The Estrela Mountain Dog, or Cão de Serra da Estrela, is an intelligent and independent dog from Portugal. Though playful and extremely loyal, it is not the ideal pet for first-time dog owners. The Estrela has tendency to bark and protect its territory fiercely, and will typically only obey a strong-willed person.
The Estrela Mountain Dog is a fairly large dog (66-110 pounds, on average) with an athletic build. It comes in two coat types: short and long. The long-haired Estrela has a thick, slightly coarse outer coat that may be flat or slightly waved, and a dense undercoat which is typically light in color than the outer coat. The short-haired Estrela has a similar outer and undercoat, but it is comparably shorter.
The coloring of the coat is commonly fawn, wolf gray, and yellow, with or without brindling. There may also be white markings or shadings of black throughout the coat. Blue coloration is sometimes found but is considered undesirable. The Estrela has droopy ears and a long, bushy tail.
Personality and Temperament
The Estrela Mountain Dog is calm but will not hesitate to come to the defense of those it loves, making it an exceptional guard dog. Because of this it is also often distrusting of strangers and will require proper training and socialization as a puppy.
The Estrela Mountain Dog, though dominant, can get along well with other pets. However, it may take some time for it to get accustomed to another dog in the home.
The Estrela's rough hair will not tangle easily, though it may mat behind the ears. Typically the coat requires just one deep brushing every week.
Due to its nature, the Estrela will tend to roam far if not placed in a large, fenced yard. Nevertheless, it can flourish in a smaller area (though ideally not an apartment) as long as it is taken out to exercise frequently.
The Estrela Mountain Dog, with an average lifespan of 12 to 16 years, is a hardy and healthy breed. However, as with many other large dogs, it has a tendency to suffer from hip and elbow dysplasia.
History and Background
Considered one of the oldest breeds in Portugal, the Estrela Mountain Dog has been protecting flocks of sheep for many centuries. A brave and intelligent dog, shepherds depended on their ability to identify and scare off wolves and other hungry predators. Eventually their skills were used to guard large estates by local aristocrats, and by the 19th century the number of Estrelas used by local shepherds had begun to fall. However, it was these new larger estate dogs that would eventually become the base for the modern breed of Estrelas.
The first Estrela was entered into the show ring in 1908, but because of the Portuguese peoples' admiration of foreign breeds and their insistence on castrating the Estrelas to prevent them from leaving their flocks to mate, the number of Estrelas began to diminish.
From 1908 to 1919, special shows called concursos were held to promote and preserve the Estrela breed in the region. By 1933, the first official breed standard was established.
Prior to World War II, the Estrela breeders were still primarily the shepherds and farmers of the region. But by the early 1950s, interest in the breed returned, and the annual concursos were reinstated with the intent of stimulating interest among the Serra residents and to encourage them to adhere to the official standard.
Although the long-haired variety was most popular at shows during this period, these so-called "show dogs" represented only a small portion of the Estrela population in Portugal. Today the same holds true — many of the working Estrela dogs are short-haired.
The interest in Estrellas declined again in the early 1970s; there was even some concern about the degeneration and even possible extinction of the breed. However, the Portguese revolution of 1974 led to several changes in Portugal, including a resurgence in the use of native breeds in dog shows.
In 1972, the United Kingdom became the first country to establish the Estrela Mountain Dog outside of Portugal. It can now be found in several countries around the world.
Photo of Sully courtesy of Duarte Fonseca