—the plural of cane corso—can become territorial with age, so early socialization with people and other dogs is important. In fact, Derse says that she and many vets she knows are cautious around the dog, because cane corso behavior can be unpredictable. “For me, personally, and all the other hospitals I’ve ever been in, if a cane corso walks in the door, everybody is particularly diligent,” she says. “That’s not saying there haven’t been ones that would lick your face and are very friendly. But I would say overall, they’re a little bit more of a breed that is known to be aggressive.”

While some cane corsi can get along well with other pets and with children, the breed is known to have a strong prey drive, which could potentially pose a threat to small dogs and cats that aren’t familiar. For harmonious relationships with other animals and children, an early introduction could be helpful, when the dog is young, but it should be closely supervised.

Living Needs

The cane corso is no couch potato. This intelligent working breed thrives on activity—and having a job to do. “Like any large dog, the cane corso would benefit from having a large yard, someone able to walk them frequently to kind of get out their energy and focus it on something good so they’re not getting snippy with you because they’re bored,” says Derse. Adept at guarding property, agility training, obedience training, dock diving, and other activities, the cane corso behaves best when its mind is occupied. If the owner doesn’t offer up an activity, the dog may find mischief of its own—like digging. This isn’t a dog that enjoys being left alone for long; it prefers to be within view of its owner.

Care

Because cane corsi grow to be so large and strong, training is especially important, says Derse, and it should begin when they’re puppies. With cane corso training, patience and consistency are the keys to success. These dogs respond well to positive reinforcement and treats, with a varied training schedule to help keep them entertained and focused. But even with a well-trained cane corso, Derse says it’s important to be cautious. “I can just see how people like their looks and their stature, but the ones that we’ve worked with, you just have to be so careful with them. They’re huge—they’re just like solid muscle. They can throw their weight around and they have jaws of steel.”

Daily exercise is a must for these working dogs, and the AKC recommends walking or running at least a mile in the morning and in the evening with the dog to maintain its muscular build. When it comes to grooming, the dog’s undercoat will shed throughout the year, and especially during spring shedding season. To maintain its shiny coat, an occasional bath and weekly brushing is recommended, with daily brushing suggested in the spring.

Health

This breed is generally healthy, and the cane corso lifespan is 9 to 12 years. Still, there are a few health challenges to look out for, including hip dysplasia, idiopathic epilepsy, demodex mange, and eyelid abnormalities. Because it is a large breed with a deep chest, cane corsi are predisposed to experience gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV) complex, or bloat, which is a serious, potentially life-threatening condition where the stomach fills with air and flips, cutting off blood flow. According to the AKC, some studies have shown that if dogs eat multiple meals throughout the day (rather than one meal) it may help diminish the risk of bloat. But there’s still much research to be done in this area. Cane corso owners should talk to their veterinarian about bloat, and other risks, for advice on how to care for their dog.

History

In the days of the Roman Empire, Romans took such a liking to a big-boned, Greek working breed called Molossus dogs that they brought them home from the Greek islands to breed with Italian canines. That hybrid breed is the ancestor to the cane corso. In the early days, the mighty cane corso played a role in the military, and, according to the AKC, “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.”

In more modern times, they took on tamer roles in Italy, such as hunting wild boar, driving livestock, and guarding farms. In the mid-to-late 1900s, the breed was facing extinction as life changed in the Italian countryside, and a group of Italians came together to focus on breeding efforts. It wasn’t until 1988 that the cane corso arrived in the U.S.; and, in 2010, the AKC officially recognized the breed.

Fun Facts

  • If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, the cane corso may be familiar to you. That’s the dog that (spoiler alert!) killed the villain, Ramsay Bolton, in season 6 of the HBO series.
  • Actress Sherri Shepherd regularly posts photos and video of her enormous cane corso, Lexi, on social media.