The Fila Brasileiro is a breed of Mastiff-type dog native to Brazil. Originally bred to track down escaped slaves in the tropical forests of colonial Brazil, the breed has since been used to hunt dangerous game, as a guard dog, and in military service. Famously suspicious of strangers, the Fila Brasileiro is one of the only breeds to have an intolerance of being touched written into its official breed standard. Although beloved across Brazil for its intense devotion and extreme courage, the Fila Brasileiro has earned a reputation across the world for aggression and is banned or restricted in many countries. The Fila Brasileiro is also known as the Brazilian Mastiff, Brazilian Molosser, Brazilian Bloodhound, Cao de Brasil, Cao de Fila, and the Fila.
The Fila Brasileiro was developed in an era before written records were kept of dog breeding and was primarily kept in remote areas of tropical forest. As a result, most of the details of its origins have been lost to history, and only a general outline is known. Likely the oldest of all Brazilian dog breeds, the Fila Brasileiro’s history closely parallels that of Brazil itself.
On April 22, 1500, the Portuguese explorer Pedro Alvares Cabral became the first European to set foot on what is now Brazil. He discovered a vast expanse of tropical forest which was inhabited by hundreds of unique Native American tribes, strange and fierce wildlife, and most importantly, valuable Brazil wood. Portuguese colonists began to flock to the new colony in pursuit of this valuable resource. The remnants of the Native population which were not killed by epidemic disease brought by Europeans were conquered and enslaved. Gradually, sugar, cotton, and rubber plantations replaced Brazil wood as the driving force of the Brazilian economy. These plantations required massive amounts of human labor, labor which was supplied by slaves. In addition to the captured indigenous tribes, the Portuguese imported more than 3 million African slaves to Brazil, and a smaller number of other groups including Portuguese convicts, defeated Moroccan soldiers, and various Islamic groups from around the Indian Ocean. Unsurprisingly, most slaves strongly resisted their servitude, and countless thousands escaped into the jungle. Both the Native Brazilians and equatorial Africans were considerably more adept at surviving in Brazil’s tropical forests than their European masters, and often were never found after their flight into the jungle. It quickly became clear that a better means of tracking slaves was necessary.
For several thousand years, dogs had been the primary means by which Europeans had tracked down both humans and animals. Hunting dogs were definitely in use across Europe by at least 10,000 years ago, and some researchers think that the actual date was closer to 30,000. Europeans had also long used massive, aggressive dogs in battle, a tradition dating back to at least Ancient Greece. Brazilian plantation owners quickly realized that they needed dogs to track down and capture runaway slaves. Specifically, they needed a dog with a unique set of characteristics. Their dogs would have to have exceptional senses of smell, a determined drive to follow trails, resistance to tropical heat and diseases, large enough size to bring down an armed man, and sufficient aggression to attack.
Since at least the Roman era, Portugal has been home to massive guardian breeds such as the Cao de Castro Laboreiro and the Rafeiro do Alentejo, often known as the Portuguese Watch Dog and Portuguese Mastiff. It is very likely that a number of these dogs were imported to Brazil. These breeds possessed the necessary size, ferocity, and power for the task of slave catching. Additionally, a number of English breeds were imported as well. England and Portugal have had a close relationship since English crusaders on their way to the Holy Land helped the King of Portugal recapture the city of Lisbon from the Islamic Moors in 1147, and English dog breeds were well known to the Portuguese. The gigantic English Mastiff, at the time still a greatly feared war dog, was introduced to add size, ferocity, and toughness. The Old English Bulldog, which was perhaps the world’s most ferocious dog until the 19th Century, was also introduced. Perhaps most importantly, the Bloodhound (Saint Hubert’s Hound) was brought in for its scent trailing abilities. Likely the first dog breed specifically bred to track human beings, the Bloodhound had been helping British lords track down criminals and runaway serfs for centuries. The Bloodhound was especially important to Brazilian farmers, as Portugal is not home to any native scenthound breeds. Brazilian plantation owners crossed the English Mastiff, Old English Bulldog, Bloodhound, and Portuguese guardian breeds together in order to create a dog with all of the features they desired. The new breed became known as the Cao de Fila, or Fila Brasileiro. The Fila Brasileiro became known for its distinctive method of capturing slaves. It would bite their necks and shoulders and hold them down until its human masters came to assist.
The Fila Brasileiro was kept throughout Brazil, but became especially associated with the Paulhistas. The Paulhistas were a collection of explorers, slavers, and traders based out of Sao Paulo. The Paulhistas are among the most iconic figures in Brazilian history, known for pushing the nation’s borders hundreds of miles into the interior. The Paulhistas brought the Fila Brasileiro along with them on their many expeditions into the Amazon, using the breed for protection and battle. During its time in Brazil, the Fila Brasileiro became increasingly adapted to the country’s climate. The breed became one of the most heat-tolerant of all Molosser/Mastiff-type dogs, capable of working for hours in temperatures which would quickly kill most similar breeds. The dog also gained natural resistances to the countless diseases and parasites found in the region. By the Mid-19th Century, the Fila Brasileiro had become a crucial part of the Brazilian plantation system. Unlike breeds such as the Cuban Mastiff, which were used almost exclusively for tracking runaway slaves, the Fila Brasileiro quickly proved useful in a number of ways. The massive and ferocious dog made an excellent guard dog, and the breed was used to protect the extravagant mansions of Brazil’s wealthiest citizens. Additionally, the breed’s keen nose allowed it to track animals as well as human beings. The jungles of Brazil are home to large populations of very dangerous animals such as the jaguar, cougar, and peccary. The Fila Brasileiro was the only breed which not only possessed the nose necessary to track these creatures but also the size and power necessary to do battle with them. Ranchers throughout Brazil sent out Fila Brasileiros to capture any predator that was threatening their livestock.
Although the first moves towards emancipation of Brazil’s slaves began in the 1820’s, the nation remained heavily dependent on slave labor until the late 19th Century. This meant that the Fila Brasileiro continued to be highly valued for many years after similar slave tracking dogs had become extinct in the Caribbean and American South. It was not until 1884 that slavery was completely abolished in Brazil, one of the world’s last countries to do so. Luckily for the Fila Brasileiro, it had already become so well-established as a guard dog and big game hunter by the time that slavery was banned that it continued to be kept even after its original purpose no longer existed. The breed became especially common in the interior region of Minas Gerais, where it was highly valued as a deterrent to thieves and predators. During the 20th Century, crime rates skyrocketed across Brazil as the nation became increasingly urbanized. The Fila Brasileiro became increasingly popular as a guard dog, until it became one of the most popular and common breeds in Brazil. There is substantial dispute as to the breed’s temperament at this time. Many fanciers claim that the breed was always highly aggressive, while others claim that the breed was not traditionally aggressive, and that it only became so during the 20th Century.
Although the Fila Brasileiro was almost certainly occasionally crossed with other breeds during its long history, it was kept primarily pure. By the 1940’s, there was significant interest in standardizing and registering the Fila Brasileiro. These efforts were centered around the city of Sao Paulo, home of the Paulhistas whom had long treasured the breed. In 1946, the first official written standard was published for the breed. This standard was based on Federation Cynologique guidelines and caused a major split between breed fanciers. The FCI standard called for a dog with a massive, Mastiff-like body and a Bloodhound-like face. The FCI standard also called for a less aggressive and more easily handled dog. The Brazilian Kennel Club (CBKC) and its breeders used the FCI standard. These guidelines greatly angered many breeders, who wanted a less bulky and more active dog, as well as one that was considerably more aggressive. The Club for the Improvement of the Fila Brasileiro (CAFIB) was founded to promote a more traditional dog. The CAFIB focused on maintaining the breed’s traditional temperament. An extreme distrust of strangers and a resistance to being touched by them, known to Brazilians as Ojeriza, was considered a valuable part of the standard. CAFIB breeders have long focused on maintaining the Fila Brasileiro’s ojeriza, and a lighter build. Dogs bred by CAFIB breeders are so naturally distrustful of strangers that many attack strangers even without formal training to do so.
During the late 20th Century, the Brazilian army wanted to determine if the Fila Brasileiro would make a good military dog. The breed was seen as especially desirable as it is naturally more temperature resistant than traditional European working breeds such as the German Shepherd Dog. A five year study was conducted comparing German Shepherd Dogs, Doberman Pinschers, and Fila Brasileiros, focusing on ability to work in extremely hostile rainforest conditions. Intelligence, aggressiveness, sensibility, temperament, energy, resistance, rusticity, and strength were the study’s focuses. The German Shepherd Dog was shown to have the highest degree of intelligence and the Doberman Pinscher was found to have the highest levels of aggression. In all other studied areas, the Brazilian Army found the Fila Brasileiro to be superior to the other breeds.
