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A Fila Brasileiro, showing the typical molosser build

Molosser is a category of solidly built, large dog breeds that all descend from the same common ancestor. The name derives from Molossia,[1] an area of ancient Epirus,[2] where the large shepherd dog was known as a Molossus.[3]

A Perro de Presa Canario, a molosser breed

Molossers typically have heavy bones, pendant ears, and a relatively short and well-muscled neck, with a short, broad muzzle.


Molossers are used for a variety of jobs that require strength and size. Some molosser types are used for search and rescue dogs, such as the Newfoundland and the Saint Bernard. Some are used as guard dogs to protect property from intruders. Livestock guardian dogs live alongside livestock and offer protection against large predators and poachers. The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog and the Newfoundland have been used as cart dogs.


19th-century army veterinarian and entomologist Jean Pierre Mégnin theorized the four basic canine races, based on his observation of their different skull structures, are: Lupoides (Spitz), Braccoides (scenthounds), Graioides (sighthounds), and Molossoides (mountain dogs, Mastiff breeds, and even Pugs and Bulldogs).[4] 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.[weasel words]

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: Molosser is an eponym of King Molossus, the grandchild of the mighty Achilles famed in the Trojan War, who ruled the ancient tribe of Molossians 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 at Birs Nimrud. The dog is 90 centimetres (35 in) tall at the withers and has a stocky head and powerful hind quarters. The dogs were used for hunting. Molossers were also used for military purposes and for protection.

The "Jennings Dog", generally assumed to be a Molossus

The ancient Mastiffs would later be imported from 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 their dogs with them. The Alanian Mastiff then spread to the British Isles.[citation needed] The Mastiff of the Swiss Alps, the Alpine Mastiff, was a progenitor of the St. Bernard and contributed to the modern English Mastiff.

The Newfoundland is the only Canadian Molosser-type dog breed. Portuguese fishermen have fished off the shores of Newfoundland for centuries and the Newfoundland was the result of Rafeiro do Alentejos crossbred with St. John's water dogs.

The Bulldog breeds split from the Molossers in Europe and spread to the New World with colonization. Though smaller, Bulldogs are still considered to be Molosser breeds.

Molosser breeds[edit]

List of extant breeds[edit]

