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Sally Anne Thompson, Animal Photography
The Fila Brasileiro is a mastiff breed from Brazil. He is a fierce guard dog with a massive head, heavy rectangular body, and brindle or fawn coat. In the show ring he may require the control of two handlers.
The Fila Brasileiro also goes by the names Brazilian Mastiff or Brazilian Molosser.
The Fila is not an appropriate choice for an inexperienced dog owner. While the breed standard for the Fila says that he should be docile and obedient with his family, extremely tolerant with children, and calm and self-assured in new situations, he doesn’t come that way. This dog is large, powerful, intelligent, active, and headstrong. He also has outstanding courage, determination, and bravery. A Fila needs a leader who can develop and manage all of those characteristics by guiding the dog with firmness and consistency but without using force or cruelty.
Early, frequent socialization is essential. Purchase a Fila puppy from a breeder who raises the pups in the home and ensures that they are exposed to many different household sights and sounds, as well as people. Continue socializing your Fila throughout his life by taking him to puppy kindergarten class, on visits with friends and neighbors, and on outings to local shops and businesses. It is the only way he can learn to be discriminating, recognizing what is normal and what is truly a threat. That said, no amount of socialization will make him friendly toward everyone.
Begin training as soon as you bring your Fila Brasileiro puppy home, while he is still at a manageable size. Try a nothing-in-life-is-free program, requiring him to perform a command before receiving meals, toys, treats, or play. It’s always a good idea to take a Fila to puppy kindergarten followed by basic obedience class, especially if you are working with a trainer who understands the Fila Brasileiro mindset.
Like other dogs, Fila Brasileiro puppies are inveterate chewers and, because of their size, can do a whole lot of damage. Don’t give them run of the house until they’ve reached maturity. Keep your Fila Brasileiro puppy busy with training, play, and socialization experiences. A bored Fila Brasileiro is a destructive Fila Brasileiro, taking up digging, chewing, and other undesirable behaviors.
The Fila was created to work on large plantations and ranches in Brazil. He guarded against thieves, helped wrangle cattle, protected livestock from jaguars and other predators, and hunted down escapees during slavery times. His MO is to grab his quarry by the neck and hold it until his owner arrives. The Mastiff, the Bulldog, and the Bloodhound were likely used to develop the Fila. The breed is not recognized by the American Kennel Club or the United Kennel Club.
The Fila’s intense temperament is not for everyone. While he is affectionate and docile with his family, even children, he is instinctively possessive and territorial and doesn’t take kindly to strangers. He is a fierce protector of his family and property. Don’t expect him to be friendly with people he doesn’t know or see very often, including your child’s playmates, who will not be safe from a Fila if he decides that roughhousing is threatening “his” child.
The Fila is highly active and needs a job to do, which can be anything from walking on a leash to daily training activities. He will not be satisfied to lie around and do nothing. Because of his high prey drive, he must be prevented from chasing and killing cats or small dogs and therefore needs a strong, solid fence at least six feet high to keep him on his own property. An underground electric fence is not appropriate for this breed.
Start training your puppy the day you bring him home. Even at eight weeks old, he is capable of soaking up everything you can teach him. Don’t wait until he is 6 months old to begin training or you will have a more headstrong dog to deal with. If possible, get him into puppy kindergarten class by the time he is 10 to 12 weeks old, and socialize, socialize, socialize. However, be aware that many puppy training classes require certain vaccines (like kennel cough) to be up to date, and many veterinarians recommend limited exposure to other dogs and public places until puppy vaccines (including rabies, distemper and parvovirus) have been completed. In lieu of formal training, you can begin training your puppy at home and socializing him among family and friends until puppy vaccines are completed.
All dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit disease. Run from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed has no known problems, or who keeps puppies isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur.
A health problem that has been seen in the Fila is hip dysplasia. The breed may also be prone to gastric torsion.
Filas that will be bred should have their hips X-rayed and graded by a veterinary orthopedic specialist at 2 years of age. Ask the breeder to show written evidence that a Fila puppy’s parents have hips that have been rated as fair, good, or excellent by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA). They should also have OFA elbow evaluations and eye clearances from the Canine Eye Registration Foundation.
Do not purchase a puppy from a breeder who cannot provide you with written documentation that the parents were cleared of health problems that affect the breed. Having the dogs "vet checked" is not a substitute for genetic health testing.
Careful breeders screen their breeding dogs for genetic disease and breed only the healthiest and best-looking specimens, but sometimes Mother Nature has other ideas. A puppy may develop one of these diseases despite good breeding practices. Advances in veterinary medicine mean that in most cases, the dogs can still live a good life. If you’re getting a puppy, ask the breeder about the ages of the dogs in her lines and what the most common causes of death are.
Remember that after you’ve taken a new puppy into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the most common health problems: obesity. Keeping a Fila at an appropriate weight is one of the easiest ways to extend his life. Make the most of your preventive abilities to help ensure a healthier dog for life.
The Fila has a smooth, short coat that sheds but is easy to groom. Brush with a natural bristle brush or mitt once a week and use coat conditioner/polish to brighten the sheen. Give him a bath every three months (or when he’s dirty) using a mild dog shampoo.
