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Estrela Mountain Dog

Nicole Cosgrove

June 18, 2021

Estrela Mountain Dog

The Estrela Mountain Dog is a large to giant dog from Portugal with a life span of 10 to 14 years and was bred to guard homesteads and farms as well as their herds. Its other names are the Portuguese Shepherd and the Cão da Serra da Estrela, the plural of the latter being Cães da Serra da Estrela. It has been around for centuries in rural settings but today is also kept as a companion to families or singles or couples, as long as you can be active with it and have the land for it. It is loyal, protective, and loving with family and formidable when a threat is present.

The Estrela Mountain Dog at a Glance
Name Estrela Mountain Dog
Other names Portuguese Shepherd, Cão da Serra da Estrela (plural of Cao da Serra da Estrela is Cães da Serra da Estrela)
Nicknames Estrela, EMD
Origin Portugal
Average size Large to giant
Average weight 66 to 110 pounds
Average height 24 to 29 inches
Life span 10 to 14 years
Coat type Two types, long haired and short haired
Hypoallergenic No
Color Fawn, grey, yellow, brindle, dark mask
Popularity Not yet a fully registered member of the AKC
Intelligence Above average
Tolerance to heat Moderate to good
Tolerance to cold Good to very good
Shedding Average – will be some hair around the home
Drooling Average to above average
Obesity Above average – make sure it is well exercised and not over fed
Grooming/brushing Average – brush twice a week, the longer coat may need more than the shorter coat as it tangles easily
Barking Occasional but it is deep and loud
Exercise needs Active so needs the same in its owners
Trainability Moderately difficult – sensitive and strong willed, experience needed
Friendliness Very good with socialization
Good first dog Low – needs experienced handling
Good family pet Very good to excellent with socialization
Good with children Very good to excellent with socialization
Good with other dogs Good with socialization
Good with other pets Good to very good with socialization
Good with strangers Moderate to good but needs socialization – wary and suspicious
Good apartment dog Low – needs space and a yard to play in
Handles alone time well Moderate – prefers to have company
Health issues A healthy breed considered to be hardy, a couple of issues include joint dysplasia and ear infections
Medical expenses $485 a year for basic health care and pet insurance
Food expenses $270 a year for a good quality dry dog food and dog treats
Miscellaneous expenses $245 a year for miscellaneous items, license, basic training and toys
Average annual expenses $1000 as a starting figure
Cost to purchase $1,200
Rescue organizations Estrela Mountain Dog Breed Rescue, Estrela Mountain Dog Welfare and Rescue
Biting Statistics None reported

The Estrela Mountain Dog’s Beginnings

The Estrela Mountain Dog was bred in the mountains of what was then called Serra da Estrela (hence the name) which is now called Portugal. It is one of the oldest Portuguese breeds and was bred to herd and to guard. As it comes from a time hundreds of years ago when records on dog breeding were not kept not much is known about what dogs exactly contributed to its development. It could be the colonization of the Iberian Peninsula by the earlier Romans and their mastiffs, or it could be a dog brought by the Visigoths who invaded later. Which ever dogs were used they would have been about developing its guarding and herding ability and its thrivability in the mountain terrain. Strength, agility, endurance, able to work on a small diet, a warm coat, protective instincts, loyalty and such.

As the area where they are from was quite isolated there was not much chance for it to be bred with a lot of non-native dogs and so the breed stayed pure. For hundreds of years there was little change in how people used it, though in the 1800s it did also become a common guard dog of noble estates. In the late 19th century and early 20th century dog shows, fanciers and breeders did not give them much attention. The Portuguese were more interested in foreign dogs than their own and so they were not known outside of the area they came from. Another unfortunate practice was Shepherd castrating the dogs to stop them from leaving their post to mate, which lead to a drop in dog numbers.

As a result between 1908 and 1919 there was an attempt to promote the breeds and try to preserve it. In 1922 a preliminary breed standard was drawn up and then the first official one was written in 1933. Before the second world war the dog was mostly kept by farmers and shepherds though and since most could not read there was little effort made by them to follow it. In the 1950s there was some returned interest and another attempt to get owners to follow the standards. It became more noticeable that long haired were used more for showing and short haired for working. Coming up to the 1970s though interest had dropped by quite an amount, there was concern about the quality of the dogs left and it was facing possible extinction.

