The history of the emergence of the Cuban mastiff

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The history of the emergence of the Cuban mastiff
The history of the emergence of the Cuban mastiff

General description of the dog, the progenitors of the Cuban mastiff, their appearance and use in Cuba, the development of the breed and the reasons for its disappearance. The Cuban Great Dane or Dogo cubano is a mastiff-like dog that originated in Cuba. The breed was a descendant of Spanish war dogs, which overlapped with English mastiffs and hounds. The animal had several purposes: guarding livestock, chasing runaway slaves and fighting brothers in the ring. The species became extinct due to the abolition of slavery in its homeland.

The height at the withers of the Cuban dog was between the parameters of the Old English Bulldog and the English Mastiff. The dog was considered incredibly heavy (over 136 kg), massive, muscular and powerful. The dog's limbs were thick and straight. The tail in some individuals was tapering and long, while in others it was short with a pronounced curve. The head is relatively square and the muzzle is of medium length, broad and wrinkled. The ears were close to the head. The dogs were short-haired and varied in color, but the most common were rusty-brown individuals.

The ancestors of the Cuban mastiff

The appearance of the Great Dane

The Dogo cubano was a member of a large group known as Mastiffs, Molossians, Great Danes or Alans. It is the oldest family of domesticated canines, with a controversial history of origin. Some claim their roots go back to the ancient war dogs of Egypt and Mesopotamia, which later spread across the Mediterranean with the help of Phoenician and Greek traders.

The most popular version of the ancestors of the Cuban Great Dane is that they are descendants of the Molossus, a formidable war dog of the Greek and Roman armies. Others believe that they descended from the Tibetan mastiff and were introduced to Europe by the Roman Empire. Many researchers say that their direct ancestors are pug naces britanniae - massive war dogs of the pre-Roman Celts of Great Britain, traditionally associated with English mastiffs. It is also often argued that the latter actually descend from the Alan - the canines of the Alan tribe from the Caucasus Mountains.

Having appeared in Western Europe, mastiffs became widespread, especially in England and Spain. Both countries bred and used them as war dogs, property keepers and participants in bloody sports. In Spain, there were at least two large varieties of such canines, mastin and alano. Mastino was larger and slower. This breed was most often used as a guardian of livestock and property, but also for military purposes. Alano - smaller, faster and more aggressive, was mainly used to capture prey, as a participant in dog fights, but he was also a formidable beast of war.

Both of these breeds, the ancestors of the Great Dane, were present in Spanish territory even before Roman times, and perhaps even earlier. In 711, most of the Visigothic kingdom of Spain was conquered by the Islamic Moors from North Africa, leaving several pockets of resistance in the northwest and in the Pyrenees. Shortly thereafter, a small number of Christian kingdoms led by Asturias launched the Reconquista, a series of crusades aimed at liberating the Iberian Peninsula from Muslims.

During the Reconquista, the Christian kingdoms made extensive use of the mastino, alano and galgos espanoles (Spanish greyhound). These breeds were extremely effective fighters even before the widespread use of cannon powder. They attacked infantry soldiers and earned a reputation for being extremely brave and ferocious animals. This struggle took more than 700 years, and ended on January 2, 1492, when the last Islamic stronghold of the kingdom, Granada, surrendered.This meant that the local war dogs, the ancestors of the Great Dane, were still extremely aggressive when the first missions to explore the new world began.

Origin and application of dogo cubano ancestors in Cuba

Cuban mastiff on a leash

While the Spaniards were busy fighting against the constant wars of the Reconquista, other crusades were taking place in the rest of Western Europe, namely the Middle East. The European nobility living in the Holy Land was first introduced to Asian goods such as spices and silk. Their appetites for such luxury did not diminish in the least when they returned to their homeland, which led to a flourishing trade industry.

Portuguese and Spanish traders began sailing along the coast of Africa and traveling far into the Atlantic Ocean, trying to open up new routes to the East. They always took the warrior dogs with them, the ancestors of the Cuban mastiff. One of these explorers was the Genoese merchant Christopher Columbus. After a series of unsuccessful attempts to secure funding for his expedition, Columbus convinced Ferdinand and Isabella, the first rulers of the United Spain, to provide him with three ships. Like any educated person of that time, Christopher knew that the globe was round, and intended to get to the Far East, sailing for the West.