The rest is basic care: Check his ears every week and clean them if needed. Trim his his toenails regularly, usually once a month. And keep his teeth and gums healthy by brushing regularly using a soft toothbrush and vet-approved doggie toothpaste. Be sure to introduce the Fila to grooming when he is very young so he learns to accept the handling and fuss peacefully.
Whether you want to go with a breeder or get your dog from a shelter or rescue, here are some things to keep in mind.
Finding a good breeder is the key to finding the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the best dog for you and will have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems. The best kind of breeder is most interested in placing pups in the right homes than making big bucks. Be wary of breeders who tell you only the good things about the breed or who promote the dogs as being “good with kids” without any context as to what that means.
Good breeders will welcome your questions about temperament, health clearances, and what the dogs are like to live with. They will also come right back at you with questions of their own about what you’re looking for in a dog and what kind of life you can provide for him. A good breeder can tell you about the history of the breed, explain why one puppy is considered pet quality while another is not, and discuss what health problems affect the breed and the steps she takes take to avoid those problems. A breeder should want to be a resource for you throughout your dog’s life.
Look for more information about the Fila Brasileiro and start your search for a good breeder at the Fila Brasileiro Association website. Choose a breeder who has agreed to abide by the FBA’s breeding practices, which recommend that the breeder obtain hip clearances on dogs before breeding them.
Avoid breeders who seem interested only in how quickly they can unload a puppy on you and whether your credit card will go through. Breeders who offer puppies at one price “with papers” and at a lower price “without papers” are unethical. You should also bear in mind that buying a puppy from websites that offer to ship your dog to you immediately can be a risky venture, as it leaves you no recourse if what you get isn’t exactly what you expected. Put at least as much effort into researching your puppy as you would into choosing a new car or expensive appliance. It will save you money in the long run.
Lots of reputable breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags include puppies always being available, multiple litters on the premises, having your choice of any puppy, and the ability to pay online with a credit card. Those things are convenient, but they are almost never associated with reputable breeders.
Whether you’re planning to get your new best friend from a breeder, a pet store, or another source, don’t forget that old adage “let the buyer beware”. Disreputable breeders and facilities that deal with puppy mills can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100% guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick puppy, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals), and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization, or other reliable source for healthy puppies.
The cost of a Fila Brasileiro puppy varies on the breeder’s locale, whether the pup is male or female, what titles his parents have, and whether he is best suited for the show ring or a pet home. The puppy you buy should have been raised in a clean home environment and come from parents with health clearances, conformation (show), and, ideally, working titles to prove that they are good specimens of the breed. Puppies should be temperament tested, vetted, dewormed, and socialized to give them a healthy, confident start in life.
Before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult Fila Brasileiro might better suit your needs and lifestyle. Puppies are loads of fun, but they require a lot of time and effort before they grow up to become the dog of your dreams. An adult may already have some training and will probably be less active, destructive, and demanding. With an adult, you know more about what you’re getting in terms of personality and health and you can find adults through breeders or shelters. If you are interested in acquiring an older dog through breeders, ask them about purchasing a retired show dog or if they know of an adult dog who needs a new home. If you want to adopt a dog, read the advice below on how to do that.
There are many great options available if you want to adopt a dog from an animal shelter or breed rescue organization. Here is how to get started.
1. Use the Web
Sites like Petfinder.com and Adopt-a-Pet.com can have you searching for a Fila Brasileiro in your area in no time flat. The site allows you to be very specific in your requests (housetraining status, for example) or very general (all the Fila Brasileiros available on Petfinder across the country). AnimalShelter can help you find animal rescue groups in your area. Also some local newspapers have “pets looking for homes” sections you can review.
Social media is another great way to find a dog. Post on your Facebook page that you are looking for a specific breed so that your entire community can be your eyes and ears.
2. Reach Out to Local Experts
Start talking with all the pet pros in your area about your desire for a Fila Brasileiro. That includes vets, dog walkers, and groomers. When someone has to make the tough decision to give up a dog, that person will often ask her own trusted network for recommendations.
3. Talk to Breed Rescue
Most people who love Filas love all Filas. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. Fila Rescue, Inc. can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other Fila rescues in your area.
The great thing about breed rescue groups is that they tend to be very upfront about any health conditions the dogs may have and are a valuable resource for advice. They also often offer fostering opportunities so, with training, you could bring a Fila home with you to see what the experience is like.
4. Key Questions to Ask
You now know the things to discuss with a breeder, but there are also questions you should discuss with shelter or rescue group staff or volunteers before you bring home a dog. These include:
What is his energy level?
How is he around other animals?
How does he respond to shelter workers, visitors and children?
What is his personality like?
What is his age?
Is he housetrained?
Has he ever bitten or hurt anyone that they know of?
Are there any known health issues?
Wherever you acquire your Fila, make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. Petfinder offers an Adopters Bill of Rights that helps you understand what you can consider normal and appropriate when you get a dog from a shelter. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.
Puppy or adult, take your Fila to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.
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