The Dogo Sardesco is a breed of working dog native to the Italian island of Sardinia. The Dogo Sardesco is a widely believed to be a type of Molosser or Mastiff, although its relationship to other members of that family is uncertain. The Dogo Sardesco is primary kept as a property and livestock guardian, although it has also been used as a hunting dog in the past. Although very rare outside of its native island, the Dogo Sardesco is becoming increasingly popular in mainland Italy as a protection animal. The Dogo Sardesco is a breed which goes by many names including the Sardinian Mastiff, Sardinian Molosser, Dogo Sardo, Cani Trinu, Beltigadu, Pertogatzu, Jagaru, and Sorgolinu.
The history of the Dogo Sardesco is shrouded in mystery. This is a very ancient breed that was developed many centuries, and perhaps several millennia, before written records were first kept of dog breeding. No one is sure how the Dogo Sardesco was first developed, when it was developed, or even who first bred the dog. All that is clear is that the Dogo Sardesco was developed on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia and that it has been kept by the island’s farmers for countless centuries. Recent archaeological finds from the island included depictions of dogs which are nearly identical to the modern day Dogo Sardesco dating back to approximately 3,000 years ago. Although there is no way to conclusively verify that the dog in the image was a Dogo Sardesco, it is not unreasonable to believe so. If the Dogo Sardesco actually is over 3,000 years old, it would be one of the oldest dog breeds in the world.
Although no one can be sure as the Dogo Sardesco’s exact origins, a number of theories have developed. It was traditionally assumed that the Dogo Sardesco was either descended from the Neapolitan Mastiff and Cane Corso, or that it at least came from the same root stock. It has long been assumed that the three breeds were descended from Mastiff-type dogs kept by the ancient Romans. There is a huge dispute as to how these breeds were developed, with dozens of theories being widely held. Some claim that these dogs are descended from Ancient Mesopotamian and Egyptian war dogs, others that they descend from the Molossus of Ancient Greece and Rome, still others that they were developed from Celtic dogs from France and/or England, and others that they are the descendants of the Alaunt, a fearsome war dog kept by the Alan tribe of the Caucasus mountains. However, if the Dogo Sardesco has been present on Sardinia for 3,000 years, it would have been developed more than eight centuries prior to the arrival of the Romans. In any case, the Dogo Sardesco is considerably different from other Mastiff-type dogs and may not actually be closely related to them.
There are two other major theories surrounding the ancestry of the Dogo Sardesco. The first holds that the breed was introduced to the island by Greek, Minoan, Phoenician traders. Prior to about 7,000 years ago, depictions of dogs across the ancient world are incredibly similar, and show dogs that either closely resemble the Dingo of Australia or are similar in appearance to modern sighthounds such as the Saluki and Sloughi. Then, the artwork of Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia begin to show new and distinct dog types. One of the most commonly depicted was a massive, short-faced dog. This dog was apparently used primarily for war as it is often depicted attacking enemy soldiers in battle. Many researchers believe that this ancient war dog was acquired by ancient sea faring traders. The Phoenicians of the Levant, the Minoans of Crete, and the Greeks of the Eastern Mediterranean all are known to have had substantial trading contacts with both the Middle East and the island of Sardinia (except for the Minoans whose relationship with Sardinia is likely but uncertain). All three peoples were major traders and seafarers and could easily have introduced the ancestors of the Dogo Sardesco to Sardinia. The final major theory holds that the Dogo Sardesco was developed entirely on the island of Sardinia from native dogs. It is entirely possible that early Sardinian farmers bred their own livestock guarding dogs from the island’s first dogs and that any similarities between the Dogo Sardesco and other breeds are the result of being bred to serve similar purposes.
Regardless of how the Dogo Sardesco was developed, it became a valued companion of farmers throughout Sardinia. The breed was most valued for its highly protective nature and ferocity when defending its charges. During the day, the Dogo Sardesco worked in the fields defending flocks of sheep and goats. Wolves and other large predators never reached Sardinia, although the island is home to populations of foxes and wildcats that would occasionally attack and kill young sheep. However, Sardinia has also long been home to human thieves, bandits, and warring families. Livestock theft has long been a major integral part of Sardinian life and the Dogo Sardesco was bred primarily to prevent it. At night, the Dogo Sardesco was tasked both with protecting the penned sheep and also its family as they slept. The Dogo Sardesco was selectively bred for aggression and protectiveness, resulting in a determined and courageous guardian.
Although the Dogo Sardesco has primarily been used as a livestock guardian, it has also been used for other purposes throughout its long history. Wealthy and powerful Sardinians occasionally used the breed to guard their estates and other properties. Sardinian hunters have also used the breed to hunt the populations of wild pigs, deer, and goats found on the island. The breed was especially useful for hunting pigs as it was traditionally the only dog readily available on Sardinia that was powerful, ferocious, and tenacious enough to fight wild pigs. Over the last several centuries, specialized hog hunting dogs have been introduced to Sardinia from Mainland Europe and North America. As a result, the Dogo Sardesco is now rarely used as a hunting dog, although it still is on occasion. In the past, Sardinia was divided between several warring kingdoms and was also regularly invaded by foreign powers. The Sardinian armies used the Dogo Sardesco as a war dog, although its importance in battles is disputed.
For untold centuries, the Dogo Sardesco has lived essentially exclusively on Sardinia. Very few, if any, breed members left the island until the 20th Century. A large reason for this is that the Sardinians tend to be highly suspicious of outsiders and are usually very reluctant to sell or give them their dogs. Over the last several decades, however, this has begun to change. A small number of Dogo Sardescos have been exported to mainland Italy, where they are developing a strong underground following. The breed is earning a reputation throughout Italy as a fierce and dedicated guard dog and personal protection animal. Although the breed is becoming increasingly popular throughout Italy, it has not yet established itself anywhere else. It is unclear if any breed members have been exported to non-Italian countries, but if any have it has been a very small number of individual dogs. Unlike most modern breeds, the Dogo Sardesco remains almost entirely a working dog. Although a few breed members are kept primarily for companionship, the vast majority of Dogo Sardescos are working livestock and property guardians. The Dogo Sardesco is not currently recognized by any many international kennel clubs, and it does not appear that this will change anytime in the near future. Dogo Sardesco breeders on Sardinia care only about the working abilities of their dogs and have shown no interest in even forming a breed club for the Dogo Sardesco, much less earning it international recognition.
The Dogo Sardesco has a very unique appearance. Although usually classified as a Molosser, the Dogo Sardesco is one of the least typical members of that family. Because the Dogo Sardesco is not bred to a written standard, the breed varies tremendously in appearance, and anything written here is more of a generalization than a rule.
The Dogo Sardesco ranges greatly in size. This breed is usually large but is very rarely massive. Most breed members range from 22 to 24 inches tall at the shoulder, but many are significantly shorter or taller. The weight of a Dogo Sardesco is heavily influenced by height, gender, build, and condition, but most examples range from 66 to 99 pounds. This is a very powerful looking dog which is incredibly muscular, but a Dogo Sardesco should be lean and athletic rather than thick or bulky. The Dogo Sardesco’s tail is traditionally docked to a short stump, and essentially all breed members have this procedure performed. Tail docking is rapidly falling out of favor and is actually banned in some countries. The breed’s natural tail is quite long.
The head of the Dogo Sardesco is relatively large for the size of its body, but not excessively so. The head is usually relatively square but individual dogs have very different head shapes. The muzzle of the Dogo Sardesco is quite long for that of a Molosser, but should still be slightly shorter than the length of the skull. The lips of this breed are prominent but very rarely pendulous. The jaws of this breed are very well-developed and appear every bit as powerful as they in fact are. The nose of the Dogo Sardesco is almost always black but may be a lighter color depending on the color of the coat. The ears of the Dogo Sardesco are traditionally cropped so that they are very short, barely extending from the sides of the heads. This procedure is performed on almost all Dogo Sardescos, although like tail docking it is falling out of favor and banned in some countries. The natural ears of the Dogo Sardesco are small to medium in size and fold down closely to the sides of its head. The eyes of the Dogo Sardesco are round-in-shape, amber-in-color, and relatively small-in-size. The overall expression of most breed members is serious, intense, and warning.
The coat of the Dogo Sardesco is short, thick, and smooth. The Dogo Sardesco is seen in a number of colors, but is most frequently red, brown, grey, black, or brindle. Many Dogo Sardescos have black masks, but the majority does not.
The Dogo Sardesco has been bred as a guard dog for thousands of years and has the temperament one would expect of such an animal. Dogo Sardescos tend to be extremely loyal to their families, and this breed can be nearly impossible to rehome. The Dogo Sardesco forms extremely close bonds with its family, to whom it is intensely devoted. The Dogo Sardesco is very affectionate with those it knows well and wants to be in their constant company. This breed is not recommended for families with young children (those under the age of 10) because they tend to be very dominant over children and are generally not tolerant of rough housing. Ideally, Dogo Sardescos will be kept away from strange children, and they should always be carefully supervised with them. Because Dogo Sardescos tend to be extremely dominant, this breed is not recommended for novice dog owners.
For hundreds of years, Sardinian breeders have focused on developing a protective and aggressive temperament in the Dogo Sardesco. As a result, this is breed is highly suspicious of strangers. Proper training and socialization are of the utmost importance for the Dogo Sardesco, otherwise severe human aggression issues can develop. Even with training and socialization, Dogo Sardescos will remain aloof and uninterested in strangers instead of being friendly or outgoing. Dogo Sardescos can take a very long time to warm up to a new person in their lives such as a spouse or roommate, and some never do even after many years. Not only are Dogo Sardescos highly protective but they are also very alert, making them excellent watch dogs. This is definitely a breed whose bite is worse than its bark, however, and Dogo Sardescos make very aggressive guard dogs. Dogo Sardescos will not allow anyone to enter their territory unaccompanied, and they will not hesitate to use violence in its defense. The Dogo Sardesco also makes a very effective personal protection dog as this breed will go to absolutely any length to defend its family from physical harm, including unhesitatingly sacrificing its own life.
Dogo Sardescos tend to have serious dog aggression issues. This breed exhibits all forms of dog aggression including same-sex, dominance, territorial, possessiveness, and predatory. Training and socialization can greatly reduce these dog aggression issues, but they cannot eliminate them entirely. This breed does best when kept as an only dog, or with a single member of the opposite sex. The Dogo Sardesco is considerably less animal aggressive than it is dog aggressive. When raised alongside sheep, goats, and other livestock Dogo Sardescos adopt them as members of its pack and becomes extremely protective over them. Dogo Sardescos tend to be very suspicious of strange animals, and may show them aggression, especially if they enter the dog’s territory.
This breed is considered to be highly intelligent, but also thought to be highly challenging to train. The Dogo Sardesco is definitely a breed that prefers to do its own thing rather than what others tell it too. Most Dogo Sardescos are stubborn, and many are outright defiant. This breed is especially unlikely to willingly perform repetitive tasks as it bores easily. A very dominant breed, Dogo Sardescos will absolutely not respond to anyone that they consider being lower than themselves on the social totem pole, meaning that owners must maintain a position of dominance at all times. None of this means that it is impossible to train a Dogo Sardesco, but it does mean that owners must exercise a substantial deal more patience and spend significantly more time than would be necessary with most breeds. Also, the final result may not be as successful as the owner may hope.
The Dogo Sardesco was bred to wander the fields of Sardinia, following its flocks wherever they went. As a result, this breed has fairly substantial exercise requirements. Dogo Sardescos should receive a minimum of between 45 minutes and 1 hour of vigorous physical exercise every day, but would ideally receive more. Dogo Sardescos which are not provided a proper outlet for their energy are very likely to develop behavioral problems such as aggression, destructiveness, excessive barking, hyperactivity, and over excitability. This breed makes a good jogging companion, but truly craves the opportunity to wander freely in a safely enclosed area. For this reason, the Dogo Sardesco adapts very poorly to apartment life, and does best when provided a large yard.
The Dogo Sardesco is a very low maintenance breed. These dogs should never require professional grooming, only a regular brushing. It is highly advisable for Dogo Sardesco owners to introduce their dogs to routine maintenance procedures such as nail clipping and ear cleaning from as young an age and as carefully as possible, as it is much easier to bathe a willing 10 pound puppy than a frightened 80 pound adult. There do not seem to be any reports on the Dogo Sardesco’s shedding, but it is probably safe to assume that this breed is at least an average shedder.
It does not appear that any health studies have been conducted on the Dogo Sardesco, which makes it impossible to make any definitive statements on the breed’s health. Most fanciers seem to believe that this is a relatively healthy breed which suffers from lower rates of common health problems than most large dog breeds. This does not mean that the Dogo Sardesco is immune to genetically inherited health problems, only that it tends to be healthier than similarly-sized purebred dogs. Because the Dogo Sardesco population outside of Sardinia is very small, the gene pool is very limited and may be subject to significantly worse health than breed members on Sardinia.
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 problems that have been identified in the Dogo Sardesco would have to include: