My husband, seeing me grieve, broached the subject of another dog - we still had our previously rescued dog who was missing her buddy, so another companion would be good for her too. I didn’t want a young dog, or anything too big, and we started casting around to adopt another dog - maybe one whose owner had died, or the family couldn’t afford to keep it, we weren’t too fussy.

Well, we ended up with a Rafeiro do Alentejo, also known as the Alentejo Mastiff – probably one of the biggest dogs in Portugal. He weighs 42kg already, and is everything I didn’t want – he’s young (not 3 yet) and it’s like having a pony in the house, yet all he wants to do is sleep and guard. Oh, and get under my feet – he lays in the kitchen pretending to be a rug, and everyone walks around him or steps over him, and has every trust that we won’t step on him or kick him, even our other dog has learned to step over him too. He’s so docile that I can safely shove him out of the way with my feet to get to my only work surface to put the kettle on.

Defender, not an attacker

They are known as the Portuguese Watchdog - big head, thick neck, long legs, teeth a shark would be proud of, tail curled at the end, and his facial markings make him look a bit stupid, with darker circles around his eyes and cheeks. They are not known as a herding dog, although sometimes he pushes against our legs to guide us, and his weight makes it difficult to resist!

It’s hard to believe he still has some growing time left, when he will reach a top weight of around 50kg. Getting him to ‘sit’ has taken weeks, no matter how hard we pushed his rump down and waved a treat over his head. He interestedly watched as I rolled a ball - but had no inclination to run after it. He will play with one of those heavy strong ropes, but bores easily. It’s like he wants to save his energy for the real work – guarding, and as it gets dusk, it starts. Barking at leaves rustling or imagined intruders lurking, ghostly wolves ready to attack - who knows what his imagination conjures up.

His breed is tough to strangers but docile with children and is not an attack dog. He has the distinctive low, deep tone of barking, which can be heard from a distance – thankfully our neighbours are some way off. They are often used as a pack for large-game hunting - boar for instance - though our boy definitely won’t be used for that here.

Mostly calm and steadfast, but not aggressive, they are independent, very watchful and self-assured. Affectionate with his own family, but suspicious of strangers, especially after dark. As a breed, they can be stubborn and dominant. Oh yes, tick, tick, tick. He’s all of those things. This breed is not for beginners, and needs plenty of space, being an excellent farm or estate watchdog.

Credits: envato elements; Author: Lifeonwhite;

Not my dog!

Well, so far, he’s not my dog. Husband and dog have made a connection, and he (the dog) listens less to me than he does to the husband. I wonder if he actually knows his name because I can call him repeatedly, and eventually he will turn up, ambling around the corner like he owns the place. Any mishap or transgression, I murmur to the husband, ‘your dog - you deal with it’!

Patience is required - plus gentle persuasion - because he is decidedly stubborn. His breed is sensitive to reprimands and he is eager to receive affection, and he isn’t averse to looking deep into my eyes as I brush another mass of fur from his back - maybe he’s starting to love me just a little bit too!

Related article: How to cope with losing a pet


Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man. 

Marilyn Sheridan