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We Want the True Fila Brasileiro

[This article appeared in MM8 p48-60]

The author, Fila breeder, Hon. Secretary of CAFIB, and MM-Correspondent for Brazil, AmericoCardoso dos Santos, Jr., describes the typical temperament of the Fila as a result of his traditional function.

For details about CAFIB, its organization and purpose, please see MM 3/83, pages 253 270.

People who are not very well acquainted with the Fila Brasileiro have often asked us about certain features of the temperament of this breed. particularly as it is a well known fact that the CAFIB appreciate the sharp and keen watching instinct.

The selection, seriously carried out towards this purpose, may cause wonder in some people who, due to rumours and defamation, have a distorted and misunderstood image of the Fila, seeing him as a creature owning irrational savagery, and dangerous to his own family members.

"Ojeriza" to strangers

The feature that perhaps is at first sight the most apparent in a Fila's temperament is the "ojeriza" to strangers (ojeriza - sharp aversion). On the contrary to other puppies, a Fila Puppy is not inclined to relaxed playing with anyone. He attaches himself quickly to those with whom he lives but is, however, from his earliest youth suspicious of persons he does not know. Suspicion may make him irritated and annoyed and to some extent even make him growl with a certain amount of aggression, but yet without sufficient self-confidence to attack. In the course of his development the aversion against strangers will become more and more apparent. Already as a puppy the Fila will clearly show his displeasure if a stranger would try to touch him. At about the age of one year the Fila would attack any person unknown to him who would try to touch him.

An agitated or restless disposition in a Fila is highly undesirable as it may be a symptom of nervousness and insecurity. One must remember that the Fila needs provocation in order to attack, for example, when an unknown person stares at him fixedly (as a challenge). Here it becomes evident another typical feature of the Fila: his courage will not allow him to move one step back when facing a provocation of any kind. No matter which instrument is used for the temperament test (rod, broom, towel, chair, etc.) the Fila's reaction is always prompt. spontaneous, and without any sign of insecurity. He throws himself forward and upwards (making the characteristic diagonal ascent, mentioned in the CAFIB-standard) attempting to reach the face or the throat of the aggressor. Exactly at this point the Fila differs from other dogs (like German Shepherds) who attack only when ordered, doing what they have been taught to do, showing rather the extent of their conditioning than true courage and instinctive reaction against aggression

Nervous system

There are dogs who, as soon as they hear the shot at the nervous system test, will move behind their owners or, as in some cases, will desperately try to run out of the ring. Practical experience teaches us that these reactions can be foreseen by simple observation of the dog's behaviour when he enters the exhibition ring. His insecurity is expressed in the way in which he looks rapidly in every direction, turning around as he hears some unexpected noise, in the way he carries his tail, the hair ruffled on the back, stopping abruptly and refusing to follow the owner, etc. The good specimens, however, although they are ready to attack provocation, will demonstrate clearly the firmness of their nerves in their calm way of walking, serene and self-assured, they pay no attention any kind of commotion or strange noises, they are oblivious to other dogs or persons as long as these do not come too close.

In his own home the Fila is tender and devoted to his owner and the family. His obedience is absolute, his thirst for caresses is inexhaustible. He does not hide his antipathy towards strangers, on the contrary, he is frankly and honestly aggressive. His features make him the best watch dog one may desire.

Of course, his aversion towards persons he does not know demands certain precautions and may bring some disadvantages. A Fila must be under control before guests come into the house. At a show, if the judge would focus on his eyes or would try to touch the dog, he might take the risk of an attack. All this belongs to the personality of the Fila, these reactions are essential to the breed. The first standard, more than 30 years ago, took these personality aspects into account by saying that the dog was not to be punished if he attacked the judge at a show. It was this strength of personality and character that in the 40's thrilled the Fila pioneer Dr. Paulo Santos Cruz. He was deeply impressed by the strong watching instinct and noteworthy courage demonstrated by the little bitch Lupe, only a few months old, whom he had just brought from the town of Varginha. These features can still be seen in the offspring from the old bloodstrains at the farms of southern Minas Gerais, some specimens of which we succeeded in taking to Sao Paulo State. By means of carefully planned matings we have tried to maintain the old heritage. The results may be seen already in the puppies born over here.

