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Molosser is a category of solidly built, large dog breeds that all descend from the same common ancestor. The name derives from Molossia, an area of ancient Epirus, where the large shepherd dog was known as a Molossus.
Molossers typically have heavy bones, pendant ears, a relatively short and well-muscled neck, and a short muzzle.
Although some Molossers are used for search and rescue, such as the Newfoundland and the Saint Bernard, most (for example Mastiffs) are used as guard dogs, due to their deep voices and natural guarding instincts, or livestock guardian dogs for protection against large predators as well as poachers. Some breeds like the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog have also been used as cart dogs.
The oldest known record of a Molosser-type dog is found in its name, which is the namesake of the people who first used these dogs: the ancient Greek tribe of Mollosians in Epirus. The people of Epirus were a seafaring people and these dogs sailed with their masters to Asia, where selective breeding gave them multiple phenotypes that were better suited to their new climates and roles.
As these ancient Molosser dogs were exported to West Asia, Central Asia, South Asia, and North Africa, they soon adapted to their surroundings and interbred with local dogs resulting in offspring with shorter, differently colored coats but retained more anatomical morphology traits like height and massive heads with short muzzles.
The dogs were considered valuable in Babylon, and are mentioned in cuneiform in the 4th century BC. A large mastiff-like dog is shown on the ancient terra cotta by Birs Nimrud. The dog is 90 centimetres (35 in) tall at the withers, has a stocky head and powerful hind quarters. The dogs were used for hunting in ancient Assyria. Archeological digs of the Ashurbanipal palace (7th century BC) revealed pictures of dogs felling wild horses and donkeys. Assyrian mastiffs were also used for military purposes and for protection.
The ancient mastiffs would later be imported from Assyria and Babylon to Egypt and Asia Minor. Xerxes I of Persia led predatory wars to enlarge the borders of his empire, taking with him large war dogs in his Army. Mastiffs were used to fight in the Roman amphitheater against lions and may have been used in lion hunting. They are the root of many Shepherd and Mountain dog breeds.
The Alans kept mastiff-like dogs taken from Eastern Europe which acted as retrievers, guard dogs, and fighting dogs. The name associated with these dogs is Alaunt, or in Spanish, Alano. The mastiffs were used in unison with sighthounds to hunt wisent, aurochs, and bear. Groups of Alanian tribes came to Europe during the Migration Period, fighting on the territory of modern Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, and North Africa, taking with them their dogs. The Alanian mastiffs then spread to the British Isles. The mastiff of the Alps, the Alpine Mastiff, was a progenitor of the St. Bernard and contributed to the modern English Mastiff.
The Newfoundland dog is the only Canadian Molosser-type dog breed. Portuguese fishermen have fished off the shores of Newfoundland for centuries, and the Newfoundland breed was the result of Portuguese mastiffs breeding with St. John's water dog.
Nineteenth-century army veterinarian and entomologist Jean Pierre Mégnin theorized there were four basic canine races based on his observation of their different skull structures: Lupoides (Spitz), Braccoides (scenthounds), Graioides (sighthounds), and Molossoides (mountain dogs, mastiff breeds and even Pugs). Although study of the canine genome is causing the revision of phenotype-based taxonomies such as Mégnin's, the four categories are still used in some traditional contexts.
Breeds such as the Bullmastiff, Dogue de Bordeaux, Fila Brasileiro, Pyrenean Mastiff (Mastín del Pirineo), Spanish Mastiff, Neapolitan Mastiff, Tibetan Mastiff, and many others fall into the larger category of "Molossers", are of Mastiff-type, but are not Mastiffs. The term "Mastiff" (when used alone) refers specifically to the "English Mastiff" breed. Each is a separate and distinct breed. The Boxer breed is also included, as it is a creation from other Molossers including the Old English Bulldog.
