I live in Sicily and I am general manager of a hotel located in the middle of the island. I was a child when I first entered the dog world. My first dogs were a Yorkshire Terrier and a German Shepherd; then we had Sheepdogs, Neapolitan Mastiffs and a Great Dane. I began exhibiting in the early 90s and then I started training in 2000 as a show judge. My first qualification was in 2004 for the Dogo Argentino.
I have homes in both south Alabama and central Florida. I have owned various automotive repair facilities over the years mostly transmission shops. I sold the last one in 2008 and semi-retired as I remain active in the industry as a technical and operations consultant. I have been actively involved with dogs all of my life. I have been showing for almost 20 years now and became a breeder judge for the Cane Corso by way of the adjunct system when the breed moved into working group the summer of 2010.
1. Number of years owning and/or showing the Cane Corso? What attracted you to the breed?
RH: I have 16 years in the breed—I got my first Cane Corso, Saxon, in 1999. I began showing my girl Nani in 2005. After growing up with Rottweilers, I decided to seek a different breed. My primary target was Neapolitan Mastiffs, but as I did more and more research, I found more info about the Corso. The combination of sturdiness and agility made it a good fit. The striking appearance was icing on the cake.
2. Describe the Cane Corso in three words:
MI: Versatile, athletic and reliable.
JS: A real eye catcher with a very distinctive presence. Intelligent and capable of any task. And Historical as the Corso is the closest modern day breed to the ancient Roman Molossian.
3. What are your “must have” traits in this breed?
MI: I would first say what they should not have: it should not be a copy of the related breeds! The Cane Corso is a breed of recent recognition and in some cases there have been mating with related breeds. This is done to speed up the process and have immediate positive results. In due time these errors are paid for. Now they see Cane Corso reminiscent of Bullmastiffs, Boxers, etc. The Cane Corso is a Molossoid breed with type that consists of both average substance and overall elegance. The head is its focal point. It must have skull and muzzle angles slightly converging. It must be of good length and with as few wrinkles as possible. It is important that it doesn’t have rotund lines and that it is angular with straight lines. The jaw should be powerful and wide with a full muzzle and body should be developed in width and height. It must have good substance and backbone and not lose the qualities that distinguished the breed at the beginning of its recognition.
JS: Correct head type which is a major problem right now and solid structure necessary for the working heritage of this breed.
4. Are there any traits in this breed you fear are becoming exaggerated?
MI: There have been many exaggerations in the breed in recent years. The search for wider skulls has led to an increasingly evident shortening of same. We have very large heads and faces. In addition, the heads are shortened too much and have wrinkles and excess skin. In becoming shorter, the heads have also become rounded. Many subjects are prognathic with lower jaws too similar to a Bullmastiff. The heads must be powerful with good length and as few wrinkles as possible. The lines of the skull must remain straight.
JS: Size, size and size. The breed is currently suffering from a bigger is better mentality. Many of the dogs are too big and too bulky to perform the historical tasks of a versatile Italian farm dog capable of performing whatever tasks were required by the farmer. Some of these tasks are herding and protecting livestock, hunting small game such as Badger and Porcupine and the catching and holding of large game such as wild boar. Most importantly they had to be able to do this in the hot climate of southern Italy for extended periods of time during the day, day after day week after week. I see dogs that are champions and grand champions that far exceed the max height in the standard of 27.5 for a male and 26 for a female. In addition we have no reference for weight in the AKC standard. The Italian kennel club standard has the same exact height values plus a weight of 110 pounds for males and 100 pounds for females. Even with that the dogs in Italy and Europe do exceeded these weights on a regular basis which is OK to a degree. However it is even harder here in the US to maintain a correct and realistic weight without an actual weight reference. Fortunately the AKC standard does start with a description that states “Medium large dog” not large or giant and that is a good thing but unfortunately it does not seem to be helping much.
5. Do you think the dogs you see in this breed are better now than they were when you first started judging? Why or why not?
MI: The breed has increased in numbers, but necessarily in quality. Some people have bred well from the beginning and continue to have good dogs. Other people approached the breed only for commercial purposes and thus, have produced quantity, but not quality. Many years ago, the average quality in the judging ring was perhaps better. There were fewer examples with exaggerated type; and even if some dogs were unrefined, there was maybe more evenness. Now you can see everything in the ring, with judges rewarding these inconsistent dogs.
JS: The dogs now are far better then the dogs of the past but we still have a very long way to go. There are a number of reasons for this but the biggest is the simple fact that this is a new breed in the sense of a modern day pure bred dog. Although the breeds origins are ancient and can be traced all the way back to the days of Rome the Cane Corso did not become an official registered breed in Italy until 1994.
6. What do you think new judges misunderstand about the breed?
MI: The thing that is difficult to understand for any breed is expression, which is created from the balance in the skull and snout with the correct shape, color and position of the eyes. Without all this, the breed’s expression is lost. This is not only difficult for new judges, but for judges at all levels. Thus, judges’ education must address this to truly understand the breed, as I’ve seen required in many parts of the world. A solid knowledge base ensures the breed’s welfare and improvement of judging standards and selections, and I hope in some ways, I’ve contributed to that learning.
JS: Type is for sure the most misunderstood. And we have a wide range of type in this breed right now not making it any easier for judges not familiar with the Cane Corso. There are a couple main reasons for this. As I previously stated the breed was developed from a wide range of dogs scattered all over southern Italy that shared certain traits yet were also quite diverse. Many people do not know that both the modern day Cane Corso and Neapolitan Mastiff were both derived from the same basic types of Mollosian dogs found in Southern Italy. The names even interchanged back then depending on who you talked to. Another major factor was the influence of other pure breeds by overzealous and inpatient breeders both in Italy and the US. Boxer, Bullmastiff, Rottweiler and Mastiff were some of the more common breeds put into the mix with the original rustic specimens. When any other obvious breed influence is present it should be faulted. A judge needs to really study type in order to do a good job judging this breed. A correct Cane Corso has very a distinct type. I always try and explain it in these simple terms. The Cane Corso is a brachycephalic breed but in moderation. Every important breed specific trait such as a relatively short muzzle, skull convergence, stop and undershot bite should be present but never excessive. It should also never ever have any mesaticephalic type. In addition the Corso should have very slight little wrinkle or dewlap.
7. Is there anything else you’d like to share about the breed? Please elaborate.
MI: I would simply remember that the Cane Corso is not only a breed that is black with cropped ears. I’ve seen dogs win, albeit controversially, in the ring by the mere fact that they were black with cropped ears. Since there are no related breeds with these characteristics, it becomes convenient for the judge to base his or her decision on these simplistic factors. The characteristics of the breed to watch for should not be just the color. The same dog, maybe with intact ears and a fawn color, fades into the background, although he may possess correct type. While popular, remember black is just a color and all colors should have their place in the breed. Chasing the black color will lead to a less genetically sound breed.
JS: I am so passionate about the breed that I could consume the entire magazine answering that question. I will just say that the Cane Corso is a perfect combination of many things true to its heritage as a versatile and necessary aid and companion to the rural Italian farmers and their families.
8. What is your funniest experience at a dog show?
MI: While I was judging a dog in the ring, like I always do, I asked the exhibitor, “How old?” She answered 52. Of course, I was referring to the dog, not the lady!
JS: I have seen so many things of that nature it would be impossible to pick one. After all dog shows should be fun also right.