Although Columbus died believing he had reached Indonesia, he became the first European to discover the Caribbean and discovered Cuba on his first voyage to the New World, reaching the island in October 1492 - less than a year after the last Moors were expelled from Iberia. Believing that the area was rich in gold, Spanish soldiers and settlers, along with their dogs, the ancestors of the Great Dane, began to overwhelm it. The indigenous population of the country was very large - the exact estimate ranges from hundreds of thousands to millions.

The local natives used Stone Age techniques that did not match the most advanced Spanish technologies of the time. Fighting for over 700 years, the Spaniards also brought Mastino and Alano to Cuba, where such dogs were even more destructive. The ferocious war dogs of Spain, the forerunners of the Great Dane, were bred to fight warriors equipped with horses and steel-bladed weapons.

The Cuban natives did not possess any of these breeds, so they were almost helpless against these ferocious beasts, which were the psychological advantage of the Spanish. The natives had never before met war dogs, or other species larger than pariah dogs. Columbus himself first "ordered" dog-baiting in the Caribbean in 1492 on the island of Jamaica. The large dog was able to single-handedly kill a dozen locals without seriously injuring himself. The Spaniards have earned a reputation for being particularly cruel to the natives, especially when it comes to their dogs. They not only used their pets, the ancestors of the Cuban Great Dane, against armed opponents of the resistance, but also set dogs on unarmed civilians. There are many reports of the ferocity of these animals. The renowned cleric and local lawyer, Bartoleme de las Casas, was present at Hispaniola in 1495, when the first battle took place between the Spaniards and the Caribbean natives.

The Spanish released 20 dogs, which killed their victims by ripping out their throats and gutting their bodies. Such dogs were trained to be especially vicious, and, according to rumors, the persecution of a person only inflamed their bloodlust. Bartoleme argued that there are markets where the Spaniards feed their dogs, the ancestors of the Cuban mastiff, human bodies in parts, but most likely this story was exaggerated by him.

After Cuba was completely subjugated, most of the natives were enslaved. Those who fled into the forest to continue the resistance were hunted with dogs, hunted to death.If the Spaniards suspected that the villagers were supporting them, then they were killed as punishment with the help of their dogs.

The Spaniards continued to use their Mastinos and Alanos after active resistance ceased. Each family had to give a designated portion of the gold and harvest. If people could not pay, then reprisals followed. Sometimes dogs were ordered to pursue and attack innocent natives, believing that this would help preserve their killer instinct. The ancestors of the Great Dane tracked individuals accused of crimes against God and the Catholic Church.

Interestingly, the same dogs that brutally killed the natives usually showed friendliness and affection for their Spanish owners. Many Spaniards came to believe that the individuals were: "perros sabios," which means "learned dogs." They are said to have clearly known the difference between a Spaniard and a native, a Christian and a pagan. It is said that some ancestors of the Great Dane even distinguished the virtuous Christian from the sinner.

In the end, most of the indigenous people of Cuba were converted to Christianity and enslaved. Not wanting to put up with this situation, many slaves naturally fled. They subsequently became known as the Cimarrons, who formed independent armed communities in the Cuban forests. These people raided Spanish settlements, killed livestock and stole crops to feed themselves.

The Spaniards resorted to the help of their Mastino and Alano, the ancestors of the Cuban Great Dane. They tracked down and hunted individual slaves and also fought the Simarrons. Used in Spain to protect cattle and other livestock from bears and wolves, these canines also prevented slave raids.

Development of the Great Dane

Photo of the Cuban mastiff

Due to the diseases brought in, the indigenous population of Cuba fell sharply. In search of new slaves to work on the plantations, Spanish colonists brought in enslaved Africans from East Africa and captured Muslims in North Africa. Although the captured people did not know the country well, they fled in an attempt to find freedom, replenishing the ranks of the Simarrons.

It took more dogs to catch them. Due to the costly transport of such large animals across the Atlantic and the fact that many individuals died en route, quite a few Spanish canines arrived in Cuba. When necessary, the imported breeds were crossed among themselves on the island. Therefore, the differences between Alano and Mastino gradually began to disappear. It seems that individual specimens could be considered one species or another, but they were in no way purebred.

