I decided to write this article in english language, to be able to reach more people in the dog and Fila São Miguel community. It is my sincere wish to avert genetic (health) damages in this breed, and prevent it to go down the tube like so many other dog breeds did in the last years.
Although the Fila São Miguel is not affected by breeding on exaggeration like super short muzzles, extremely long fur or massive skin wrinkling, you can already see a major changement in it’s appearance since the breed standard was developped in the 1980s and early 1990s. Thanks to the work of some breeders and the internet, the Fila gained more international popularity in the last years and it becomes easier to import a dog than before. If you are new to the breed, you are looking for a reputable breeder to buy from. Usually this is someone who’s kennel name is cited in catalogues of dog shows and repeats itself in the pedigrees of the offspring around Europe and maybe in the world. So you should think these breeders know the breed for long enough, if they influence a big part of the fila population.
The standard says „healthy“.
When it comes to the breed standard, it always says „robust“, „healthy“, „strong drives“, „working dog“, which sounds lovely, because most of the people who are interested to aquire a Fila, are frustrated of the health and mental problems of similar and more common breeds. If you ask the breeders, they like to answer „my dogs are healthy. I never had any health problems, I don’t need to make any tests“. People might accept these words and still buy a puppy. Since nobody is testing their dogs, there are no results about healthy or sick dogs! That makes the whole population „healthy“ and trouble-free, it’s so easy!
The irony in this whole story are the dogs exported to other euopean countries like France, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Switzerland, etc. Some of these dogs, which the owners tried to select carefully and use a lot of money and time to import the new puppy, actually became sick and needed to put down. And this is, where the actual story begins: people start to question and make DNA tests of their dead puppies to be certain about the cause of death.
So, is the Fila Sao Miguel really a healthy breed?
The main problems I heard about in the last years were:
- massive, big, heavy dogs
- strong hip and elbow dysplasia
- mental defects, character defects, nervous wrecks
- extremely rare brain deseases
- inbred lines and multiple use of not ideal males
Being strong and impressive doesn’t mean being massive and fat.
So even if the standard says, that the dogs should’nt have more than 35kg and 60cm, it appreantely is fine to have males with 40-50kg, hanging eye lids and long, hanging lips? Puppies are always cute, but Fila pups usually have a strong, tough and solid skin in the face and body. There is nothing hanging, nothing making wrinkles and no loose skin. Just like they should be as adults. Filas do not have loose skin, hanging eyes or lips. Filas should be powerful with a strong drive. They need to react quick and fast on the cattle,they should be muscular and not massive. A massive, heavy dog can never run after cattle, he already has enough to do by carrying his own body. The standard says females should have 20-30kg and 48-58cm; males should weigh 25-35kg and are 50-60cm tall. This is quite a big range of 10kg and 10cm, but for some reason they tend to be bred bigger, taller, larger, heavier.
Hip dysplasia (HD) and elbow dysplasia (ED) are unnecessary and discouraging.
When I bought my Fila, people actually told me that a HD-C hip is totally fine to breed with. They said „Filas have a lot of muscles, so they will not suffer of dysplasia“. Well —yes maybe. But also maybe not. I get more and more messages and mails from people who x-ray their young dog and get a bad diagnosis with HD-D or HD-E. The parents weren’t tested — or maybe they where, but the breeders didn’t tell, didn’t give the results to the dog club or just tell lies in public. The parents of my dog have no official HD results, although I know that their owners got them tested. Also in the pedigree are maybe 1 or 2 dogs with official test, the rest is speculation. Even my dog is quite agile, well muscled and never showed any signs of pain in the hips, I was quite anxious and even afraid to x-ray him. I did it, just a few weeks ago, and I am really relieved to see healthy hips (I’m sending the pictures to an FCI expert to have official results). I know that one brother and another half-brother suffer from HD and I totally know nothing about all the other littermates (8 in the same litter plus litter repetition) and half brothers / half sisters (2 other litters with the same mother / 2 other litters with the same father). This is quite a big number of puppies if you have 6 litters but almost no official results, or only the bad ones. Does it make all the litters good, or does ist make all the litters bad, if there are no or only negative results?