Beginning in the 1980’s, the Fila Brasileiro’s reputation as a massive and incredibly fierce guard dog spread around the world. A number of fanciers in both the United States and Europe began to import these dogs for use as personal and property protection animals. As a result of irresponsible ownership combined with the Fila Brasileiros natural tendencies, a number of these dogs were involved in very serious dog attacks. These incidents have prompted several countries, including the United Kingdom, Israel, Denmark, Norway, Malta, Cyprus, Australia, New Zealand, and Trinidad and Tobago, to ban the Fila Brasileiro and Fila Brasileiro mixes entirely. Additionally, numerous municipalities throughout the United States and Europe have put outright bans and restrictions on the breed. Although the Fila Brasileiro is naturally protective, many advocates consider these bans unfair. Those who have properly trained and socialized Fila Brasileiros have found that the breed can adapt to the presence of strangers quite well, and a number of these dogs have proven to be just as trustworthy and dependable as other large guarding breeds. Regardless, the Fila Brasileiro remains extremely controversial, and many breeders of other targeted breeds such as Rottweilers and American Pit Bull Terriers often compare their dogs favorably with the Fila Brasileiro to show that their breed is considerably less human aggressive.
Despite the controversy surrounding the Fila Brasileiro, breed numbers are continuing to grow throughout the world. The breed is very popular in Brazil, where it is one of the most common purebred dogs. Breed numbers are also rapidly growing in both the United States and Europe. Owners looking for a very large and aggressive guard dog are increasingly choosing the Fila Brasileiro, and its reputation, both positive and negative, is growing. Unlike most modern breeds which are no longer used for their original purpose, the vast majority of Fila Brasileiros remain primarily working dogs. Almost all breed members are either active or retired guard dogs, and this situation will almost certainly remain the case for the foreseeable future. Largely because of the breed’s reputation, as well the fact that ojeriza is written into the breed’s standard, the Fila Brasileiro is not currently recognized by either the American Kennel Club (AKC) or the United Kennel Club (UKC), and it does not appear that this will change any time in the near future.
The Fila Brasileiro is best described as having the body of a Mastiff with the head of a Bloodhound. What is most immediately apparent about this breed is its massive size. Official breed standards call for males to stand between 25½ and 29½ inches tall at the shoulder and for females to stand between 23½ and 27½ inches. Many breeders have focused on developing the largest possible dogs, and it is not uncommon to see breed members stand up to 3 inches taller. Adult male Fila Brasileiros weigh a minimum of 100 pounds and females weight a minimum of 90 pounds. However, many breed members weigh significantly more, and it is not unheard of for this breed to reach 200 pounds. The Fila Brasileiro is noticeably longer from chest to rump than it is tall from floor to shoulder, at least 10% longer. This breed is very powerfully built and extremely muscular. There are few dogs whose bodies are as physically intimidating as the Fila Brasileiro. The tail of the Fila Brasileiro is very long and usually carried low with a curve. The tail is very thick at the base but tapers dramatically towards the end.
The head of the Fila Brasileiro is perhaps the breed’s defining characteristic. Although heavy and massive, the head should always remain proportionate to the size of the dog’s body. When viewed from above, the breed’s head looks pear shaped. The muzzle of the Fila Brasileiro is considerably longer than that of other Mastiff-type dogs, and should be either the same length as the skull or very slightly shorter. According to the official breed standard, the Fila Brasileiro’s muzzle should be, “Strong, broad, and deep, always in harmony with the skull. From a top view it is full under the eyes, very slightly narrowing toward the middle of the muzzle and slightly broadening again until reaching the front curve. From a side view the bridge of the muzzle is straight or has a Roman nose, but never in an ascendant line. The front line of the muzzle is close to a perpendicular line in relation to the superior line, showing a slight depression right under the nose. A perfect curve is formed by the upper lips which are thick and pendulous, drooping over the lower lips giving shape to the lower line of the muzzle which is almost parallel to the upper line. The labial rim is always apparent. The lower lips are close and firm up to the fangs and from there on they are loose with dented borders. The muzzle has a great depth at the root but without surpassing the length of the muzzle. The labial rim has the shape of an inverted and deep U.” The nose of the Fila Brasileiro should be large, black, and possess well-developed nostrils. The ears of the Fila Brasileiro are pendant, large, thick, v-shaped, broad at the base, and strongly tapering towards the end. The ears should drop down wither close to the sides of the head or fold slightly backwards. The eyes of the Fila Brasileiro are medium to large in size, almondAmong experts, the use of Almonds, or Almond derived products in pet food appears to have been met with mixed reviews. While some feel that there is no issue and that the .... shaped, and colored according to the color of the coat. The overall expression of the breed is one of its hallmark features. When at rest, these dogs should look calm, noble, confident, and never bored. When at attention, this breed should look determined, firm, and fierce.
