History and Theories Surrounding the Origin of the Presa Canario

bobyBy Manuel Martin Betherncourt

In his book "Historia General Sobre Las Islas Canarias" (General History of The Canary Islands) historian Augustin Miralles Torres comments that the islands took their name from the big dogs that were found of them, it and of two of those animals taken to the king of Mauritania in the times of the expedition of Juba.

Described are facts that dogs took place in myths and funeral customs and even were part of the diet of aborigines of the islands. Demons appeared to them as big fleecy dogs named "Tibicernas" on the island of Gran Canaria and "Irnene" on the island of La Palma. Mummified bodies of dogs have been found beside their masters as a guide to the great beyond. They also consumed the meat of castrated dogs in small percentages, and evidence of this has been found by archaeologists.

Following the conquest of the Canary Islands, the presence of dogs of a type typical to holding dogs has been well documented, particularly in the documents of the Municipal Council of Tenerife. First mention is from a document dated 1501 declaring "that it is allowed for any farmer of pigs to own "uno de las gandes" (one of the big)". In the year 1516 there occurred an order for the extermination of wild dogs or strays because of the harm that they do to livestock.

tiojoseAppointing a pair of "Perros de Presa" owned by Don Pedro de Lugo, trained for such a task. Another historical date, January 5, 1526, where the death of the "Perros de Presa" is ordered for the damage that they do to the livestock, with the exception of dogs in the service of butchers and the pair owned by Don Pedro de Lugo. In the same year, in December, occurs an order for the extermination of all "Perros de Presa" with the exception of the four under the control of the town councilor. From the documents of the Municipal Council of Betancuria (Fuerteventura) it is noted that on August 25, 1617, given to the residents is the right to kill, without fear of punishment, any "Perros de Presa" that were loose and could produce harm.war dogs

On February 19, 1618 it is ordered that all "Perros de Presa" be tied up. October 21, 1624, it is ordered that a dog may not be owned, except for the care of the home, and it is understood that it is of hunting or holding type. Later on, in the year 1630, it is ordered that every resident must declare all "Perros de Presa" to the court. In 1654 it was ordered that all dogs on the islands be killed for the harm that they produce to livestock, minus one that could be owned for the care of the home if it is of holding or cattle dog type. The last reference to the "Perros de Presa" occurs on March 13, 1737, where the killing of abandoned dogs at the ports for visitors from other islands is ordered and prohibiting the ownership of a dog for someone that was not a farmer or a cattleman. It is deduced from that order that the inhabitants of the islands sometimes moved accompanied by their dogs, while others were left behind at the ports and possibly began to breed into a bloodline.

As we have said previously, the presence of a type of Presa dog in the islands is perfectly documented. It likewise is true that we know nothing of their phenotype; neither we have the sufficient judgments of amount in order to discard any of the several theories that tend to define their origin.

Were there dogs of "indigenous magnitudes" in the islands before the conquest? Did the Presas arrive to Canaries with the conquerors? Is it be possible that in Canaries before the conquest dogs of great size existed and they merged with several types of Presas concluding the conquest? What we know with all clarity is the function which these animals developed. Functions of guard of country property, of struggle of the cattle, as assistant of butchers and even of extermination of wild dogs and/ or strays, trained for such effect. Based on this we could imagine a compact animal, proportionate, robust, something slighter and more functional, but definitely a molosoid of prey.

163mSeveral are the supposed genetic currents in the configuration of the Prey Canary. Being that the islands obliged resorts along the routes of the new world, it receives the blood of the Iberian Presas.

The conquest of the Americas also brought about other changes to the Canary Islands. The downfall of the single crop of sugar cane came due to Caribbean competition. At that time the islands embarked on the new scene of cultivation of grapevines. They produced some strains of excellent quality and it was being converted into wine by one of England's main importers. This new market brought many English colonists, mostly traders and merchants of wine and island fruits, who resided on the islands either temporarily or permanently, starting from the end of the XV century and continuing throughout the XVIII century. In England these were the "golden years" of dog fighting and they of course arrived to the islands with their Bandogges and Tiedogs (predecessors of the Bulldogs and Mastiffs) for faithful guardians of their country properties. The Canary Island inhabitants, always open to new ideas, soon became enthusiastic participants of this new sport : the fighting of dogs. It should be noted that at this time this was not practiced on the peninsula.huntint

All of this is still lacks one final ingredient that completes the explosive cocktail of the Presa Canario- the Bardino Majorero, originating on the island of Fuerteventura, valued and extended throughout the islands, appreciated for its intelligence (easily trainable), of great physical resistance, an excellent guardian, dedicated mostly to the management of goat herds, of little bark, extraordinary set of teeth and an incorruptible courage, their rustic coat brindled in tones of greenish, they contributed to the Presa Canario a great part of their expression. This combination of Presas of the land and Presas of the continent, incorporated with the blood of the temperamental and rustic Bardino majorero, began an ethnic grouping of Presas of intermediate and predominant type, of burning temperament. To the traditional functions of guarding and struggle with the livestock, was added a new and exciting mission, to the delight of most breeders: The Fights.

dogfighttVerbal history of the old fans testifies to how they took place, how the challenges arose, and even to who the participants were, etc. According to these old accounts the owners would come to an agreement as to whether they would witness the fight in silence or if they would incite the animals. Any spectator could touch or bother the dogs during the battle. The fight could be in one of two forms, with or without collars. Although the general idea was that the animals were placed inside a circle drawn in the ground, faced front to front and loosened, the collar often began the matches. It was not an excessively blood spectacle since the Presa grabs and pushes and doesn't nibble. Rarely were their deaths between contestants because when humbled, their owners would guide them to draw back from the war. These were not public organized acts, but rather sporadic as the challenges of their owners arose. Although when a celebration of a fight was know, practically the whole neighborhood participated in the show.

In the 1940's the prohibition of dog fighting was ordered although this practice continued discreetly, but only for about a decade. Beginning at that time and due to the hardening of the authorities to eradicating the fighting of the Presa Canario, its numbers decreased and it remained relegated to very few breeders. Fortunately their stock was maintained, preventing the total disappearance of the Presa Canario. This situation was worsened by the introduction of new and strange breeds to the islands. The German Shepherd (with all of its glory of hero of WWII and it's world wide recognition), the Doberman Pinscher, the Great Dane, the Neapolitan Mastiff, etc. One important part of the so few breeders it that it allowed the temptations for the incorporation of the blood of these "new" breeds into the Presa Canario, that would create a crossbreeding that would leave the Presa Canario practically unrecognizable. The birth of any "pure" litter prevented the disappearance of the Presa Canario for good.

The Recovery of the Presa Canario

This situation changed radically in the beginning of the 1970's. It was a time that adopted the social attitudes of reunion to traditions of nearly lost cultures. The attitudes changed from "everything we can get out of it the better" to "conservation, respect and impregnation of the earth". The Presa Canario was no exception and with being relegated only to rural areas and cattlemen, it became the fashion for guardians in the urban areas. This began a slow but continuous recovery of the breed. The few breeders of those years began contact between them given the shortage of animals available for breeding. The necessity arose to control the crossings and attack as a team. That produced quickly, constituting the Club Espańol del Presa Canario, in which most breeders of Tenerife, who were responsible for most of the remaining population, took refuge. They also incorporated to their project, fans of the breed from Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, Fuerteventura and La Palma, establishing delegations on those islands. The official record signature was November 12, 1982 and in January 1983, they were recognized by the Real Sociedad Central as the only official representative for the recovery of the breed.presa-canario-canary-dogs-07

Popularization of the breed in the hands of the CEPRC could not have been more qualifying, but was spectacular through their numerous popular shows that reintroduced the islanders with the legendary dogs that they had heard their parents and grandparents tell of. As reward of this management of breeding, the demand for information reached unthinkable limits. The Club Espańol del Presa Canario negotiated and participated outside of competition of similar breeds on the road to recovery in the year 1985 at the National Exposition of Tenerife and the years 85 and 86 in the International of Las Palmas in Gran Canaria. On October 19, 1986 and June 6, 1987 the first and second specialties for the Presa Canario took place. Reported entries were of 140 and 80 respectively, because of the presence of Don Valentine Alvarez, president in that time of the Real Central Society, and the delegate of the Commission of Spanish Races, Don Carlos Salas.

