Difference Between Spanish Mastiffs & Italian Mastiffs

Written by erin solaro
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Difference Between Spanish Mastiffs & Italian Mastiffs
This young Cane Corso is a worthy companion for the lioness cub. (Handout/Getty Images News/Getty Images)

The Italian Mastiff, or Cane Corso, was developed as a personal guard dog and a companion in hunting dangerous game like boar. The Spanish Mastiff is a classic livestock guardian dog. The similarities between Italian and Spanish mastiffs will be far greater than their differences. These are both big, powerful breeds of great antiquity, bred for physical courage and aggression who require loving, conscientious owners. Both breeds are recognised by the Federation Cynologique Internationale, or FCI, and the United Kennel Club, or UKC.

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Breed Registry

The Italian Mastiff, or Cane Corso, is a breed recognised by the American Kennel Club. This means that Cane Corsos of proven pedigree can be registered with the AKC. Spanish Mastiffs, although a breed of great antiquity, are recognised by the AKC as part of their Foundation Stock Service, or FSS, a record-keeping service for rare breeds. The goal of the FSS is to help perpetuate rare breeds, eventually allowing them to compete in AKC events, particularly companion events such as obedience and performance events such as herding. As of 2011, however, Spanish Mastiffs are not permitted to compete in AKC-sponsored events.


Spanish and Italian Mastiffs are big dogs, but Spanish Mastiffs are very big. The Italian Mastiff may reach up to 27.5 inches at the shoulder if a male, and 26 if a female. The preferred size for Spanish Mastiffs is 29.5 inches at the shoulder of a female and for a male, 31.5 inches being preferred. There is no upper limit on height for the Spanish Mastiff.

The Head

Both Italian and Spanish Mastiffs have large, powerful heads. However, the Italian has a drier, more elegant head than its Spanish cousin. The Cane Corso AKC Breed Standard calls for the skin of the head to be "firm and smooth." The Spanish Mastiff's UKC Breed Standard, in contrast, says "[t]he upper lip largely covers the lower lip." These overlapping lips, or flews, are loose, making the Spanish Mastiff a wet-mouthed dog, much prone to drooling.

Coat and Color

Italian Mastiffs have a short, sleek coat with a slight undercoat. They may be black or all shades of grey, red and fawn. White markings are restricted to a patch on the chin, throat or chest, the back of the dog's ankles, and the tips of their toes. Brindling, or tiger-striping, is acceptable; black-and-tan style markings such as seen on Rottweilers are a disqualification. Spanish Mastiffs have loose skin, including a double dewlap, and a longer coat with a more pronounced undercoat than the Italian dogs. The Spanish Mastiff's UKC Breed Standard specifically says colour is "immaterial." However, primitive colours that permit this dog to blend into the landscape, including "wolf color" and "deer colour," are specifically mentioned.

Overall Impression

The Cane Corso is a smaller, lighter, more elegant dog conveying an impression of great power combined with agility and speed. The Spanish Mastiff is a much bigger dog, and while a formidable opponent, even the females will not be capable of the sheer athletic ability of the Cane Corso. Though not an ugly breed, it cannot be described as elegant.

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