Breed Alternate name(s) Country of origin Use Image
Abruzzese Mastiff Pastore Abruzzese and
Cane da Pecora
Italy Livestock guardian Cane da pastore Maremmano-Abruzzese.jpg
Afghan Shepherd Kuchi,
Sage Kuchi,
Sage Jangi,
Jangi Spai and
De Kochyano Spai
Afghanistan Livestock
Afghan Shepherd.jpg
Aidi Aïdi,
Atlas Mountain Dog,
Atlas Shepherd Dog,
Berber Dog,
Chien de l'Atlas and
Chien de Montagne de l'Atlas
Morocco Livestock guardian Aidi.jpg
Akbash Akbaş Çoban Köpeği Turkey Livestock guardian Akbash Dog male 2016.jpg
Aksaray Malaklisi Turkish Mastiff and
Central Anatolian Shepherd
Turkey Guard dog and
livestock guardian
Aksaray malaklisi beto.jpg
Alano Español Spanish Alano and
Spanish Bulldog
Spain Bull-baiting and
big game hunting
Alapaha Blue Blood Bulldog Otto The United States Guard dog Alapaha Blue-Blood Bulldog.jpg
American Bulldog The United States Livestock guardian American Bulldog 600.jpg
American Mastiff The United States Guard dog AM.Suma.jpg
Anatolian Shepherd Karabaş,
Anadolulu Karabaş and
Turkey Livestock guardian Varish.jpg
Appenzeller Mountain Dog Appenzell Mountain Dog,
Appenzeller Cattle Dog,
Appenzell Cattle Dog,
Appenzeller Sennenhund and
Switzerland Livestock guardian,
herding dog and
draft dog
Appenzeller Sennenhund.JPG
Armenian Gampr Gampr Armenia Livestock guardian Gampr-armenian-wolfhound.jpg
Ashayeri Dog Iran Livestock guardian
Azerbaijani Shepherd Dog Azerbaijan Livestock guardian
Bakharwal India Livestock guardian and
guard dog
Bandog Bandogge England Guard dog
Bandog Picture.jpg
Bernese Mountain Dog Bernese Cattle Dog and
Berner Sennenhund
Switzerland Guard dog,
herding dog and
draft dog
Boerboel South African Mastiff South Africa Guard dog HuntHillBoerboelsGunston1.jpeg
Boxer German Boxer and
Deutscher Boxer
Germany Big game hunting,
bull-baiting and
Male fawn Boxer undocked.jpg
Broholmer Danish Broholmer and
Danish Mastiff
Denmark Guard dog Ivarr03.JPG
Bucovina Shepherd Bucovina Sheepdog and
Southeastern European Shepherd
Romania and
Livestock guardian Bucovina Sheepdog.jpg
Bulldog English Bulldog and
British Bulldog
England Bull-baiting Whitebulldog.jpg
Bullmastiff England Guard dog Bullmastiff edited.JPG
Buryat-Mongolian Wolfhound Russia Livestock guardian
Campeiro Bulldog Brazilian Bulldog,
Countryside Bulldog and
Pampas Bulldog
Brazil Catch dog used at slaughterhouses Buldogue Campeiro.jpg
Cane Corso Italian Mastiff,
Italian Corso Dog,
Italian Corso and
Cane Corso Italiano
Italy Catch dog and
guard dog
Cane da Presa Meridionale Italy
Cane di Mannara Italy Livestock guardian
Cão de Castro Laboreiro Dog of Castro Laboreiro,
Portuguese Cattle Dog and
Portuguese Watchdog
Portugal Livestock guardian Cao de Castro Laboreiro Ruede.jpg
Cão de Gado Transmontano Transmontano Mastiff and
Transmontano Cattle Dog
Portugal Livestock guardian
Cão Fila de São Miguel São Miguel Cattle Dog,
Chien Fila de San Miguel,
Saint Miguel Cattle Dog,
Azores Cattle Dog and
Azores Cow Dog
Portugal Herding dog Rzeszów Cão Fila de São Miguel 3pl.jpg
Carpathian Shepherd Dog Ciobănesc Românesc Carpatin,
Romanian Shepherd,
Romanian Carpathian Shepherd,
Câine Ciobănesc Carpatin,
Carpathian Sheepdog,
Carpatin and
Romanian Carpatin Herder
Romania Livestock guardian Carpatin.jpg
Caucasian Shepherd Dog Caucasian Mountain Dog and
Caucasian Ovcharka
Georgia and
Livestock guardian CaucasianOvcharka-Julius.jpg
Central Asian Shepherd Dog Alabai,
Central Asian Ovtcharka and
Uzbekistan and
Livestock guardian and
dog fighting
Среднеазиатская овчарка, молодой кобель.jpg
Cimarrón Uruguayo Cimarron,
Uruguayan Cimarron,
Cimarron Creole,
Maroon Dog,
Cerro Largo Dog,
Perro Cimarron and
Cimarron Dog
Uruguay Guard dog Boqueron de Quilligan.JPG
Dogo Argentino Argentine Dogo and
Argentine Mastiff
Argentina Big game hunting and
guard dog
Dogo Guatemalteco Guatemalan Dogo,
Guatemalan Bull Terrier and
Bullterrier Guatemalteco
Guatemala Guard dog Dogo1.jpg
Dogo Sardesco Dogo Sardo,
Sardinian Dogo and
Sardinian Mastiff
Italy Livestock guardian
Dogue Brasileiro Brazilian Dogo and
Brazilian Dogge
Brazil Guard dog Doguebrasileiro.jpg
Dogue de Bordeaux French Mastiff,
Bordeaux Mastiff and
France Guard dog DJT 0086.jpg
English Mastiff Old English Mastiff and
England Guard dog Westgort Anticipation 17 months.JPG
Entlebucher Mountain Dog Entelbuch Mountain Dog,
Entelbucher Cattle Dog,
Entlebuch Cattle Dog,
Entlebucher Sennenhund and
Switzerland Guard dog,
herding dog and
draft dog
Elio v Schaerlig im Juni 2007 klein.jpg
Estrela Mountain Dog Portuguese Shepherd and
Cão da Serra da Estrela
Portugal Livestock guardian and
guard dog
Estrela Mountain Dog 6 month old male.jpg
Fila Brasileiro Brazilian Mastiff and
Cão de Fila Brasileiro
Brazil Guard dog,
livestock guardian and
tracking dog
Yacare De El Siledin.JPG
French Bulldog Bouledogue Francais France Lap dog Mi Gran Amigo El General.jpg
Gaddi Kutta Indian Leopard Hound,
Indian Panther Hound and
Mahidant Mastiff
India Big game hunting and
livestock guardian
Georgian Shepherd Georgian Mountain Dog and
Georgia Livestock guardian
Georgia Shepherd.jpg
Ghadrejani dog Iran Livestock guardian
Gran Mastín de Borínquen Puerto Rican Mastiff,
Mastín Borincano,
Becerillo de Borinquen and
Perro Barsino de Hacienda
Puerto Rico Guard dog and
hunting dog
Great Dane Deutsche Dogge,
German Mastiff and
German Boarhound
Germany Big game hunting Great Dane K02.jpg
Great Pyrenees Pyrenean Mountain Dog,
Montañés del Pirineo,
Perro de Montaña de los Pirineos,
Can de Montaña de os Perinés,
Chien des Pyrénées and
Chien de Montagne des Pyrénées
France and
Livestock guardian Great Pyrenees Mountain Dog.jpg
Greater Swiss Mountain Dog Greater Swiss Cattle Dog and
Grosser Schweizer Sennenhund
Switzerland Guard dog,
herding dog and
draft dog
Greek Shepherd Greece Livestock guardian Greek shepherd male.jpg
Himalayan Sheepdog Himalayan Shepherd and
Himalayan Shepherd Dog
India and
Livestock guardian Himalayan sheep dog 1.jpg
Hovawart Germany Guard dog Helos 11.jpg
Kangal Shepherd Dog Sivas Kangal and
Turkish Kangal
Turkey Livestock guardian Varish, Berger d'anatolie, Kangal.jpeg
Karakachan Karakachansko Kuche and
Karakachanska Ovcharka
Bulgaria Livestock guardian Karakatschan.jpg
Karst Shepherd Slovenia Livestock guardian Owczarek kraski 654.jpg
Komondor Hungarian Komondor,
Hungarian Sheepdog and
Mop Dog
Hungary Livestock guardian
Komondor delvin.jpg
Korean Mastiff Korea
Koyun Bayburt Kelpi Turkey Livestock guardian
Kumaon Mastiff Sipro Kukur India Livestock guardian and
guard dog
Kurdish Shepherd Dog Iran,
Iraq and
Livestock guardian
Kuvasz Hungarian Kuvasz Hungary Livestock guardian Kuvasz named Kan.jpg
Landseer Canada Fishing dog Landseer.jpg
Leonberger Germany Town mascot Leonberger male.jpg
Maremma Sheepdog Cane da Pastore Maremmano-Abruzzese,
Pastore Abruzzese,
Pastore Maremmano,
Abruzzo Sheepdog and
Abruzzese Sheepdog
Italy Livestock guardian Cane Pastore Abruzzese Abruzzo.jpg
Mazandrani Iran Livestock guardian
Miniature Shar-Pei Mini Shar-Pei and
Mini Pei
China Companion dog XBlack.JPG
Mongolian banhar Mongolia Livestock guardian
Moscow Watchdog Moskovskaya Storozhevaya Sobaka Russia Guard dog Moscow watchdog 4.JPG
Neapolitan Mastiff Mastino,
Mastino Napoletano,
Italian Molosso and
Can'e presa
Italy Guard dog Mastino Napoletano Rüde clp.JPG
Newfoundland Canada Fishing dog
Bearb josh04 07.JPG
Olde English Bulldogge The United States A re-creation of the extinct
Old English Bulldog
UKC Olde English Bulldogge Male.jpg
Perro de Presa Canario Canary Mastiff,
Canary Catch Dog,
Canarian Molosser,
Presa Canario and
Dogo Canario
The Canary Islands Guard dog,
catch dog and
dog fighting
Canario 0720.jpg
Perro de Presa Mallorquin Ca de Bou,
Majorcan Mastiff,
Mallorquin Mastiff,
Perro Dogo,
Presa Canario Mallorquin,
Majorcan Bulldog,
Mallorquin Bulldog and
Silverback Mastiff
Spain Bull-baiting Ca de bou dog.jpg
Persian Mastiff Iran Livestock guardian
Polish Tatra Sheepdog Polish Mountain Sheepdog,
Tatra Mountain Sheepdog,
Owczarek Tatrzański,
Owczarek Podhalański and
Polski Owczarek
Poland Livestock guardian Polski Owczarek Podhalanski.jpg
Pug - China Lap dog Pug - 1 year Old.jpg
Pyrenean Mastiff Mastín del Pirineo and
Mostín d'o Pireneu
Spain Livestock guardian MasPiri-Puma-FIN.jpg
Rafeiro do Alentejo Portuguese Mastiff,
Alentejo Mastiff and
Mutt of Alentejo
Portugal Livestock guardian Rafeiro male.jpg
Romanian Raven Shepherd Dog Romania Livestock guardian
Rottweiler Germany Guard dog,
herding dog,
draft dog and
police dog
Rottweiler standing facing left.jpg
Saint Bernard Saint Bernhardshund,
Bernhardiner and
Alpine Mastiff
Switzerland Search and rescue dog Hummel Vedor vd Robandahoeve.jpg
Šarplaninac Yugoslavian Shepherd Dog North Macedonia and
Republic of Serbia|Serbia
Livestock guardian
Serrano Bulldog Brazilian Mountain Bulldog and
Mountaineer Bulldog
Brazil Herding dog used in slaughterhouses Anuke.jpg
Shar-Pei Cantonese Shar-Pei China Big game hunting and
dog fighting
Adult sharpei.jpg
Shirak Sheepdog Iran Livestock guardian
Slovensky Cuvac Slovac Cuvac,
Slovak Chuvach,
Tatransky Cuvac and
Slovak tschuvatsch
Slovakia Livestock guardian Cuvac 1.jpg
Spanish Mastiff Mastín español de campo y trabajo,
Mastín ganadero,
Mastín Leonés and
Mastín Extremeño
Spain Livestock guardian
Mastify hiszpanskie.jpg
Tibetan Kyi Apso Apso Do-Kyi Tibet Livestock guardian
Tibetan Mastiff Tibet Livestock guardian Mastif tybetański 2009 pl3.jpg
Tobet Kazakhstan mountain dog Kazakhstan Livestock guardian
Torkuz Uzbekistan mountain dog and
Uzbekistan Livestock guardian and
dog fighting
Tornjak Bosnian and Herzegovinian Shepherd Dog,
Bosnian Shepherd Dog,
Croatian Mountain Dog and
Bosnian-Herzegovinian and Croatian Shepherd Dog
Bosnia and Herzegovina and
Livestock guardian Bosniantornjak.jpg
Tosa Tosa Inu,
Tosa Ken,
Tosa Tōken,
Japanese Fighting Dog,
Tosa Fighting Dog,
Japanese Mastiff and
Japanese Tosa
Japan Dog fighting BUKADAI 2.jpg
Vikhan Sheepdog Chitral Watchdog and
Pakistani Vikhan Dog
India, Pakistan Livestock guardian

