The Fila Brasileiro is also known as the Brazilian Mastiff, which describes them quite accurately. This canine is thought to descend from the European dogs imported to South American during colonial times. They were largely bred and raised on large plantations, where they would chase down cattle, jaguars, and other animals.
24 – 30 inches
More than 88 pounds
9 – 11 years
Fawn, black, brindle
Families looking for a guard dog
Devoted, intelligent, protective
Their name is thought to mean “the catch dog,” which would fit their historical use quite well.
These dogs are well-known for their great tracking ability. However, they are also somewhat aggressive and have an unforgiving temperament. They don’t attack their prey outright. Instead, they run and hold them until their master can arrive. Therefore, bites aren’t that common, though they can certainly act scary.
Fila Brasileiro Characteristics
Fila Brasileiro Puppies
If you live in the U.S., these dogs can be difficult to find. They aren’t illegal to own in the United States, like in some areas, but they are still quite uncommon. Other Mastiffs are far easier to find. Because this breed is rare in the United States, you may need to purchase them from a kennel in Brazil. You will need to factor in the transportation costs. Furthermore, their larger size also puts the price tag up. It simply requires more food to feed breeding dogs and their puppies. Health testing and any sort of vet care are also more expensive.
Finding a Fila Brasileiro from a breeder will typically be your only option because they aren’t commonly found in animal shelters or rescues. A good breeder will provide health testing for their dogs and vet records for the puppies. Most puppies receive at least some basic vet care before being adopted.
Temperament & Intelligence of the Fila Brasileiro
The temperament of this canine is often a bit confusing. They can be aloof around strangers and do not like to be pet by people whom they do not know. These behaviors are often interpreted as aggression, but bites are not common with this breed. It isn’t that they are particularly aggressive, they just aren’t as friendly as some other dogs out there.
These dogs are absolutely fearless, however. They will often dive into new experiences without seeming afraid, which can be both a good and a bad thing. Either way, it actually prevents aggressive behaviors because they aren’t likely to be fearful of strangers or new situations.
They are affectionate and docile with their family. Many will enjoy hanging out with their family members and are quite family-oriented. However, this does not carry over to strangers.
The Fila Brasileiro is innately territorial and protective. You don’t have to train them to protect their family; they already know how to do so instinctively. This is one reason that they are sometimes mistaken as aggressive. If you don’t train them to listen to commands, they may assume that a visitor is a threat and act accordingly. Training and socialization are essential.
They are extremely active. Many do best when they are given a job to do. For instance, they excel at nearly every canine sport, including agility and obedience. They aren’t made for laying around all day, despite their larger size. They often need to be kept entertained with regular training activities due to their higher intelligence.
Many Fila Brasileiros have a strong prey drive, so they will chase animals smaller than them. Obviously, their size makes this a significant problem. They need a strong fence to prevent them from chasing after a deer or cat.
Are These Dogs Good for Families? 👪
These canines bond closely with their families and have a natural protective instinct. They make great family dogs and are often patient with children. When raised around kids, these dogs are readily accepting of them and can put up with their behavior. They are not typically aggressive with any of their family members.
The main hurdle for these dogs is that this patience doesn’t apply to other people’s children. If a child isn’t in their family, they likely won’t treat them as someone whom they are supposed to protect. They may see other children roughhousing with “their” children as threats, so that is something that you need to keep in mind.
These dogs can make wonderful members of some families. However, they aren’t right for everyone. They require a bit more handling and training than most dogs in order to be suitable family dogs.
Does This Breed Get Along With Other Pets?
No, their prey drive makes them unsuitable for homes with cats and even small dogs. They will absolutely chase things, so don’t put them alone with any other animal that they might see as prey. Their large size makes them dangerous even with larger animals that you usually don’t have to worry about, like goats.
Often, though, these canines can get along with other dogs in their “family.” If they are raised with a specific dog, they can be friendly with them. However, this doesn’t mean they are going to be friendly with every dog that walks through the door. They will dislike strange dogs just as they dislike strange people.
