The Cão de Fila de São Miguel (often shortened to Fila de São Miguel) is one of the few working dog breeds still in use in Europe, particularly in the region where it originated from – the Azores, an archipelago composed of nine volcanic islands in the North Atlantic ocean. A territory that is one of the two autonomous regions of Portugal.
“Cão” stands for dog in Portuguese, while “Fila” is the word for “holding something by the teeth/mouth”. São Miguel is a reference to the Island in the Azores where this dog breed emerged. The fila is also sometimes locally named as “Cão de Vacas” (Portuguese for bulldog, due to its primary use as a cattle guardian/herder), and in English it has also been referred to as “Azorean Cattle Dog”.
In the excellent Old Country Blood, one of the top working dog history books on the market, the Cão de Fila de São Miguel is described in these exact words: “I cannot speak highly enough of these dogs; they are a true working dog with an extremely fierce, primitive and hard temperament”.
The Cão de Fila de São Miguel is a guardian and a herder. Herder/shepherd dogs are known for their natural ability to create a strong bond with their owners as well as for their intelligence, and this is very much the case of the Fila. According to Mr Rui Teixeira, one of the most experienced breeders in the business “one dog can manage a herd of cows. Understand what that entails, it can interpret over 20 different tasks from its owner on the field, distinguish several cows from one another and know them by their different names.”
Example of Fila’s Cattle Prowess (below), 9 week old male working with the stock.
Their intensity and roughness in the handling of the herd makes them an asset for dealing with cows/bulls, but the Fila has been mentioned by farmers to be too rough to handle sheep or other smaller farm animals.
Highly driven and intelligent the Fila also excels as a guardian thanks to its intense protection drive, which has to be seen to be believed. This is in fact one of the main jobs given to Fila de São Miguel in continental Portugal, where cow herding is a lesser known profession.
The mix between intelligence, roughness and protection drive make this breed a poor choice for an inexperienced handler, and even more for anyone who believes walking a dog around the block for 20 minutes equates to a healthy amount of work/exercise for a “real” dog.
Why Is Cão De Fila De São Miguel Not Seen in the Dog Sporting World?
The Cão de Fila de São Miguel is a fierce and intelligent breed, of similar size to the Malinois and a bit smaller than the German Shepherd. With Its temperament and size one could think it would be a perfect fit for the protection dog sporting world, working dog sports such as the French Ring, KNPV, Schutzhund, Mondioring or Belgium Ring, but the Fila is seldomly seen at these events. How so?
André Colaço, a renowned Portuguese breeder of Cão de Fila, Malinois and Alsatian (GSD), as well as an experienced Mondioring competitor with years of experience in the security industry explains that although he always uses the Fila de São Miguel during his security patrols, he doesn’t believe the Fila temperament applies well in the sporting world, where he chooses Malinois lines.
Example of the Cão de Fila de São Miguel’s Defensive Drive
According to André, the Fila breed is not as mentally flexible as the Malinois or even the German Shepherd. Having years of experience with all three Colaço is of the opinion that the Fila is a specialist in aggression, he will be alert and is a fantastic option to have by his side when in a real life situation, however the sporting world has a variety of disciplines within obedience, protection and byte work, including controlled aggression, stopped attacks, guarding objects, etc where thanks to their nature, these other breeds can do a better job than the CFSM.
PHYSIQUE AND HEALTH
The Cão de Fila de São Miguel is an athletic medium to large sized dog, although the thriving of their existence in dog shows has pushed their size to a heavier built, bigger dog (often leaning towards a barrel chest). Show lines aside, the working Fila should be no taller than 60cm (24 inches) and no heavier than 35 kilograms (77lbs) in males, 30 kilogram (66lbs) for females – keep in mind these are the upper limits of the standard and they often come shorter/lighter than these figures. Shape wise they are longer than they are tall.
Example of the Cão de Fila de São Miguel doing agility work
The head shape is square with ears set at the top of the skull. The muzzle and face are often completely black, resembling a mask, while the body is traditionally brindle – ranging from a light to dark brown and sometimes nearing full black. Their coat will sometimes have a spot of white on the chest and/or paws which many relate to the older bloodlines of the breed. Bred to be an outdoors dog, they are fully equipped to withstand the Portuguese weather.
Although it is commonly mentioned that the breed is not known to have any health issues, backyard/puppy mill breeders have caused health defects to appear in the Fila de São Miguel, with hip and elbow dysplasia being sometimes an issue. It is highly recommended that when looking to buy a fila, you research the breeder, his reputation and his dogs (as you should with any other breed). Otherwise a normal fila is very healthy dog, who lasts on average on 13-14 years.