In the farms

During the last few years we have made several trips to the Minas Gerais State searching for typical Filas originating from the ancient breedings. We took photos and drew up a cadaster of tens of dogs and bitches; we took with us pups and adults, bitches as well as their whole litters. Where we did not manage to buy we arranged certain matings and later bought all the pups. We took our bitches from Sao Paulo to be mated with unregistered farm Filas from the country and got excellent results.

Unfortunately, due to the old age of many dogs as well as their often poor physical condition, not all could be used. Some of the matings were not successful at all; some of the old males could not even mate any longer. In many cases the very long distances, the difficult access and the lack of sympathy from the owner's side for our ideas caused that excellent dogs could never be used for breeding.

Modern times

Nowadays, in many regions of our large country, the functional adaptability of the Fila is not as essential any longer as it used to be. Till recently the butchers, for example, had their slaughterhouses very near to their own homes and they slaughtered the cattle themselves and provided their own towns with meat. Riding they went through their region buying a cow here and there. They often had to deal with the most dangerous cattle, because these were the ones to be sold for slaughtering, as they jeopardized the whole herd by often breaking the fence. To herd a small group of cattle which quite often tried to run away from the stony path was an almost impossible task without the help of an efficient cattle dog.

In our days these scenes are belonging to the past. Due to progress, advanced technology and the modem highways that cross the country, the cattle are transported in enormous trucks to the modern freezing plants. Men riding donkeys on trackless paths are nowadays mostly nothing else than nostalgic memories. The oncas-pintadas, (Brazilian jaguars), a few decades ago an alarming threat to the cattle in many regions of our country, are today more and more in danger of being extinct. And the Fila, the "protagonist" of that anachronistic scene, also fights for surviving. He is trapped between today's smaller importance of his abilities as a cattle-dog in the country and the threat of becoming a fashionable dog as well as being cross bred in the main cities,

The brave and long suffering Fila Brasileiro is today in the middle of his last battle, By this process he is perhaps more attacked than Fila-generations before, who had to fight against bulls and jaguars. Paradoxically one has on the other side the fact that the Brazilian Kennel Club (BKC) is registering 5 to 6 thousands Fila pups per year without being interested whether these are true Filas or bastards.

Problems of selection

One must recognize that there has been tendency of softening the extremely sharp temperament of the ancient Filas as the CBKC made the legendary mistake not to take care of the well-being of the Fila. Even some farmers do not like sharp dogs who do not like to welcome guests.

In the country dogs and bitches are most of the time extremely poorly treated and all those we bought from there ate meat for the first time when arriving to Sao Paulo city. Therefore some great dog experts are devoting themselves to improve the Fila breeding in Brazil instead of the breeding of European working dogs, because they want to help the Fila to get out of his often poor living conditions in the country. For working dogs from Europe their conditions are often worse here than at home (bad pet shops ect.) but for the Fila moving from the careless keeping in the country to serious breeding by cynologists in town can be nothing but an improvement.

Some Fila owners in the country were confused how cynologists from the cities could want to buy dogs which for them had no monetary value, they were as well afraid of being deceived, because they had no idea of the price of the dogs- and suddenly they were attracted by the chances to make money out of their dogs.

But, inspite of all the difficulties, we of CAFIB brought and still are intending to bring specimens from these ancient strains, today nearly extinct, to our kennels. The result of their breeding has already been proved worthwhile, first in terms of their rusticity and homogenity in type, and second, in terms of' their firmness in temperament, courage and "ojeriza" to strangers. These are, indeed, the unmistakeable features of the true Fila Brasileiro.

We wish that just those people who want to preserve him as he was introduced to all of us in his severe origin which had formed him, would breed the Fila. We do not want to see the Fila in the hands of people who fancy the modern superficial beauty shows. They neglect and want to push away the traditional capacities of the Fila. It has the touch of grotesqueness to hear that the brave cattle-dog with his correct sharpness has difficulties in being recognized by the American Kennel Club. Everybody should know that, instead of the voice of some dressed-up dandy handler, it sounds far more familiar to the Fila to hear "aboio" (mournful cowboy chant traditional in Brazil to herd cattle as well as the roar of the cangucu - another name of the "onca"), evoking in him his pugnacious yearning. Everybody should know, too, that the Fila prefers to be handled by firm hands which are not afraid to use his help in taming even the fiercest cattle on the desert parts of our wild countryside.

Who can have a Fila?

One must know: the Fila is not a dog adequate for everybody! It is very important to have a close contact between the dog and the owner especially when the dog is young and his character is being formed. The purchasing of a Fila is a great responsibility.