List of extinct breeds[edit]

Breed Alternate name(s) Country or region of origin Era Use Image
Alaunt Alaunt de Boucherie Europe and Central Asia Classical antiquity and the Middle Ages Hunting, guard dogs and dog fighting Jacopo del Sallaio.jpg
Alpine Mastiff
The Swiss Alps Before 5th century BC to 19th century AD Livestock guardian 1815 Alpine Mastiff.jpg
  • Barenbeisser and
  • German Bulldog
Germany Extinct by World War II Bull-baiting and bear-baiting Bullenbeiser.jpg
Cordoba Dog - Argentina Extinct after the 1920s Dog fighting Patan.jpg
Dalbo dog Dalbohund Sweden The Viking Age to around 1870 Livestock guardian Dalbohund.jpg
Dogo Cubano
  • Cuban Mastiff,
  • Cuban Dogo and
  • Cuban Dogge
Cuba 16th to late 19th century Recapturing runaway slaves DogoCubano2.jpg
Fila da Terceira
  • Cao de Fila da Terceira and
  • Terceira Mastiff
Portugal 17th to 19th century Catch dogs (being re-created) Fila de Terceira.jpg
Molossus - Southern Europe Classical antiquity War dogs, hunting, guard dogs and dog fighting Molossian Hound, British Museum.jpg
Moscow Water Dog
  • Moscow Diver,
  • Moscow Retriever and
  • Moskovsky Vodolaz
The Soviet Union 20th century Lifesaving dogs
Old English Bulldog - Great Britain and Ireland 17th to 19th century Bull-baiting and dog fighting CribandRosa1811.jpg
Panther dog - The United States 19th century Hunting dogs
Toy Bulldog
  • Miniature Bulldog and
  • English Toy Bulldog
England 18th to early 19th century Lap dogs Toy Bulldog Little Knot 1903.jpg

See also[edit]



  1. ^ 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."
  2. ^ 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. ..."
  3. ^ 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."
  4. ^ Mastiffs, The Big Game Hunters, by David Hancock. pg. 24, 'Classification of canine types', 2000. ISBN 0-9527801-2-7

External links[edit]