The Fila Brasileiro is also known as the Brazilian Mastiff. It is a massive dog with a strong protective instinct. It holds the title “National Dog of Brazil.” The Fila is one of the few breeds that carry a recommendation from canine experts: experienced dog parents only, please. The reason? Without proper training and socialization, the breed’s fearless guardian instincts may become problematic.
History of the Fila Brasileiro
Historical documents mention the first Filas as early as 1671. Most who have studied the breed agree that they are a combination of three other breeds: ancient bulldogs, mastiffs, and bloodhounds. The breed’s loose skin and unusual appearance support such a lineage.
Brazilian plantations and farms of the 15th century began breeding and raising Filas as hunting and guard dogs. They were routinely trained to hunt down a variety of animals, from jaguars to cattle. The dogs’ method for subduing prey was to grab the animal by the neck, then hold it down until its master arrived. This instinct is still strong in the breed and is observable among puppies during play.
Paulistas – the people living in Sao Paulo, Brazil – began the organized breeding program for the Filas, with the first official breed standards published in 1946. The breed is not yet recognized by the United Kennel Club or the American Kennel Club.
The Bloodhound ancestry of the breed shows in the long muzzle, loose and hanging skin, and superb tracking ability. The Mastiff heritage of the Fila shows in the heavy, pendulous upper lips. This gives them a tendency to drool. The Fila is a strong-boned animal with a rectangular structure.
These dogs are massive. Males can weigh between 110-160 pounds or more. Some top 200 pounds. Females range in weight from 90-120 pounds on average but can weigh more. Males stand 26-30 inches or more at the shoulders, while females range 24-28 or more inches in height.
The skin is one of the most important breed features. It is thick and hangs loosely all over the body, but chiefly at the neck where it forms pronounced dewlaps. In many dogs, the skin folds extend to the chest and abdomen. Some may have a fold at the side of the head and also descending to the shoulders at the withers.
The Fila’s coat is smooth, short, soft, and dense. They can be any color – solid or brindle – except mouse gray-white, patched, black and tan, or dappled. Typical colors are black, brindle, and fawn. The dog may or may not sport a black mask.
The Fila has a measured and elastic gait, much like a cat. The main characteristic is the pace. He moves two legs on one side first, then follows with the two legs of the other side. This gait pattern is often called a camel’s gait.
Temperament – A Defining Factor
Only experienced dog owners, especially those well educated in handling dogs with dominance traits and who thoroughly understand the alpha pack instinct, should own a Fila. This breed is completely devoted to their family and people they know well, and can be vicious towards people they don’t know. This is what makes them useful as guard dogs, but it does require strong training and experience in handling them for the Fila to successfully assimilate into a family setting.
Notorious for their dislike of strangers, it is imperative to begin socializing your Fila puppy at an early age. They will need to spend extended time in behavioral conditioning training and socialization with non-family members and other animals. While they are affectionate, patient, playful, and protective with children in their own families, they can have a potential for aggression towards children and adults they don’t know.
Despite extensive socialization, however, the Fila is instinctively protective. They will naturally guard and protect their owners, their family members, and other family pets. This is an innate trait native to the breed.
When it comes to loyalty to their human family, few surpass the Fila. The breed’s name says it all: the Portuguese word meaning to “hold, grab, arrest” is filar. The strong dedication the breed exhibits gave rise to the Brazilian saying, “As faithful as a Fila.”
Caring for Your Fila Brasileiro
Filas have some specific requirements when it comes to their care, feeding, and health.
Filas need exercise – lots of exercise. Apartment living is not a good fit for this breed. A large fenced yard that gives them plenty of room to run is preferable. An adult Fila should get a long walk or brisk jog at least once a day, but preferably more. This is important in maintaining the dog’s proper physical and mental health.
Using a leash is absolutely essential when taking a Fila out in public. This is a necessary safety precaution because of their instinctive aversion to strangers as well as their hunting and tracking instincts. Be careful not to over exercise your Fila, especially a puppy, as it may impair their proper growth.
Stock up on dog food for your Fila Brasileiro. A Fila puppy needs four bowls of food per day between the ages of eight to twelve weeks. Your three to six-month-old puppy needs three meals a day. At a year old, they’ll need two meals a day.
Take care not to overfeed your Fila, as the breed is prone to bloating. High-quality dry dog food is a good option for an adult Fila, but it’s recommended that you mix it with water or soup. Your Fila will also enjoy limited amounts of vegetables, cottage cheese, fruits, and cooked eggs.
Clean water, of course, should be readily available.
The Fila sports a smooth, dense coat. Most veterinarians recommend weekly brushing with a firm bristle brush. Bathing and shampooing can come on an as-needed basis. The ears need cleaning with cotton balls dipped in a canine ear solution, followed by massage. Weekly brushing of the teeth with a soft toothbrush helps with bad breath and keeping a clean cloth handy can help alleviate the mess drooling can create. Nails usually need clipping at least once a month.
Common Health Concerns
The Fila shares some health issues commonly found in other Mastiff breeds. These problems can include:
- Canine hip dysplasia (may affect up to 38 percent of Filas)
- Elbow dysplasia (may affect up to 32 percent of Filas)
- Gastric torsion / bloating
- Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA)
- Luxating patella
- Cancer (maybe hereditary)
When buying from a breeder, be sure to request written documentation that the puppy’s parents were devoid of health problems common to the breed. If the breeder can’t or won’t provide this documentation, consider another breeder. Careful, responsible breeders screen their dogs for genetic diseases and only breed the healthiest, best-looking specimens.
Because of the Fila’s propensity for enthusiastic protection of it’s family and living area, potential legal ramifications for owning one should be a factor in the decision to buy or adopt one. You should check your local laws and regulations before obtaining a Fila as your pet. The Fila Brasileiro is currently restricted or banned in several countries, such as:
- United Kingdom
- New Zealand
In the United States, owning a Fila may lead to cancellation of your homeowner’s insurance. If the costs of potential health problems common with a Fila are a concern, consider insurance for your pet. Quotes for affordable pet health insurance are available here.