The Estrela Mountain Dog Profile
The earliest of the Estrela ancestors were herd-guarding dogs in the Serra da Estrela, in what is now Portugal. Since there are no written records, it is not known for sure whether they were descendants of dogs, brought by the Romans when they colonized the Iberian Peninsula, or later by the invading Visigoths. Regardless, there is no disagreement that the Estrela is one of the oldest breeds in Portugal.
Those early guardian dogs were not the distinct breed we know today. Rather, the Estrela developed over a period of hundreds of years. Shepherds would have chosen to breed the dogs that had the characteristics necessary to survive in their mountain environment and to do their job: large size, strength, endurance, agility, a deep chest, ability to tolerate a marginal diet, the set of the legs, a powerful mouth, a tuft of hair around the neck, an easy, jog-like gait, a warm coat, and a watchful, mistrustful, yet loyal temperament. Since the region was isolated, there was little breeding with non-native dogs, leading to the purity of the breed.
The first, tentative, recorded breed standard was published in 1922. This standard only reflected the functional features naturally found in the best dogs of the time, although it did mention having dew claws as reflecting a “perfect” dog. The characteristic hooked tail and turned-back (rosed) ears, which later became part of the official standard, were not mentioned in this preliminary standard.
The first official breed standard was written in 1933. This standard attempted to differentiate the Estrela as a distinct breed. This led to the hooked tail and double dew claws becoming a requirement. All colors were allowed. The standard has undergone small refinements since then. For example, dew claws became optional by 1955, and the allowed colors have been limited a few times to achieve today’s current set.
There is no record of the Estrela outside Portugal prior to 1972. While some undoubtedly did leave the country, they were probably interbred, with no effort to maintain the breed. In 1972 and 1973, pairs were imported to the US. Others were probably imported into the US since then, but it was not until 1998 that the first EMDAA recognized dog was imported into the United States. The United Kingdom was the first country to establish the breed outside Portugal in 1972. Today the Estrela can be found in many countries.
Today, the Estrela Mountain Dog remains true to its guardian heritage. It is still a working dog, guarding flocks in its native Portugal and elsewhere (the Portuguese Marines had even used them as patrol dogs). It is also an ideal family pet because of its alertness, loyalty, intelligence, and it’s instinct to nurture young; all features it needed in its earliest days.
The Estrela is not recommended for first time owners. Obedience is a must, since the Estrela is a dominant dog. You can expect some dog aggression in unaltered males. They do not require daily grooming; a good brushing once a week is all that is needed.
First and foremost this is a guardian breed!
AKC: Foundation Stock Service
The Estrela Mountain Dog Association of America