The coat of the Fila Brasileiro is short, smooth, dense, and tight-fitting. Fila Brasileiros are permitted to be of any solid color except for white and mouse grey. Any permissible color may be brindled either heavily or lightly. Patched (spotted) dogs are not permitted, nor are dappled or black and tan dogs. Black masks are acceptable on any acceptable color. White markings may be found on the feet, chest, and tip of the tail, but nowhere else. Occasionally, a Fila Brasileiro will be born in an alternative coloration such as mouse grey or with white patches on other locations on the body. Such dogs are penalized in the show ring and should not be bred, but otherwise make just as acceptable companion animals or show dogs as any other breed member.
The temperament of the Fila Brasileiro is probably the breed’s most important feature, and it is what most breeders put the greatest emphasis on. Unfortunately for the breed, its temperament is also highly controversial. The Fila Brasileiro is almost exclusively bred as a guard dog and has the temperament one would expect of such a dog. Unlike most protection breeds, most Fila Brasileiros are bred specifically for high levels of human aggression, especially in Brazil. It is very important for potential owners to understand that the Fila Brasileiro is definitely not an ideal choice for every family, and in fact is a very poor choice for the vast majority of dog owners. This breed should only be kept by those with substantial experience with large, protective dogs who have proven themselves capable of managing them. When raised properly, this breed can be an outstanding protector, but when raised by inexperienced handlers can become a serious liability.
The Fila Brasileiro is known for its very intense loyalty. This is a dog that forms an incredibly intense attachment with its family, for whom it would do absolutely anything. When raised by a single individual, this breed has a very strong tendency to become a one person dog, but when raised in a family atmosphere most will form equally strong bonds with all members. Fila Brasileiros can be affectionate, but for the most part are very independently minded. This breed has a mixed reputation with children. Most who have raised their Fila Brasileiros around children have found them to be extraordinarily gentle with and extremely tolerant of those individual children. However, most experts would not recommend this breed for families with children. This dog will generally not respect the commands of children as they will surely not be seen as higher on the social pecking order. Additionally, this dog may mistake the rough play of children as an attack on its family and react very negatively.
Fila Brasileiros are specifically bred for a trait known as ojeriza. Ojeriza, which loosely translates to xenophobia, describes the intense suspicion and distrust of strangers. This is perhaps the only dog whose breed standard indicates that it should not tolerate the approach or touch of strangers. Proper training and socialization are absolutely of the utmost importance for this breed. Without them, this breed can become extremely human aggressive. If something goes wrong in the training or handling of this breed, it has the potential to become a killer. Once properly socialized, most breed members will come to tolerate strangers in the presence of their families. However, this breed will almost certainly never tolerate strangers approaching when its family is not around, which can create extreme difficulties for mailmen, firemen, and even those coming to feed the dog while its owners are away. This is also a breed that takes a very long time to warm up to a new person in their lives such as a spouse or roommate. In fact, some individuals never make friends even after years of living together.
Extremely protective, naturally suspicious, and constantly on high alert, this breed makes an excellent watch dog. It would be an extremely foolish intruder who would ignore the warning barks and growls of this breed. Although usually an effective deterrent on its own, this breed is a guard dog first and a watch dog second. Many fanciers believe that this breed is the best guard dog in the entire world, an opinion shared by many experts. Some lines will attempt to threaten first, but others will unhesitatingly bite. This breed is said to have no fear, and there is no opponent man, beast, or machine that would make one of these dogs back down. The Fila Brasileiro also absolutely excels at personal protection. Under no circumstances would one of these dogs allow physical harm to a member of its family, and anyone attempting to do so would have to kill the animal first.
