Estrela Mountain Dog

McCoy - by TrailsEnd
Pedro by TrailsEnd
Life Span: 9-14 years
Litter Size: 8 puppies
Group: Herding, Pastoral
Recognized By: AKC
Color: Brindle, gray or wolf colored and all colors of fawn except very pale are accepted. A black mask and shading is desired.
Hair Length: Medium
Size: Extra Large
Shedding: Moderate Shed
Male Height: 251/2 - 281/2 inches (65-72 cm)
Male Weight: 66-110 pounds (30 kg - 50kg)
Female Height: 241/2 - 27 inches (62-68 cm)
Female Weight: 66-110 pounds (30 kg - 50kg)
Living Area: Outdoors in moderate climates but prefers to be indoors with people at night.

Estrela Mountain Dog   (text from

Aliases: Portuguese Shepherd, Cao da Serra da Estrela


The Estrela Mountain Dog has two distinct coat varieties. The most popular coat for the show line is the long, thick coat that is somewhat coarse but not harsh to the touch. The coat may be wavy but not curly, and the dense inner coat is very thick and soft. The shorter coat variety will still have the dense undercoat and the same textured outer coat it will just be shorter and not as wavy.

The breed is considered a large dog and the males are typically larger than the females. The males also have a much more pronounced ruff around the shoulders and chest that make the chest are of the breed look very deep and developed. The neck and shoulders are powerful and well developed and the body is well proportioned and slightly longer than the dog is tall at the shoulders. The topline is very level and the dog is very sturdy and strong looking, well balanced and powerful without appearing overly developed. The tail is carried low and has a distinctive hook in the end, which is an important characteristic of the breed.

The Estrela Mountain Dog has long legs that appear strong and well boned without being stocky or thick in appearance. There should be some furnishings on the legs however it should not distract from the overall appearance of the dog. The feet are very thick and the pads well developed with quite a bit of hair between the pads of the feet. The nails are very strong and thick and very dark or black. The toes should be very close together and tight, not loose or spreading.

The head is broad and open looking with a strong muzzle that is slightly tapered. The eyes are oval and well set, giving the breed a very intelligent and calm appearance. The eyes may be amber or darker but should not be yellow in color. The ears are carried somewhat backwards and close to the skull with the inner edge visible. The mouth, lips and nose of the dog should be black, as should the skin visible around the eye.

The breed has a very sure and controlled gait and movement with long strides and a confident appearance when they move. The tail is over carried slightly higher than the back when the dog is in motion. The Estrela Mountain Dog is known for its natural jogging style gait that allows it to cover large distances with ease.

Coat Description

The coat may be either moderately short or very long. Both varieties will have a somewhat coarse outer coat over a dense and thick inner coat. The longer coated variety will have heavy furnishing on the legs, tail and the ruff around the neck and the shorter coated variety will have some furnishings but they are not as thick or long. The coat has natural oils and is weather resistant.


The exact history of the Estrela Mountain Dog is unknown, but it is likely that this large breed is another dog descended from the Roman Molossus dog that was brought by invading armies all around the world. The large Roman dog, or as some experts suggest, a later dog brought to Portugal by the Visigoths somewhat later.

The large dogs were quickly identified by the nomadic shepherds as ideal flock guardians. Since the routes for the sheep were a pattern, the dogs were literally raised on the migration routes from the summer pastures in the high Estrela plains in Portugal to the warmer, valleys in the winter months. The breed was largely isolated due to the locations of the herds, so the shepherds were able to carefully select for the characteristics they most wanted in the breed.

As the wealthier land owners became aware of these amazingly versatile dogs they started keeping some of the breed on the estates as companion and watchdogs. These dogs were bred to have the same loyal and intelligent temperament but were likely bred to be larger and heavier than the variety that was used for herding across the mountain ranges and passes. It is likely that the breed that is represented today is more similar to the Estrela Mountain Dogs owned by the wealthy land owners than by the shepherds.

The Estrela Mountain Dog is still used as a working dog in Portugal and since 1970 has been gaining in popularity around the world. The dog is well known in France and other parts of Europe but is still relatively uncommon in North America.


A natural protector, the Estrela Mountain Dog is a loyal and loving companion to their family. They are known for their alert behavior and natural guarding skills. They will protect both people, other family pets and animals as well as the property even as puppies. The breed is both independent and obedient provided they are trained and well socialized. If not properly trained they can be very independent and somewhat stubborn in following commands.

The Estrela Mountain Dog, like many of the herding and working breeds, needs to feel that it is doing something or working. It is very important to challenge this dog both mentally and well as physically on a daily basis. Finding ways to change and modify training routines to pose a challenge to this breed is a must. They are very intelligent and quickly become bored with the same old commands. Since they are very quick learners repetition is not needed to master a new command or trick. The Estrela Mountain Dog is often jokingly considered to have "temporary hearing loss" as they will simply ignore commands if they feel they are not necessary or if the dog feels they have already done what the owner requests.

