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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]

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


Nineteenth-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).[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.


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.


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 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. Molossers were also used for military purposes and for protection.

Jennings Dog, generally assumed to be a Molosser hound

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 with them their dogs. The Alanian Mastiff then spread to the British Isles.[citation needed] The Mastiffs 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.

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.

In contemporary culture they are also known as Mastín (Spanish), Dogue or Dogo (Romance languages), and Dogge (Germanic).

Mastiff confusionEdit

Breeds such as the Fila Brasileiro, Pyrenean Mastiff (Mastín del Pirineo), Spanish Mastiff, Tibetan Mastiff, Cane Corso, and many others that fall into the larger category of "molossers" are of Mastiff-type, but are not true Mastiffs. The term Mastiff, when used alone, refers specifically to the "English Mastiff" breed. Other true Mastiff breeds include the Dogue de Bordeaux, Neapolitan Mastiff, and Bullmastiff. Each is a separate and distinct breed.[citation needed] The Boxer breed is also included, as it is a creation from other molossers including the Old English Bulldog.

Molosser breedsEdit

List of extant breedsEdit

Breed Alternate name(s) Country of origin Use Image
Abruzzese Mastiff Pastore abruzzese &
Cane da Pecora
Italy Livestock guardian  
Aidi Aïdi,
Atlas Mountain Dog,
Atlas Shepherd Dog,
Berber Dog,
Chien de l'Atlas &
Chien de Montagne de l'Atlas
Morocco Livestock guardian  
Akbash dog Akbaş Çoban Köpeği Turkey Livestock guardian  
Aksaray Malaklisi Turkish mastiff &
Central Anatolian shepherd
Turkey Guard dog &
livestock guardian
Alano Español Spanish Alano &
Spanish Bulldog
Spain Bull baiting &
big game hunting
American Bulldog United States Livestock guardian  
American Mastiff United States Guard dog  
Anatolian Shepherd Karabaş,
Anadolulu Karabaş
& Kangal
Turkey Livestock guardian  
Appenzeller Sennenhund Appenzeller,
Appenzell Cattle Dog &
Appenzeller Mountain Dog
Switzerland Livestock guardian,
herding dog &
draft dog
Armenian Gampr Gampr Armenia Livestock guardian  
Ashayeri Dog Iran Livestock guardian
Azerbaijani Shepherd Dog Azerbaijan Livestock guardian
Bakharwal dog India Livestock guardian &
guard dog
Bernese Mountain Dog Berner Sennenhund &
Bernese Cattle Dog
Switzerland Guard dog,
herding dog &
draft dog
Boerboel South African Mastiff South Africa Guard dog  
Boxer German Boxer &
Deutscher Boxer
Germany Big game hunting  
Broholmer Danish Broholmer &
Danish Mastiff
Denmark Guard dog  
Bucovina Shepherd Bucovina Sheepdog &
Southeastern European Shepherd
Romania &
Livestock guardian  
Bulldog British Bulldog &
English Bulldog
England Bull-baiting  
Bulldog Campeiro Brazil
Bullmastiff England Guard dog  
Buryat-Mongolian Wolfhound Russia Livestock guardian
Ca de Bou Perro de Presa Mallorquin,
Majorca Mastiff,
Mallorquin Mastiff,
Mallorquin Bulldog,
Perro Dogo,
Presa Canario Mallorquin,
