Long-haired Estrela Mountain Dog
Photo: Dionísio Garcês Sargo
Cão da Serra da Estrela de pêlo curto
Foto: Canil De Penhas Douradas
Long-haired Estrela Mountain Dogs
Photo: Ponta da Pinta
Estrela Mountain Dog litter
Photo: Ponta da Pinta
Long-haired Estrela Mountain Dog
Photo: Ponta da Pinta
Long-haired Estrela Mountain Dogs
Photo: TrailsEnd Estrelas
Short-hair Estrela Mountain Dog puppy with flock
Photo: Ponta da Pinta
Long-haired Estrela Mountain Dog
Photo: Canil Solar dos Serras
Is the Estrela Mountain Dog aggressive?
No. The Estrela’ s often suspicious, he doesn’t trust strangers, but he’ll only act aggressively under extreme circumstances, to protect himself, his human family, animals or goods he’s supposed to look after. However, like in any canine breed, some dogs are more dominant – a trait that, under inadequate upbringing, usually indulgent, can lead to aggressive behaviour.
Are they good with children?
Yes. He’s compulsively attracted to them and allows them to do things he might avoid from adults. He’s extremely patient with them, tender, playful e very protective. Should he grow up together with a child, he’ll be totally devoted to them.
Does he have to be taught how to guard his owner's house or property?
No. It’s in his nature to be a guarding dog and he begins to show that instinct precociously, sometimes when he’s 3 months old. However, should he be permanently tied up to a chain and get no attention and affection from his owners, he will not create bonds with them nor the instinct to protect them.
How long does the Estrela live?
The average is 12 to 14 years, but there are cases of dogs living up to 16 years.
Does the breed tend to be affected by any diseases?
There are some genetic diseases that have been diagnosed in the Estrela. The most common of them all is, by far, hip dysplasia but dilated cardiomyopathyalso has some incidence on the breed. Other issues, such as elbow dysplasia,epilepsy, entropion, ectropion have been diagnosed. Bloat/stomach torsion (a very common serious problem environmentally triggered but with some genetic predisposition) is very common but adequate rearing can prevent it. Nevertheless, the Estrela, being rustic, is less prone to having diseases that affect many breeds that have a high in-breeding ratio (usually, the most popular ones).
Is it true there are two varieties of the breed?
Yes, the long hair variety, more popular and better known, and the short hair one, which until the 1950’s outnumbered the long hair variety, but nowadays is still seldom seen, except in its native Estrela Mountain Range and in the North of Portugal, where it is again used to perform the breed’s original task as a livestock guardian dog.
Is it recommended to outcross the two varieties?
Some breeders do it and both varieties can benefit from this outcross. However, to do so, one should have concrete purposes and technical knowledge as to fulfil them. Registering a litter whose parents are from different varieties requires special permit by the Portuguese Kennel Club.
They say if you outcross the two varieties you should expect to have midcoat puppies. Is that so?
The alleles (gene copies) responsible for the short coat are dominant towards the ones that produce the long coat. Therefore, if a short coat dog that is homozygous for the short coat allele is bred to a long coat dog, only short-haired puppies will be born. If, on the contrary, the short coat dog is heterozygous (that is, if he carries the long coat allele as well as the short coat one), some puppies will be short-haired and some others long-haired. However, apart from the genes that set whether the dog is short-haired or long-haired, there are other genes, called modifiers, that might introduce changes to the coat’s length. Thus, thanks to those modifiers’ action, some long coat dogs’ hair might be shorter than it should (and that is what some call “mid-coat” or “half-coat”). Those modifiers exist in all dogs, whatever the variety or breed, and so it occasionally happens that a litter out of two long coat dogs produces puppies with a shorter coat, that might be mistaken for a short coat.
I have an Estrela female. My vet says she should have one litter. Is that a good idea?
Some veterinarians think all females should produce at least one litter. Imagine what it would be like, having in mind that, as things already are, the canine population all around the world is huge, far too high! The reason for those vets’ opinion is usually preventing tumours in the female’s reproductive organs and their preserving psychological balance – but both goals can be achieved by simply spaying the bitch. Although many people wish to have one litter from their loving bitch so that they can keep one of her puppies, they should seriously consider that: firstly, the puppies stand high changes of not being like their mother at all (either in looks, temperament and health); secondly, even if they wish to offer the puppies instead of selling them, the babies will take over the place, and home, that already existing puppies (that are waiting to be rescued from the pond and might be put down should no one rescue them) would get.
Besides, there is only one reason to breed a litter, and that is, give the breed a worthy contribute or, in case of non pure-bred dogs, produce balanced puppies, with outstanding working qualities. In order to achieve any of such purposes, you need to know exactly what you are doing, you need to know the bloodlines’ genetics, have intuition, technical knowledge and study a lot. That’s what a responsible, competent breeder does. A bitch owner who knows nothing about such topics and decides to breed a litter runs several risks: 1. producing puppies with hereditary diseases, that, apart from the suffering they and their owners will have, might cause the buyers to claim their money back; 2. since he has no experience as a breeder, if things go wrong, many or all of the puppies might die, as well as the bitch, or a caesarean section, which can be quite expensive, might be necessary; 3. the market is overly saturated, with a lot more offer than demand. You might have a hard time trying to sell the puppies, and if you don’t succeed at doing so, try to figure out the huge expenses on puppy food, vaccinations and de-worming until you finally give them all away.
Furthermore, if you breed a poor quality litter, you will be giving the breed a bad service, contributing to its degeneration and jeopardizing all the work by serious breeders, who dedicate all their time, skills and material resources trying to breed as correct and balanced puppies as possible.
Even so, if your bitch got “excellent” ratings in several dog shows, it might be worth breeding her – but, prior to that, you should have her hips, elbows and heart screened (against hereditary disorders) and seek for experienced, serious breeders’ advice: they should be able to suggest which type of male, from which bloodlines, she should be bred to.
I have an Estrela bitch and my neighbour owns an Estrela male. Should they breed to each other?
They should only do so if they’re both healthy, without hereditary problems such as hip dysplasia, if they have a balanced temperament and excellent morphological quality (check out the previous answer); in any case, it’s better to seek advice from someone serious and knowledgeable about the breed, because, even under those circumstances, they might not be the best choice for each other (out of morphology reasons, bloodlines or temperament). Think of the mating as something serious and plan it long beforehand, as to choose the most adequate stud male for your bitch.
I own an Estrela female puppy. I was told that if she is bred to on her first season she cannot possibly get pregnant. Is that true?
Definitely not! Some females get their first heat when they’re 7 months old, or even younger, and if they mate during ovulation they will most certainly get pregnant. The thing is, at that age they’re little more than babies and their body and spirit are just not mature enough for them to have a litter. It would very likely jeopardize their growing process, both physically and mentally, and they would simply not know what to do with the puppies. So, watch out!
If an Estrela male is bred to a sisters or a daughter or to his mother, will the resulting offspring have problems?
It’s possible and even likely, because every animal is a carrier for recessive genetic mutations - and the odds of two closely related dogs carrying the same mutation and passing it on to their offspring (which will be affected by that mutation) are very high. Some breeders choose to in-breed, or line-breed in order to fix a certain type that distinguishes his dogs from other breeders’. The results can be excellent, as far as morphology is concerned, but there are risks, such as hereditary frailties and character problems. Thus inbreeding should be used only occasionally by experienced breeders.
Is the Estrela Mountain Range the place to buy the best Estrela Mountain Dog puppies?
No. In the Estrela Mountain Range, like anywhere, there are typical and untypical dogs and bitches. The safest way of getting a typical dog is acquiring him from a breeder that offers guarantees (registered dogs with pedigree, control of genetic disorders such as hip dysplasia, post-sales assistance). It’s not wise to purchase a puppy by the roadside, in the Estrela Mountain Range, because: 1. he might be a mutt; 2. he’s probably had no shots and will likely have acquired distemper or parvovirus; he will most certainly be seriously infested by worms, ticks, fleas and others.
I heard it is risky to import and Estrela from Portugal and much safer to buy it elsewhere. Is that true?
No. In the past, some Portuguese breeders sold poor quality puppies to foreign buyers who wanted to breed them. Due to that, some breeders from abroad started spreading the word that Portuguese breeders sell low quality dogs, no matter if they’re supposed to be bred or not – which is not true. Of course even the best breeders might unintendedly produce a few lower quality puppies every now and then, but they know that if they sell a foreign breeder a puppy that is not of good quality, it will turn up against them and bring them bad publicity. Besides, Portugal is the source, it’s where the breed comes from, it’s the country with the widest, more diverse gene pool by far – and it’s where the best Estrelas are to be found. Whenever foreign breeders want to improve their breeding stock with new bloodlines, they do import from Portugal.
Some say one should expect to pay less for an import from Portugal than from anywhere else. is that so?
Not really. There’s no settled export price for an Estrela puppy bred in Portugal – each breeder charges the amount that should cover the litter/ kennel’s expenses, in order not to lose money. The more serious a breeding program is and the more dogs the breeder owns – as to be able to truly fulfil the purpose of bettering the breed -, the more expensive their breeding activity will be. The average price is 500 euros plus a series of expenses related to exporting (such as the export pedigree with ownership transfer, pet passport, eventual required extra-vaccination and worming and maintenance expenses until the puppy is old enough to travel to their destination, etc.). It’s insulting to Portuguese breeders that some claim that a foreign customer should pay no more than 500 Euros for an import from Portugal, when the average (or even settled) price of an Estrela puppy everywhere else in Europe ranges from 1000 to 1500 Euros – no matter if the puppy is of pet quality or breeding/ show quality. That idea suggests that Portuguese exports are of lesser value than other countries’ – and that’s absolutely untrue.
My Estrela puppy loves milk. Should I give it to him?
No. Cow milk contains a high lactose content, which is bad for the dog’s intestinal flora. If a dog loves milk, or if a puppy has to be weaned too soon, they should be given a recipe that blends cow skimmed milk with yolk and olive oil, or even goat milk (similar to the bitch’s). An alternative is a special puppy milk, a product available by some dog food brands, which is similar to bitch milk, with a similar protein, fat and lactose content.
Does an Estrela eat a lot? it must be expensive to keep one!
Normally, the Estrela doesn’t eat much – actually, much less than many smaller dogs! With most dry kibble maintenance brands, an adult Estrela eats about 400 to 800 grams per day (approx. 15 to 25 ounces), depending on the food's quality and on the dog's size and weight.
Should the Estrela eat bones?
Bones, being a great natural source of calcium, are an important part of every canine’s diet, for in their wild condition, having to hunt, they eat them as well as viscera and meat. Therefore, like most dogs, the Estrelas can and should chew large cow or veal bones, that do not splinter – which should however be well boiled, as to avoid any bacteria that can be eliminated in the boiling process (in case the bones are of a highly reliable quality, non-contaminated, it’s better to serve them raw). Bones also help keeping the dog’s teeth clean, but they should not be given to puppies, since chewing them might cause the teeth to degrade or to get out of line. On the other hand, chicken and pork bones are dangerous when boiled (because they get harder) and should only be given to an Estrela if raw. Don’ give your dog turkey or rabbit bones because they might perforate their stomach.
Should I feed my Estrela a natural diet?
A natural diet that includes raw bones, tripe, other organs and meat as well as boiled rice and vegetables is healthy but requires time and special care to prepare it so that it is balanced. A good quality dry kibble is a practical alternative for those who have little time available.
Should it take long to groom them?
No. Except for the shedding periods, in the spring and in the autumn, when they should be brushed twice a week, a short-coat Estrela only requires occasional brushing to make sure the skin is in good condition. Long-coat ones require a bit more grooming in order to avoid tangles – once a week most of the time, every day in shedding seasons. However, if he lives in a farm, you should watch out for certain types of grass that penetrate the coat and the skin, causing serious infections, especially in the ears and nostrils, and in certain cases requiring removal by surgery. One can improve the Estrela’s coat appearance with a good conditioner, which will make it shiny, soft and healthy (although the Estrela’s coat is not supposed to be soft and silky, but a bit rough (like goat hair).
Should the Estrela have their coat trimmed or cut during summertime?
During spring, the Estrela sheds its winter undercoat, thus becoming better equipped to make it through the hot summer weather. In spite of that, some long coat Estrelas have such thick, long coat that they should be trimmed in the summertime as to bear the heat.
Should the Estrela have dewclaws?
Not necessarily. Dewclaws are still a heritage from a very rustic essence. Strong low placed dewclaws, no longer commonly seen except in working bloodlines, prevent the Estrela from sliding over slippery ground and help him making it through the slopes. However, they might get in the way when the dog moves, making him acquire a strange walk with the hind legs set far apart, and their nails might hook on each other or on things such as chains or carpets. Some breeders clip the puppies’ dewclaws soon after they’re born in order to avoid that sort of problem. A grown Estrela could have his dewclaws removed by a veterinarian but only if they do not involve a tendon or a bone.
Does the Estrela get along well with other dogs?
The Estrela adult males are very territorial and little tolerant to other large and dominant ones but they tend to be tolerant with small males. If they grow up together with other males, however, they might turn out good friends, although there’s a serious risk they become hostile to each other when adults and fight (especially if there’s a non-altered bitch in the pack as well or if the other dog is from a breed the Estrela loathes, such as the Siberian Husky, Alaskan Malamute, Boxer, Rottweiller and Dalmatian). It depends a lot on the dog’s character – the more dominant, the more belligerent. Likewise, bitches are often aggressive to other females, and even to males, especially if they’re dominant or when they’re in heat.
Is it true that two or more Estrelas who live together tend to bind more to each other than to their owner?
That might happen if the owner does not pay enough attention, time and affection to them. Dogs naturally establish a strong relation with those they spend more time with – and in those cases where the owner is away most of the day, it will be the other dogs they will bind to – but usually if they consider the owner as the leader in the pack and get his/her attention, they will develop with him, or her, bonds as strong, or even stronger, than with the other dogs. However, some Estrelas with a very independent nature might interact more with their fellow dogs than with the owner, especially if the other dogs are his littermates.
Some say the Estrela loathes cats and kills poultry. Is that true?
If he doesn’t grow used to cats from an early age, he might get to hate them; on the other hand, if he grows up with them, he won’t hurt them – at least not the ones at home. In this case, some Estrelas, especially females, become quite friendly and protective towards the house cats; some others will chase them just for fun, not to harm them. As far as poultry is concerned, some Estrelas will not molest them, some others will treat them as if they were cattle (guarding and guiding them), and others won’t blink at having them for breakfast, if they possibly can. Anyway, the sooner the Estrela gets used to any animal they’re supposed to share their life with, the higher the odds of them having a peaceful life together.
In order to become a good livestock guardian, does the Estrela require to be placed among the flock when a puppy?
Not necessarily, because he seems to be naturally and compulsively attracted to cattle and even as an adult he might adjust quite well to a new life among the herd. Anyway, the sooner he’s placed with the flock, the better. Shepherds mostly place very young puppies among the sheep and goats, sometimes soon after they have been weaned.
Is the Estrela a loud barker?
The Estrela usually barks a lot until he matures (at around 2 years old). Afterwards, they tend to calm down (although they're always alert to danger).
How should I take them for a walk?
There’s usually no problem in leading an Estrela by the leash, since they don’t pull. Nevertheless, you should teach them to obey and you also ought to be ware, because a cat or another dog is more than enough for them to jump and make you “fly”.
Does the Estrela learn well and quickly?
Yes, they’re very intelligent dogs and understand easily what they’re taught. Besides, they can perceive exactly their owner’s mood. However, sometimes they don’t feel like obeying, so they simply ignore orders. It requires some patience and discipline to make them obey no matter what.
Some day it's impossible to teach obedience and agility to an Estrela. Is that true?
No. People who say that either do not know the breed well enough or, if they’re Estrela owners or trainers, just don’t want to bother spending time or money teaching them. Being headstrong, the Estrela calls for a persistent training but in the end he can succeed just as well or even better than most dogs – at least, as far as obedience is concerned. Regarding “agility”, many Estrelas have an adequate body for that activity – as well as for performing their traditional task on steep hills for many miles.
They say these dogs tend to run away. Is it true?
It’s true in many cases, especially when they are confined to a small space and lack freedom. There are also many Estrelas that, in spite of living in a large area with a lot of space to run, try to escape as to patrol the neighbourhood (it’s their livestock guardian ancestral tendency). However, if they run away, they’ll come back a few hours later (unless they loose track or have some accident, or if their owners treat them badly and they’re running from them). Therefore, it’s advisable to create the necessary conditions to prevent them from escaping.
Is the Estrela a one-owner dog?
Within the family, the Estrela tends to choose one person to whom they dedicate themselves and obey more than to the others. But if they’re well brought up, they’ll respect and love the whole family. In case they have to go live with another owner, it might take some time for them to adapt themselves to the new situation or, on the contrary, it might be very easy (depending on the dog’s temperament and on how strong the bonds between them and their previous owner were).
Short-haired Estrela Mountain Dog
Photo: Manuela Paraíso