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The Cane Corso Coat

How long is too long a coat? And how does coat color affect its length and texture? Read on.


Oftentimes, I’ll hear Cane Corso fanciers talk about a short coat, and I think that many of them really don’t have a very clear idea of what “short” means. A short coat is a centimeter, maybe a centimeter and a half – roughly one-third to a little over half an inch long. When a coat starts getting longer than that, it’s no longer short– it’s a long coat, at least in terms of the Cane Corso.  

The Cane Corso is a breed that is frequently described – in the standard, in commentary, in the old texts – as elegant and noble. And this nobility is lost with an excessive length of coat, just as it is incorrect for the Cane Corso to have an oily coat. The Cane Corso shouldn’t have a coat that’s too heavy, with tufts of hair sticking out all over. People may call these “rustic” Cane Corsos, but what they really are is incorrect.


The Cane Corso should be a nobile breed, and a relatively short coat lends to that air of regalness.

The Cane Corso should be a nobile breed, and a relatively short coat lends to that regal air.


Certainly there are areas on the dog, such as on the sides of the neck and on the britches, where one can see that the coat is a little bit longer, because when it changes direction, it lifts from the skin. But the Cane Corso should have an overall clean silhouette.   No matter what the coat, no matter what the breed, if it is impermeable, if it has to keep water out, it is by definition shiny. That’s because the water-resistant topcoat is very keratinized, and keratin, which is the same substance that makes up the nails, is shiny. And it reflects the rays of the sun. This is a characteristic of correct type in the Cane Corso. The Cane Corso shouldn’t have a coat that is opaque or flat; it should be shiny. (Though that’s not to say that the dog should be slathered with hairspray before he enters the ring!)  


The Cane Corso should have a well-keratinized, or shiny, coat. This isn't just attractive; it provides weatherproofing against the elements.

The Cane Corso should have a well-keratinized, or shiny, coat. This isn't just attractive; it provides weatherproofing against the elements.


Strolling around Mount Etna in Sicily. That cold white stuff isn't lava!Strolling around Mount Etna in Sicily. That cold white stuff isn't lava!


The portion of the coat that is not shiny is the undercoat. The Cane Corso has a short coat, and above all not a rough one precisely because if it was rough, the dog couldn’t have the undercoat, which permits the Cane Corso to live in a climate that is sometimes cold. Yes, it’s true that this a breed from southern Italy, but there are many people who think that in Italy there’s 100-degree weather and palm trees, which is hardly true: If you go to the mountains in Calabria in wintertime, the temperature is below freezing. Even in Sicily, on the mountains around the volcano of Etna, it snows.  

This is one of the reasons why certain colors in the breed come more frequently with a coat that is usually short, and very rarely rough, such as brindle. Dogs with this pattern were used above all for hunting, so the dog could hide himself in the underbrush. And this type of shiny, water-shedding coat was necessary for a dog that goes out in the morning, with the dew and the humidity in the woods to hunt; he couldn’t have his coat soaked through after 10 minutes.  


The Corso's weather-proof coat is by definition shiny, because of its high keratin content.

Brindle Cane Corsos were used primarily for hunting, as the pattern helped with camouflage.


In the Cane Corso, it is easier to produce correct coats with true fawns (which have black mask and pigment) and brindles. By contrast, I’ve found that dilute colors, which in the Cane Corso are gray and formentino (or dilute fawn, so the mask is gray instead of black), are typically shorter and as a result carry less undercoat, which is incorrect.  


Black Cane Corsos typically have less undercoat.

Black Cane Corsos typically carry less undercoat.


Black Cane Corsos can tend to have this problem with incorrect coats, too: The undercoat of a black Corso is always less dense than those of fawns or brindles. Typically, it’s common to find black dogs with a coat that is oily and too short. Even in black Corsos with the correct length of coat, the undercoat they have is always less than the fawns and brindles.  

This has a logical explanation for this, a physical one: Black absorbs the rays of the sun. If you have a black dog, a brindle dog and a fawn dog that live in the same place with the same temperatures throughout the year, the black dog will be warmer, because his coat absorbs the heat of the sun, and he overheats. This is valid in all dog breeds, not just the Cane Corso. Consider the Poodle: White Poodles (which are not dilutes) have much more undercoat than black Poodles. By contrast, black Poodles have a top coat that is much sparser, not as thick and less shiny. They need impermeability, but not so much that it traps the body heat.  

There are differences between the degree of undercoat and length of coat in the various Cane Corso colors, but it’s a normal thing. It can’t be faulted when you are assessing the dog. What should be faulted is a coat that is satiny, or one that’s too long. Usually a slick, satiny coat coat is one that can be associated with the Boxer or Bullmastiff blood that has been introduced into the breed, whereas the overly long coat comes from the Beauceron.  

Even in the early years, when there was a recuperation of the breed, one of the first things that Dr. Antonio Morsiani, who wrote the first standard, always insisted on was the importance of paying attention to the color range in the breed. The early fanciers safeguarded the formentino, which is a specific color in which the points of the coat on the trunk, above all the back and the shoulders, are gray, with a well-defined gray mask. It’s not a washed-out color.  


Formentino literally means the color of fermented wheat. This is a dilution of the fawn coat.

"Formentino" literally means the color of fermented wheat. This is a dilution of the fawn coat.