Fila Brasileiros have a mixed reputation with other animals. Although this breed is generally less dog aggressive than human aggressive, most breed members do have dog aggression issues. Many breed members are completely intolerant of other dogs, and even the least dog aggressive breed members will not tolerate being dominated. Any dog aggression issues are greatly magnified in this breed, as there are probably only two or three breeds that could face up to one in a confrontation and hope to survive. It is highly advisable that owners keep this breed as an only dog, or at most with a single member of the opposite sex. When raised alongside other creatures such as cats, most of these dogs will be very tolerant of them and actually become highly protective. However, this breed tends to be highly prey driven, and strange creatures ranging in size from a mouse to a deer will probably be chased down, attacked, and likely killed.
As is the case with most guardian breeds, the Fila Brasileiro poses substantial training challenges. This breed absolutely does not live to breed, instead preferring to do its own thing. Most Fila Brasileiros are extremely stubborn, and many are outright defiant. Under no circumstances will one of these dogs obey a command from anyone it considers lower than itself on the social hierarchy, meaning that it is absolutely imperative for owners to maintain a constant position of dominance. This does not mean that the Fila Brasileiro is impossible to train, but it does mean that owners will have to spend significantly more time and effort than they would with other breeds and that the final result may not be to the desired level. Even the best trained breed members are often reluctant to obey commands and usually take their time to do so. Despite the difficulties, it is essential that owners properly train this breed to avoid serious issues.
Fila Brasileiros are substantially more active than most giant breeds. This is not a dog that will be satisfied with a couple of short potty-walks a day. Fila Brasileiros should receive an absolute minimum of 30 minutes of vigorous physical activity every day, and more would be preferable. Breed members which are not provided sufficient exercise are likely to develop behavioral problems such as extreme destructiveness, hyperactivity, excessive barking, and aggression. This breed greatly enjoys daily walks, but truly craves an opportunity to freely roam in a safely enclosed area. These dogs should be allowed to patrol a fenced yard for long periods, and most adapt very poorly to apartment living.
Potential owners need to be aware of several breed characteristics. Fila Brasileiros will bark at almost anything which they consider of note, and their loud voices are quite likely to result in noise complaints. Additionally, this is not a breed for the overly fastidious or easily embarrassed. Fila Brasileiros often drool quite heavily, especially in warm weather. This breed is also a very messy eater and drinker. Although this breed suffers from considerably less flatulence than shorter-faced Mastiffs, some breed members do have gas issues, issues which will quickly clear a room.
The Fila Brasileiro is a low maintenance breed. These dogs should never require professional grooming, only an occasional brushing. Owners do have to regularly and carefully clean the ears and facial wrinkles of their Fila Brasileiros, otherwise food, water, dirt, and other particles may become lodged in them and cause infections. It is highly advisable for owners to introduce Fila Brasileiros to routine maintenance procedures such as bathing or tooth brushing as early and as carefully as possible. An adult Fila Brasileiro that doesn’t want its nails clipped is not going to have its nails clipped unless it is sedated first. This breed is considered an average shedder, but due to its large size most shed a great deal.
It does not appear that any health studies have been conducted on the Fila Brasileiro, which makes it impossible to make any definitive statements on the breed’s health. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the breed suffers from relatively high rates of most common problems among large breed dogs such as bloat, hip dysplasia, skeletal growth abnormalities, and progressive retinal atrophy. However, most fanciers believe that this dog is in substantially better health than other giant breeds, and suffers from fewer conditions and usually later in life than most other Mastiffs. Most sources indicate that the Fila Brasileiro has a life expectancy of between 9 and 11 years, but it is unclear what this estimate is based on.
Because skeletal and visual problems have been known to occur in this breed, it is highly advisable for owners to have their pets tested by both the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF). The OFA and CERF perform genetic and other tests to identify potential health defects before they show up. This is especially valuable in the detection of conditions that do not show up until the dog has reached an advanced age, making it especially important for anyone considering breeding their dog to have them tested to prevent the spread of potential genetic conditions to its offspring.
A full list of health issues which are known to be of concern in the Fila Brasileiro would have to include: