The Estrela Mountain Dog is a large, attractive and noble looking dog that hails from Portugal where they were bred to herd and guard livestock and the homes of their owners in the Estrela Mountain regions of the land. They are known for their courage, their loyalty and their intelligence as well as their kind, affectionate natures. The Estrela is highly prized in their native Portugal, but because they are one of the lesser known breeds here in the UK, they have yet to gain the same amount of popularity.
The Estrela Mountain Dog is the descendant of an ancient breed that was specifically bred to guard flocks of sheep in Portugal’s Serra da Estrela mountain range. However, there are no written records of the breed which has led to many debates on whether these dogs first taken to Portugal by the Romans when they invaded the Iberian Peninsula or whether it was the Visigoths who bought the dogs with them much later on. The only thing that everyone agrees on is that the breed is one of the oldest in Portugal.
Over hundreds of years, the Estrela was developed by shepherds to become the dogs we see today. They did so by crossing particular guarding and herding dogs with an end goal being to produce a dog capable of fulfilling their specific needs and one that would be able to work in a specific environment. The characteristics needed included strength, size, agility and stamina combined with the ability to survive on little food in some of the most challenging situations and climates. The result of their endeavours was a dog capable of withstanding even the harshest of conditions thanks to their thick, dense double coat and one that was able to keep working for long periods of time. These dogs also boasted a distrusting nature which when all added up made them excellent guard dogs.
The region of Portugal where these dogs first appeared is isolated which meant the purity of the Estrela Mountain Dog was not interfered with by man and because these dogs were relatively unknown outside of their native Portugal right up to the 19th century, they are very much one of the purest breeds on the planet. However, because many of the male dogs were castrated in order to prevent them from wandering off, at one point in time, their numbers dropped dangerously low, so low the breed was at risk of vanishing off the face of the earth forever.
Attempts were made to establish a breed standard in 1922, but this was revised 11 years later and a standard was finally agreed. However, there are no records of any of these dogs existing outside of Portugal until 1972, and none of them were taken over to America until 1998. Today, the Estrela has a small number of dedicated breed enthusiasts here in the UK, but these proud and noble dogs still remain relatively unknown. As such anyone wishing to share their home with such a large and impressive dog would have to register their interest with a breeder and agree to be put on a waiting list.