There’s another story, which is not so nice: a young female had to be put down at the age of 5 months because of heavy limping and it was too much damage for operations. Imagine you buy a cute little puppy and have to put it down just 3 months later, because it got „killed“ by a genetic disease that could have been prevented by simply testing the parents! And imagine, the litter mates of this poor girl are attending one dog show after another and everybody praises them and can’t wait for the offspring. I don’t think that any of them knows that they might have an inherited defect…..?
But hey, it gets even worse! There are actually breeders who test their dogs on HD, get a bad result as HD-C, HD-D, HD-E or different combinations on both legs as HD-B/D or HD-C/E, but yet they STILL breed with these dogs! The best answer ever I got on this topic: „I prefer breeding with HD [than with other problems], because at least you can operate it.“ Of course every puppy buyer can’t wait to invest 2000-5000€ into gold acupuncture and operations for their „healthy“ puppy!!! Excuse my irony, but this is the only way I can manage this absurdity.
Don’t breeders care what happen to their puppies? How can they accept that they are actually „creating“ ill puppies…? Don’t they feel any responsibility for their acting? How can they charge the buyers with such a burden? I know quite a few people who have dogs with strong dysplasia and this illness rips their hearts into pieces, because they have to observe how much their beloved friend and companion suffers with every step and every run he makes until one day they have to decide that „it is over“.
Nobody needs psycho dogs.
If you decide to buy a Fila, you accept that this breed is not made to be always happy, friendly and welcoming to any stranger. It is a guarding dog, a watch dog and protection dog and he always will be close to his family and master, but not so much to others. If he is well socialized he might just don’t care about others instead of eating them alive ( 😉 ). I had to „over“ socialize my Fila when he was young. I live in a city and urban area, take my dog to the university and the office. It would be too stressful to have a dog which wouldn’t accept strangers. After the puberty, maybe at the age of 2, he started to become more introverted and less interested into other people. He remembers perfectly well who he already met in his live and has some kind of „friendship lists“ in his head, because the adapts his attitude and behaviour with every person he meets. That means, if you are in his inner circle, you are lucky. But if you met him the first time and didn’t leave a good impression, this dog will never forget and never like you. That can be troublesome if you hang around in public places, so you should prevent this to happen. I picked this litter because I met the mother before and knew she had good character and behaved nice to strangers and even unknown dogs. Good character and socialization through education and stimulation will be transmitted to the puppies by a) genetics and b) the behavior of the mother in the early puppyhood and c) by the stimulation and socialization by the breeder during the first weeks of the life.
But! How should anybody know the true character of a dog wich was born, raised and kept into kennels for all its life? Of course these dogs are submissive to their owner, because they are just happy and thankful when they are allowed to leave their kennel and be close to their humans. But the moment you would take this dog into a new situation, like a city scene, he would turn into a nervous and shy dog. Fear is the worst basis for dog education and fear is the biggest engine for aggression. Now imagine, you would import an adult dog or a puppy or a young dog from such a kennel and keep him in an urban area with your family. I know perfectly where this is going, because I witnessed it much too often.
Of course, if the new owner of a puppy won’t socialize his little Fila, then this dog will never be nice to anybody. But if you already breed with dogs who are nervous wrecks and no strong characters, then their puppies will never have the chance to be mentally stable. And do you know where this ends? In a shelter, where nobody wants him —or at the vet to put down a healthy dog which can’t be handled anymore. Both happened and I’m feel sorry for these young dogs who’s lives were to be ended so early, because they where mentally damaged.
Nobody needs psycho dogs. Not in the days of ridiculous laws about „dangerous breeds“ which end in the confiscating and euthanizing dogs for no reason, but racism on a canine level.
Damaged brain by genetic disorder.
The worst stories I heard were from people who’s puppies suffered from brain damage. I really don’t think that the whole population is affected by it, but since this is an extremely rare disease and it is starting to repeat itself, this genetic transmitted disease needs to be stopped before it spreads out even more.
Cerebellar cortical degeneration (Please read more on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cerebellar_abiotrophy) damages the brain and is a genetic disease and can be tested!
Already 2008 two littermates were diagnosed on the Azores (please read more about it on http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1748-5827.2008.00616.x/full) and after this I heard about at least 3 puppies who were exported from Portugal/Azores islands. The affected pups will slowly loose their balance, have a lack of reflexes, awareness and go blind. They need to be put down.
