Don’t Touch!

One of the Fila Brasileiro’s most unique characteristics is a dislike of strangers, so much so that at dog shows and competitions, the dogs are evaluated for their suspicion around strangers, and the instinct to posture for attack. Don’t take our word for it: The breed standard approved by the Clube de Aprimoramento do Fila Brasileiro includes this passage:

It is a courageous, determined and daring dog. It does not hide its aversion to strangers, or its traditional tenderness to its owners and family. Consequently, it is an unsurpassed watch dog in the cities, and an excellent herding dog and a hunter of big animals on farms. As a result of its temperament, at dog shows it does not allow the judge(a stranger) to touch it. And if it attacks the judge, such a reaction must not be considered a fault, but only a confirmation of its temperament. At temperament tests, obligatory for dogs over one year old at shows, the Fila attack must be in an ascending diagonal, in front of handler and without showing dependence from him.

We’ve chatted with a judge who was asked to evaluate this breed in its home country. She was asked not to touch the dog as a way of showing the respect for its true temperament referred to as “ojeriza,” or a wariness of strangers. Exhibitors were asked to show their dog’s dentition and lift the tail of males in order for her to check the presence of testicles.

The FCI standard, meanwhile, provides this passage regarding temperament:

Courage, determination and outstanding braveness are part of its characteristics.  With its owners and family it is docile, obedient and extremely tolerant with children.  Its loyalty is proverbial, insistingly seeking the company of its master.

One of its characteristics is its aloofness towards strangers. It displays a calm disposition, distinctive self-assurance and self-confidence, remaining unperturbed by strange noises or circumstances. An unsurpassed guardian of properties, it also instinctively indulges in big game hunting and cattle herding.

We mention this not to open a door to bash certain breeds, so let’s not go there. In our view, this aspect of the Fila shouldn’t be misconstrued as viciousness or an unsound temperament because remember, the CAFIB standard mentions that the breed has a traditional tenderness to its owners and family. 

Like us, are you are sensitive to this because your own breed standard may addresses a suspicion of strangers, or something like it?

As an aside, people interested in the Fila may be interested in this 2014 article in which a novel proposal is proffered.

Image: Fila Brasileiro by Heather Galler

7 thoughts on “Don’t Touch!”

  1. “In our view, this aspect of the Fila shouldn’t be misconstrued as viciousness or an unsound temperament because remember, the CAFIB standard mentions that the breed has a traditional tenderness to its owners and family. ”

    There are several things wrong with that.

    First, the claim that a dog can be reliably safe with its family yet dangerously hostile to strangers is unsound. We have seen this fail over and over in reality. The victims of most serious dog attacks and most fatal dog attacks are the owners of those dogs, their close family and friends. In theory, it seems likely that a dog can be safe with one group of people but dangerous to another. In practice, we have decades of history that show that a dog who would attack a trespasser is a dog who is far more likely to attack its owner or its owner’s child than a dog whose biggest reaction to a trespasser is a lot of barking.

    Second, it is well known that the ‘wariness’ of the Fila is hostility and aggression. Many breeds are ‘wary’ of strangers, but the Fila is known as a dangerous breed that will attack and maul people. They can’t be touched by strangers, even as show dogs? That’s a whole other behavior than wariness.

    Third, it is extraordinarily irresponsible to do a glib, rosy review of dangerous breeds. Apart from the threat they pose to others, the animals themselves suffer. They are like exotic pets, which end up abandoned or surrendered because their asocial behaviors that make them impossible to own in a modern society. If you own a Beagle or a Newfoundland, and there is a terrible family crisis, you can sadly rehome your dog. You can’t rehome a Fila.

    • Hi Sarah, our reply comes later than we usually respond to a comment, but we wanted to consult Fila owners with your points before replying.

      The consensus from these folks is that the Fila is definitely a high maintenance breed when it comes to socializing, and with dogs that will be part of a family, they must learn from an early age what children are, what the limits are, and who is boss. One owner write, “My Fila was extensively socialized and she would allow people to pet her if I was with her. However, she would guard my car and home even if she knew the person until I told her it was ok. She never bit anyone but would display by barking aggressively. With the family she was a gentle sweet soul who never showed any type of aggression towards my kids or husband.”