On November 1, 1987 a pair of Presa Canario ,a brindle male "Facian" from the island of Tenerife and a female of the same color "Marquise" from the island of Gran Canaria, in order to be presented at the International Exposition of Otono in Madrid, as the official presentation of the Presa Canario to the national authorities and to international circles.

On January 24, 1989, the official standard of the breed was approved. A historical moment that guaranteed the permanent position of the Presa Canario as a Spanish dog originating from the Canary Islands.

The Early Dogs of the Islands

The domestic animals in the Canarian Archipelago before it was conquered by the Castilian Crown, were part of the aboriginal culture of the inhabitants of the islands. The dog was part of that culture and had many functions. They were used to watch over and heard goats and sheep, which were an important part of the economy for the natives: they were also used as a defense against the many raids made by invading forces: to guard property: or consumed as food, in many cases: and were a mythic and religious symbol. For a mainly pastoral people, as were the natives of the islands, the dog was a fundamental element in the economy.

There are a number of references to the dog, and to the goat, the pig and the sheep in popular folklore and in the writings of various authors mentioning the small, wild dogs, wolf-like in appearance, "but smaller", which were very primitive and lives with the natives.

134Although there are few descriptions of its appearance, there are references to this primitive dog describing it as a medium-sized animal of some similarity to the Australian Dingo and to others, also medium-sized, but of better build and wider forehead.

Various authors reach the conclusion that there were two types of dog which were different, especially in size: on was small or stocky and the other was bigger in size and had a wider head.

The invaders and conquerors that came successively to the islands found the native dogs to be ardent, brave animals of great stamina.

The many lines of argumentation regarding the dogs in the Canaries, some more plausible than others, are positive in that the very existence of the dogs is unquestionable that is, that there really were dogs in the islands, and that these were the basis of the crossbreeding which start later with the introduction of different breeds by the Spanish colonizers.

We can say that the most valuable historical reference is that made by F.E. Zeuner in his work "Some Domesticated Animals from the Prehistoric Site of Guayadeque, Gran Canaria", when he refers to a medium-sized animal, with a wider head, which brings to mind something molosser in appearance ad, in a w way, a "gripping" type of dog.136m

According to the record of the time, in the centuries following the conquest of the Canaries, and in particular the XVI and XVII, various breeds of dog, gun dogs, bulldogs and sheepdogs, were, of course, brought into the islands along with other domesticated animals.

The references in these records are of great value; although they do not describe the morphology of the dog, they do name each dog in accordance with it's function: dogs used for hunting; to watch and herd livestock and as guard dogs - specifying in these cases their condition as "gripping or seizing dogs", which proves their existence indisputably since the times of the conquest.

So, we think it a good idea to include some of those references, showing the existence of animals with characteristics like those of the "Dogo", probably the result of the aforementioned crossbreeding; i.e. the prehispanic dog crossed with the dog introduced by the new colonizers of the archipelago.

Historical News on the Existence of the Dogo in the Canary Island

From throughout the 16th century, and according to the "Cedularios del Cabildo de Tenerife" (The Island Government Records Office, Tenerife), we would like to underline the following:

In agreement with the Island Government of Tenerife, as from 5th February, 1516, butchers will be allowed to have, at their service, a pair of 'gripping dogs', like the two trained dogs, property of Don Pedro de Lugo, to get rid of dogs gone wild, in view of the damage done to livestock herds, as has been seen in areas of Adeje and Abona.

