I first learned of the Presa Canario online, about five years ago, but I had the good fortune of meeting an owner of three such dogs shortly after becoming very interested in the breed.
I was working that summer in a veterinary clinic when a young brindle dog was brought in. He looked much like the description of the Presa Canario and when I asked his owner if he was a Presa Canario, he told me "Yes" in a rather suprised tone.
The dog's owner, Mr. Rocco Parlati, was a recent Italian immigrant who had brought three of his dogs with him from Italy. He had been introduced to the dogs himself by his father-in-law, and had owned and worked with the breed for quite some time.
It's from what he's told me, and the time that I spent with his dogs (2 males, 1 female), that I relay my experience on to you.
First of all, the Presa Canario is an intense breed. By that I mean that it needs a firm hand in raising it and disciplining it, because it is a dominant dog that doesn't shy away from challenging authority. While loyal and not prone to stray, as a youngster the dog likes to test its owner's mettle. Growling, snapping, and stubborn refusal are only some of the little tricks that the growing Presa pup likes to play with its master; however, if not corrected these little nuances will lead to more dangerous behavior by the dog down the road. That's why it is imperative that a prospective Presa owner be confident enough to correct such behavior before any problems should appear.
With that in mind, I will say that the Presa Canario makes a fantastic family pet and guard dog in the right hands. I have never taken the liberty of exploring Mr. Parlati's property in his absence and he has his dogs to thank for that. Like all guests in his house, when I am not in his presence his dogs tolerate me but are extremely suspicious of me. I would never gamble on their devotion to their master and his home. On a gentler note, I will attest to the fact that these dogs can be gentle with children and do know when and when not to use their strength. Mr. Parlati does not hesitate to let his young son play with his dogs but he always keeps an eye on the situation, as should always be the case when children are with dogs. When walking his dogs, they eagerly drag an adult along but will not move so much as a footstep ahead of Mr. Parlati's young son if he is the one holding the leash. Such sensibility in a dog this overtly powerful is very impressive.
Around other strange dogs the Presa Canario is best kept restrained. While not dangerous, the breed is dog aggressive and frequently it is the other dog that will stir trouble with the Presa. Such a scenario can only spell disaster for everyone involved, therefore, it is advised that the Presa always be kept on a leash outside and if another dog looks like trouble, turn and walk away. Do not tolerate any extreme aggression by the Presa either, as such behavior will not disappear with time.
The Presa Canario is an intelligent dog but because of its independent nature, one has to be patient with it. A dog like this should always be obedience trained, but advanced obedience work can frequently be a chore because the dog quickly becomes dissinterested. Repetition, consistency, and a whole lot of fun have to be thrown into each session to keep the dog's attention. Having said that, the end results of training are worth the effort: the dog is happy to understand its master; the master has control over the dog.
As a protection dog I would say the Presa is in a class all by itself. It is a combination of factors that create such a superb protection dog: appearance, fearlessness, and tenacity. One look at this dog in full flight, a mass of determined, accelerating muscle, commands your utmost respect. Nothing except its master's voice will make it stop heading for the aggresor, and it will not let go of its hold unless commanded to do so. Blows to its head, screaming in its ear, nothing will make it so much as blink. At this point I'll stress that prior to any protection training the dog is fully obedience trained and is temperamentally sound. Even without formal training the Presa Canario makes a supreme guardian; protection training in a sense is to the discretion of the owner. A protection trained dog is a lot more responsibility, but I feel that it can also be very rewarding given the level of control that one has over the dog.
Would I own a Presa Canario? At this time, the answer is a definite no. I do not have the time to devote to raising such a dog. The day will come when I can give this dog the amount of attention that it needs and deserves. It would be irresponsible to only look a year ahead because the decision to get the dog is for the remainder of its life. But I sure am looking forward to it . . .