The Cane Garouf, also know as Patua and Alp Mastiff, is an old working dog from the Italian Alps in north-west Italy, more precisely from the area of Piemonte, near Gran Paradiso Park, close to the French and Swiss border.
The exact origin of the Cane Garouf is not known, but it has been used as a livestock guardian for centuries in the northern Italian mountain region. Nowadays the Cane Garouf is highly endangered, with probably not more than 20 specimens left.
Because of the modernisation of agricultural work and farming, most farmers no longer let their livestock graze in the mountains, and therefore the guardian dog is no longer needed to protect the herd from wolves and other predators. As a result of this, the breeding of the flock guardian dog in the area is not continued by most of the farmers that earlier always kept some Patua’s as working dogs. Without a rescue project or some dedicated breeders, the old flock guardian of the Italian Alps will soon face extinction.
As the observant reader has noticed, the area where the Cane Garouf comes from is not far from the Great St. Bernard Pass, and we can assume that the St. Bernard and the Cane Garouf has some kind of relationship. My guess is that the Cane Garouf was related to the early St. Bernard, before the infusion of the Newfoundland and Pyrenean dogs.
Mr. Richardson wrote in 1851 that the Monastry in St. Bernard imported British Mastiffs in 1660, and they kept them as watchdogs. After a terrible plague, the number of these dogs were heavily reduced and the monks were forced to cross the remaining dogs with long-haired Italian and Pyrenean dogs, later also other breeds. Which were these long-haired Italian dogs that Mr. Richardson talks about? Would it not be the easiest choice to get dogs from right across the border to use in the breeding at the Monastery?
Based on the info I believe that the Cane Garouf was used in the breeding of the early St. Bernard Dog. Another point that supports this is that Salvatore Rosa painted, around 1690, two dogs from the Hospice, and they were described as “Küherhunde” (cowherd’s dogs). In other words, these dogs had the same livestock guardian function as the Cane Garouf and were not used as “rescue dogs” at that point in time.
It is also interesting to look closer at Sir Edwin Landseers famous painting of the Alpine Mastiff, which can be seen below. The pictured dog has been believed to be a St. Bernard, but it looks much more like the Cane Garouf. Sir Edwin Landseer also made other paintings, some called Alpine Mastiffs and some called St. Bernard. You can find two such paintings by clicking here. Wynn lists several paintings by Sir Landseer in his 1886 book The History of the Mastiff, and he wrote; “It is worthy of remark that the Alpine mastiffs drawn by Sir E. Landseer are generally so-termed”.
“Is it possible that Sir Landseer painted a Cane Garouf instead of a dog from the Monastery? Is it possible that some Cane Garouf’s was imported to England in the 1800s as Alpine Mastiffs? Yes, there is in fact pieces of evidence on this, and this is at the same time evidence on the existence of the Cane Garouf in earlier times. Mr. Wynn writes in his 1886 book, in the chapter of the Alpine Mastiff/St. Bernard; “We also find another breed closely resembling the Spanish Mastiff existing in the Alps, and owing to the similarity in type, there is every reason to believe that old Alpine mastiff was identical with the Alan, and probably derived from Spain. Col. H. Smith mentions this second closer and shorter-haired variety and gives a coloured plate of one of them.
This dog, named Bass, belonged to Sir Thomas Dock Lauder, having been brought from the Great St. Bernard in 1837, and his portrait was taken by Stewart between that year and June 1839. The coloured plate, no. 6, shows an animal agreeing in nearly every particular with the Spanish mastiff I saw at Bill Georges, about 1863, except the colour of the patches on the head and ears, which are tan instead of black, otherwise both were nearly all white in colour, the head is massive, muzzle blunt and truncated, lips pendulous, ears medium-sized and pendulous, barrel well rounded, limbs very ponderous, stern carried up. The dog resembles a vast white mastiff, with stop well defined, but somewhat longer in the head than the English variety should be.”
It should be mentioned that Wynn gives other references in the book to Spanish mastiffs, Spanish Bull-mastiffs and the Alano. It can be hard to know if Wynn in each case talks about a Mastin or an Alano, but out of the description he gives of the dogs we can understand which of the two he is referring to.
Considering the colours of the St. Bernard we must understand that there was a larger variety of mountain dogs in the Alps, both at the Swiss and the Italian side of the border. Wynn writes further in his book; “In 1829 a vast light brindle dog of the old Alpine mastiff breed, named L’Ami, was brought from the convent of Great St. Bernard, and exhibited in London and Liverpool as the largest dog in England.” Judging by this it can be believed that the Monastery of St. Bernard acquired dogs from the area to be used in their breeding, and did not keep their line “pure”, so to speak.