The Island Government forbids, from 3rd September, 1515, the ownership of dogs of any breed, with the exception of pig farmers, who may have one dog, on the condition that this not be a 'gripper'. The slaying of wild dogs by Don Pedro de Lugo with his pair of 'gripping' dogs, proved by the presenting of the skins of the heads of the animals, and fair payment to the privileged man are on record, as agreed with the Island Government of Tenerife, dated 9th April, 1518. The Island Government, on 4th December, 1525, makes it compulsory to register the ownership of 'gripping' dogs and mongrels within six days. The Island Government reiterates, on 5th January, 1526, that, by agreement and in view of the damage done to livestock herds by large 'gripping' dogs, these dogs should be killed, and that only livestock owners may keep these dogs in their service, and with the exception of those dogs used by Don Pedro de Lugo, who had enjoyed the privilege for many years, of eliminating those dogs gone wild. In spite of the previous agreement, the Island Government of Tenerife, on 10th December, 1526, forbids cowhands to own 'gripping' dogs and allows only four specimens of large 'gripping' dogs to subdue cattle, and these controlled by four handlers, each of whom will hold his own dog on a rope.

Looking at the agreements reached by the Island Government of Fuerteventura during the 17th century, we came across some of great relevance:arch-fam-b

On 25th August, 1617, the Island Government allows any person, without risk of punishment, to kill all 'gripping' dogs, owned by neighbors, and which are loose and unchained. A year later, on 19th February in the town of Betancuria, the Island Government recommends that the population not let 'gripping' dogs loose, to avoid damage to livestock. According to the agreement reached on 21st October, 1624, each inhabitant can have a maximum of one gun dog or 'gripping'. In view of the danger to livestock entailed, it was decided, on 16th August, 1630, that no inhabitant should have more than one gun dog, which should be chained up; the rest will be put down; in case of failure to comply with the law, offenders will be sentenced to ten days in prison and fined the sum of six hundred "maravedíes" (a coin of the time). Possession of a 'gripping' dog should be reported to the authorities.

These regulations reached an extreme on 22nd March, 1632, when they imposed a license to be issued by the Governor for the ownership of a 'gripping' dog, on pain of six "reales" ( a coin of the time).

In January, 1645, in the aforementioned town of Betancuria, which was, at that time, the seat of the Island Government of Fuerteventura, it was made compulsory to keep dogs, and in particular 'grippers' and gun dogs, tied up.

The list of references to 'gripping' dogs found in historical documents in the archipelago in the centuries following the conquest would be endless, but there is, at no time, in those cold, precise official documents, a description of the morphology of this dog; neither is there any distinction made between breeds, they are simply referred to as 'grippers'.

campoWe cannot, therefore, establish a hypothesis about the breed or variety referred to as these 'grippers' dogs, nor experiment nor speculate about whether it is one type or another. Neither can we check in drawings from the references listed, whether these dogs in the Canaries fitted the description of a particular kind of mastiff, dogo or alano, but it seems evident that they were extremely useful animals for the inhabitants of islands, whose economy, essentially peasant and rural, was based not only on agriculture, but also on livestock of seasonal pasturage, and later, on cattle used for plowing, so important to cereal growers.

Under such circumstances, the dog's living and sustenance would have been, without a doubt, an extremely hard and even cruel process of natural selection, which, in reference to 'gripping' type dogs, would be taken to the limit.

English Influence

The Canarian Archipelago, made up of a chain of volcanic islands and about 500 km. in length, lies between 27° - 29° latitude North and 13° - 18° longitude West, very near the north-western edge of Africa. The proximity of the almost uninhabited, desert continent and the differences in culture and economy have meant a certain isolation, which has been offset by full integration with the western world in Europe, through its relationship with Spain since the 15th century.

Once the slow, hard conquest of the archipelago was over, the dividing up and allotting of land started at the same time as colonists began arriving from mainland Spain and many other parts of Europe. The process of settling the islands had barely begun when the Canary Islands became an almost obligatory stopover for Spanish ships sailing to America from the ports of Cadiz and Seville. The inclusion of the archipelago in shipping routes and its being a colonial settlement would mark its future, as very soon it would draw pioneers from many parts.

