Fila Brasileiro (Brazilian Mastiff): Breed Profile

Characteristics, History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

Fila Brasileiro dog portrait, summer forest scene
olgagorovenko / Getty Images

The Fila Brasileiro (Brazilian Mastiff) is a rare working guard dog breed known for its massive body, distinctive thick and loose skin, and its unusual topline (the horizontal profile of the back along the spine).

Most breeds have level, or flat, toplines. Some breeds, like Afghan Hounds and Whippets, have arched toplines. In contrast, the Fila Brasileiro’s croup, also called the rump or buttocks, is higher than its withers (top of the shoulders). 

This colossal breed was developed on farms and plantations in Brazil where they were utilized as guard dogs and to herd cattle and track, chase, catch, and hold large animals, including jaguars, until the hunter could arrive.

Courageous, determined and self-assured, the Fila Brasileiro is docile and devoted when it comes to their human family, including children. A Fila wants to be right where you are, and the dog will seek you out if it loses track of you.

Naturally aloof with strangers, the Fila is extremely protective of its people and property. They have a high prey drive and so cannot be trusted with cats and small dogs. They may be able to coexist peacefully with other family dogs if brought up together, but bringing a new dog into the mix once a Fila has been established in the family is not advised. 

To say that the Fila Brasileiro is not the breed for everyone is an understatement. The best situation for a Fila is rural living on a substantial property. A Fila will not be happy with city life or even life in the suburbs. If you enjoy an active social life and like to invite people over to your home frequently, the Fila is not the breed for you.

Even with extensive socialization starting early in puppyhood, the Fila will rarely be content to sit back and relax with strangers coming and going. The Fila requires an owner with considerable experience handling guardian breeds who can be a firm but fair leader. In the right hands, however, the Fila is exceptionally devoted and a brave protector. 

Breed Overview

Group: Molossoid breeds, Mastiff type (FCI)

Weight: 88 to 110 pounds

Height: 23.5 to 29.5 inches tall at the shoulder

Coat: Short, smooth, dense and close to the body.

Color: Brindle, fawn and black, with or without a black mask on the face.

Life Expectancy: 9 to 11 years

Characteristics of the Fila Brasileiro

Affection Level Medium
Friendliness Low
Kid-Friendly Medium
Pet-Friendly Low
Exercise Needs Medium
Playfulness Medium
Energy Level Medium
Trainability Medium
Intelligence Medium
Tendency to Bark Low
Amount of Shedding Medium

History of the Fila Brasileiro

The history of the Fila Brasileiro is not entirely clear. One theory suggests that breeds in the Fila’s background may include the Mastiff, the Bloodhound, and the old-style Bulldog that existed back in the 1400s. This Bulldog-type was much larger and more ferocious than today’s squat and docile version.

We do know that the Fila Brasileiro was developed centuries ago in Brazil. The breeds discerning protectiveness meant it was prized as a guard dog and property guardian. Its strength and bravery allowed it to herd, track, and capture large prey like jaguars. In Portuguese, the word “filar” means “to seize,” and that is what the dogs would do—grip the animal by the neck and pin it down, holding it until the hunter could catch up. 

The Fila Brasileiro is not recognized by any of the major kennel clubs in North America (the American Kennel Club, Canadian Kennel Club and the United Kennel Club). In Brazil, it is recognized by the Brazilian Confederation of Cynophile (CBKC), in Puerto Rico by the Federacion Canofila de Puerto Rico (FCPR), and internationally by the Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI). 

Fila Brasileiro
The Fila Brasileiro is a determined hunter of unsurpassed strength and bravery. Getty Images 
Fila Brasileiro
According to the Fila breed standard, "one of the most important breed characteristics is the thick, loose skin over the whole body." Getty Images 

Fila Brasileiro Care

The Fila Brasileiro has a short, smooth, and low-maintenance coat. Although, it does shed moderately year-round. These dogs will only need a bath when dirty and a quick brush a few times a week to remove loose hair and shedding hair.

The Fila is powerful and strong-willed and needs a handler who can lead with authority and consistency. Although Fila Brasileiros are extremely intelligent and capable of learning complex tasks, they can be headstrong and tricky to train.

Proper training methods must be used. There is no forcing a Fila to do anything. Positive, reward-based methods can work well, but keep sessions short and avoid too much repetition of you will lose your Fila’s interest.

Due to the breed's pronounced wariness of strangers, early and intensive socialization is paramount to avoid a dog that won’t accept strangers.

Filas are active and need sufficient exercise and mental stimulation to be content. They are excellent working and farm dogs and thrive when they have a job to do.

With the right owner, the Fila Brasileiro is nearly unmatched for its loyalty and devotion to its human family. In fact, there is even a saying in Brazil: “Faithful as a Fila.” 

Fila Brasileiro
Small Fila Brasileiro puppies quickly grow into large, powerful adults. Getty Images 
Fila Brasileiro headshot
This fawn Fila Brasileiro shows how the loose skin forms jowls beneath the throat. Getty Images 
Bridle Fila Brasileiro standing in some scrub
Filas come in three colors: fawn, brindle (tiger striped) and black. Getty Images 

Common Health Problems

Like all purebred dogs, the Fila Brasileiro is prone to some genetically inherited health conditions. Some of these include:

Reputable breeders will test their adult stock prior to breeding to be sure they are low-risk for these conditions.

Like many large, deep-chested breeds, the Fila Brasileiro is also prone to bloat, otherwise known as gastric dilatation-volvulus.

Diet and Nutrition

Filas can weigh more than 100 pounds, so they eat a large volume of food. The more active your Fila is, the more it will eat. However, it’s important to avoid overfeeding. Excess weight puts a strain on the body and joints, contributing to hip and elbow dysplasia, as well as other health issues like diabetes.

Feed measured meals twice a day to avoid weight gain. Ask your breeder or veterinarian for advice about what type of food and how much to feed. 

  • Loyal and loving with owners

  • Protective of home and family

  • Excellent working dog

  • Requires a very experienced owner

  • Needs extensive socialization 

  • Rural homes ideal

Where to Adopt or Buy a Fila Brasileiro

Finding a Fila Brasileiro in the United States may prove difficult as the breed is extremely rare and is not recognized by any of the main North American kennel clubs.

Those who are driven to pursue ownership of a Fila might look to breeders in countries other than the United States and Canada. Regardless, keep in mind that the Fila Brasileiro is not going to be a good choice for the vast majority of dog owners.

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

If you like the Fila Brasileiro, you might also like these breeds: 

Otherwise, check out all of our other dog breed articles to help you find the perfect dog for you and your family.