Majorca Mastiff,
Majorcan Bulldog &
Silverback Mastiff
Spain Bull baiting  
Cane Corso Italian Mastiff,
Italian Corso Dog,
Italian Corso &
Cane Corso Italiano
Italy Catch dog &
guard dog
Cane da presa Italy
Cane di Mannara Italy Livestock guardian
Cão de Castro Laboreiro Dog of Castro Laboreiro,
Portuguese Cattle Dog &
Portuguese Watchdog
Portugal Livestock guardian  
Cão de Gado Transmontano Transmontano Mastiff &
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 &
Azores Cow Dog
Portugal Herding dog  
Carpathian Shepherd Dog Ciobănesc Românesc Carpatin,
Romanian Shepherd,
Romanian Carpathian Shepherd,
Câine Ciobănesc Carpatin,
Carpathian Sheepdog,
Carpatin &
Romanian Carpatin Herder
Romania Livestock guardian  
Caucasian Shepherd Dog Caucasian Mountain Dog &
Caucasian Ovcharka
Georgia &
Livestock guardian  
Central Asian Shepherd Dog Alabai,
Central Asian Ovtcharka &
Uzbekistan &
Livestock guardian
& dog fighting
Cimarrón Uruguayo Cimarron,
Uruguayan Cimarron,
Cimarron Creole,
Maroon Dog,
Cerro Largo Dog,
Perro Cimarron &
Cimarron Dog
Uruguay Guard dog  
Dogo Argentino Argentine Dogo &
Argentine Mastiff
Argentina Big game hunting
& guard dog
Dogo Sardesco Italy Livestock guardian
Dogue de Bordeaux Bordeaux Mastiff,
French Mastiff &
France Guard dog  
English Mastiff Mastiff Old English &
England Guard dog  
Entlebucher Mountain Dog Entelbuch Mountain Dog,
Entelbucher Cattle Dog &
Switzerland Guard dog,
herding dog &
draft dog
Estrela Mountain Dog Portuguese Shepherd &
Cão da Serra da Estrela
Portugal Livestock guardian
& guard dog
Fila Brasileiro Brazilian Mastiff &
Cão de fila brasileiro
Brazil Guard dog,
livestock guardian
& tracking dog
Gaddi Kutta Indian Leopardhound,
Indian Panther Hound &
Mahidant Mastiff
India Big game hunting &
livestock guardian
Georgian Shepherd Georgian Mountain Dog
& Nagazi
Georgia Livestock guardian
Ghadrejani dog Iran Livestock guardian
Gran Mastín de Borínquen Puerto Rican Mastiff,
Mastín Borincano,
Becerillo de Borinquen &
Perro Barsino de Hacienda
Puerto Rico Guard dog &
hunting dog
Great Dane Deutsche Dogge &
German Mastiff
Germany Big game hunting  
Great Pyrenees Pyrenean Mountain Dog,
Montañés del Pirineo,
Perro de Montaña de los Pirineos,
Can de Montaña de os Perinés,
Chien des Pyrénées &
Chien de Montagne des Pyrénées
France &
Livestock guardian  
Greater Swiss Mountain Dog Switzerland Guard dog,
herding dog &
draft dog
Greek Shepherd Greece Livestock guardian  
Guatemalan Dogo Dogo Guatemalteco,
Guatemalan Bull Terrier &
Bullterrier Guatemalteco
Guatemala Guard dog
Himalayan Sheepdog Himalayan Shepherd &
Himalayan Shepherd Dog
India &
Livestock guardian  
Hovawart Germany Guard dog  
Kangal Sivas Kangal &
Turkish Kangal
Turkey Livestock guardian  
Karakachan Karakachansko Kuche &
Karakachanska Ovcharka
Bulgaria Livestock guardian  
Karst Shepherd Slovenia Livestock guardian  
Komondor Hungarian Komondor,
Hungarian Sheepdog &
Mop Dog
Hungary Livestock guardian
Korean Mastiff Korea
Koyun dog Bayburt Kelpi Turkey Livestock guardian
Kuchi Sage Kuchi,
Sage Jangi,
De Kochyano Spai,
Jangi Spai &
Afghan Shepherd
Afghanistan Livestock guardian
Kumaon Mastiff Sipro Kukur India Livestock guardian
& guard dog
Kurdish Shepherd Dog Iran,
Iraq &
Livestock guardian
Kuvasz Hungarian Kuvasz Hungary Livestock guardian  
Landseer Canada Fishing dog  