      Another owner shared that that they’d met Filas in the public square who were wary of strangers, but none behaved like Dogzilla. Their opinion? Filas are wonderful family dogs in the right hands, but they are high maintenance and need an owner who is aware of their temperament. Some puppies start off friendly, but with adolescence, “Ojeriza” (suspicion of strangers) kicks in, and owners have to be aware of that. None of the Fila people we consulted remember ever hearing of a mauling, injury, or even death from a Fila, but one trainer who’s been in her line of work for 20 years pointed out that this is an uncommon breed.

      You present very little (as in none) information about yourself, so it’s difficult to know “where you’re coming from.” We’ve heard from those who vehemently disagree with our opposition to breed specific laws, for example, and have come to learn that there is usually a history that makes sense of the writer’s viewpoint about “dangerous breeds.” There are always circumstances around a dog bite that explains it, including poor breeding, a lack of socialization, harassment, abuse, pain, and too often, an utter lack of having done one’s homework on a breed before acquiring it. National Purebred Dog Day felt it important to write about the Fila not only to broaden the breed knowledge of our readers, but to point out a hugely important aspect to this breed. We appreciate the time you took to write, but cannot agree with your charge of irresponsibility on our part for pointing out that the Fila is not a breed for most people. The breed continues to be a part of the Federation Cynologique Internationale, Brazilian Confederation Kennel Club, and United Kennel Club “families,” and we will continue to write about this, and other breeds in the future.

    • This is such misleading. True most Fila’s can not be rehomed but I got a female that was 4 years old and was given to me because I didn’t have children at the time. But later I got with someone with young kids and that dog wouldn’t let anyone near them kids. Fila’s are the best family protection one could have. But you have to know what your doing. And that dog wouldn’t think twice about attacking if someone touched me. I have a 4and half month old pup now and she’s amazing. I’m not telling everyone to go get a fila. But for the right person or family that knows what they are doing. There’s none better!

  2. To state that a dog who is hypervigilant in its protection ability cannot be trusted with its family is an outrageous and neurotic claim. Filas are notoriously low drive towards animals and LOVE their children and families. I worked with one who welcomed all neighborhood kids in the house and was like a nanny- but broke their front door down at the sound of an adult outside approaching.

    This dog was more reliably safe with those kids than most humans. I would have trusted her more than any dog. But she was absolutely unsafe around adult strangers and necessary precautions must have been taken. This is generally standard for the breed. The instinct to protect ones family is love- these dogs love their family- when they are treated truly as family members. Don’t perpetuate your ignorance and fear monger than these dogs aren’t to be trusted with their families because they’re protective. It’s absurd.

    • Between the Clube de Aprimoramento do Fila Brasileiro’s breed standard, the experience of a seasoned show judge, and the FCI standard which actually does state the breed’s docility with its owners, we’ve provided our sources and don’t make this stuff up as an enticement to read the entire post, Barbie. In fact, we wonder if you actually read the whole post since it confirms what you’ve stated in terms of the breed’s reliability with children. What IS absurd is bashing a writer without having read their entire piece.

  3. I owned a Fila eight years until his death from heart failure. I am seventh five years old and have had dogs since I was a toddler. My Fila was the best dog I have ever owned.
    He displayed all characteristics of a proper Fila. At eighteen months old he became a proper Fila. Several people asked if I was not concerned for the safety of my infant granddaughter. My only concern was for any person outside my immediate family who might move toward her.
    Proper Fila in my opinion are like loaded guns and must be handled as such. Few people are responsible enough to manage a proper Fila in my opinion and even fewer have the proper physical environment for a Fila which includes an acreage with a minimum of five acres fenced for a yard and no adjacent neighbors. I live on a ranch in a very rural area with no neighbors within a mile and my fenced yard is seven acres.

    • There is absolutely no substitute for hearing from an experienced owner, Kristin, so your thoughts are very welcome! The Fila sounds like a remarkable breed, but your words should be well heeded in terms of what the dog needs insofar as a good environment and well suited owner. We appreciate your thoughts, thank for sharing them!

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