Many Fila Brasileiros may be territorial when around other dogs. Therefore, we highly recommend assuming that they will not like new dogs coming into their space. It will likely take careful introductions for them to begin to like a new dog. However, they can get along with other canines after they have accepted them.
Things to Know When Owning a Fila Brasileiro
Food & Diet Requirements 🦴
Because this canine is large, they eat quite a bit. However, they also need certain nutrition more than other canines, so it is important not to skimp on their food.
When they are puppies, it is important to feed them puppy food that is specifically formulated for large breed puppies. Because they grow for so much longer than other breeds, larger puppies need more specific nutrition. They require extra nutrients in some cases and less in others. It is essential that they receive these vitamins and minerals, or they can potentially develop joint problems later in life.
It is also essential not to overfeed them as puppies. Often, they will act hungry all the time. In these cases, it is not unusual for owners to overfeed them. However, when they are overfed, they can grow too rapidly. This can put excess stress on their bones and joints, causing things like hip dysplasia. Keep an eye on their weight and feed them the appropriate amount of food.
Don’t free-feed these dogs, as this can cause a whole host of issues.
Despite their larger size, these dogs are surprisingly active. They are not “rug” dogs like other Mastiffs. You can expect them to move around quite a bit. They are agile and walk with a strange gait. Their run has often been described as “cat-like.” They seem to run similarly to large cats, which is not what you would expect from a dog.
These dogs need quite a bit of daily exercise to thrive. You can expect to take them on at least one moderately long walk every day, though many will benefit from two. As you might expect, these dogs are most active as puppies and tend to wind down as they get older. Therefore, plan on exercising your puppy more than you would an adult.
However, you should never force these dogs to exercise, especially as puppies. This can lead to joint damage, which can cause arthritis and other problems when they become older. This is particularly important to keep in mind for puppies because they are still developing. If their joints are put under too much strain, they can easily be damaged.
If the puppy sits down, don’t make them walk any farther. Always build up their walking time. Don’t suddenly ask a puppy to walk 3 miles.
The Fila Brasileiro requires a significant amount of training. They are large, naturally protective dogs. They need training so you can communicate with them about what is a threat and what isn’t. If you don’t teach them how to communicate with you, they’ll have to make their own calls about who is a friend and who is a foe, and many of those will not be correct.
Fortunately, they are quite intelligent, which allows them to be easily trained. They are also quite obedient, so they will listen to their family members in real-life situations. These traits are essential, given their protectiveness. Otherwise, it would be difficult to control them.
They typically respond well to training. Many enjoy being given a job to do, such as tracking or guarding. They are also quite good at many different dog sports, so feel free to become involved in any sport that interests you.
Their intelligence is a double-edged sword. While they will learn commands easily, this also means that they need regular training to stay entertained. Otherwise, they can become quite bored and may try to make their own fun. Often, this means doing something that they aren’t supposed to be doing. Due to their large size, they can be particularly destructive.
Thanks to their short coat, these dogs do not require significant amounts of grooming. You will likely need to brush them about once a week to remove dead hair and dirt. Beyond this, they are clean dogs, so you will not need to take them to a groomer. We generally don’t recommend this, anyway, due to their general distrust of strangers. All their care is best done at home.
You may want to look into a coat conditioner to elongate the time between baths. Usually, a weekly brushing session is all they need to stay clean and dirt-free. However, a coat conditioner can provide the extra sheen that your dog’s coat might need between grooming sessions.
You’ll also need to take care of their other basic needs. This includes cutting their nails when they get too long. We recommend a nail grinder, as this leaves softer edges on their rather large claws. The jagged edges that traditional methods leave can be sharp.
Their ears need to be checked once a week to ensure that debris and dirt are not building up. This can cause an ear infection. You should also brush their teeth regularly to keep them clean. They are not prone to periodontal problems, but that doesn’t mean they won’t develop if you don’t take care of your dog’s teeth.
You should start grooming them at a young age so they become used to the routine at an early age. Otherwise, they may not enjoy it so much when they get older.
