Breed Organization United Kennel Club (UKC) Website:
http://www.ukcdogs.com Native Country Portugal Other Names Estrela Mountain Dog, Portuguese Sheepdog, Portuguese Shepherd, Cao da Serra da Estrela Life Expectancy Approximately 9-12 Years Litter Size Average 6-8 Puppies Breed Group Flock Guardian
Breed Appearance The Estrela Mountain Dog is a breed of dog that
has been used to guard herds and homesteads in the Estrela Mountains
of Portugal for centuries.
Breed Description Breed Description Head: Strong and capacious. Convex profile to the skull. Stop
not pronounced. Powerful jaws. Elongated nose bridge. Ears: Small, narrow, triangular with rounded tips, drop.
Cropped ears are permissible. Eyes: Medium size, oval. Dark amber color preferred. Black
rims. Body: Compact. Short, thick neck. Deep, broad, rounded brisket.
Short, broad loin. Short back. Croup slightly sloped Tail: Long, carried down reaching the tip of the hock joint.
Richly clad (feathering in long-haired variety). Hair: Thick, slightly coarse, rather goatlike, smooth or
slightly wavy. Two varieties exist; the long-haired variety is the
most common, while the short-haired variety has almost disappeared. Coat: Only shades of fawn, wolf gray and yellow, solid color or
parti-color. Size: Dog: 65 to 72 cm (25.5-28 in).Bitch: 62 to 68 cm (24.5-27
in). Weight: Dog: 40 to 50 kg (88-110 lb).Bitch: 30 to 40 kg (66-88
History The earliest of the Estrela ancestors were
herd-guarding dogs in the Serra da Estrela, in what is now Portugal.
Since there are no written records, it is not known for sure whether
the ancestors which contributed to this breed were brought by the
Romans when they colonized the Iberian Peninsula, or later by the
invading Visigoths. Regardless, there is no disagreement that the
Estrela is one of the oldest breeds in Portugal.
early guardian dogs were not the distinct breed we know today.
Rather, the Estrela developed over a period of hundreds of years.
Shepherds would have chosen to breed the dogs that had the
characteristics necessary to survive in their mountain environment
and to do their job: large size, strength, endurance, agility, a
deep chest, ability to tolerate a marginal diet, the set of the
legs, a powerful mouth, a tuft of hair around the neck, an easy,
jog-like gait, a warm coat, and a watchful, mistrustful, yet loyal
temperament. Since the region was isolated, there was little
breeding with non-native dogs, leading to the purity of the breed.
Life changed little for the people and dogs of the region, even into
the 20th century. The isolation of the region meant the breed was
relatively unknown outside it until the early 1900s, and even then,
they were mostly ignored in early dog shows. The Portuguese admired
foreign breeds much more than their own. Shepherds often castrated
their dogs to prevent them from leaving their flocks to mate. These
factors had a negative effect on the Estrela. So from 1908 to 1919,
special shows called concursos were held to promote and preserve the
Estrela breed in the region. During this period there was some
attempt at a registry (of which there is no surviving record).
Special livestock guardian working trials were included in these
The first, tentative, recorded breed standard was
published in 1922. This standard only reflected the functional
features naturally found in the best dogs of the time, although it
did mention having dew claws as reflecting a "perfect" dog. The
characteristic hooked tail and turned-back (rosed) ears, which later
became part of the official standard, were not mentioned in this
The first official breed standard
was written in 1933. This standard attempted to differentiate the
Estrela as a distinct breed. This led to the hooked tail and double
dew claws becoming a requirement. All colors were allowed. The
standard has undergone small refinements since then. For example,
dew claws became optional by 1955, and the allowed colors have been
limited a few times to achieve today's current set.
to World War II, the Estrela breeders were still primarily the
shepherds and farmers of the region. Since they were mostly
illiterate, they did not make any attempt to follow the official
breed standard, if they even knew one existed. But by the early
1950s, interest in the breed returned, and the annual concursos were
reinstated. Again the intent was to stimulate interest among the
Serra residents and to encourage them to adhere to the official
standard. During this period, the long-haired variety was most
popular at shows, but "show dogs" represented (and still do) only a
small portion of the Estrela population in Portugal. Many of the
working dogs were (and are) short-haired.
Early in the
1970s, interest was steeply declining. There was some concern about
the degeneration and even possible extinction of the breed. But the
Portuguese revolution of 1974 helped save the Estrela. It led to
changes both in dog shows in Portugal and in Portuguese dog breeds.
Prior to the revolution, dog showing had largely been a pastime of
the wealthy, with their preference for non-Portuguese breeds as
status symbols. Now, working people could and did show the native
dogs they preferred. Also, with the revolution came an increase in
crime and thus more interest in guard dogs.
There is no
record of the Estrela outside Portugal prior to 1972. While some
undoubtedly did leave the country, they were probably interbred,
with no effort to maintain the breed. In 1972 and 1973, pairs were
imported to the US. Others were probably imported into the US since
then, but it was not until 1998 that the first papered dog was
imported into the United States. The United Kingdom was the first
country to establish the breed outside Portugal in 1972. Today the
Estrela can be found in many countries.
Estrela Mountain Dog remains true to its guardian heritage. It is
still a working dog, guarding flocks in its native Portugal and
elsewhere (the Portuguese Marines had even used them as patrol
dogs). It is also an ideal family pet because of its alertness,
loyalty, intelligence, and it's instinct to nurture young; all
features it needed in its earliest days.
Behavior This impassive dog has quick reflexes. He is
extremely hardy, energetic, and courageous. The Estrela Mountain Dog
is devoted to protecting the flock and works hard as a defense dog
and draft dog. His exceptional sense of smell makes him a good
hunter. Distrustful of strangers, and even aggressive, he is known
as an excellent guard dog. Docile and calm with his owners, he makes
an excellent family pet. Firm, but gentle, training must be started
at a very early age.
Health Estrela Mountain Dogs have relatively few
health problems, of these are hip dysplasia and gastric problems.
Advice This dog is not suited to city living. He needs
exercise and room to run to expend his energy. Regular brushing is
required for the long-haired variety.
Function Herder, Guard Dog, Police Dog, Army Dog, Pet.