Portuguese Cattle Dog

Bred to Guard Livestock Against Wolves, This Large Intelligent Dog Responds Well to a Dominant Owner

Originating from Castro Laboreiro in Portugal, the Portuguese Cattle Dog (also known as the "Cão de Castro Laboreiro," which translates to "Dog from Castro Laboreiro") is a relatively modern incarnation of a Molosser-type breed. The ancestral dog worked with livestock, protecting it against large predators including wolves, and that task has continued somewhat to this day. Although the Portuguese Cattle Dog is largely unnecessary now given that the area is no longer quite so remote because of modern highway development, it is still popular in the area as a companion and guard dog.


The origins of the Portuguese Cattle Dog are not known, but it probably came from Euro Asia, where dogs were first domesticated. Records do not exist for it prior to 1900. There is some mention of the Portuguese Cattle Dog in the 19th century, but none at all before 1800. Novelist Camilo Castelo Branco mentioned the dogs in his 1882 novella A Brasileira de Prazins, saying, "the dogs of Castro Laboreiro, very fierce...." It may be related to the Portuguese Watchdog, also known as the Rafeiro do Alentejo or Alentejo Mastiff. That breed probably descended from large dogs on the Tibetan highlands thousands of years ago. These Mastiffs migrated westward into Asia minor and across the Balkans following the Romans from the Black Sea to the Atlantic. Through natural selection over centuries, they acquired characteristics that were somewhat different from region to region.

Excellent in guarding livestock against such predators as wolves, it should be noted that the Portuguese Cattle Dog was not a herding dog, but instead a defender of the herd.

Originally, the dog was adopted because it suited the traditional lifestyle which was typical of that population. Then, people migrated seasonally so that they could continue to feed livestock – one place in summer, another in winter. These cyclic migrations were always to the same places and often just a few kilometers apart.

This lifestyle suited the breed, since it allowed the breed to develop genetically with "survival of the fittest," in that subsequent generations were even more suitable as guard dogs than previous ones, and the changeable lifestyle required adaptability and hardiness that remains in the breed to this day.

Because the breed was so isolated, the gene pool persisted unchanged and the dogs remained constant companions and guards for the mountain people with whom they resided. Rustic and perfectly balanced, this dog acclimated itself to whatever environment it encountered and developed physical and behavioral characteristics to match.

With the elimination of the wolf and other large animals that preyed upon cattle, the Portuguese Cattle Dog was no longer needed to guard livestock, and many of the dogs were abandoned. They became feral and actually became predators themselves – the very creatures against whom they were bred to protect. Today, the Portuguese Cattle Dog has been largely removed from its native locations and is now a companion and guard dog.

First exhibited in a dog show in 1914, the breed standard was first written in 1935 by veterinarian Manuel Marques. At that point, the breed was recognized by Clube Portugues de Canicultura, Portugal's official kennel club associated with the Fédération Cynologique Internationale, founded in 1897. It is recognized by the FCI in Section 2.2, Group 2, as Mastiffs, Mountainside, Portugal, breed number 150. It was recognized by the United Kennel Club in 2006.


The breed ironically resembles a wolf in appearance, large but not oversized. In adulthood, the height is 21 to 24 inches at the shoulder with a weight of between 50 and 75 pounds, but no more than 88 pounds by breed standard, with females somewhat smaller. The coat, too, is wolf-like, with dark or light coloring. Most breeders preferred the "authentic" color, called cor do monte or "mountain color." This is a mixture of dark and light gray interspersed with individual hairs that are brown in color ("pineseed") or dark red (mahogany) in a brindle patterning.


The fearless Portuguese Cattle Dog is very intelligent and can be loyal and docile – but can also react aggressively, especially toward strangers. Other than the feral Portuguese Cattle Dog, the domesticated Portuguese Cattle Dog is exceedingly trustworthy and tolerates children within the family very well. In keeping with the breed's "wolf-like" characteristics, even domesticated Portuguese Cattle Dogs are suspicious of outsiders, and will watch them closely. If you decide to adopt one of these rare dogs, be aware that you absolutely must be in charge at all times. This is especially important because the Portuguese Cattle Dog will only obey its master, and no one else. Therefore, you must be the dog’s commander and must train your pet to respect you at all times. Because the Portuguese Cattle Dog is such a dominant breed, it may not be receptive to other dogs in the family.

Proper Environment

The Portuguese Cattle Dog is not suited for apartment living and must be in an environment where it is allowed to have plenty of activity daily – at least a large yard, and a long walk. However, the amount of exercise is somewhat secondary to the type of exercise. That is, the Portuguese Cattle Dog is accustomed to working and must be kept busy at all times.


There are no documented health issues specific to Portuguese Cattle Dogs. Those that are inaccurately represented as "purebred" Portuguese Cattle Dogs may in fact be mixes with other breeds, and as a result may manifest genetic health problems specific to the breeds with which they have been interbred. If you choose to buy a Portuguese Cattle Dog, make sure you ask your breeder to detail what type of health testing has been done on the parents of the puppy you intend to buy. Responsible breeders will be able to provide the necessary information. Average life expectancy is said to be 12 to 14 years.


Grooming for this breed is minimal; an occasional bath and brushing should be all that's necessary.


Cão de Castro Laboreiro.

Retrieved April 28, 2014.

Cão de Castro Laboreiro (Castro Laboreiro Livestock Guarding Dog) (Castro Laboreiro Dog) (Portuguese Cattle Dog).

Retrieved April 28, 2014.

Cão de Castro Laboreiro.

Retrieved April 28, 2014.

Castro Laboreiro.

Retrieved April 28, 2014.

Rafeiro do Alentejo (Portuguese Watchdog) (Alentejo Mastiff).

Retrieved April 28, 2014.

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