The reason that black Cane Corsos, and by extension gray ones, are prized by many fanciers today is because black is a color that no other Molosser breed has – it’s only seen in the Cane Corso. Brindle and fawn, by contrast, are colors that also appear in the Boxer and the Bullmastiff. But that’s not to say that black was a color that was as predominant as some people like to think. It became widespread because black is genetically dominant. So when it comes to safeguarding and maintaining the variety of colors in the breed, one error that in my opinion was made was to permit the encroachment of black on all the varieties. That was something that in the beginning, undoubtedly, was necessary, because there weren’t the number of correct dogs available to permit breedings to be based on color. But today, there is a risk of losing a part of the breeding pool because breedings are being done based on requests about color.


Black Cane Corso puppies are particularly sought after; brindles, quite the opposite.Black Cane Corso puppies are particularly sought after; brindles, quite the opposite.


I have no problem saying that today, there is a male that in my opinion is absolutely one of the five best Cane Corsos in Europe in the last 10 years. He’s also a brindle. I’m not using him at this moment because you can’t sell a brindle puppy, even if he is the most beautiful dog in the world. I saw a gorgeous brindle in Poland recently – he is the pick of the litter, and the litter itself was truly beautiful. All the other puppies are gone, but they haven’t sold him yet, because he’s brindle.  

Unfortunately, right now, if you have a Weimaraner and say he’s a Cane Corso, people will buy him because he’s gray. But a brindle Cane Corso? You won’t sell him.   Back to the discussion of coat length: It’s not too difficult to breed for this. All these rationalizations – “Oh, the Cane Corso shouldn’t have a smooth coat – it should be rustic” or, for that matter, “Oh, the Cane Corso once existed that had yellow eyes because they were more intimidating” or “Oh, if a Cane Corso has four white feet and white all over his chest, what does it matter, aren’t there more important things to worry about in a working dog?” – they are, in my opinion, all discussions advanced by people are justifying their dog’s faults. And in reality, even the discussion of coat isn’t that complicated, because a Cane Corso with an incorrect coat very likely won’t have the correspondingly correct morphology of a Cane Corso.  


Built for speed, the Whippet has a short coat to facilitate the dispersal of body heat.Built for speed, the Whippet has a short coat to facilitate the dispersal of body heat.


The type that’s associated with a long coat, in any breed, is based on the endocrine system. Have you ever seen a Whippet with a long, rough, dense coat? The Whippet has an endocrine system that gives it a respiratory constitution – it is associated with speed, and the majority of the body is geared toward the lungs, not the stomach or gross muscles. As a result, a fast heart rate, with veins near the surface of the skin and a soft coat, are necessary for a fast dispersal of heat. This is a dog that has to do 100 meters to get the rabbit, and that type of endocrine system is one that renders the coat soft, dry and slick.  

By contrast, the Bullmastiff is a breed that has a construction, even more so than the Neapolitan Mastiff, that is digestive, so the majority of his weight comes from the stomach and intestines. He has to have an endocrine system that gives him a dispersion of heat on the coat that we can call soft. Breeds with digestive constitutions have coats that are thick and satiny.  

The constitutional index of the Cane Corso is muscular, bordering respiratory. This is isn’t an opinion. It’s been measured, studied, certified, written and confirmed. You can’t say “I prefer.” You can prefer a Bullmastiff constitution, but then you need to buy a Bullmastiff. The Cane Corso has an endocrine system that leads to a coat that is not so satiny and long that it becomes the coat of the Neapolitan Mastiff, but at the same time isn’t so short and slick that it resembles that of a Boxer. And because the dog is a set of traits that go together, if you breed for an incorrect body type – either too heavy or too light – you will breed a coat that matches it.  

Also, the more solid your pedigrees – the less influence you have from other breeds – logically the more you can expect to breed a correct coat. I have never seen breeders who know what they have in hand focus on the coat of a dog. There may be a puppy that you say, “Hmmm, that coat’s a bit too long,” because it’s not attractive when it’s a puppy. But the coat changes, and when an otherwise typey puppy reaches adulthood, he likely will have a correct Cane Corso coat. These are small variables that exist among puppies. But this happens in other breeds, too. If one Poodle is born with a coat that is a little longer, and another with a coat that is a little shorter, at the end of the day it is still it within the range of being a Poodle coat. It doesn’t become the coat of a Pinscher.  

Without question, the Cane Corso is not easy to breed because it’s a mesomorph in its body construction, but brachycephalic in the head type, and about 90 percent of characteristics of the Cane Corso are “a little bit, but not too much.” And out of ignorance, because they are not real breeders, some people select for traits in the puppy that they want to see in the finished, adult dog. This is the easiest way to get into hypertype, and out of type. And if you do that, chances are an incorrect coat will follow.  


Avoid hypertypical puppies -- that is, those that are overdone. They are more likely to have atypical coats -- and atypical everything else -- at maturity.Avoid hypertypical puppies — that is, those that are overdone. They are more likely to have atypical coats — and atypical everything else — at maturity.  


What the Standards Say


COAT Hair: Short, shiny, very dense with a slight undercoat of vitreous texture.  

Colour: Black, lead-grey, slate-grey, light grey, light fawn; dark fawn and stag red; dark wheat colour (stripes on different shades of fawn or grey); in fawn coloured and brindle dogs the black or grey mask on the muzzle should not go beyond the line of the eyes. A small white patch on the chest, on the tip of the toes and on the bridge of the nose is acceptable.  



Coat: The coat is short, stiff, shiny, adherent and dense with a light undercoat that becomes thicker in cold weather.  

Color: Acceptable colors are black, lighter and darker shades of gray, lighter and darker shades of fawn, and red. Brindling is allowed on all of these colors. Solid fawn and red, including lighter and darker shades, have a black or gray mask. The mask does not go beyond the eyes. There may be a white patch on the chest, throat, chin, backs of the pasterns, and on the toes. Disqualification - Any color with tan pattern markings as seen in black-and-tan breeds.


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