The Estrela Mountain Dog is a medium to large dog that typically weighs 50kg. For centuries, this alert and protective breed has been used to guard herds and homes in the Estrela Mountains of Portugal where it was developed. True to its name, this breed can work and guard flocks on the high mountains of the Serra da Estrela in central Portugal as high as 2,000 feet above sea level. This sturdy, well-built dog has a mastiff influence in its blood. Besides its coat, it features a black muzzle or mask, small neatly folded back ears and a hooked-tipped tail. It has a moderately tapered muzzle, large black nose, oval-shaped eyes that display a calm and intelligent expression, straight forelegs, and well muscled loins and thighs. It has oval feet with thick hard pads and tightly closed toes that serve as protection against the harsh cold rocky terrain of the Serra da Estrela. The tail reaches to the hock and is well feathered. The coat of the dog comes in two types, long coat and short coat - both resembling the texture of goat hair.
The long coat variety has a thick outer coat that is slightly coarse to the touch but not too harsh. The hair can either be flat or slightly waved but not curly and lay close to the body. It has a dense lighter coloured undercoat which acts as a weather-proof protection. The hair on the head is short and smooth while the hair on the neck and chest is thick and forms a distinctive ruff. Besides the tail, long featherings also adorn the forearms, thighs and rear pasterns while the front of the legs have short smooth hair.
The short coat variety has a shorter, dense undercoat with a short and thick outer coat that is slightly coarse but not too harsh. The short coat variety is mostly found in the parched summer lowlands of central Portugal. Recognised coat colours are fawn, brindle, and wolf grey.
The Estrela Mountain Dog is considered to be one of the oldest local dogs in Portugal, with origins dating back to the 16th century. It is known as the Cao Da Serra Da Estrela in its native country and is reputed to not only being the oldest breed in the Iberian Peninsula but also one of the many large guardian dogs of Europe. For centuries, it has been known to guard herds and homesteads in the high plateau of Serra Da Estrela and the nearby lowlands. Since its origin dates back to pre-written history, it is not sure whether this dog’s ancestors were brought to the Iberian Peninsula by the Romans or later by the Visigoths. It’s isolation meant that it was relatively unknown outside of the region which made it endangered until early 1908 to 1919 when a selective breeding program was established to promote and preserve the breed.
The Estrela Mountain Dog arrived in England in April of 1974 when a Mr. Pye of Oporto sent a bitch in whelp in the hope of arousing some interest in the breed. The bitch named Port. Ch. Rogean Augusta gave birth to a litter of seven on the 14th of May 1974 and two of the puppies were sold to Mrs. Marcia Dovey who owned Sturtmoor Kennels. A year later, a young male and another bitch in whelp were also sent to Mrs. Dovey and gave birth to 9 puppies which started the first Estrela breeding program outside of Portugal. From England, the breed spread to different kennels in Norway, Sweden, Holland and eventually throughout Europe. It was officially recognised by the Kennel Club on May 14, 1975.
The Estrela Mountain Dog is described as alert, protective, loyal, stubborn and territorial. It is a substantial breed, although not as bulky as some of the other mountain dogs. It is very agile and athletic – traits that are required when working high up in the mountains. As a flock guardian, it is very protective and strong – both vital characteristics especially when working against large predators such as wolves or bears. It has a strong territorial instinct but it’s typically not aggressive. It has no problems with other people whom the family trusts but strangers are forewarned. Like other dogs, early socialisation with other people, animals, and exposure to different places will go a long way in raising a well-balanced adult Estrela Mountain Dog. It can be noisy at times especially when it is in guard mode.
Gentle, consistent and firm training with positive reinforcements is the key to winning the Estrela Mountain Dog’s heart. This breed is very intelligent, to the point that it will try to convince you that it is stupid. It has a stubborn streak and an independent mind but it is not hard to teach the dog as it loves pleasing its master. This stubbornness comes from the fact that it has a very strong working instinct, and working means that it has to make decisions of its own for the safety of the flock. If it senses something strange, it will not leave (even if it’s commanded to) until it deemed that the smell is not a threat.
Grooming is on the moderate side. For obvious reasons, the long coat variety needs more frequent grooming than the short coated type. Usually, a good brush on a weekly basis will help maintain the coat in a healthy condition, particularly paying close attention to the area behind the ears where knots can occur. However, more frequent brushing is required when the dog is moulting. Loose dead hairs should be removed on a daily basis by brushing the coat with a slicker brush and a rake. It is generally a clean breed which does not require frequent baths. The nails should be trimmed regularly.
Like other medium to large size dogs, the Estrela Mountain Dog is one of the many breeds that can suffer from canine hip dysplasia (CHD) which can cause painful lameness in some dogs. There is no medicine to cure canine hip dysplasia but the British Veterinary Association (BVA) maintains a hip score to identify which parents should be used for breeding that are not prone to CHD. When buying a puppy Estrela Mountain Dog, ask the breeder if the hip score of both parents is less than 26, which is the current breed “mean” hip score for this dog. In addition to CHD, the Estrela Mountain Dog is also prone to elbow dysplasia, which is also common with other dogs.
The Estrela Mountain Dog tends to be longer lived compared to other large breeds, with an average lifespan of 10 – 13 years.
This large breed (dogs typically between 65 – 72cm and bitches being 62 – 68cm in height) needs plenty of exercises to stay healthy and happy. As a typical working dog that’s used to a full-time job of guarding herds, the Estrela Mountain Dog requires plenty of physical and mental stimulation to stay sound. However, being an adaptable breed, it will take as much or as little exercise it can get, but the more the better. It will be happy walking for miles as it will on a short walk. It will be happy snoozing around inside the house as it is when getting the chance to play in the yard.
It is usually very good with children as long as it is treated kindly and does not have any bad experiences with kids early in life. However docile it may be, adult supervision is still required when the dog is around small children because its large size can easily knock a small child down. It is best suited to older children who knows how to handle a large dog. As long as it is socialised with other dogs from an early age, the Estrela Mountain Dog should be good with them. It has a tendency to herd other animals which may become a problem if it encounters a dog who doesn’t want to be dominated. Again, early socialisation is the key in order for the breed to become a good companion with other dogs.