List of Molossoid breeds
- Akbaş Çoban Köpeği (Akbash Dog)
- Alano Español (Spanish Bulldog)
- Alaunt (extinct)
- Alapaha Blue Blood Bulldog
- Alpine Mastiff (extinct)
- Alp Mastiff (Cane Garouf)
- American Bulldog
- American Bull Molosser
- American Pit Bull Terrier
- American Staffordshire Terrier
- Anadolu çoban köpeği (Anatolian Shepherd Dog)
- Appenzeller Sennenhund
- Armenian Gampr Dog
- Belgian Mastiff
- Bernese Mountain Dog
- Boerboel (South African Mastiff)
- Boston Terrier
- Brazilian Bullmastiff
- Broholmer (Danish Mastiff)
- Bucciriscu Calabrese
- Bulldog (English Bulldog)
- Bullenbeisser (German Bulldog) (extinct)
- Bully Kutta (Pakistani Mastiff)
- Bull Terrier
- Ca de Bou (Perro de Presa Mallorquin, Majorca Bulldog, Majorca Mastiff)
- Cane Corso (Italian Mastiff)
- Cão da Serra da Estrela (Estrela Mountain Dog)
- Cão de Castro Laboreiro (Portuguese Watchdog, Portuguese Cattledog)
- Cão de Fila de São Miguel (Azores Cattledog)
- Cão de Fila da Terceira (Terceira Mastiff)
- Cão de Gado Transmontano (Portuguese Mountain Cattle Dog)
- Ciobănesc Românesc Carpatin (Romanian Shepherd Dog)
- Catahoula Bulldog
- Catahoula Cur
- Chow Chow
- Cimarrón Uruguayo (Uruguayan Dog)
- Dosa Inu (Korean Mastiff)
- Doberman Pinscher (Dobermann)
- Dogue de Bordeaux (French Mastiff)
- Dogo Argentino (Argentine Mastiff)
- Dogo Canario (Canary Mastiff)
- Dogo Cubano (Cuban Mastiff)
- Dogo Guatemalteco (Guatemalan Mastiff)
- Dogue Brasileiro (Brazilian Dogo)
- English Mastiff
- Entlebucher Sennenhund (Entlebucher Mountain Dog)
- Fila Brasileiro (Brazilian Mastiff)
- French Bulldog
- Georgian Shepherd Dog
- German Shepherd (German Shepherd Dog)
- Giant Maso Mastiff
- Gran Mastín de Borínquen (Puerto Rican Mastiff)
- Great Dane (German Mastiff)
- Great Pyrenees (Pyrenean Mountain Dog, Montañés del Pirineo)
- Greater Swiss Mountain Dog
- Gull Terr
- Gull Dong
- Himalayan Sheepdog
- Kangal Dog (Turkish Kangal)
- Karakachan Dog (Bulgarian Shepherd, Thracian Mollos)
- Kavkasiuri Nagazi (Caucasian Shepherd Dog)
- Mastín Español (Spanish Mastiff)
- Mastín del Pirineo (Pyrenean Mastiff)
- Mastino Napoletano (Neapolitan Mastiff)
- Moskovskaya Storozhevaya Sobaka (Moscow Watchdog)
- Olde Boston Bulldogge
- Old Roman Bulldog
- Olde English Bulldogge
- Perro de Presa Canario (Presa Canario)
- Pug (Dutch Mastiff)
- Rafeiro do Alentejo (Portuguese Mastiff)
- Rhodesian Ridgeback
- Sage Kuchi (Afghan Sheepdog)
- Saint Bernard
- Shar Pei
- Sredneaziatskaya Ovtcharka (Central Asian Shepherd Dog)
- Staffordshire Bull Terrier
- Tatra Mountain Sheepdog (Vlach Shepherd)
- Kinnaur Sheepdog (Bearded Tibetan Mastiff, Tibetan Kyi Apso)
- Tibetan Mastiff
- Tosa Inu (Japanese Mastiff)
- Dogue De Bordeaux: A Comprehensive Owner's Guide by Joseph Janish, ISBN 1-59378-215-2,2003, p. 10, "The Dogue de Bordeaux falls into a group of dogs classified as molossers, descendants of the Molossus, a dog that lived around the time of 700 BC."
- The Mini-Atlas of Dog Breeds by Andrew De Prisco,ISBN 0-86622-091-7,1990,page 136,"... Mastiff prototypes , such as the Molossus of Epirus and Babylonian Mastiff, were used as flock guards against wolves and other predators. ..."
- The molossid bats are named after this breed of dog: The Mammals of the Southern African Sub-region by J. D. Skinner, ISBN 0-521-84418-5,2006, p. 277, "The name of the [free-tailed bats] family is derived from the Greek molossus, a kind of dog used by Greek shepherds in ancient times."
- Volkodav info-Aboriginal dogs of the Caucasus and Asia
- Mastiffs, The Big Game Hunters, by David Hancock. pg. 24, 'Classification of canine types', 2000. ISBN 0-9527801-2-7
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