Health and Conditions 🏥
Overall, these dogs are quite healthy. The conditions that they are prone to come along with their large size. Some health problems are simply difficult to avoid when a dog breed reaches the giant category.
One of these is hip dysplasia. This occurs when the hip joint does not develop properly so the ball and socket do not fit together correctly. This causes arthritis-like problems. This condition can develop in puppyhood while the dog is growing. However, it can stay under the radar until they are much older. Symptoms usually develop by the time that they are five, though.
Hip dysplasia can be expensive to treat. In some cases, your dog may only need medication to help relieve pain. This most often occurs in minor cases, though the level of pain that a dog feels may not line up with the amount of wear and tear that can be seen on an X-ray.
In other cases, surgery may be required to repair the joint as much as possible. This can cost $2,000 to $4,000 a hip.
Elbow dysplasia can be a problem as well. This occurs similarly to hip dysplasia, though it is less common. Some dogs may be affected with both. Elbow dysplasia is usually a bit cheaper to treat if surgery is required. This is because the elbow joint is smaller and therefore needs less work. Medication will likely cost the same, though.
Gastric dilatation volvulus (bloat) can be quite common in larger, big-chested dogs, which the Fila Brasileiro is. No one knows exactly why this condition occurs, but it involves the stomach twisting (usually) and filling up with gas. This condition requires emergency surgery. It does not fix itself and can cause death in a matter of hours. As soon as symptoms are noticed, it is crucial to go to the vet right away.
The cost will largely depend on the amount of care that your dog needs. All dogs will need surgery to fix their stomach. However, some may be in shock and require stabilization before they are operated on. This will cost extra money. The faster your dog sees the vet, though, the cheaper their treatment usually is.
Male vs. Female
There is a significant size difference between the males and females of this breed. Usually, males are much larger than females. All males are usually over 100 pounds, while females can be as little as 80 pounds. However, the difference may not be that substantial when you’re dealing with such large dogs.
There is no difference in temperament. They all act with the same territorial protectiveness that you’d expect from a Mastiff. Males are no more territorial than females or vice versa.
The sex you choose is largely up to you. Due to their rarity, you may want to be a bit open about it. You’ll likely get a Fila Brasileiro faster if you choose whatever sex the breeder has available. Some breeders will price males higher because they are typically more sought after due to their larger size.
Males are also a bit cheaper to sterilize than females, but this shouldn’t be your main reason for choosing a male. The costs are not that much different, and the largeness of the male may eat up any of the savings that you’d get due to their sex.
3 Little-Known Facts About the Fila Brasileiro
1. They are banned in some countries.
Like many misunderstood breeds, the Fila Brasileiro is banned in some countries. These include Fiji, the United Kingdom, Norway, Malta, and Cyprus. In these areas, it is illegal to own these dogs without specific exemptions.
2. They have three different standards.
This breed has three different standards used by different kennel clubs. Surprisingly, these standards do differ somewhat. Therefore, what one person considers a “good” dog will be different from what someone else considers a “good” dog.
3. The first standard wasn’t written until 1946.
While this breed has existed for a long time, the breed standard wasn’t written until 1946. During this time, the Paulistas organized and planned the first breeding program for this breed and opened up a studbook.
The Fila Brasileiro is a misunderstood breed. They are often considered aggressive, though they can be affectionate with their family. They are often simply protective, which can be misunderstood as blind aggression (though they are not the same behavior). Instead, they only become aggressive when they feel like their family is under threat.
They are intelligent and devoted to their people. They are quite easy to control. In many cases, as long as they are trained well, they are not any more aggressive than other breeds. However, training is required, so be sure you have enough time for this breed before you adopt one.
They are not like your typical Mastiff-style dog. They are more active than you might imagine, so they require a decent amount of exercise. Their high intelligence also means that they need regular training and enrichment, or they can become bored. We do not recommend these dogs for those without much time to give, as these dogs need a great deal of it.
Featured Image Credit: Artush, Shutterstock