The Fila Brasileiro is a mastiff from Brazil. It descends from various sorts of European mastiffs crossed with bloodhounds. Interestingly, these dogs were part of a group of dogs known as bloodhounds in the New World. The most famous of these dogs was kept in Cuba, and one of these dogs guarded the infamous Andersonville Prison during the Civil War. In Brazil and Cuba, the dogs were used to track runaway slaves and “grip” them. They were definitely valued animals among the Southern plantation owners. These dogs were always called bloodhounds in the United States, which leads to a bit of confusion. The dog that we call the bloodhound today is not and never was an aggressive dog. The dogs that were in Uncle Tom’s Cabin were the bloodhound-mastiffs or tracking mastifs from Latin America.
The Brazilian tracking mastiff remained a sort of landrace among the large estates in that country. They were used as watch dogs and trackers of big game after the Brazilian government abolished slavery, and they existed in a non-standardized form until the well into the twentieth century.
In the 1970’s, the Brazilian dog fancy wanted the studbooks closed, so they could better standardize this dog into a fancy show breed. The original registry for this breed complied but only after creating a schism in the breed that lasts to this day. This led to two separate, warring registries in the breed.
The registry that got the breed accepted by the FCI called for dogs with distinctly molosser appearance with bloodhond facial features. They also wanted a nicer temperament in the dogs.
However, the other registry, the CAFIB (Club for the Improvement of the Fila Brasileiro), very strongly argues against making the dogs very heavy and coarse. And most controversially, its founders insist on breeding for what they say is a unique trait to the bred. This trait is called ojeriza.
Ojeriza roughly translates as xenophobia, a deep dislike of strangers. The standard for ojeriza states that the dog should not “allow the judge (a stranger) to touch it. And if it attacks the judge, such a reaction must not be considered a fault, but only a confirmation of its temperament.” (Let that sink in for a second.)
Dogs from these lines bond very strongly with their familes, and by the time they are 18 months to a year in age, they show very high levels of aggression towards people who are not in their immediate families.
The FCI backed club argues that the dogs were never historically bred this aggressive. The dogs allowed visiting farmers to enter the property. It was only when Brazil developed a high crime rate that people began to breed for a much more protective dog.
The CAFIB won’t even register a dog unless it shows ojeriza as an adult. Puppies are not registered. They counter that the FCI dogs are mixed with Great Danes and other “softer” mastiffs. The see their dogs as very close to the working tracking mastiff of Brazil as it always was.
Now, these dogs make superb guard dogs. However, in most dog breeds, even those bred for guarding behavior, we are trying to breed away from aggression (except, apparently, in golden retrievers). This is one breed that is typically subject to breed bans. It cannot be imported into the UK or Australia.
And it’s all because of the CAFIB’s insistence on breeding for ojeriza. Now, conditions in Brazil might warrant a super aggressive guard dog, but you really don’t need one in the US. In fact, such a dog is definite legal liability.
So is it ethical to breed for ojeriza? If the Brazilians are doing it, I can’t really judge them, but if Americans are also doing it, then I will judge them. Breeding for super aggressive dogs in this country is stupidity. If you want a protection dog, please select from one of those protection dogs that is easily trained. In fact, you’d probably be better off with a tough Komondor than a big mastiff dog that could kill someone. You don’t need a dog with that kind of liability issues.
Plus, if your big tracking mastiff does maul someone, everyone else who has a similar breed is going to suffer. There’s nothing to get the breed ban people all worked up than when a hyper-aggressive dog of some stigmatized breed bites or kills someone.
It is not ethical to breed for ojeriza in the United States or any other country that has issues with torts and poorly considered breed ban legislation. Now, in Brazil, there might be a reason for ojeriza.
I once had a very negative exchange with a breeder who was selecting for ojeriza in his dogs on youtube. He was Brazilian. He thought that his dogs were “more loyal” than mine, because they would kill someone who tried to trespass on his property. I don’t know what loyalty means in dogs. I think it’s a projection that we put on them, but I don’t think that loyalty means a dog that mauls the girl scouts when they come selling cookies.
This type of aggression is selected for in the bloodlines, like trainability is in other breeds. For him to say that his dogs were more loyal because of their aggression is no different than me saying that my dogs were more because they are more easily trained.
This will be a post in which I’m sure to get lots of hate comments, but I’m ready for it.
Update: Until these breeders can produce dogs that can exist in the 21st century, I think this is one breed that should be strictly controlled or banned outright. I will not say the same for the pit bull, because its breeders, by and large, get it.
You may defame me throughout the web. It’s not a big deal. “White” golden retriever people already have.
To be honest with you, no one in the US has a need for an attack dog that is nigh on impossible to control. There are many protection breeds that are safe, including GSD’s, provided they aren’t the inbred show variety, and the Malinois and other Low Countries shepherds. Those dogs are high trainability dogs, and they can be controlled.
We need fewer dogs that are biting people in this country. Every dog that bites means less freedom for responsible dog owners. And I think we’ve blamed the pit bull far too much for this. The truth is that the vast majorit of pit bulls are good dogs. I can’t say this about attack dogs from Third World countries, where democracy is really new and economic and social conditions are very different from here.
And don’t give me malarkey about courage. Courage is something people have. Dogs just have drives, which you can breed for or not breed for. The chow chow, for example, has been mellowed within my lifetime. It used to be the biter of all biters. You never could find a nice chow anywhere. And although you can get a biting chow today, you can also get better adjusted dogs. Chows were nasty for a very simple reason: in China they are food. You don’t want food that you might get attached to, so you really don’t pay attention to making chows trainable or pleasant dogs.
Ojeriza might be useful in Brazil, but in the US, it’s just playing with a loaded gun. I’ll say it, and until the breeders grow up, I’m going to keep saying it.