The Portuguese Podengo, is classed as a ‘warren hound’ (sight and scent) that was mostly used for hunting in days gone by and is still an active and energetic dog. These sighthounds have been used for centuries in Portugal to hunt, and even now, the breed is largely still an active pack hunter given the chance. It is divided into three categories of size, which are not interbred. Among their distinctive characteristics are large, erect, triangular ears; a pyramid-shaped head that tapers to the nose; and expressive, almond-shaped eyes. The smaller dogs of this breed rode aboard ships from Portugal to the Americas, acting as rodent exterminators! To this day they are known to be strong rabbit hunters, with either a short, smooth, dense fur or a harsher, longer, wiry coat.
The Estrela Mountain Dog is another Portuguese dog, a purebred dog from the Estrela Mountains of Portugal. Courageous, protective, and loyal, these are big dogs with a distinctive thick heavy, feathery coat, with males in good working condition weighing between 88 and 110 pounds, and their thick coat makes them look even bigger! Bred as a guard for homesteads and herds, it is one of the oldest breeds in the Iberian Peninsula. A large, athletic dog, it is a formidable opponent for any predator. It is calm but fearless, and will not hesitate to react to danger, making it an exceptional watchdog as well as an excellent guard dog, with a tendency to bark when protecting his or her territory. It is intelligent, loyal, and faithful, affectionate to those it knows but wary of those it does not and is instinctively protective of any children in its family. It needs early and continued socialization to be trustworthy around small pets and other dogs.
This dog is not a pet for everyone, and strong ownership is important – you will need to reinforce who is the boss! Their coat can be long or short and has a dense undercoat. They shed a moderate amount, but the shorter coat is easier to groom whereas the longer coat will tangle easily so needs more brushing. They are both heavier shedding during seasonal times too.
Another dog Portugal has given its name to is the Portuguese Water Dog. This dog has become a popular breed, but I wonder if many people know its origins. It descends from dogs originally bred by fishermen who sailed the Atlantic coast to as far as Newfoundland searching for cod.
These medium sized, curly coated dogs drove fish into the nets, retrieved tackle that fell overboard and swam between boats carrying messages. One of their distinctive characteristics is their webbed feet.
Nowadays, they are a calm, intelligent and - of course - a water loving breed, fun-loving and friendly. They thrive with training and are well suited to dog sports such as agility, obedience, therapy work, tracking, and naturally, water work. One advantage is they are ‘low fur shedders’, but will need frequent brushing and clipping regularly, or their coat will become long and unmanageable.
My final choice is the largest Portuguese dog breed, the Alentejo mastiff, also known as the Portuguese mastiff or Rafeiro do Alentejo. These dogs have long limbs and sturdy bodies, and also are a heavyweight with a top weight of 133 pounds with a massive head, dark eyes and small droopy ears. They have a calm but watchful nature, and are another dog bred to protect herds and farming settlements in Portugal.
Self-confident, independent, protective, territorial and calm, they’re ready to defend anyone or anything they feel a sense of guardianship over. It’s interesting to note that centuries of nighttime watch duties seem to have made this dog breed prone to being active at night. When socialised appropriately, this mastiff gets on unexpectedly well with the household children, often playing gently with them. Similarly, they can be trained to accept other pets.
But as with all dogs, despite their tolerance of children and other pets, care should be taken owing to their size and potential strength.