The Fila Brasileiro (or Fila Mastiff as it’s also known) is an iconic looking dog, famous for its strong, muscular appearance and unrivaled loyalty. Due to its appearance and often difficult temperament, the Fila dog has developed a reputation for being defensive and aggressive. While this reputation might have some truth to it, ultimately the dog’s personality and behavior will be affected by their upbringing and depend on how well they are trained as a pup. Just like many large dogs, the Fila Brasileiro has also inherited a negative stigma from its history of being a hunting dog. While many large, muscular dogs are subjected to a negative perception by the public, not many people take time to understand why these views became popular and to learn about the dog’s real history.
So let’s take a look at this breed’s history, discover some fascinating facts and learn how they should be trained, fed and looked after!
History of the Fila Brasileiro
The Fila Brasileiro dog originates from Brazil (hence, Brasileiro) and is widely believed to be the oldest dog breed from that country. It is thought to have been created through crossing the Portuguese Mastiff, English Mastiff, Bloodhound and Old English Bulldog. These dogs were chosen for their aggression, large size, strong bodies and abilities to follow scents to catch prey and humans. Although the origin of the Fila dog is generally accepted as coming from these breeds, there are no complete, original records and dog experts are unsure exactly when they were first developed. However, historians generally believe that large, hunting dogs have been used in Brazil since Europeans discovered and invaded the country around the 16th Century.
This large and aggressive dog was created and used by European colonizers who took over parts of Brazil to export its natural goods. In order to farm and produce high quantities of these goods, the settlers began setting up plantations and used slaves from Africa and Brazilian Natives to carry out their labor. While Fila dogs were often used to guard the plantations, goods and mansions of the plantation owner, they were often used for a more violent and aggressive purpose. If slaves managed to escape from the plantation, these dogs would chase them by following their scent trail and would capture them until their masters arrived. Due to the dog’s power, size, and obedience, their reputation for chasing and catching slaves grew exponentially and they were soon used on most plantations in Brazil for this reason. The dogs were trained to catch animals or slaves without harming them and then to wait until their master arrived. The name ‘Fila’ derives from the Portuguese verb ‘Filar’, meaning to hold, arrest or grab. It is unsurprising then, that this dog received its name from its hunting and chasing ability and we can see where the aggressive stigma began.
Quick Facts About the Brazilian Mastiff
The Brazilian Mastiff really is a fascinating animal with lots of interesting aspects about its body, lifestyle and care. We’ve listed some of the best facts below!
- This breed is known by many different names including, Brazilian Mastiff, Fila Brasileiro, Cão de Fila, Cabeçudo (Big-headed) and Onceiro (Jaguar Hound).
- On average these dogs live for roughly 10 years.
- The Brazilian Mastiff’s coat is short and its skin is loose and wrinkly, especially around the face.
- Almost all Mastiffs are shades of black or brown, or a combination of the two.
- The Brazilian Mastiff’s muzzle is always long and typically black.
- On average, they weigh from 90 to 180 pounds. Males almost always weigh more and are nearer the top of this scale, while females typically weigh less – towards the bottom of the scale.
- Male and female Brazilian Mastiffs don’t differ too much in height. While males grow up to around 30 inches, females closely follow this at 28 inches.
- Brazilian Mastiffs are not only known for their aggression and power. They have a famous reputation for being loyal dogs who respond very well to training from their master. In Portugal, there is a popular expression which highlights how obedient this breed is perceived to be by the public. It translates as, “as faithful as a Fila.”
- The breed is recognized by the Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI) as a Mastiff/Molosser-type dog but isn’t recognized by the American or United Kingdom Kennel Clubs.
Things You Should Know About Fila Mastiff
While the Fila Mastiff is an incredibly obedient and intelligent dog, they are extremely hard working and are not ideal pets for most pet parents. Dog experts make it clear that this breed is not for first-time dog parents, families with young children or small pets or even for current dog owners without successful dog-training experience. In fact, they only recommend this dog to experienced dog parents who have previously trained a large, high-maintenance dog. However, some Fila dog parents dispute this by claiming their dog responds perfectly well to your children if they are exposed to them and socialized with them as pup and certainly before adulthood.
In the United Kingdom, Norway, Cyprus, Fiji, Malta and some states in Australia and New Zealand, the Fila Brasileiro dog breed is banned. It is illegal to own or import these dogs into these countries unless permission is granted by a court.
Fila Brasileiro Health
This breed is typically very healthy and they have the potential to go through their entire life without any medical problems. However, this isn’t always the case as the Mastiff can be prone to some problems found in many large dog breeds. These include hip and elbow dysplasia and gastric torsion. Bloat is also a common problem for many dogs (the Fila dog being no exception) and can become increasingly serious if left undiagnosed or untreated. These problems can be avoided by simply exercising and feeding your dog in a correct manner. Equal sized food portions given 3-4 times per day and 2 daily 60-minute sessions of exercise are recommended to keep your Mastiff healthy. If you notice any symptoms like fatigue, weakness or soreness, loss of appetite or a change in regular habits, inform your vet and seek professional, medical advice. While the solution might simply be a small alteration of lifestyle, diet or exercise, it’s best to find out what the problem is and how to fix it as quickly as possible.
Due to the breed’s powerful strength and dominant, aggressive behavior, it is essential to train this animal while they are still young. Fila Brasileiro puppies should be trained and socialized a lot while they are young to ensure they are loyal to their owner and to prevent them from following their natural hunting instincts later in life. Even after training, experts don’t recommend keeping this dog around smaller animals or children. Even if they are highly trained and socialized during their youth, Fila Mastiffs will show aggression to anything or anyone that is unfamiliar to it, especially if their owner isn’t around.
The Brazilian Mastiff requires consistent training with a clear and concise trainer. They are highly intelligent and therefore require a thorough training program lead by a head-strong, determined individual who won’t give up nor resort to force or violence when things get tough. If the owner demonstrates these ideal characteristics and is resilient with training, the dog will match these behaviors as they learn to obey their master. Like any other dog, training should start while the Fila is still a pup. Their training should be as well-rounded as any other dog’s (like toilet training, basic obedience training) but they will require more training throughout their youth, particularly obedience training.
It’s important never to give up on Fila Brasileiro puppies, even if they struggle to learn or show behaviors which you’ve trained them not to do. These animals are extremely strong-willed and determined so it will be difficult not just to train them into good behavior but to train them out of their natural, aggressive behavior. It’s essential that you reward their good behavior and positive responses to training with dog treats, toys or other appropriate rewards. If they don’t get the hang of something immediately, or show bad behavior, you cannot punish them as this could promote negative behavior. Resilience and determination are essential qualities you must possess when training a Brazilian Mastiff. If you demonstrate this behavior, they will be far more likely to succeed and emulate your behavior as they ultimately just want to please their owner.
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After learning about these huge, powerful creatures, it won’t be surprising to learn that the Fila Brasileiro requires lots of physically stimulating exercise. Unfortunately, this isn’t the type of dog which you can look after in your apartment and walk around the block once every day. The Fila Mastiff requires much longer exercise sessions of around 60 minutes and twice per day. While you could simply take them on a walk, you could also take your Mastiff running when they hit adulthood. If you have a large, fenced yard, you could also let them roam free there so they can exercise for longer if they wish.
More than anything, the Brazilian Mastiff needs human attention, even if it might not seem like it. This breed loves to exercise and play with their owner so it’s important you don’t just let them exercise by themselves. Try running or playing with your Mastiff throughout the day (on top of the exercise sessions) to encourage their playful, sociable behavior. Just remember to reward good behavior with treats! You’ll want your Mastiff to learn that that being playful and following your command is a good thing and that they’ll be rewarded for this.
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Since Brazilian Mastiffs are large, muscular dogs, they require lots of high-quality food to keep them well nourished and in good shape. Dog nutrition experts recommend providing an average-seized Mastiff (150 pounds) with 3 to 4 portions of high-quality raw food every day. You could choose to disperse the raw food with some high-quality dry dog foods, but most importantly, it is essential that they receive animal-based protein. Many dog food companies promote and sell plant-based or vegan foods for dogs. While this might not be a problem for some breeds, it will certainly be a problem for Brazilian Mastiffs as they require the high levels of protein and fat found in animals.
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Experts generally recommend you give them meat on the bone as chewing on bones promotes healthy teeth, but it also provides calcium which is essential keeping their large bones strong and healthy. Giving them whole, raw foods is the best and easiest way to provide your Mastiff with all of the essential proteins, fats and micronutrients they need to stay healthy.
While an average-sized Brazilian Mastiff should consume around 2,600 to 2,800 calories of high-quality food every day, this amount can increase if your dog is particularly active. So, to maintain their strong, muscular physique, it’s essential you feed your Mastiff only the best, high-quality food you can find.
Grooming the Fila Brasileiro dog is arguably the easiest and most straight-forward aspect of care for this specific breed. Due to their naturally short coats, the Fila will almost never need to be professionally groomed. At most, you might need to brush their coat weekly to help them shed. They will, however, require teeth and ear cleaning, nail clipping and you’ll need to keep their wrinkly face clean too. Their ears and wrinkly face are likely to collect dirt, water and food particles so it’s necessary to clean these features regularly (we recommend weekly). For a wider selection of choices, check out our dog ear cleaners guide.
It is crucial that Fila Brasileiro puppies are regularly groomed while still young so they are familiar with the experience. Nail clipping and teeth cleaning are the most difficult aspect as your dog will likely react aggressively. While this is easy enough to deal with while they are young (simply by being careful and keeping yourself safe), older Mastiffs are notoriously difficult to groom if they have not adapted well to the process when they reach adulthood. If an adult Fila dog hasn’t become used to grooming, they will almost certainly need to be sedated for teeth cleaning and nail clipping. As this grooming must be done fairly regular, it’s easy to see how important it is to groom young Mastiffs regularly while they’re young if you want to avoid regular trips to the vet whenever you need to groom them.
As we’ve mentioned throughout this article, Fila Brasileiro dogs require lots of maintenance and attention, particularly in their youth, to subdue their naturally aggressive behavior. As natural hunters and guard dogs, this breed has been developed for its large, muscular body, intelligence, ability to follow scent trails and necessary aggression to attack. While this has proven the breed has been successfully bred over time to maintain these characteristics, they aren’t necessary or desirable for a family pet. So, it can be incredibly difficult to train a Fila dog to forget their natural instincts.
Just because they are naturally aggressive and defensive animals, it doesn’t mean they don’t like to play or show affection. Fila Mastiffs love to show affection and play with their owners if they are comfortable and well trained. If you have developed a strong and trustworthy relationship with your Fila dog, they will happily play with you so long as the game does not involve any startling moves or pretend aggression. If a Mastiff misinterprets playing as an attack, they will immediately become defensive and protect themselves with force. For example, if you and a friend or even your child are playing and your dog thinks you might be at threat, they could attack the other person in an attempt to protect you. This extremely protective behavior has been bred deliberately to ensure they will be effective guard dogs.
This behavior is still desirable to some people who exclusively keep these animals as guard dogs rather than pets. In Brazil, this behavior is known as ‘Ojeriza’ which translates to ‘dislike’ or ‘distrust’. This is because the Fila Brasileiro is naturally suspicious and aggressive towards strangers. While this might be ideal for guard dogs, it’s far from desirable behavior for a pet and can become quite an inconvenience at times. For example, your dog could become aggressive around mailmen or visitors and it will make vacations difficult if you need to leave your dog with a sitter.
The Fila Brasileiro is not for everyone. New dog parents, families and owners without experience of training large, high-maintenance dogs should not take on the challenge of looking after a Fila Mastiff. Instead, this dog should be reserved for highly experienced dog parents who have trained other difficult dogs and are looking for another training challenge. If you are determined, consistent and reliable when training and caring for a Fila dog, they will learn and adopt these behaviors from you. Just don’t expect a smooth journey.