The crosses between Alano and Mastino gave rise to the breed of the Cuban Great Dane, which was intermediate in size, but supported the ferocity and aggression of both of its ancestors. Over time, the ability of dogs to track Simarrons became more and more important. Therefore, cops were brought to Cuba because of their sharp noses and ability to follow the trail. These dogs were crossed with dogo cubano to increase their sense of smell and tracking instincts. As a result, the variety began to have a longer snout than most mastiffs and more elongated ears.

There is significant disagreement as to what types of hounds were used for breeding. English sources usually state that the bloodhound is the primary breed used. However, there is no record of importing such canines. Other experts are leaning towards spanish scent hound, and in fact, this is much more likely.

The further fate of these imported dogs is unclear. Although almost all connoisseurs talk about their frequent crossing with the Cuban Great Dane. Many also claim that at least some of them were purebred. It is said that these hounds became known in English as the "cuban bloodhound". Some experts regard them as a unique breed that became extinct around the same time as the Dogo Cubano.

Other sources seem to imply that all hounds have crossed paths with this variety of dogs. It follows that the term "Cuban Bloodhound" is just a way to describe the Cuban Great Dane with the most pronounced external characteristics, or just another name for the entire breed.

The British showed their presence in the Caribbean much later than the Spanish conquerors. British traders and privateers regularly visited Cuba, where they first saw dogo cubano, called Cuban mastiffs. The ferocity of these dogs made a great impression on these people. The breed began to appear regularly in English-language books telling about the canine species.

The Cuban Mastiff is mentioned in the writings of renowned dog experts, Stonehenge and George Wood, as well as in several encyclopedias. At some point, the Cuban aristocracy imported English mastiffs to cross with dogo cubano. It is unclear in what period this happened, but some sources claim that during the reign of Philip II, between 1556 and 1598.

The Great Dane showed an incredibly aggressive disposition, and the people of Cuba began to breed the breed to participate in bloody dog ​​fights. It is unclear how popular such events were, but certainly they were less in demand than cockfighting. In the process of their implementation, the frequent death of dogs completed this spectacle. Dogo cubano died in the ring, fighting against the bulls, like the Alano or Old English Bulldog.

The wide jaws of the Mastiffs made the Great Dane ideal for fighting bulls, as they provided the dog with a wide enough area to grip the animal's flesh. The fact that the dogo cubano was significantly lower than the mastino made its center of gravity lower, which in turn effectively counteracted the enraged animal's strength.

History and reasons for the disappearance of the Cuban mastiff

Cuban dog is angry

Slavery in Cuba lasted much longer than in most other parts of the world. Only in 1880, Cuban legislation adopted the first draft on the fight against slavery, and already in 1886 the last slavery ties were finally eliminated. Until that time, most of the island's population was in a enslaved position.

Until the days of slavery ended, in Cuba there was a need to track down, as well as capture escaped slaves. Therefore, the Great Dane was provided with "work". However, with the advent of change, the need to keep these dogs ended. There are no large animal populations on Cuban territory that dogo cubano could hunt. The species was so aggressive towards humans that it was difficult to keep it as a companion. The social changes that led to the Cuban liberation movement continued, and bloody sports became significantly less popular. Dog fighting and bull fighting were less and less frequent and eventually disappeared completely.

By the 1890s, the Cuban Great Dane had lost its former purpose. It was very expensive to keep such animals, especially on the island, which suffered from widespread poverty. Breeding of the breed almost completely ceased by 1900, and the last remaining individuals soon became extinct. If the Cuban Bloodhound was a separate breed or other variety of dogo cubano, it disappeared around the same time and for the same reasons.

Although dogfights were not as popular as cockfights, they continued to take place behind the scenes in parts of Cuba. The smaller canine breeds such as the Bull Terrier and the American Pit Bull Terrier are preferred by these lovers. It is possible that they added the blood of the last remaining Great Danes to their line of war animals. If so, some dogo cubano may still live somewhere in Cuba, albeit in a very diluted state.

For more information on the Cuban Great Dane breed, see the video below:

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