It has also been suggested that “L’Ami” not was an Alpine Mastiff at all, but a Great Dane, and that the Alpine Mastiff name was used to acquire a higher amount of money for the dog.
Wynn gives further reference to the Italian dogs; “Between that year and 1840, Couchez, alias Turk, a reputed Alpine mastiff, was brought over from Italy, he was red smut, and first owned by….”. It is especially interesting to note the colour, as it is a colour still found in the Cane Garouf. According to the picture, it looks like Couchez was a short-haired dog, and if he really came from the Alps or further south in Italy, we’ll probably never know. Couchez was a reputed fighting dog, always victorious, and Wynn describes his fighting ability as unmatchable.
Couchez height was 30 inches (72 cm.) and he weighed 130 lbs (59 kg.). He was short-muzzled, broad skulled, and Wynn believed that he “had a cross of Spanish bulldog in him”. Wynn mentions nothing of the Italian mastiffs (pre-Mastino & Cane Corso) in his book so we can assume that he simply did not know about the existence of these breeds. Since Wynn lived his adult life much later than the time of Couchez, he only studied the dog by paintings, or more correct, photos of a copy of an oil painting of Couchez, as Wynn admit himself in his book. It is possible that Couchez was a cross between the Alpine Mastiff (Cane Garouf) and an Italian Mastiff (Mastino/Cane Corso), and that his looks came from such a cross and not, as Wynn suggests, from the Spanish Bulldog, but not necessarily so. If we study the muzzle of the Cane Garouf pictured with the Danish actress Brigitte Nielsen, we will not find a longer muzzle, and the coat of the present-day specimens is also short, -thick and double, but short, as we also can find in the specimens painted by Sir Edwin Landseer.
Also James Watson give the subject of St. Bernard vs Alpine Mastiff quite a lot of space in his 1905 book “The Dog Book”. Watson writes in his chapter of the St. Bernard; That there was another variety of dog, in Switzerland at that time is absolutly certain,…”. Watson writes further; “This other Swiss dog became known in England as the Alpine Mastiff, occasionally called the Alpine spaniel, and we think he was much like a Leonberger,…”. Further; “One of these Alpine mastiffs was brought to England in 1815 and is always referred to as the Leasome Castle mastiff. Wynn gives us information about an etching of this dog by Thomas Landseer from a drawing in possession of Mr. J.S. Morgan, made in 1815…” What Watson is referring to is the above pictured Alpine Mastiff, which supports my statement that the 1825 engraving looks more like a Cane Garouf than a St. Bernard, since the 1825 version clearly is based on the 1815 painting.
Watson writes further about Sir Edwin Landseer; “He also painted a good many dogs which were named St. Bernard and it is very clear that to him the Alpine Mastiff was a different dog….”.
The Natural History Museum of Berne gives the following description of the origin of the St. Bernard Dog; “The direct ancestors of the St. Bernard were the large farm dog which was widely spread across the region, within a few generations after the establishment of the ideal type, they were bred into the present-day breed.”. Also, this does in fact support my conclusion, given below.
The conclusion must be that the Cane Garouf is an older breed than the St. Bernard and that it is one of the breeds that have played an active role in the foundation of the modern St. Bernard. We must also assume that the breed now known as Cane Garouf, which in fact still is named Alp Mastiff by some, did not live in a restricted range in northern Italy in earlier times, but also could be found in the regions north of Italy, being the true Alpine Mastiff carrying out his livestock guardian duties in the mountains, while the St. Bernard should be regarded as the Hospice/Monastry Dogs.
The Cane Garouf is one of the rarest and most endangered Molosser breeds in the world.
This large flock guardian of the Italian Alps is also known as Patua and Alp Mastiff. The Cane Garouf does resemble a St. Bernard quite a lot in outline but usually built much lighter. Some people think that the breed resembles the Mastin Espanol, and the truth is that the Cane Garouf best can be described as a breed that looks as in between the Mastin and the St. Bernard.
The height at the withers for the Cane Garouf is about 80 cm. (32 in), and the weight is up to 75 kg. (165 lbs).
The coat colours now existing in the breed is red, grey & red/grey.
The situation for the Cane Garouf is critical. Maybe as little as 20 specimens, or less, of the breed, is still existing.
This breed has been used as a flock guardian in the Italian Alps, but since most of the farmers no longer let their livestock graze in the mountains the breed has lost their job and faces possible extinction in the near future.