Breed History

The Estrela Dog

The Estrela Mountain Dog or Cao Da Serra Da Estrela as the breed is known in its native Portugal, is a guarding breed who originates from the Estrela mountain region in the North of the country. The breed is very 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 indeed.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.

Esterel Mountains
Esterel Mountains

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, maybe even thousands of years and is still a good guard as well as a family pet. They are well known for their love of children. 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, and very good jumping ability.

Estrela dog hard at work
Estrela dog put to work

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. Once the wolves had disappeared from the region the farmers thought they didn’t need the Estrela any more, and started to use dogs that not only would guard a bit, but would help with a bit of hunting/poaching, something the Estrela doesn’t excel at.

It was at this 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. It was probably due to these people that the breed survived, as it was in quite dire straits at one time. It wasn’t long before it became clear the wonderful strong guarding instincts of the Estrela was needed by the farmers after all, and they started to be seen working in the mountains once again. Today, the Estrela is seen in the Summer in the high mountain regions doing the job it was bred to do, they are the National Breed of Portugal, there are not many Portuguese who have not heard of the Estrela.

Owning an Estrela Mountain Dog

The breed is wonderful to own – but then I am biased as I have owned them for longer than anyone else in the UK (since 1977) and am totally hooked.

At present, all of my dogs live outside in kennels. This does seem to suit the breed, but saying that, most of the dogs in the UK live as household pets. Dogs living outside do tend to have better, thicker coats than indoor dogs. Central heating and dogs are not a good partnership. From a showing perspective the outdoor coat is more natural, but harder work!

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. They will adapt to your household quite happily, and fit in with you. The guard instinct is strong and so the breed can be noisy. This is, as far as I am concerned, their only drawback but it is controllable.

They are also quite keen gardeners! Pruning and digging are a speciality. Good fencing is a must as they are capable of jumping. Being an agile breed, it does require good high fencing to keep them in, but I have found from experience that if they have never gotten out then they soon stop trying.

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 it’s often difficult getting weight on them. 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 breed isn’t a push over though and, if given too much slack as youngsters, will run rings around a weak owner. Make sure the ground rules are established early on. They are not renowned for their obedience off lead.

The average lifespan is about 10 years, which is good for one of the larger breeds. There have been dogs older than this, I have had dogs at 12½ – a very good age indeed.

I hope this has given you an insight into this lovely breed. If you are looking for the perfect breed for you, I hope you bare the Estrela Mountain Dog in mind. A wonderful dog for the right person/family, but I warn you they are addictive!

History of Asterel

Asterel was established early in 1977 when Trisha Dean acquired her first Estrela Mountain Dog. Since that time, Estrelas have been in permanent residence, making Trisha the longest established owner of the breed in the UK.As Trisha is a qualified obedience instructor, Asterel Estrelas have over the years participated at an elementary level in this discipline. Some Asterels have also had a go at agility! But showing has always been the serious hobby, and the results speak for themselves.

Trisha and her husband Stewart relocated from the South of England to South West Wales in 1992 where the whole family settled into the heart of the Carmarthenshire countryside.Where the Vagabond Gypsy Cob horses joined the family.If you would like to know more, please contact Trisha.We occasionally have puppies available for show and pet homes. Check the puppies page for more information.

Vagabond Gypsy Cob