When you research dog breeds, you discover that little is known about the origins of most of them. The Molosser is not one particular breed but rather, a group of dog breeds. Although there is agreement on the origin of the word that defines the Molosser group, when it comes to the various dog breeds included, that’s a completely different story. An interesting mix of legend and real life are intertwined in their history, which adds to the mysticism surrounding these dogs and makes it harder to determine fact from fiction.
Generally speaking, dogs in the Molosser group are large, solidly built dogs from a variety of breeds, but all of them are believed to be descendants from the same root stock. They’re heavy boned with pendant shaped ears, a short muzzle and a muscular neck. An example of the dogs considered to be in this group include the bully breeds, mastiffs, Golden Retriever, Great Dane, Doberman Pinscher, Great Pyrenees, Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, Chinese Shar-Pei, Norwegian Elkhound, Entlebucher Mountain Dog, Anatolian Shepherd Dog, Komondor, Bernese Mountain Dog, Newfoundland, Rottweiler, Rhodesian Ridgeback and Saint Bernard. This isn’t a complete list, but it gives you an idea of the variety of dog breeds in this legendary group. However, there is disagreement regarding some of the breeds included in the list.
The history of this group dates back to ancient Greece. The Molossi people inhabited an area called Epirus in the northwest part of Greece. They raised dogs to guard their flocks and homes, and use as war dogs; the dogs had a reputation for being fierce, loyal and brave. The shepherd dogs of this period were called the Molossus. It’s believed these dogs were the early beginnings of mastiffs and are direct descendants of the Tibetan Mastiff before the breed ended up in Greece. That’s more speculation than anything else, though, and no one really knows the Molosser breeds true origin.
In legend, these dogs descended from Laelaps. According to Greek mythology, Laelaps was a dog predestined to always catch his prey. He was given to Europa by Zeus, a mythological Greek god, and later given to Kephalos of Athens. Kephalos gave Laelaps the task of hunting down and catching a beast known as the Teumessian Fox that was devastating the countryside. But the fox was predestined to never be caught. After much thought, Zeus decided nothing could be accomplished by having a dog that always caught his prey chase a fox that would never be caught. So he turned them both into stone and placed them in the sky. Laelaps and the fox make up the Constellations of Canis Major and Minor. However, before Laelaps was turned into stone, it’s said he sired the Molosser race of great dogs.
The common wisdom of where civilization began is in Mesopotamia around 3000 B.C. with the Sumerians who were traders. They raised pigs, sheep and goats and needed intelligent, independent, brave, loyal and muscular dogs to guard their livestock and homes. Dogs that were used to guard the farmer’s family and property were bred to be black because it was believed the dark color was more intimidating during the day and at night the dog could disappear in the darkness, giving him the advantage over a predator or thief. Dogs used in guarding flocks were white because it was easier for the shepherd to distinguish between a wolf and the dog. The white color made the dog blend in with the sheep, which was less intimidating to them, and gave him an advantage over predators that didn’t realize there was a dog protecting the flock.
The flock guarding dogs were lighter in weight because their job was to chase away intruders, like a thief, wolf or leopard, rather than fight them. Home guardian dogs were larger and more muscular with a fierce intensity, when it was needed, because they actually fought with the animal or thieves trying to steal animals.
The Molosser dog breeds all have one thing in common: the same type of characteristics have been bred into them. They are formidable dogs with the courage of a lion and a very strong sense of territory. They are built to stand up to ferocious opponents, and are extremely loyal to their family. Dogs in the Molosser group have been selectively bred for centuries to be balanced and stable family pets. Because of their history and power, it’s important to make sure these dogs know who their leader is. When they do, they will make a great family dog.
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