This strategic position in the Atlantic, which was vital to Spanish ships en route to America, was also a priority for Dutch and, more especially, English corsairs.142m

Relations with England were established quite soon and, although there were less friendly times as a result of the almost constant state of war existing between Spain and England, in particular the numerous pirate attacks on island coasts, such as those carried out by Drake on La Palma in 1585, by Raleigh on Lanzarote and La Gomera in 1617, by Blake on Tenerife in 1657, and even the attack by Nelson himself on Santa Cruz de Tenerife in 1797, a number of English traders settled in the islands from early on, from where they exported local crops and imported all kinds of manufactured goods. In this trade there was particular control over wines produced in the islands, especially the malmsey, which was the highest in quality. English firms from Bristol, such as Hikman, Castelin and Lok, or Thomas Colin and Eduard Fallier, represented the old, and peaceable, presence of that nation in our islands.

The Canaries, as one of the archipelagos in the Macaronesia, could not escape the curiosity of travelers and explorers who landed on the islands in search of the secrets of the Neolithic culture which had existed in the archipelago until the 15th century.

DSCN1922The observation and study of the islands, the theories about their origins, which were linked to the myth of Atlantis at that time, their singular nature and geography all led to a series of tales, descriptions and travel memoirs, which, since the 18th century, have been published in Europe, although particularly in England, as the country with most bonds with the archipelago. There was a well established English colony in the archipelago, which, in spite of distance, maintained strong ties with England through trade.

The large British colony, based mainly on Gran Canaria and Tenerife, was a stable part of the population, although with some singular and different characteristics. Their culture, customs and religion contrasted with that of the Canarian population, especially with that of the popular classes, who lacked almost everything.

They were not only active in trade, but also in agriculture. The British acquired large pieces of rural land and built their homes in urban groups, with architectural styles, which were really British, but adapted to their adopted country.

The British citizens based in the colony returned to their country regularly and kept their environment on the islands within the essentially British style and tradition. From their country, to which they could travel directly from the Canarian Archipelago, they brought their culture, their possessions, animals to guard their property, their pets, their customs and their traditions.melian

Looking back into the rich history of English cynofiles we find that in that country dogs were bred for all their uses; as guard dogs, gun dogs, herd dogs and as pets, and that, from early times, great care was taken with the training of dogs to fight other dogs and other animals, such as bears, bulls, lions and badgers. This was a popular sport for many.

In the first centuries after the Spanish conquest of the islands, the English dog considered the archetypal fighter was called the old English bulldog, which was a medium-sized, compact animal with a powerful build and with all the requirements for relentless pursuit.

This dog had inherited the best of the traditional bandage and of the Spanish 'gripping' dogs, also known as the Spanish bulldog, which was sometimes used to liven the blood of the English dogs.

This kind of dog, which was ideal as a guard dog, was part of the English environment in the Canaries. Later, moving on in time to the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century, another kind of fighting dog appeared in England as a result of crossing the old English bulldog and the old English terrier, and which was called the bull and terrier. The result of this cross was smaller in size, lighter, faster and hot-tempered, and was better suited to the sports of that country.

The bull and terrier was the basis of all the fighting breeds, known as pit dogs, such as the Pit Bull Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier and the white Bull Terrier.

All of these dogs, which were medium or small in size, of strong constitution and easy to transport, were brought to the Canaries to fulfill the requirements of the English colony - essentially, to guard British homes, factories and land, but also to carry on the sporting traditions of hunting and dog fighting, introduced to the islands by the English.

The appearance of these emerging English breeds led to inevitable crossbreeding with 'gripping' type dogs already existing on the islands, in view of the fact that the archipelago was isolated, under strict control and, at that time, scarcely inhabited.

At the same time as the 'gripping' dogs we have already spoken about, on the Canaries there had always been a dog used to herd goats in particular, and which was commonly bred on the island of Fuerteventura. Later, it spread to the other islands, where it was named, and is still known as "majorero" or "Dog of Fuerteventura", after the island of its origin. It had a brindle-striped coat, was coarse and of incorruptible character.