Leonberger Germany Town mascot  
Maremma Sheepdog Cane da Pastore Maremmano-Abruzzese,
Pastore Abruzzese,
Pastore Maremmano,
Abruzzo Sheepdog &
Abruzzese Sheepdog
Italy Livestock guardian  
Mazandrani dog Iran Livestock guardian
Mongolian banhar Mongolia Livestock guardian
Moscow Watchdog Moskovskaya Storozhevaya Sobaka Russia Guard dog  
Neapolitan Mastiff Mastino,
Mastino Napoletano,
Italian Molosso &
Can'e presa
Italy Guard dog  
Newfoundland Canada Fishing dog
Olde English Bulldogge United States Recreation of extinct
Old English Bulldog
Perro de Presa Canario Canary Mastiff,
Canary Catch Dog,
Canarian Molosser,
Presa Canario &
Dogo Canario
Canary Islands Guard dog,
catch dog &
dog fighting
Persian Mastiff Iran Livestock guardian
Polish Tatra Sheepdog Tatra Mountain Sheepdog,
Owczarek Tatrzański,
Owczarek Podhalański &
Polski Owczarek
Poland Livestock guardian  
Pyrenean Mastiff Mastín del Pirineo &
Mostín d'o Pireneu
Spain Livestock guardian  
Rafeiro do Alentejo Alentejo Mastiff,
Portuguese Mastiff &
Mutt of Alentejo
Portugal Livestock guardian  
Romanian Raven Shepherd Dog Romania Livestock guardian
Rottweiler Germany Guard dog,
herding dog,
draft dog &
police dog
Saint Bernard St Bernhardshund,
Bernhardiner &
Alpine Mastiff
Switzerland Search and rescue dog  
Šarplaninac Yugoslavian Shepherd Dog Macedonia &
Livestock guardian
Shar Pei Cantonese Shar-Pei China Big game hunting
dog fighting
Shirak Sheepdog Iran Livestock guardian
Slovak Cuvac Slovak Chuvach,
Tatransky Cuvac &
Slovak tschuvatsch
Slovakia Livestock guardian  
Spanish Mastiff Mastín español de campo y trabajo,
Mastín ganadero,
Mastín Leonés &
Mastín Extremeño
Spain Livestock guardian
Terceira Mastiff Fila da Terceira &
Cão de Fila da Terceira
Tibetan kyi apso Apso Do-Kyi Tibet Livestock guardian
Tibetan Mastiff Tibet Livestock guardian  
Tobet Kazakhstan mountain dog Kazakhstan Livestock guardian
Torkuz Uzbekistan mountain dog
& Sarkangik
Uzbekistan Livestock guardian
& dog fighting
Tornjak Bosnian and Herzegovinian Shepherd Dog,
Bosnian Shepherd Dog,
Croatian Mountain Dog &
Bosnian-Herzegovinian and Croatian Shepherd Dog
Bosnia and Herzegovina &
Livestock guardian  
Tosa Tosa Inu,
Tosa Ken,
Tosa Tōken,
Japanese Fighting Dog,
Japanese Mastiff,
Tosa Fighting Dog &
Japanese Tosa
Japan Dog fighting  
Vikhan Sheepdog Chitral Watchdog &
Pakistani Vikhan Dog
Pakistan Livestock guardian

List of extinct breedsEdit

Breed Alternate name(s) Country or region of origin Era Use Image
Alaunt Alaunt de Boucherie Central Asia & Europe Classical antiquity & Middle Ages Hunting, guard dogs & dog fighting  
Alpine Mastiff Alps Before 5th century BC to 19th century AD Livestock guardian  
Bullenbeisser German Bulldog Germany Extinct by World War II Bull baiting & bear baiting
Dalbo dog Dalbohund Sweden Viking Age to around 1870 Livestock guardian
Dogo Cubano
  • Cuban Mastiff,
  • Cuban Dogo,
  • Cuban Dogge
Cuba 16th to late 19th century Recapture of runaway slaves  
Molossus Southern Europe Classical antiquity War dogs, hunting, guard dogs & dog fighting
Moscow Water Dog
  • Moscow Diver,
  • Moscow Retriever,
  • Moskovsky Vodolaz
Soviet Union 20th century Lifesaving dog
Old English Bulldog Great Britain & Ireland 17th to 19th centuries Bull baiting & dog fighting  

See alsoEdit



  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 linksEdit