The Estrela Mountain Dog is not only an excellent livestock guardian, but is also known for his love of children and family. Proper socialization and training as a puppy is very important so that the dominance in the Estrela’s personality does not become aggressive. The Estrela Mountain Dog is named for the Estrela Mountains in Portugal and is believed to be the oldest breed in the region. The breed has several distinctive physical characteristics including rosed ears, a black mask and a hook at the end of its tail. He is an inseparable companion of the shepherd and a faithful flock guardian, bravely protecting it against predators and thieves. A wonderful farm and house guard, he is distrustful towards strangers but typically docile to his master. As a companion in the home, an Estrela will bond for life. He will love and protect his whole family, but a piece of his soul will belong to that one special family member of his choosing.
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 uncertain 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.
Those 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-sized, strong, having endurance, agile, deep-chested, able to tolerate a marginal diet, a proper set of the legs, a powerful mouth, a tuft of hair around its neck, an easy, jog-like gait, a warm coat, and a watchful, mistrustful, yet loyal temperament.
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 and 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 Mountain Dog breed in the region. Special livestock guardian working trials were included in these shows. The trial consisted of an owner bringing his dog into a large field with many flocks of sheep. The dog was observed by judges for its reactions coming into the field and as the shepherd was ordered to move the flock, which inevitably produced stragglers. The dog was expected to move from his spot of guarding to bring the stragglers back, and then assume a leadership position at the head of the flock. During this period, there was some attempt at a registry, of which there is no surviving record.
The first tentative, recorded breed standard was published in 1922. This standard just reflected the functional features naturally found in the best dogs of the time, although it did mention the dew claws as reflecting a “perfect” dog. The hooked tail and the turned-back ears, which later became part of the official standard, were not mentioned. 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.
Prior to World War II, the Estrela’s 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 only a small portion of the Estrela population in Portugal, and still do. Many of the working dogs were, and are, short-haired.
To this day, the 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 also use it as a police dog. In the home, it is an ideal family pet because of its alertness, loyalty, intelligence, and its instinct to nurture young, all features it needed in its earliest days.
Temperament: alert / intelligent / brave
Height: 24.5 to 29 inches
Weight: 7-132 pounds
Life is Expectancy:10-14 years
Foundation Stock Service
Like all breeds there may be some health issues. Some dogs may be faced with these issues in their lives, but the majority of Estrela Mountain Dogs are healthy dogs.Working with a responsible breeder, those wishing to own an Estrela Mountain Dog can gain the education they need to know about specific health concerns within the breed. Good breeders utilize genetic testing of their breeding stock to reduce the likelihood of disease in their puppies
The Estrela has a thick outer coat that resembles the texture of goat hair and comes in longhair and shorthair varieties. Beyond regular weekly grooming, the occasional bath will keep them clean and looking their best. Grooming can be a wonderful bonding experience for you and your pet. Their strong, fast-growing nails should be trimmed regularly with a nail clipper or grinder to avoid overgrowth, splitting and cracking. Their ears should be checked regularly to avoid a buildup of wax and debris which can result in an infection. Teeth should be brushed regularly.
The Estrela is a relatively calm breed, but with children he knows and especially as a puppy, he can be quite playful. If not a working dog, options for exercise could include play time in the backyard, preferably fenced, or taken for daily walks. In inclement weather, indoor activities like chasing a ball rolled along the floor or teaching him new tricks can be good ways to expend energy. This breed, as indicated by his past, needs space and freedom to roam and is not suitable for apartment living. If not given adequate stimulation, he will become destructive in the home. Training for dog sports like agility, obedience and rally can also be a great way to give your dog exercise and mental stimulation.