Key Breed Facts
Intelligence / Trainability
Children and Other Pets
Caring for a Estrela Mountain Dog
Average Cost to keep/care for a Estrela Mountain Dog
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.
Height at the withers: Males 63 - 75 cm, Females 60 - 71 cm
Average weight: Males 45 - 60 kg, Females 35 - 45 kg
The Estrela is a powerful, yet athletic looking dog that boasts a very distinctive coat. There are two coat variations, both of which have the texture of goat hair. When a dog has a long coat, the hair can either be slightly wavy or straight, but never curly. Dogs have thick undercoats which is typically lighter in colour than a dog's topcoat. They have long, broad and powerful looking heads which are slightly domed and dogs have a moderate stop found halfway between their nose and the back of their heads. Their muzzles taper a little, but its topline is virtually level with dogs boasting a slightly aquiline appearance to it. Noses are large and black in colour with nicely opened nostrils.
The Estrela has a strong jaw with a perfect scissor bite where their upper teeth neatly overlap their lower ones. Their eyes are oval shaped, amber or darker in colour and moderately large with dogs boasting an intelligent calm expression which is enhanced by their prominent eyebrows. Ears are quite small in relation to the rest of a dog's body, they are triangular in shape and quite thin to the touch, but nicely rounded at the tips. Their ears are set quite high which dogs carry close to their heads.
Necks are short and well-muscled with dogs having a thick ruff of hair under their throats. Their front legs are well-muscled, strong and straight with lots of round bone. Chests are moderately broad and deep with dogs having relatively short backs which are higher at the wither. They have well-muscled loins and a slightly sloping croup. Their ribs are well sprung with dogs having a slight tuck up to their belly. Their back legs are strong, powerful with well-muscled thighs. Feet are oval shaped with dogs having thick, pads and tight closed toes with plenty of hair between their pads. Nails should be as dark as possible, but preferably black. Their tails are set quite low and they are well feathered forming a hook at the tip. Dogs carry their tail low when relaxed, but they raise it when excited or alert.
When it comes to their coat, there are two varieties with some dogs having long coats whereas others have short ones. Whether long or short, the Estrela boasts having a double coat that consists of a harsher topcoat and a much softer, denser undercoat. Long coated dogs have lots of thick, smooth hair around their neck and on their chest which forms their distinctive ruff with this being more prominent in males than their female counterparts. Their front legs and thighs as well as their back pasterns and tails are well feathered. Accepted breed colours are as follows:
The Estrela Mountain Dog may be an imposing character, but they are gentle giants when they are in a home environment. They have a lot of energy and like nothing more than to be kept busy. Because they are so intelligent, they also need to be given lots of mental stimulation for them to be truly happy, well-balanced dogs which in short means they do well in a home environment where the families like to spend as much time in the great outdoors with a canine companion at their side.
They are known to be a little vocal and will soon let an owner know when they are unhappy about something or when there are strangers about. They have a strong instinct to protect their families and their property which means they make good watch dogs. They tend to be rather wary and aloof when they first meet people, but would rarely show any sort of aggression towards a stranger other than barking at them, preferring to just keep their distance until they get to know someone. With this said, the Estrela is known to like the sound of their own voices and will bark just for the sake of it when the mood takes them.
They are also known to have a bit of a stubborn streak and even when well socialised from a young age, an Estrela is often unhappy when they are find themselves in new situations or around new people. With this said, the more they are socialised, the easier it is for a dog to accept new things. They are independent thinkers by nature and as such their training has to start early and it has to be consistent throughout their lives so these large dogs understand what is expected of them.
Estrela Mountain Dogs need to know their place in the pack and who to look to for direction and guidance for them to be truly well-rounded, obedient dogs. As such they are not the best choice for first time owners because they need to be trained and handled by someone who is familiar with the needs of such a large and intelligent dog.
Estrela Mountain Dogs are intelligent and quick to pick up on new things which in short means that in the right hands and in the right sort of environment, they are easy to train. With this said, early socialisation is essential with such large dogs and their training has to start as early as possible. It also has to be consistent and always fair so these dogs understand their place in the pack and who is alpha dog in a household. It's worth noting that Estrelas will learn the "basics" very quickly, but they are not the sort of dog that enjoys retrieving toys, balls or any other object because it is just not in their nature to do so.
Although large in size, the Estrela is a sensitive character by nature and as such they should never be corrected harshly or trained in any sort of heavy handed way because this would achieve a negative response. They do answer very well to positive reinforcement which brings the best out of these intelligent and loyal dogs.
Estrela Mountain Dogs are gentle, placid characters by nature and they love being in a family environment. As such they do make great family pets and if anything they have a real affinity with children. However, because of their larger than life size, it's always a good idea to keep a close eye on any interaction between the kids and an Estrela to make sure playtime does not get too boisterous which could well end up with someone getting frightened or hurt albeit by accident.
If an Estrela has grown up with a family cat in the house they generally get on well together, but they would think nothing of chasing a neighbour's cat if it dared to get too close to them. However, care has to be taken when one of these large dogs meets another dog they don't know, even when they have been well socialised from a young age. It would not be a very good idea to trust an Estrela with small pets and animals, as such any contact is best avoided.
For further advice please read our article on Keeping Children Safe around Dogs.
The average life expectancy of an Estrela Mountain Dog is between 10 and 12 years when properly cared for and fed an appropriate good quality diet to suit their ages.
Like so many other breeds, the Estrela Mountain Dog is known to suffer from a few hereditary health issues which are worth knowing about if you are planning share your home with one of these large and impressive looking dogs. The conditions that seem to affect the breed the most include the following:
As with any other breed, Estrela Mountain Dogs need to be groomed on a regular basis to make sure their coats and skin are kept in top condition. They also need to be given regular daily exercise to ensure they remain fit and healthy. On top of this, dogs need to be fed good quality food that meets all their nutritional needs throughout their lives.
Estrelas have long, thick double coats, with the outer coat being coarse whereas the undercoat is soft and very dense. The hair lays tight to the body although it is longer around a dog's neck and they have nice amount of feathering on their tails. With this said, they are quite high maintenance when it comes to keeping their coats tidy and tangle-free whether a dog has a long or short coat.
Like many other breeds, Estrelas shed throughout the year only more so during the Spring and then again in the Autumn when more frequent brushing is generally necessary. It's also important to check a dog's ears on a regular basis and to clean them when necessary. If too much wax is allowed to build up in a dog's ears, it can lead to a painful infection which can be hard to clear up. In short, prevention is often easier than cure when it comes to ear infections.
Estrelas are known to be athletic, energetic, intelligent dogs as such they need to be given the right amount of daily exercise combined with as much mental stimulation as possible. This also has to include lots of "off the lead" time so they can really express themselves. However, as with any other breed, the areas a dog is allowed to run free has to be extremely secure and care has to be taken when they are around dogs they don’t already know. Estrelas need a minimum of an hour's exercise every day, but the more they are given the better.
A shorter walk in the morning would be fine, but a longer more interesting one in the afternoon is a must. These dogs also like to be able to roam around a back garden as often as possible so they can really let off steam. However, the fencing has to be extremely secure and high to keep these large, energetic dogs in because if they find a weakness in the fence or it is too low, they will soon escape or jump out and get into all sorts of trouble. It should never be forgotten that an Estrela Mountain Dog is an expert when it comes leaping great heights and as such back gardens must have extra high fences to keep these large and athletic dogs safely in.
With this said, Estrela puppies should not be over exercised because their joints and bones are still growing and too much pressure on them could result in causing a dog a few problems later on in their lives. They should not be allowed to jump up or off furniture nor should they be allowed to run up and down the stairs for this very reason.
If you get an Estrela puppy from a breeder, they would give you a feeding schedule and it's important to stick to the same routine, feeding the same puppy food to avoid any tummy upsets. You can change a puppy's diet, but this needs to be done very gradually always making sure they don't develop any digestive upsets and if they do, it's best to put them back on their original diet and to discuss things with the vet before attempting to change it again.
Older dogs are not known to be fussy or finicky eaters, but this does not mean you can feed them a lower quality diet. It's best to feed a mature dog twice a day, once in the morning and then again in the evening, making sure it's good quality food that meets all their nutritional requirements. It's also important that dogs be given the right amount of exercise so they burn off any excess calories or they might gain too much weight which can lead to all sorts of health issues. Obesity can shorten a dog's life by several years so it's important to keep an eye on their waistline from the word go.
Because Estrelas are prone to suffer from bloat, it is really important that they be fed twice a day instead of giving them just one larger meal a day. It's also a good idea to invest in a stand to place their feed bowl which makes it easier for these large dogs to eat comfortably without having to stretch their necks down low to reach their food. Dogs should never be exercised just before or just after they have eaten either because this puts them more a risk of suffering from bloat.
If you are looking to buy an Estrela Mountain Dog, you would need to register your interest with a breeder because very few puppies are bred and registered with The Kennel Club every year. You would also need to pay upwards of £1000 for a well-bred pedigree puppy. The cost of insuring a male 3-year-old Estrela Mountain Dog in northern England would be £46.69 a month for basic cover but for a lifetime policy, this would set you back £82.02 a month (quote as of June 2016). When insurance companies calculate a pet's premium, they factor in several things which includes where you live in the UK and a dog's age and whether or not they have been neutered or spayed.
When it comes to food costs, you need to buy the best quality food whether wet or dry, to feed your dog throughout their lives making sure it suits the different stages of their lives. This would set you back between £50 - £60 a month. On top of all of this, you would need to factor in veterinary costs if you want to share your home with an Estrela and this includes their initial vaccinations, their annual boosters, the cost of neutering or spaying your dog when the time is right and their yearly health checks, all of which quickly adds up to over £1500 a year.
As a rough guide, the average cost to keep and care for an Estrela Mountain Dog would be between £100 to £150 a month depending on the level of insurance cover you opt to buy for your dog, but this does not include the initial cost of buying a pedigree puppy.
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