Cane Corso Breeder Interview

The Dog Guide is pleased to present to you this great interview with Cane Corso breeder Virginia Dunn of Bella Rosa Cane Corsos.

How long have you been working with your breed?

Well, I rescued dogs for years, my boys and I. Mostly Pit Bulls. We truly love Pit Bulls! But knowing that only 1 in every 600 Pits that need homes will ever get one, and looking at the reality of the Pit situation really started getting me down. Don’t get me wrong. I will ALWAYS help the pits. But sometimes it just gets so overwhelming. I guess I just needed a break from rescue. That’s when the Cane Corso came into my life. It’s been a blessing to me.

How did you decide that this was the breed for you?

cane corsoWhen I first learned about the breed on the internet. They were so regal looking. Just breathtaking. I started researching, going to shows, and talking to breeders. I liked the fact that they were new in the States and people had not compromised them. I was so lucky to meet a couple of breeders who were really dedicated to the breed, and they helped me a lot. Kim Miller of Preservation Kennels in Washington was a huge inspiration to me. One of the things I was concerned about was how they would work with autistic children. I have a son who has Aspergers, and we regularly have special needs kids in and out of our home. Pit Bulls are especially great with autistic kids; they seem to have a natural ability to understand them, and they really excel at the ‘deep pressure’ work we would do with the kids. They’d just say ‘Get out of the way, I’ll be happy to squish the kid!’ HA! So, I needed to know that the Corso would have that same instinctual understanding and compassion for these kids. Well, they do. They proved themselves very quickly.

The Cane Corso’s claim to fame is their ability to ‘discern friend from foe’. I trust their instinct. I know they would protect me and my family. Their loyalty is unsurpassed.

Can you tell us a bit about the history of your breed?

The Cane Corso is an Italian Mastiff. They are cousins to the Neopolitan – in fact, the Corso and the Neo were the same breed until the 1950s. Corsos were originally imported into the States just barely 20 years ago, yet they are becoming a very popular home guardian and companion. They have now been accepted into the AKC, going into the Miscellaneous Class on July 1st. And we are actively seeking UKC recognition at this time. Ancient Corsos were used as war dogs all the way back to the Roman times. But for hundreds of years, all the way up to today, they were used as estate and guardian dogs, as well as herders. They are true working dogs.

Could you tell us a little bit about the stages of life for this breed?

Like any mastiff breed, Corsos are slow to mature. Often times, they are not mentally adults until around 3 years of age. This contrasts with the fact that our mastiffs have a shorter life span than many of our smaller dogs.

Describe an average day living with your breed:

An average day. Hmmm. Get up – or try to get up, because they are typically snoring on top of my legs and I am pinned! Go potty and then feed them breakfast. We feed raw and cook for our dogs, so breakfast is usually raw turkey legs, fresh fish, pork necks or perhaps some venison if we are lucky enough! If it’s a nice morning, we go for a walk. Then I go to work. Because I am self-employed, they usually all come with me into the office. However, at 10:30, they want to go outside so they can play their favorite game – ‘Let’s Scare The Mailman!’ This is where they hide quietly and pretend they are not there. Then they wait for the mailman to come up the stairs and deliver the mail. It’s diabolical the way they lay for him. On his way out, as he walks past the gate (which is double latched top and bottom for no mishaps), they HIT it as hard as they can and bark to ‘surprise’ him. Extra points if it’s a relief mailman and they scare him enough to sprint down the stairs! Then they dance around smiling and laughing – another day’s work completed! In the afternoon, I take a break from my office and do some obedience training, then run errands, and a couple dogs go with me. When people see their big beautiful heads hanging out of the car windows, they just stare in amazement. These dogs are truly gorgeous. In the evening they go for a walk or socialize at the dog park, followed by some more obedience. Then dinner, where they play their other favorite game – ‘Drool as though I never feed you!’ This is where they compete with each other to see how much drool they can possibly produce while waiting for their dinner to be served. If we are having ‘dog stew’, they up the ante and we have to use a bath towel to clean up the puddles on the floor! Afterwards, they are usually content to lie down quietly for snuggling, unless of course they ALERT on something. Could be an ax murderer! Or just a cat walking on my car. Either way, the situation calls for intense alarm barking. Ah, thanks guys. Fortunately at the end of the day, we all go to bed and I sleep like a baby, knowing no one could possibly hurt me with these guys around!

Choose a few words that best describe your breed:

Noble. Regal. Protective. Extremely Loyal. Smart. Versatile.

What are 3 misconceptions about this breed?

1. Aggressive – People think the Cane Corso is a people aggressive breed, when in fact most Corsos love and adore their families and are extremely loyal and submissive to them. However, in new situations, they can be quite aloof and suspicious of strangers. Don’t ‘run up’ on a Cane Corso – or any guardian breed. They need a moment to decide if you’re a good guy or not. Once they know you and accept you, you’ve got a friend for life!

2. Breed Mis-identification – I can’t tell you how many times I have had people ask me ‘Is that a Pit Bull / Shar Pei cross?’, ‘Is that one of those Chinese Fighting Dogs?’ or even ‘That looks like a giant Pit Bull on steroids!’ Hey, I like Pit Bulls – a lot! However, this is a Cane Corso, an Italian Mastiff. There is no terrier in this dog. I am now seeing people wearing tee-shirts that say ‘It’s a Cane Corso. It’s NOT a …’ Guess they got tired of answering the question!

3. No Police K9? Finally, I think the third misconception that really bothers me the most is the idea that this dog, or any mastiff, cannot be a Police K9. The notion there is that they are too big and lack the agility necessary, that they are too short muzzled and can’t track or do detection work, or that they are too aloof to manage social situations. Quite the contrary. Right now, I have one Corso in Pennsylvania that is on patrol, does drug detection, and at the same time works with kids at DARE and on child abuse calls. She is only 1 of 3 Corso cops in active service in the US right now, and I have another going for training within the next 2 weeks. I think Cane Corsos are well equipped to do this work, and I aim to prove it!

What are 3 little known facts about this breed?

1. Cane Corsos are the lightest, most agile, and most athletic of all the mastiff breeds.

2. Corsos are used in Europe to guard and herd livestock, and are particularly good for herding and loading hogs, thus providing safety for their handlers.

3. Cane Corsos have been used by the Swiss Guard to guard the gates of Vatican City.

What should people who are interested in this breed know before they bring one of these dogs into their homes?

This dog needs a strong but tender hand. Although they are sweet and gentle with their families, they are a dominant breed and need a clear leader. Anyone who has not had experience in working with dominant breeds should seek guidance from a good trainer who understands these types of dogs. The Cane Corso is NOT for everyone. Potential buyers should think long and hard before bringing one into their home and incorporating it into their lifestyle. They are very family oriented and would not be happy outside in the backyard or away from their owners. All dogs need training, and this is doubly true for the Corso. They are high-caliber dogs who, with the right breeding, socializing and proper training, can do just about anything!

Is there anything interesting that the breeding community (for your breed) is collectively working on?

Presently our breed club, the Society in America for Cane Corso Italiano (SACCI) is working to have the dog recognized with the United Kennel Club (UKC). Once this happens, there will be more Working and Conformation events available for the Cane Corso.

Do you have any tips on how people can go about locating good, quality breeders?  What questions or measures would you say to take to weed out a bad breeder?

Yes. In fact, I could write a whole article on that, and I WILL if you want! ;)

Potential owners need to ask a ton of questions and do their research. Many a person has been taken by a smooth talking breeder who says everything you want to hear. You’ll save yourself a lot of heartache if you follow up, demand proof, and validate the claims being made.

Has the breeder health tested his stock? What are their hip scores? Elbows? What are the health issues in their lines? (Everybody has some.)

Have the parents of this litter been shown and championed in Conformation or Working venues? Note – the term ‘from champion bloodlines’ essentially means nothing. All American Cane Corsos came from the original ‘Super 6’ that were imported 20 years ago. With such a limited gene pool, virtually every Corso has some of that old ‘champion’ stock in them, unless they themselves are imports. The question should really be is their breeding stock – the parents of this litter – championed? The proof is in the pudding.

And what about temperament? Have they passed the CGC? ATTS? CAL? TAN? Anything?

Does the breeder participate in rescue? (And not just for their own dogs either.)

Can they provide references? Go ahead and actually call them!

Price – the cost for a well-bred Cane Corso from a legitimate breeder is typically $1500 to $3,000. It costs that much to do all the training, showing, testing, etc. If the person you are talking to is selling his pups for $800 bucks, THERE IS SOMETHING WRONG! Chances are those pups are not papered, or no health testing has been done on the parents, they are not being worked or shown, they do not have CH titles, etc. You could end up with an incorrect dog, with health problems, poor conformation, bad temperament, and a fly-by-night breeder that won’t be there to help you. I’ve seen way too much of that.

Finally, do they provide a written contract? What are the guarantees? Will they take a dog back if you can’t keep it? What about their replacement policy? Ask for a copy of the contract and read it thoroughly BEFORE deciding to purchase.

Now, go physically meet some breeders and their dogs. Drive to their homes. Go to dog shows. Meet them and their dogs.

And trust your gut! If something doesn’t feel right, leave and move on.

Do you participate in any activities with your dogs (agility, obedience, earthdog, etc)?

Yes. We are very active in the dog world. We train and show our dogs in conformation, and have earned many championships. We do rescue. We also participate in personal protection training. I am a Canine Good Citizen Evaluator, an ATTS Tester, Regional President for the SACCI, Director of K9 ProSports for the NW Region, and head of NW Working Dogs. We hold protection events, as well as the NW Working Dogs Expo, an annual event bringing together conformation, protection work, and temperament testing (see We are very active in everything from showing to training, teaching people how to raw feed and cook for their dogs, and even making custom leather leashes and all natural soap for dogs. Truly it is a dog’s life around here!

Is there anything else you'd like to tell the readers of the Dog Guide about your breed?

The Cane Corso is a most amazing animal: loyal and loving to family, fiercely protective in the face of a threat. It is a true working breed. Given the proper tools and training, they can and will do most anything asked of them.

Thanks to Virginia for the great interview! We encourage Dog Guide readers to visit the Bella Rosa Cane Corsos for more information about this great breed.


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