New Lease on Life

There is no record of the breed being anywhere other than Portugal up until the early 1970s. In 1972 the UK was the first to have the breed established somewhere other than its home country. In 1972 and 1973 some pairs were imported to the US but it took until 1998 for it happen in the records. In 1974 the revolution in Portugal changed quite a few things in the country and had a positive effect on native dog breeding. It certainly helped save the Estrela as working people were able to show their working dogs and in fact native dogs were preferred. The revolution also meant crime rates went up in the country and more people wanted guard dogs. It can be found in several different countries today.

Estrela Mountain Dog

The Dog You See Today

The Estrela Mountain Dog is large to giant in size and weighs 66 to 110 pounds and stands 24 to 29 inches tall. It has an athletic and powerful build and a tail set somewhat low that has a hook at its tip and is feathered. The feet have thick pads, are oval shaped and have closed toes with hair between the pads and black nails. Its chest is broad and fairly deep and it has a muscular shot neck and a thick tuft of hair beneath the throat that is hard. Dewlaps can happen but in show dogs are not desirable. The front legs are straight and strong and the shoulders slope slightly.

There are two coat types, long and short. Long types have a coat that is flat or a little wavy, coarse, thick and close. The undercoat is dense and there is short and smooth hair on the head and legs, but longer hair on the neck, rear, tail and back of the legs. Males have a lion mane look. The short coat types are similar it is really just the length that changes, they have a coat that is slightly coarse, thick and short with a dense undercoat that is shorter too. There is some fathering but it is shorter. Common colors are grey, shades of yellow, fawn, white, black and brindle.

The Estrela has a broad and large head that is powerful and has a skull that is somewhat rounded. Its muzzle has an almost straight topline and tapers somewhat should not be pointed. It ends with a large black nose with nostrils that are well open. It has black lips that are closed tightly with a strong jaw and a scissor bite. Its thin ears are droopy rose shaped that fold backwards, small and triangular shaped. Its eyes are medium sized, amber or dark colored, oval shaped and have black rimmed eyelids and obvious eyebrows.

The Inner Estrela Mountain Dog


The Estrela is an intelligent dog and has been developed to be independent when it is out guarding flocks of sheep. It is very loyal but its willfulness and strength means it needs experienced owners who can be strong and confident leaders with it. It is territorial and will bark to let you know of a stranger approaching, and act to defend its home and family too with a lot of courage and with no hesitation. Indoors it tends to be calm but it can move surprisingly quickly if it feels it is needed and it does have a playful side to it. It is distrustful of strangers but with good socialization it will not overreact to them, just remain wary of them and watchful.

This dog makes a very affectionate companion and is gentle when raised well. It thrives on its interactions with its family and owner, and prefers not to be left alone for long periods. It makes a very good family dog with good socialization and training and should be obedient with good leadership. It is not aggressive at all unless its protective instincts have been triggered. It does bark occasionally, especially if it does feel especially protective, and that bark is deep and loud.

Living with an Estrela Mountain Dog

What will training look like?

The Estrela Mountain Dog is an intelligent dog and can be trained but it does take experience not new owners, as it can be independent and stubborn. You will need to stay consistent and firm at all times and make it clear you are the boss, but also remain patient, calm and use positive training methods. Offer it rewards, encourage it, use treats and motivate rather than scold or punish. Along with basic obedience training it will need early socialization too, introduce it to different places, people, sounds, situations, dogs, other animals and so on so it gets used to them and reacts appropriately. This is especially important with this breed because then it is not governed by its territorial and protective instincts. Keep training sessions short and interesting, if it gets bored it can refuse to do anything. Training and socialization like this is a great way to build on the bond between you.

Estrela Mountain Dog

How active is the Estrela Mountain Dog?

The Estrela will need a fair amount of physical exercise and mental stimulation, though it is not a highly active dog. It will need fairly active owners and is best in a home with space and a yard that is well fenced in. It should be taken out for a couple of walks plus have some physical play with you. The walks can be one long one and one more moderate one but make sure it is leashed and trained so it does not drag you around. At puppy ages there should be just gentle play and no high jumps as they can easily injure their bones and joints at that age. It will finish growing by about the age of 2 years. It enjoys being outside, it can happily join you for hikes, jogs or a good romp through the woods and such.