The crosses between 'gripping' dogs and "majoreros" produced a medium sized animal, which was coarse and hard-working, and which was known in the country as the dog of the land.

140mThe progressive blending of Canarian and English dogs, already mentioned, laid the genetic foundations for the 'gripping' dog that time formed through the 19th century until the beginning of the present century, from when we can confirm its existence through graphic documents.

From the early years of this century we have had graphic documents, which show, for the first time, the existence of the 'gripping' dog in the Canaries.

Some of these old photographs, which we have been able to include in this book, show dogs that lived in the first half of the century, i.e. before the almost total extinction and later recovery of the breed. Well, in all of these photographs we can see animals with a common genetic background, although they are morphologically different. They are all the product of the foundations laid in the previous century, especially of the breeding and crossbreeding described in the previous chapter; i.e. the Canarian 'grippers' with the "majoreros", and the product of this cross, known as the dog of the land, with the English bull and terrier dogs, product of the old bulldog and its variations.history07

This blend had beneficial consequences for the morphological-structural aspects of the 'gripping' dog and improved its condition as such. However, as there was no clear concept of the breed, people were only concerned with its functional qualities and so, there was not enough genetic control and the appearance of the population became heterogeneous in time.

We came across specimens that were very bulldog in appearance, stocky, compact, short in the face and whose coats often have large areas of white. Others are longer in the body, slimmer, with more of the "majorero" in them, emphasized by the striped brindle coats across the range, longer, more wiry and rougher hair. Still others, with less genetic variability, where both bloodlines are equally represented, producing medium sized specimens, which are large, but not excessively so, longer in the body, and often brindle coated, but with white paws and collars.

pc hNaturally, this blend of breeds has made its mark on the personality and character of the dogs, and the 'gripping' dog is not only splendidly equipped for fighting and baiting, but also has all the requirements, as a cattle dog, to drive and work cattle and, of course, as a guard dog in all kinds of security and defense work.

In the first thirty years or so of this century, dog fighting was legal in this country and was very common practice in the islands, but once forbidden, as a result of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, they became even more popular, albeit clandestinely, and this prohibition caused the population of the 'gripping' dog to fall drastically.

The fights took place in the country or in urban areas of very low cultural level, and never matched the more sporting or sophisticated events brought to the islands by the English. However, they were not dark, murky spectacles, despite being hard, nor were they sinister or malicious on account of the betting, which was really almost non-existent.Presa Canario history

The build of its adversaries contributed a great deal to this reduced situation. The 'gripping' dog of the Canary Islands is a multifunctional dog, it is not essentially a "gladiator"; i.e. the bull instinct of its ancestors, that made the dogs fight to the very end, is not so deeply etched on its genes. The Canarian Dogo always tries to get a good grip with the bite and will try to improve it and hold tight for a long time, which reminds us of the old bulldog. This is why the English crossed this dog with the terrier to achieve combats with more action, more blood and which would last longer.

However, it was in the first half of this century when the Canarian Dogo became really widespread, when its prestige as a dog of great courage crossed our frontiers as a result of the trend in the Canaries to emigrate, especially to South America.

riveroA clear example of this influence can be seen in the dog used by the Nores Martínez brothers as the base of the Argentinean Dogo. We are talking about the old "Cordoba fighting dog". At the same time, the exportation of specimens to mainland Spain to take part in hunts, as a gripping dog, also added to its prestige.RSCN1511

For all of these reasons, we can affirm that, for cynofile enthusiasts, the existence of the Canarian 'gripping' dog was always clear. It was, perhaps, shrouded in a certain air of myth, as the exploits of the ardent 'gripping' dogs from the Canary Islands, in gripping and in fighting, created an aura of legend. Dog fighting was what always came to the minds of enthusiasts whenever the Canarian Dogo came up in conversation, even when the enthusiast did not really know anything about the dogs or the geographical location of the archipelago.