The Estrela Mountain Dog is a true companion dog and does very well with children. They seem to have endless patience with children plus they are very high energy dogs that can keep up with busy kids all day. They do best when they are with people most of the time, although they can tolerate moderate times alone. Generally the Estrela Mountain Dog is friendly towards other dogs and will be well behaved even with non-canine pets. Proper and frequent socialization will ensure that this compatible behavior continues as the dog matures.

As a protector the breed does bark to notify family of strangers approaching, but they are not known as problem barkers if they are well cared for and provided with training and attention. They are wary of strangers but will quickly learn what people are family friends. This breed bonds very closely with people in the family and usually will have a difficult time adjusting to re-homing, especially after they have bonded with a family. Often these dogs will even grieve the loss of a family pet or family member should they no longer be in the household.

Health Problems

As with all large breeds the Estrela Mountain Dog may have difficulties with canine hip dysplasia and carefully checking the breeding lines is highly recommended. Various types of cancers may also be present in the breed but again this is very typical of many of the larger breeds of dogs. The Estrela Mountain Dog may also have growth problems known as OCD or osteochondritis dissecans that occurs when the cartilage in young dogs grows incorrectly around joints. This can cause movement problems and pain for the growing puppy. There are different treatment options but dogs with OCD should not be used as breeding stock.


Depending on the long or short coat variety the grooming requirements will differ slightly. The long coated variety of Estrela Mountain Dog will require more regular grooming to prevent the furnishings from matting, as well as removing the dead hair from the coat. The shorter haired variety is less prone to tangles in the furnishings but still requires at least twice a week grooming to keep the coat looking in top condition. A slicker brush and a rake are the best options for grooming tools. First use the grooming rake to clear all knots, tangles and mats from the coat, following with the slicker brush to provide a smooth and shiny surface.

A metal comb can be used to keep the furnishings on the legs and tail free from knots and tangles. Occasionally the breed may be trimmed but this is a choice of the owner, not a requirement.

Since the Estrela Mountain Dog has a naturally protective oil to the coat to allow it to withstand wet and cold conditions it is important not to bathe this breed unless necessary. Care must be taken to avoid using any type of harsh soap or human hair products on these dogs as this can cause the coat and skin to dry out, leaving the coat lifeless and damaged. Always use the best possible quality dog shampoos and conditioners and be very sure to rinse any residue out of the coat when the bath is completed.


The Estrela Mountain Dog is used to moving about a great deal in guarding and herding flocks of sheep. They do not do well in small spaces and are not recommended for apartments or small houses without a yard. This breed loves to be outdoors and to have a medium to large yard to explore and walk around in. They are wonderful dogs for active families that love to hike, jog or run, however they do prefer a cooler climate rather than a very hot climate.

The Estrela Mountain Dog needs at least one long period of exercise per day. This can be a long walk, an off the leash run or just a good romp in the yard or the park with kids or a companion dog. Since they are not typically dog aggressive they are great to exercise off leash as they are loyal and true guard dogs, vary rarely if ever wandering off or leaving their owners. As protective dogs they will often pace the perimeter of the yard to ensure that the area is safe several times before finding a vantage point to sit and guard from.

In the house the Estrela Mountain Dog tends to be very quiet and not disruptive or rambunctious. As puppies they will need more exercise and activities than mature dogs, but any age is generally calm and well behaved provided they have their regular exercise. The breed can be used in herding competitions and this provides excellent mental and physical exercise to keep them in shape and alert.


The Estrela Mountain Dog has been bred for centuries to be able to think for itself and to protect and move large flocks of sheep safely across wild and desolate terrain. This independence is still evident today and the breed does require an owner that can keep this perspective in mind. They are a very intelligent breed that will stop to consider options before simply obeying a command. They are highly loyal, loving and protective and once they form a partnership with a person they will work very well for that individual, although they may not respond as quickly to everyone in the family.

The breed should be socialized early to prevent them from becoming overly protective of the family and wary of strangers. They will benefit greatly from obedience training and can be excellent in obedience events if the owner works consistently with the dog. Since the breed can be challenging to train they are not recommended as a first dog for inexperienced owners. Males may be somewhat dominant and need to clearly understand that the human is in control. They should only be trained using positive training methods and will not respond well to negative training methods.

The Estrela Mountain Dog needs to feel that he or she has a job to do to be happy. They need to have exercise and proper time to spend outside so they are able to focus on the training routine. Routines should include mental challenges and physical challenges to keep the dog engaged in learning. They are a playful breed that can be taught many types of games to provide these challenges such as hide and seek, fetch and even puzzle type games where the dog must complete new activities or obstacle courses.

Generally the Estrela Mountain Dog works best when he or she feels that they are working with the owner, not for them. Spending time with the dog to bond and build a relationship is key in helping this dog to become a well-behaved animal.