Caring for the Estrela Mountain Dog

Grooming needs

When it comes to grooming it depends partly on what coat type it is as to what is involved. They both shed a moderate amount so expect hair around the home, but the shorter coat is easier to brush and should be good with a couple of brushes a week, whereas the longer coat will tangle easily so needs more brushing. They are both heavier shedding during seasonal times too. A grooming rake is good for removing knots and mats and then the slicker brush will make it nice and shiny looking. Only bathe it when it really needs one as otherwise that can damage its natural oils. For the same reason only use a canine shampoo when it is bath time, nothing else and make sure you rinse really well so you do not leave soap residue behind.

It will also need its nails trimmed when they get too long taking care not to cut into the lower half of the nail where the blood vessels and nerves are, as that can cause bleeding and pain to the dog. Its ears should be checked weekly for signs of infection and then given a clean. This can be with a wipe using a damp cloth, or a cotton ball soaked in a dog cleanser solution, just never insert anything down the ear canal, that can cause damage and pain. Then its teeth should be brushed as often as it allows it, some dogs will let you do it daily, but of not at least try for two to three times a week.

Feeding Time

It will eat about 3½ to 7 cups of a good quality dry dog food a day, split into at least two meals to avoid problems with bloat. The amount one Estrela can eat differs to another because it changes according to their size, age, level of activity, metabolism rate and health.

How is the Estrela Mountain Dog with children and other animals?

With good socialization the Estrela is very good with children, especially if raised with them, it will see them as part of its family to protect. It can be affectionate towards them, gentle, kind and playful sometimes too. Make sure the children are taught how to touch and play with it in a kind way. In general this breed gets along okay with other dogs and other pets too as long as it has been socialized, though some may need time to adjust to another dog in the home, with patience it should be fine.

What Might Go Wrong?

Health Concerns

The Estrela Mountain Dog has a life span of about 10 to 14 years and is a hardy and healthy dog. There are some issues it faces as a large dog such as joint dysplasia and it can also deal with the usual things like bloat and ear infections.

Estrela Mountain Dog

Biting Statistics

In reports of dogs attacking people and doing bodily harm in the US and in Canada over the last 35 years there is no mention of this breed. It is not an aggressive dog and should not be a problem around other people. Socialization and training are a part of that though, as is making sure it gets the exercise and stimulation it needs and the attention it needs. There are no safe dogs 100% of the time in any situation, even your most friendly and popular family dogs are involved in incidents. Just make sure you give it the tools to make it more trustworthy and give more confidence.

Your Pup’s Price Tag

The Estrela Mountain Dog puppy will cost at least $1200 from a decent breeder, more if you are looking to use a top breeder of show dogs. It is important to do your research and find a breeder with a good reputation that is trustworthy. Avoid looking at quicker options that are far less trustworthy like pet stores, puppy mills or backyard breeders. Another option to finding your new best friend is to look at local shelters and rescues, there may be more mixed breeds than anything else but they have a lot of love to give. Adoption fees are about $50 to $400.

Initial items will cost about $200 for things like a crate, carrier, bowls, collar and leash and such. When your dog is home it will need a vet visit for deworming, micro chipping, shots, spaying or neutering, blood tests and a physical and this will cost another $290.

Then the yearly costs of pet ownership are another factor. Health costs like basic care of flea and tick prevention, shots, check ups and then pet insurance is about $485 a year. Miscellaneous costs like basic training, toys, miscellaneous items and license is another $245 a year. A good quality dry dog food and dog treats each year will cost about $270 which gives an annual starting figure of about $1000.


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The Estrela Mountain Dog is a large dog so owners need to be prepared for what that means. It will take more work to groom it, more work to clean up after it, socialization and training need to be done well so by the time it is fully grown it is obedient and knows the rules. It is a loyal and affectionate dog that is also hard working and committed. It has strong protective instincts and care must be taken to make sure that does not turn to unnecessary aggression.

Featured Image Credit: Estrela Mountain Dog | Tom Woodward, Flickr CC 2.0

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.

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