Dog (text from
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 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.
The coat may be either moderately short or very long. Both
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
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
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
As with all large breeds the Estrela Mountain Dog may have
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
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
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.