Portuguese Podengo

Peter Richards
Peter Richards (BVSc, MRCVS, University of Bristol)
Photo of adult Portuguese Podengo

The Portuguese Podengo has several accolades to its name. Not only is it one of the oldest breeds but was selected to be Portugal’s national dog. For over 2,000 years since the Phoenicians brought them from other parts of the Mediterranean, the Portuguese have been accompanied by the Podengo. The Podengo has always been used for hunting and the majority of modern Podengo still fulfil this role. Podengo come in three different sizes: Grande, Medio and Pequeno which defines which type of prey they’re used to hunt. Smaller Podengo are used to hunt rabbits while their larger relatives are sent after deer or boar.

The Podengo shares many characteristics with other hunting dogs. They are highly intelligent and independent. Although this makes them easy to train, they might not always listen to your commands. Podengo are a very active breed and this needs to be taken into account. They require lots of access to the outdoors and would enjoy activities, such as lure coursing or flyball, which allows them to display their physical prowess and agility. If they’re given enough exercise, Podengo can make wonderful indoor companions who like nothing better than accompanying their owners. Podengo Pequeno are especially known for this trait and get on well with children.

About & History

As one of the oldest dog breeds in the world, the Portuguese Podengo is considered a primitive breed. This makes it a suitable choice of national dog for Portugal, the oldest nation state in Europe. Like the Ibizan Hound and other similar breeds around the Mediterranean, it is believed that Portuguese Podengo were brought to the Iberian peninsula by Phoenician and Roman traders. The breed has remained relatively stable during the 2,500 years since their arrival in Portugal, although it’s likely that there was some interbreeding with Moorish dogs in the 8th century.

The breed was selected for its hunting ability rather than to conform to a standard. As a result, a Podengo may be classified in three different sizes (Grande, Medio or Pequeno), which define the quarry the Podengo can hunt. Smaller dogs are used to hunt rabbits, whilst the larger are sent after deer and boar. There are also two coat types, smooth-haired and wire-haired. This divergence is thought to have originated an adaptation to different climates in Portugal. Smooth-haired dogs are more suited to a wetter climate, as their coat dries quicker while a wiry coat provides more protection from the rough brush and sunshine of drier climates.

The Podengo is visible in mosaics and bas reliefs from as early as the 10th century. In early written references, Podengo de Mostra (later shortened to Podengo) was used to refer to pack hunting dogs. This distinguished them from Galgos (Spanish greyhounds), which refers to sight hounds that hunt alone. Podengo Grandes were generally used by the nobility to hunt boar, while the Medio and Pequeno were rabbit hunters used by peasants. The Podengo also accompanied the earliest Portuguese explorers on their voyages to the New World with the Pequeno fulfilling the role of rat-catchers on the ships.

In modern Portugal, the Podengo is one of the ten National Dogs of Portugal and appear as the symbol the Portuguese Kennel Club. Unlike many other working breeds which have slipped into a more domestic setting, most Podengo in Portugal are still used to hunt. Since most show dogs are also hunters, scars from thorn scratches are not considered defects as they would be in other breeds. Podengos have only recently spread to other countries and remain a rare breed outside of Portugal. For example, less than 1000 are present in the USA of which most are Pequeno with wire-coats.


Portuguese Podengo Large Photo

In general, a Podengo is well-proportioned and muscled with a lean build. They have a triangular shaped head, topped with pricked-up ears. The tail is sickle-shaped but does not curl over the dog’s back. A Podengo can be sub-classified by size:

  • Grande – The biggest of the Podengo types, they are typically 55 to 70cm at the withers and weigh 20 to 30kg.
  • Medio – A medium-sized dog with a height of 40 to 55cm at the withers and a weight of 15 to 20kg. The distinction between a small Grande and a large Medio is arbitrary and based on official guidelines.
  • Pequeno – Are much smaller at 20 to 30cm at the withers and weighing 4 to 6kg.

As well as variation in size, there are two different types of coat:

  • Smooth – A smooth coat is short and dense that lies flat against the body. Although the coat is described as smooth, the hair itself is not soft or silky.
  • Wire – A wire coat is often less dense than a smooth coat. However, the hair is rougher and stands out from the body. As a result, wire coat Podengos often have beards.

Finally, the coat can come in a couple of different colours!

  • Yellow with patches of white
  • Fawn with patches of white
  • White with patches of yellow or fawn

Patches of black or brown hair are acceptable but considered undesirable. A solid white Podengo is not considered to conform to the breed standard.

Character & Temperament

Podengo have been hunting dogs for at least 2,000 years and this is reflected in their character and temperament. They are independent dogs who make loyal companions. Children are not a problem for a Podengo if they have been socialised from an early age. They are not overly friendly towards strangers and will be wary, but not aggressive, around them.

Podengo are always alert and know what’s happening around them. This makes them particularly good guard dogs who will let their owner know when something is amiss. However, they also have behavioural traits which some people might find undesirable, such as a particular fondness for digging and barking. Podengo Pequeno are the most fond of their owners and love to accompany them everywhere. This trait makes them susceptible to separation anxiety, so if you’re out for most the day, this should be taken into account.

As with other hunting type dogs, the Podengo has a strong prey instinct so might view other pets, including cats, as legitimate targets unless trained from an early age. It’s harder to accustom Podengo to outdoor animals, so you can expect them to chase squirrels, rabbits and other wildlife.


Photo of Portuguese Podengo puppy

Podengo are intelligent dogs who are amenable to training. Their training regime should start as early as possible to achieve the best results. They respond best to positive reinforcement with food and play. A good recall is essential in this breed as their independent nature can make them wilful.

Socialisation with people and dogs is particularly important for Podengo as a poorly socialised dog will not adapt well to new people. Another potential behavioural problem in Podengo is food guarding. This should be addressed as early as possible especially if your Podengo is expected to live with children.


Although all dogs can suffer from ill health there are diseases associated with the Podengo breed. This may be due to a lack of data since many Podengo are not registered and monitored as closely as other breeds. Despite the lack of reported health issues, it’s still important to query the breeder about the parents’ health to identify possible problems. Podengos have a life expectancy of between 12 and 16 years.

Exercise and Activity Levels

As you would expect from a hunting dog a Podengo has extremely high energy levels. They need plenty of exercise and space to run around in. If these aren’t available, a bored Podengo will quickly find destructive ways to keep themselves entertained. If they have access to a garden it should be securely fenced (at least 6ft high). It’s often recommended that Podengo are exercised on a lead in urban environments to stop them going after neighbourhood cats, which makes having a Podengo in the city particularly time intensive.

They should also be given the opportunity to engage in activities off the lead, such as lure coursing or flyball. Although they have a hunting background Podengo are not suitable to be kept outdoors all the time as their coat isn’t thick enough to resist inclement weather.


In terms of grooming, the Podengo is very low maintenance. Baths are not required more than once every three to six months. Neither the smooth nor the wire coated Podengo have an undercoat, so shedding is often minimal. Even so, a weekly brush with a rubber comb is still recommended to keep their coat in good condition. To retain the rustic look which the breed is known for, their coat should not be trimmed. Other basic care measures, such as nail trimming and teeth brushing, should also be carried out when needed.

Famous Portuguese Podengos

Three Podengo (Tito, Rosa and Nikki) have appeared in various films including Zeus and Roxanne, Soccer Dog, and The Lake House. In fact, Zeus, from Zeus and Roxanne, was played by all three!


There are no recognised Podengo cross-breeds.

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