Estrela Mountain Dog
|Estrela Mountain Dog
|Serra da Estrela Mountain Dog
Cão da Serra da Estrela
|Country of origin
|Classification and breed standards
||Group 2 Section 2 #173
|Not recognized by any major kennel club
|This breed of dog is
The Estrela Mountain Dog is a
dog that has been used to guard
herds in the
mountains for centuries.
The earliest of the Estrela’s ancestors were herd-guarding dogs in the Serra
de Estrela, in what is now Portugal. Since there are no written records, it is
not known for sure whether they were brought by the Romans when they colonized
Iberian Peninsula, or later by the invading
there is no disagreement that the Estrela is one of the oldest breeds in
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 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 1900’s, 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 were having 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 shows. The trial consisted of an
owner/shepherd bringing his dog into a large field with many flocks of sheep.
The dog was observed by judges for it’s 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.
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. 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.
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 1950’s, 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 Estrelas 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 U.S. Others
were probably imported into the U.S. since then, but it was not until 1998 that
the first EMDAA recognized dog was brought over to the U.S. The United Kingdom
was the first country to establish the breed outside Portugal in 1972. Today the
Estrela can be found in many countries.
Today, 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 use them as police 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.
The breed exists in two forms, the long- and the shorthaired one. They weigh
between 66 and 110
grow to a height of 24.5 to 28.5
They are very protective of their property and family, friendly with
children, but suspicious of any strangers, and can be stubborn.
- History information copied by permission from
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