The Estrela Mountain Dog or Cao Da Serra Da Estrela as the breed is known in its
native Portugal, is a guarding breed which originates from the Estrela mountain region in the North of the country. The breed is old and is thought to have evolved from the Mastiff dogs the Romans
took with them into the Iberian Peninsula, this theory can not be proved or disproved it is safe to say the breed is very old.
The development of the breed was in the hands of the local farmers who highly prized the dogs' guarding ability. As the sheep and goats were often the sole source of livelihood for the farmer, only dogs who excelled in guarding were kept and bred from, this meant that the breed could be quite formidable and not to be taken lightly.
As transportation in the mountain region was difficult, the breed was kept fairly pure by the use of only dogs that occurred locally. The breed has developed over hundreds of years and is still a good guard as well as a family pet. The Estrela had to be capable of dealing with a full grown wolf and so it developed into a strong powerful dog who is supple and agile, and should show no signs of being cumbersome and slow, the breed has a fair turn of speed.
They are also very capable of clambering over very rough terrain. In the times before the wolf was wiped out, the dogs often wore heavy metal spiked collars to protect them against attack.
At one time the breed caught the eye of the aristocracy and were a decorative
addition to the villas and mansions where they were bred and sold as pets, in this way they moved out of the mountains and into the country as a whole. Today, there are not many Portuguese who have
not heard of the Estrela.
As a breed they are wonderful with children, I believe that an Estrela bitch would protect a baby with its life, which makes them the perfect guard or companion dog. Estrelas love human contact but they are not a demanding breed and will adapt to your household quite happily and fit in with you. The guard instinct is strong and so the breed can be noisy - which as far as I am concerned is their only drawback - this is controllable, however.
Being an agile breed it does require good high fencing to keep them in, but I have found that if they have never gotten out then they do not try. An Estrela pup grows rapidly and so they do cost a lot to rear, if it is done properly. As an adult they do not eat a huge amount, and in fact getting weight on them is often a problem. The breed seem to do well on quite a low protein diet, and they do not tolerate very rich food well.
Training should start as soon as you get your new pup home, start as you mean to carry on and you will have a great relationship for many happy years. The average Lifespan is about 10 years which is good for one of the larger breeds, there have been dogs older than this. I hope this has given you an insight into this lovely breed, and in the future if you are looking for the perfect breed for you, I hope you bear the Estrela Mountain Dog in mind.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1. Wow isn't your dog big?
A1. No, the Estrela isn't a huge dog, it gives the illusion of size, but a lot of that is due to the coat.
Q2. You could do with a saddle to ride that dog?
A2. Don't be silly, I'd break it's back!
Q3. Bet s/he eats a lot?
A3. No, the Estrela for it's size isn't a big eater, they do however cost a lot to rear as puppies, if done in the correct manner. As adults they on the whole are not a greedy dog (there are exceptions of course). The breed does much better on a low protein diet, so expensive high protein foods aren't, as a rule, for them.
Q4. Bet that coat is a problem?
A4. No,if the dog has a correct coat texture,it should resemble goat hair, then the coat is very easy to deal with. A rake comb, to get to the skin and a slicker brush are essential grooming tools. A good brush weekly and a thorough grooming every couple of weeks should be enough to keep a pet Estrela in good condition. This does however depend on where the dog lives and is exercised. Obviously dogs that are shown need more intensive grooming and/or bathing on a very regular basis.
Q5. You must have a huge house to keep one of those?
A5. No, the Estrela doesn't take up loads of room, it is surprising what a small space an Estrela will get into.
Q6. Do I need a big garden to have one?
A6. Not necessarily, as long as you are willing to take the dog for decent, regular exercise then acres of space at home isn`t essential.
Q7. Do I need good fencing to keep one in?
A7. Most definitely yes, the breed is very capable of jumping to quite dizzying heights. If they have good fencing from day one and your pup has never gotten out of your garden, then they don`t seem to try. 6ft is considered good height fencing for the breed. Although there are plenty of the breed that are confined within much lower fences than that.
Q8. Bet he has a good turn of speed?
A8. You better believe it !! An Estrela at full speed is an awesome sight.
Q9. Can you let them off the lead?
A9. Of course you can. You can let any breed of dog off the lead. What you actually mean is, is the breed good off lead and easy to get back. On the whole the breed are not renowned for their obedience off lead, they have an independent character and will roam if given the chance.
Q10. Can you train them?
A10. The breed is very trainable, but they will never give you slavish devotion like a Border Collie for instance. You will get back what you are prepared to put into training your Estrela. The breed has a strong stubborn streak, a very good sense of humour is a must when training the breed. For all that they can and have worked to high standards in obedience, agility and a few have been used as rescue dogs and also working trials.
Q11. Do they mix with other dogs/animals?
A11. An Estrela is no different to any other breed of dog, they accept as the norm the things they have grown up with and are comfortable with. It is essential that from a young age your pup is introduced to as many different sights and sounds as possible so that it will grow into a well rounded adult, who is accepting of things it will encounter in it's everyday life. Care must be taken that all it's encounters with adult dogs are good ones, so it doesn't see other dogs as the enemy.
Q12. Are they noisy?
A12. Yes they do have a tendency to like the sound of their own voices. It has to be understood that they are a guarding breed, so they do tend to let you know there is something around, even if you aren't too interested in knowing!! So if left alone for long periods they can get very bored and become a serious noise pollution problem.
Q13. Are the breed good with children?
A13. Yes they instinctively love children,the breed seem to be drawn to kids. In their native Portugal they are well known as the guardians of the child. They will protect who they consider to be their own children, an Estrela bitch would attack to protect 'it's' child. This said no matter how good any dog is with children, no matter the breed, no dog should EVER be left alone with a child.
Q14. Bet he needs loads of exercise?
A14. As an adult,I doubt if you`d be able to wear one out. The breed is designed to work all day at a steady pace.As pups you must be very careful how you exercise, you need to be aware of young joints and rapid growth, two elements which if not treated properly can lead to problems when adult. Advice from the breeder is probably your best course of action.
Q15. Do they slobber?
A15. No, unlike a lot of bigger breeds, the Estrela isn't a slobbery dog. As they have quite tight lips, you will not usually get a full scale bath of drool from one.