A few weeks back I re-watched one of my favourite Argentine films – Bombon: El Perro. While I was watching, it occurred to me that I should do a blog about the dogo argentino: the breed to which the film’s canine lead actor belongs. What I had in mind was a short snippet about Argentina’s only internationally recognized dog breed. But I hadn’t reckoned for the long and fascinating history of the dogo – a fanciful tale which merits longer and closer examination.
For those of you who know nothing about the dogo, it is an extremely muscular terrier-like dog with a pure white coat, which stands 30 inches high and can weigh as much as 110 lb. The dogo is a formidable hunter, but it also makes an extremely loving family pet and it is peerless as a guard dog. The dogo argentino was the brainchild and lifelong mission of a certain Antonio Nores Martinez. Antonio was born in 1907 in Cordoba. His family were of Spanish descent and his father and uncles had a passion for bloodsports. In 1925 Antonio, who hadn’t even turned 18 yet, shared a vision with his younger brother Agustin:
"I still remember it as if it were yesterday... the day when my brother Antonio told me for the first time his idea of creating a new breed of dog for big game, for which he was going to take advantage of the extraordinary braveness of the Fighting Dog of Cordoba. Mixing this with other breeds which would give the dog height, a good sense of smell, speed, hunting instinct and, more than anything else deprive them of that fighting eagerness against other dogs, which made them useless for pack hunting. A mix that would turn them into sociable dogs, capable of living in freedom, in families and on estates, keeping the great courage of the primitive breed, but applied to a useful and noble end; sport hunting and vermin control." - Agustin Nores Martinez, History of the Dogo Argentino.
What followed was the most carefully thought-out and single-minded dog breeding program the world has ever known. Antonio, with the help of his brother and the financial support of his father, systematically interbred his foundation stock of Cordobes Fighting Dogs with no fewer than nine other species. Over a period of more than fifty years the brothers added the following dogs to the bloodline:
1) The Pointer – for its keen sense of smell which is essential for the hunt. 2) The Boxer – for its gentle character 3) The Great Dane – for its size. 4) The Bull Terrier – for its fearlessness. 5) The Bulldog – for its ample chest and boldness. 6) The Irish Wolfhound – for its instinct as a hunter of wild game. 7) The Dogue de Bordeaux – for its powerful jaws. 8) The Great Pyrenees – for its white coat and rusticity. 9) The Spanish Mastiff – for its power.
When he was a bit older Antonio qualified as a surgeon, and his medical expertise allowed him to become increasingly scientific in his selective breeding. Unfortunately he didn’t live to see his dream of gaining official FCI recognition for the dogo as he was tragically murdered by a robber while out on a hunt in 1956. But by then the breeding program was too far advanced for anything to get in the way of Agustin bringing his brother Antonio’s life’s work to fruition. In 1973, after at least 25 generations of selective breeding, the dogo argentino was admitted as an official breed. (If you’re really interested in the dogo’s bloodlines, check out this link.)
The dogo argentino is one of the strongest and most efficient fighting and hunting dogs in the world, and a well-trained, well-socialized specimen can be an absolute joy. Sadly, it is also associated with illegal dogfights all around the world and it is banned in some countries, among them Australia, New Zealand and Iceland. This would have caused Antonio Nores Martinez great distress, as it was his intention to create the perfect all-round dog. He would be far more pleased by films like Bombon or real-life tales of the dogo’s immense bravery, such as the one recounted in the second half of this fascinating Animal Planet documentary on the breed: