This is a magnificent animal. It is a breed of dog that has been used to guard herds and homesteads in the Estrela Mountains of Portugal for centuries.
The earliest of the Estrela ancestors were herd-guarding dogs in the Serra da Estrela, in what is now Portugal. Since there are no written records, it is not known for sure whether the ancestors which contributed to this breed were brought by the Romans when they colonised the Iberian Peninsula, or later by the invading Visigoths. Regards, there is no disagreement that the Estrela is one of the oldest breeds in Portugal.
Those early guard dogs were not the distinct breed known today. Rather, the Estrela developed over a period of hundreds of years. Shepherds would have chosen to breed the dogs that had the characteristics necessary to survive in their mountain environment and to do their job: large size, strength, endurance, agility, a deep chest, ability to tolerate a marginal diet, the set of the legs, a powerful mouth, a tuft of hair around the neck, an easy, jog-like gait, a warm coat and a watchful, mistrustful, yet loyal temperament. Since the region was isolated, there was little breeding with non-native dogs, leading to the purity of the breed.
Life changed little for the people and dogs of the region, even into the 20th century. The isolation of the region meant the breed was relatively unknown outside it until the early 1900s and, even then, they were mostly ignored in early dog shows. The Portuguese admired foreign breeds much more than their own. Shepherds frequently sterilised their dogs to prevent them from leaving their flocks to mate. These factors had a negative effect on the Estrela so from 1908 to 1919 special shows called 'concursos' were held to promote and preserve the Estrela breed in the region. Special guardian working trials were included in these shows, the trials consisting of an owner bringing his dog into a large field with many flocks of sheep. The dog was observed by judges for its reactions coming into the field and, as the shepherd was ordered to move the flock, which inevitably produced stragglers, the dog was expected to move from his spot of guarding to bring the stragglers back, and then assume a leadership position at the head of the flock.
There is no record of the Estrela outside Portugal prior to 1972 and, while some undoubtedly did leave the country, they were probably interbred with no effort to maintain the breed. In 1972 and 1973, pairs were imported to the US. Others have probably been imported into the US since then, but it was not until 1998 that the first papered dog was imported into the United states. The United Kingdom was the first country to establish the breed outside Portugal in 1972 and today the Estrela can be found in many countries.
Today the Estrela Mountain Dog remains true to its guardian heritage. It is still a working dog, guarding flocks in its native Portugal and elsewhere (the Portuguese Marines have even used them as patrol dogs). It is also an ideal family pet because of its alertness, loyalty, intelligence and its instinct to nurture young - all features it needed in its earlier days. Isn't this picture beautiful?
It has two coat types (a long coat or a short coat) and both resemble the texture of goat hair. The main colours are fawn, wolf grey and yellow, with or without brindling, white markings or shading of black throughout the coat. All colours have a dark facial mask, preferably black. Blue colouration is very undesirable. The desirable height for mature males if 25.5 - 28.5 inches and for mature females 24.5 - 27 inches. Mature males in good working condition weight between 88 - 100 pounds and females (also in good working condition( between 66 - 88 pounds.
(I used Wikepedia as a source and they state at the beginning of their article that they do not cite any references and sources with regard to this animal but I feel most of the information is pretty accurate.)