When you look up a breed standard it can sometimes be challenging for a novice or “green” owner to compare their dog to what is structurally correct for that standard. There is plenty of terminology and references that are mentioned so here I will try to break down some key conformation points with photos. For the purposes of this blog post I will be using the UKC and FCI Presa Canario breed standard and only be discussing structural components to the standard.
Firstly, the UKC breed standard states that “ breeders and judges have the responsibility to avoid any conditions or exaggerations that are detrimental to the health, welfare, essence and soundness of this breed, and must take the responsibility to see that these are not perpetuated.” I have highlighted exaggerations because as the Presa Canario gets more popular so does the “big, mean, scary” trend. This is a working dog. It’s supposed to be a functional dog. Many breeders are trying to breed for excessive size, XXL, bigger the better. The bigger/heavier the dog, the more stress on the joints, the more risk of injury and the less functional the dog. According to UKC, the desirable height at withers for a mature male is 23-26 inches. Desirable height at withers for a mature female is 22-25 inches. Minimum weight for a mature male is 100 pounds and for a mature female is 85 pounds. Similarly, the FCI standard states Size and Height: Height at the withers: Males: 60 - 66 cm (23”-26”). Females: 56 - 62 cm (22”-24.5”). For very typical specimens, a tolerance of 2 cm. over or under these limits is accepted. Weight: Minimum: Males: 50 kg (110lb). Females: 40 kg. (88lb) Maximum: Males: 65 kg (143lb) and Females: 55 kg (121 lb). When you see 8 month old puppies at 110lb, you know these dogs are already way out of standard which means likely the parents are oversized / exaggerated or possibly even not purebred. The standard is always a guideline but was created with the dogs original purpose in mind.
When we reference the body of the Presa there are a few key proportional points. Firstly, the head. Skull-foreface proportion is 60-40%. One of the distinguishing factors on the Presa Canario head especially when comparing to other similar molossoid dogs is the planes. The top lines of the skull and muzzle should be roughly parallel to each other (as seen in the photo examples below) compared to a breed such as the cane corso that has more convergent head planes. There should be a very gradual dip from the space between the eyes down to the muzzle. There should not be an abrupt stop/drop down to the muzzle. This is a serious fault.
Cane Corso Image sourced from sanroccocanecorso.com
The body of the Presa Canario should be slightly longer than the height at the withers. This is especially visible and sometimes exaggerated in some Spanish lines. It often is more pronounced in females than in males. The length is measured from the point of the sternum to the rear of the dog and for height from the withers to the ground. See example below.
As mentioned above, sometimes when we deviate too far from the standard we sacrifice functionality. Keep in mind the purpose of individual breeds. Imagine a rat terrier being bred 2, 3, 4 inches taller than the standard for the breed, do you think it would be as easy to fit down rabbit holes and under dense brush to complete the task it was bred for? Imagine a greyhound bred 20 or 30 pounds heavier than the standard, do you think it would run as fast as the lighter, fitter ones? Once we start breeding for the wrong reasons (excessive size and weight), there is absolute certainty that the functionality will deteriorate and become compromised. Form and function is desirable.
The Presa Canario, like many other breeds, should have adequate angulation in the front and rear. The correct rear structure of a Presa should have hocks 90 degrees perpendicular to the ground when looking from behind. Cow hocks (inward) or bow legged (outward) are structural faults and can often indicate weakness or disease in the hips or knees. As per the UKC Standard:
The angulation of the hindquarters is moderate. When the dog is standing, the rear pasterns are short, perpendicular to the ground and, viewed from the rear, parallel to one another.
The topline should have a slight increase to the croup. The keyword here is * slight * increase. Often times when the rear is too high and the topline has too much sway, the rear legs will be under-angulated (straight) to compensate for the high rear. A lack of angulation in the rear will predispose the dog to excess strain on the knee and can predispose the dog to cruciate ligament ruptures. See comparison and photos below. Swayback AND Roach-back are serious faults.
As per the UKC standard, the front legs are straight, well muscled, and heavy boned. Pasterns are strong, short and nearly vertical with round cat-like feet. Splayed feet are a breed fault.
It's important to remember that there are no perfect dogs. As breeders, it's our job to select breeding pairings to attempt to better the breed. In order to do this properly we have to be aware of the faults in our dogs so we can properly match pairings that compliment each other. The goal is to preserve the breed without compromising form or function and the breed standard is just used as a reference point.