Perro De Presa Canario, the History of a Warrior Heart
The Dogs of the Conquistadors
They have barreled into the fiercest battles of history. They have risked their lives for fallen comrades. They have remained loyal until death – guarding, encouraging, fighting until all, but their spirit, was lost. These War Dogs have certainly proved effective in battles throughout history. As weapons of war they have been ferocious, courageous and intelligent. But it is their spirit, that undying and ever-faithful spirit which has inspired men in arms and rallied them during history’s bloodiest battles. That same spirit is so present in our Conquistador Presa Canarios of today, and of the past. The true warrior heart of these dogs is what drove even the conquered of the Spanish conquest to strive to preserve that spirit and it continues to capture and captivate new hearts across the modern world today.
We aim to give some historical representation of the very beginning of the Warrior Heart that we know and love in our Presa Canario of today, and to do so we need to start way before the conquests of the Canary Islands. At Conquistador K-9, we truly help this historical overview will aide you in your understanding of this amazing breed and it's warrior heart origin.
Perhaps it is their nature or willingness to please their human counterparts that have made them so essential in battle, but since the dawn of warfare they have plunged headfirst into the fight. In Egypt, murals dating back to perhaps 4000 BC commemorate the fighting spirit of dogs in battle. They show vicious animals unleashed by their soldier-masters and leaping upon their feeble enemies. It is important to start here in the history of War Dogs, before we elaborate on the Presa Canario and it's connection to the Spanish Conquistadors and the conquests of the Canary Islands.
Though the use of War Dogs pre-descends the Roman Empire, they were certainly of the first to to effectively use War Dogs. The Roman Army had whole companies composed entirely of dogs. They wore spiked collars around their neck and ankles, made more dangerous by the large curved knives protruding from its ring. Sometimes they were starved before battle, then unleashed on an unsuspecting enemy. Their dog of choice was the great Molossian dogs of Epirus, specifically trained for battle. These dogs, halved starved and ferocious, helped spread the Roman Empire across the ancient world. They dominated battles until they meet their match in the Britain, where powerful Mastiffs had been born and breed.
Gratius Falsius, an ancient Roman author and historian, wrote of these frightful canines in the 8 AD. They were physically unspectacular, but renowned and feared on the battlefield. The Roman Molossians were no match. Gratius writes, “Although the British dogs are distinguished neither by color nor good anatomy, I could not find any particular faults with them. When grim work must be done, when special pluck is needed, when Mars summons us to battle most extreme, then the powerful Molossus will please you less and the Athamanen dog cannot measure up to the skill of the British dog either. ”
Seeing first hand their effectiveness in battle, the Romans quickly began employing these dogs in the Empire’s service. They were set loose across the ancient world - trained, ravenous, and fiercely loyal.
After the fall of Rome, armies across the globe continued using war dogs, but no longer limited their service to fighting. They were trained as guard dogs, sentries, messengers and draught dogs. Medieval knights draped their faithful hounds in chain mail and plunged into battle with the dogs by their side. At death, the knights, who loved the dogs dearly, had an image of these faithful hounds inscribed on their tombs, linking the two forever.
Charles V of Spain used 400 mastiffs to drive the English from the field in the Siege of Valencia. So heroic was their conduct that Charles held all the dogs up as an example of honor and courage. Even Napoleon unleashed fighting dogs in front of his reserves. After the Battle of Marengo, he wrote, "I walked over the battlefield and saw among the slain, a poodle killed bestowing a last lick upon his dead friend's face. Never had anything on any of my battlefields caused me a like emotion."
As Europeans expanded into the New World, so did their dogs. Dogs were used, especially by the Spaniards, against Native Americans, who in turn used dogs for their own purposes.
War dogs were not an afterthought for the Spanish Conquistadors. When Hernán Cortes set sail for the Yucatan Peninsula in 1519 his fleet carried more than 500 men, eleven horses and a large pack of war dogs. The Spanish had been using these dogs in Europe and they did not hesitate to bring them to the New World. These dogs were powerful, fast and fearless. Their value to the Conquistadors can be seen in the manner in which the Spanish protected their hounds.
The dogs were often given quilted cotton armor as protection against enemy missile fire. This was the same type of armor worn by many native warriors and soon adopted by the Spanish themselves. War dogs were a valuable asset and, especially in the early years of the Spanish Conquest, were in relatively short supply; they would not have been thrown away needlessly. Matthew Restall, in Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest, states that war dogs would have been used mainly “at close quarters, preferably against the unarmed.”
“It is true that cannons, guns, crossbows, steel blades, horses, and war dogs were advances on the Aztecs’ weaponry,” says historian Ross Hassig in Aztec Warfare, “But the advantage these gave a few hundred Spanish soldiers was not overwhelming.” Similarly, the Spanish campaign against the Inca Empire was not won by European weaponry alone.
Horses and war dogs gave the Spanish an extra card to play on the battlefield when circumstances (such as terrain and proximity) allowed. They also served as a psychological weapon against indigenous warriors, although this advantage faded over time.
Furthermore, dogs, unlike horses, were not unknown to the native population (the Aztecs had the xoloitzcuintle, or Mexican Hairless Dog, and the Inca had the Peruvian Hairless Dog). Spanish war dogs were larger and far more aggressive than dogs native to the New World, but they did not provoke the same initial reaction as the sight of armored, mounted and completely alien horses.
It was not uncommon for war dogs to be used to carry out brutal acts against the native population away from the battlefield. Significantly, there are more accounts of war dogs used in this manner than on the battlefield.
According to Cynthia Jean Van Zandt in Brothers Among Nations, the Spanish Conquistador and explorer Hernan de Soto used his mastiffs for sport “by pretending to release Indian captives, only to let the dogs loose to hunt them as hounds would chase a fox or other game animal in Europe.” Juan Ponce de León, in his position as governor of Puerto Rico, used his dogs to put down slave rebellions and instill fear into the native population. His favorite war dog, Becerrillo, became notorious throughout the settlement. Núñez de Balboa took a pack of war dogs with him during his journey across the Isthmus of Panama. He used these dogs to tear apart natives captured in battle, including caciques (tribal overlords), to set an example to other potentially hostile tribes.
Although certainly used savagely and for dishonorable purposes, dogs were still able to inspire men and women through their courage and faithfulness.
Some brief historical facts:
War Dogs in the New World
Gonzalo Pizarro, brother of Francisco, brought as many as a thousand dogs with him in an expedition begun in Peru in 1541. This may be the largest assembly of attack dogs in history, but the Spanish had dogs they could use in battle against the natives as early as the second voyage of Columbus, who had brought Spanish war dogs to Hispaniola in 1493. Columbus used a dog in dispersing a hostile group of Indians that came to stop his landing in Jamaica in 1494. By 1509, dogs running loose on Hispaniola were so numerous that they were killing livestock and themselves began to be hunted.
The Historia General of the Spanish historian, Antonia de Herrera y Tordesillas (1601-15), may contain the most detailed images of dogs in battles between the Spanish and the Indians. The next plate from the cover of the first volume of the Historia General shows another scene in which the dogs are being sent ahead of the Spanish forces. One dog is still held by a leash, but the others have been loosed and are running simultaneously with the cavalry, perhaps in part to make it difficult for the Indians to choose a target. The dogs are not shown as armored in any of the scenes in Herrera's work, but this is generally the case in contemporary depictions of the conquistadors. The final plate from Herrera shows the dogs still on leashes at the center of the Spanish line, with cannons on the outside. The timing of their release was clearly timed for maximum effect both in terms of defensive value to the men and to add to the terror just before the contact of the front lines.
Why did the use of attack dogs reach its zenith in the New World? War dogs had been taught to attack the enemy since antiquity, but the numbers brought to and then bred in the New World far exceed what is known about any other military use of attack dogs. Why was it worth the while of the Spanish invaders to bring dogs for their explorations and subjugations? The answer probably lies in the fact that the Indians dressed differently from the Spanish, had different diets, different skin color, and at least initially a heart-stopping awe of the huge mastiff-like animals the Spaniards used against them.
The dogs were not always rewarded for their service. The same dogs that made the expedition of Gonzalo Pizarro so formidable gave up their lives when his army, facing starvation, ate all but two of them.
Care and Training
Aldrovandus (1522-1605) describes the training of war dogs as prescribed by Blondus:
“The dog ought to be trained up to fight from his earliest years. Accordingly some man or other is fitted out with a coat of thick skin [pelle densa], which the dog will not be able to bite through [quam canis lacerare nequeat], as a sort of dummy: the dog is then spurred on against this man, upon which the
Dogs in Expeditions
In 1513, Vasco Núñez de Balboa set out to find the “other sea,” the Pacific, with 190 men and dogs, “which were of more avail than the men.” Encountering resistance from an Indian leader named Pacra, Balboa had him torn to pieces by dogs. Balboa had a dog named Leoncico supposedly able to distinguish between an “Indio de Guerra” and an “Indio de Paz.” Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés, the Spanish historian, gives a detailed description of the dog:
“We must not omit to mention a dog which Balboa possessed, called Leoncico [little lion], from the dog Becerrico [little bull], of the island of St Juan, and no less famous than his parent. This dog gained his master, in this and other entries, more than 2000 pesos of gold, because he received the share of a companion, in the distribution of gold and slaves. And truly the dog deserved it better than many sleeping partners. This dog’s instinct was wonderful; he could distinguish between the warlike or peaceful Indian; and when the Spaniards were taking or pursuing the Indians, on loosing this dog and, and saying, ‘There he is—seek him,’ he would commence the chase, and had so fine a scent, that they scarcely ever escaped him. And when he had overtaken his object, if the Indian remained quietly, he would take him by the sleeve, or hand, and lead him gently, without biting or annoying him, but if he resisted, he would tear him in pieces. Ten Christians escorted by this dog, were in more security than twenty without him. I have seen this dog, for when Pedrarias came to this territory, in the year 1514, he was still alive.... He was of a red colour, had a black nose, was of a middle size, and not handsomely formed, but stout and powerful, exhibiting many wounds, which in the course of these wars he had received from the Indians. The dog was at last maliciously poisoned. Some dogs of his race were left; but nothing equal to him has been seen in these regions.” Oviedo’s General History, book xxix, chap. 8.
Evidently, the teaching of the dogs to attack involved some repeated behaviors on the parts of those attacked, so that individuals not in certain postures or acting aggressively were not part of the attack command for the dogs.
In 1513, Balboa used his dogs to tear apart 50 Indians allied with the chief Torecha in the domain of Quarequa. This event led to one of the most widely produced depictions of war dogs in the New World, Theodore de Bry’s engraving of dogs attacking defenseless and nearly naked Indians. based on the account of Bartolomé de las Casas. After that, the barking of the dogs was often enough to disperse any group inclined to oppose Balboa’s advance.
Conquest of the Canaries, the "Ilse of Dogs"
The islands’ geography was important to the conquistadors, as stepping stones both to Africa and the Americas. Without Canaria, Spain would have never been granted access to the African shore — and thus the enslavement of its inhabitants — by the Borgia pope, Alexander VI. It was off the Azores that Juan de Colon (‘Juan the Colonist’ — Columbus’ true name) found the ocean currents that propelled him to what he termed ‘the West Indies’ and he also had much experience of Spanish colonialism, which he was later to apply himself in Hispaniola.
The conquistadors had been crusaders since the dawn of the millennium, both in the Holy Land and during the Reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula from the Moors — indeed, the latter reached its completion during the colonisation of the Canaries. However, the invasion of the Canaries wasn’t a crusade. The Spanish weren’t up against the old enemy, Islam, a culture more advanced than themselves. The religious justification for the Guanche genocide had to be new-forged around ideas of racial and / or cultural — not religious — supremacy, and the exploitation levelled against them by their conquerors was much more rational — and modern — than that (eg. their organisation of sugar cane plantations and refineries). It was the first true colonialism and later served as a model for that in the Americas and the wide world beyond.
The conquest went on for almost a century, from 1402 when Jean de Bethencourt reached Lanzarote, until the completion of the colonial process in 1496.
After the Conquest
As the New World was subjugated, dogs began to take on less war-like responsibilities, and became pets of all members of the societies that emerged after the conquest. Felipe Guamán Poma de Ayala (1535 - c. 1615) wrote an illustrated chronicle, Nueva Corónica y Buen Gobierno, showing daily life in the Andes. One plate shows the author walking near Lima with his son and two dogs, named Amigo and Lautaro, both from mastiff or possibly alaunt lines. The next plate below shows an Andean hunter with a falcon and two dogs. The dog behind the hunter is likely an indigenous small dog, but the one preceding him appears to have the blood of an alaunt or mastiff, probably having mixed with an indigenous line. The final plate shows a city, perhaps with hunting dogs running in the fields before the walls.
Following the conquest of the Canary Islands it is theorized, a theory that is bast on available historical facts, that these war dogs of the Conquistadors left their impact on the "Island of Dogs" ( the name Islas Canarias is likely derived from the Latin name Canariae Insulae, meaning "Islands of the Dogs", a name that was applied only to Gran Canaria). This impact may very well be the genetic origin of the breed we know name the Perro de Presa Canario and Dogo Canario.
Brief review of the history of this Race
A few years after the conquest of the Canary Archipelago, reference is made in the Cedularios of the Cabildo de Tenerife to its agreement of February 5, 1526, in which and in view of the damage caused by dogs in major and minor cattle , the extermination of the same is ordered, with the exception of the couple that is admitted to the butchers for their service, and such action is entrusted to Don Pedro de Lugo, who has two prey dogs trained to kill.
Throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, there are numerous references and references to the Canary Islands' prey dog, made in the rich historical documentation that follows the Conquest, especially in the so-called Cedularios de los Cabildos, and well in no time, a description of the biotype of these dogs is made, if the function they develop is explained. The missions of the dog of prey are essentially of guard and of brega with the cattle; Its service to the butchers is often cited, to subdue the cattle or tied if it is prey.
Its function determines us, therefore, a robust morphology, typical of a molossus of prey, but with agility and thrust.
The Canary Islands, given its strategic geographical location in the Atlantic, have always been the obligatory stop, the hospital refueling of the American route. To the islands, the various Hispanic races that populated the New Continent, from hunting, trail and prey, of which Spain generously disposed, arrived from this time, due to this circumstance.
Specifically, the race of Spanish prey, the Spanish Presa, in its varieties of heavy Moloso or Dogo and light Moloso or Alano, so used in the conquest of America, brought blood streams to the existing prey dog in the Canary Islands.
Throughout the eighteenth century, the presence of English settlers, is increasingly common in the archipelago, usually traders who reside temporarily or permanently in the Canary Islands.
The British character and its sports traditions related to the dog as a combatant, to which they were so fond, come to the Islands. For the combats they normally used their typical gladiator dogs, Bulldog and Bullterrier type, that they bring from their country, inevitably raising the miscegenation with the existing prey dog in the Archipelago.
This English fondness for dog fighting, is fully identified with the island character, combative mood, ability that is repeated in the Balearic Islands with their Ca de Bou or Mallorcan prey dog or in Japan with the Tosa Inu as a dog national fight
It is proposed, therefore, in the population of prey of the Islands, certain morphological modifications. Not only think of a prey dog that develops a proper job as a guardian or as a cowherd, but also must have a good disposition to fight.
Regardless of this situation, we have to consider the existence in the Canary Islands of Bardino or Majorero, a native of the island of Fuerteventura and very widespread throughout the archipelago. This brega dog, dedicated especially to the management of goats and excellent guardian, unites these conditions, a great physical resistance, sobriety, scanty barking and an extraordinary dentition at the service of an incorruptible courage. The Bardino or Majorero was introduced, due to its excellent improving conditions, in the crosses that originated the Presa type that was emerging as a consequence of the English influence. Its genetic current determines in the Presa Canario much of its typical expression, its characteristic bardina coat of greenish brindle tonality, for that reason it is popularly named as Verdino,
Advanced the present century the love to the combats goes in increase. It fights freely and stables are established where they meet and select the specimens for their best conditions for the fight, not for their racial characteristics. This situation determined the selection of the Presa Canario, from a purely functional point of view. That is to say, it always constituted an ethnic group with magnificent conditions that since ancient times it developed in the Islands, but never tried to establish a phenotype that would give us its true identity.
Once the prohibition of fighting in Spain has been decreed, the Presa Canario is declining, a situation that aggravates the invasion of foreign races in the Islands, until reaching a phase of near extinction by 1960.
It was from 1970 when his recovery began. His resurgence is slow but uninterrupted. The interest of Presa Canario, as part of the Native Heritage of the Canary Islands is widespread, although the program of selection and improvement essential to obtain the genetic fixity that perpetuates the breed is not yet considered.
It was not until relatively recently in human history that dogs were developed into specific breeds, labeled, categorized, and standardized. Once standardization began, roughly mid-nineteenth century, the demand for breed classification grew exponentially. To be clear, breed classification and standardization history is somewhat different than the genetic origin stories and heavily riddled with modern day political influence. The Presa Canario/ Dogo Canario breed standard is an interesting and captivating history of it's own. The breed standardization history of our Conquistador K-9 Presa Canario Warriors can be found here. There are many discussions on this topic, we will share a few relevant ones on this page.