You won’t notice it when you buy the puppy in the age of 8-12 weeks , because it will develop the illness later. The only sure thing would be a DNA test to find out if the parents are clear or if they are carriers. If they happen to be a carrier and have a copy of the ataxia gene, there is a 50% chance that the illness will be transmitted to the offspring. Read more about the test on http://www.optigen.com/opt9_cerebellarataxia_amstaff.html.
Stop inbreeding and using substandard and incorrect dogs.
How come that this once so healthy breed starts to suffer from diseases? I guess the reason is that some breeders inbreed their lines and this small gene pool with less diversion is a target for genetic damage. There are so many Filas in Portugal and on the Azores island, there is no need to create a „fashion“ in some bloodlines. I met breeders who try to preserve old genetic material with risky matings (risky in sense of win / fail situations, because you don’t know what the outcome in type, beauty and character will be), but at least they try to keep the gene pool big and divers.
In addition there are some breeders who use their stud dogs for multiple litters, even if they are substandard and incorrect. Right now there is a male which was and is used for several litters who has HD-B/D, hanging eye-lids and used to have an ostheopathic congenital disorder as puppy. Sounds great, right? I wonder if the puppy buyers get informed and a glimpse into the medical file of this dog.
What about DNA tests?
„Tests are no guarantee for healthy dogs“ — of course there are no guarantees! But if breeders would do an effort to check their dogs, they at least would have tried to do their best!
Everything else is a) nature b) chance and coincidence and c) influenced by the raising, nutrition, stimulation, socializing, education, etc. by the breeder and the new owner.
DNA tests and hip x-rays cost money, but it’s not like the breeder wouldn’t be able to ask the money back from their puppy buyers. Also if you once had your stud dogs tested with 100% clear and homozygous DNA, you can be sure their offspring will be clear too.
Read more about DNA tests for Cerebellar Ataxia: http://www.antagene.com/en/no/cerebellar-ataxia-american-staffordshire-terrier-amstaff
Working dog vs. show dog
Why do all these diseases starting to cause trouble only now and not back in the days? Because today dogs are selected on beauty and show only. Only few breeders also work their dogs, even if it is not the original cattle work, it is better than nothing. Not everybody can keep a group of cows in the garden to work the dogs. It is already good enough to train your dog in any discipline to ensure his physical and mental fitness.
Only a functional dog, can be a healthy dog. Because dogs with bad exterior, malpositions, painful joints and bones, lacking muscles etc. won’t be able to fulfill the job they are asked for. Compared to the original work the Fila was bred for —driving cattle, stopping and accelerating again, running up and down the mountains and hills — you can find quite a few alternatives in the dog sports to train and maintain his condition.
Only strong characters can work. Dogs with mental instability would never have a chance to survive. If it is not the pack who lynches such a dog, it is the farmer who will get rid of this dog immediately. Mentally damaged dogs are harder to train and might result in aggression towards other dogs, humans or the cattle.
So why are there no working tests? How can you actually judge the health and mentality, if you keep your dog in a kennel and let them out for only a short walk or a show? OF COURSE they are energetic and subordinate themselfs in these short periods of time. But these are only snapshots and maybe not representative for the physical and mental condition of the dog.
Push the breeders, think twice.
Ask twice, let them give you any test results they have. Let them show you how they handle their dogs, work them, how they live and what they feed them. Where will the puppies grow up in the first weeks of their life? Who are the parents and ancestors in the pedigree, of what did they die? Why is the breeder actually using these dogs for his litter, what does he hope to achieve? If it sounds fishy to you, you should not buy from this breeder, or you should do more research about him or his dogs. There will be plenty of litters in the future, so there i no need to rush.
I don’t want to point my finger at some breeders, this is why I don’t publish the names of the dogs. I wish that everybody who wants to buy a Fila pushes the breeders and only this way, they will change their attitude — by only be able to sell their dogs if they are tested. Also, I don’t want to speak out only to Fila São Miguel breeders. It might also concern the Cimarron Uruguayo, which is also rated as „healthy“, but at least they have a HD-register in Uruguay by the kennel club.
Thank you for reading so far. I’m looking forward to discuss with you in any language (Deutsch, français, português, english), leave a comment or write me a message or discuss on Facebook. Many thanks to those who shared their stories with me and gave me insights. Last but not least, thanks to all those breeders and passionates who try the best to make a difference. Feel free to share this article anywhere to reach the maximum of readers.