Cão Fila de São Miguel

Linda Simon
Dr Linda Simon (MVB MRCVS, University College Dublin)
Photo of adult Cão Fila de São Miguel
Pleple2000 / Wikipedia.org

With agriculture a booming industry within the Azores throughout the last few centuries, it is no surprise that they have looked to their trusted dogs to help them with their workload. The Cão Fila de São Miguel has helped farmers protect their livestock, as well as keep them in line, for many years. Not one to shy away from hard work or a challenge, they are used to herd both domesticated and wild cattle.

With a sturdy and powerful body, large head and brindle coat, the Cão Fila de São Miguel is easy to recognise. Many individuals will have their ears cropped into a semi-circle, reminiscent of the ears of Disney’s Mickey Mouse. Ear cropping has become a controversial practice that should only be considered for working dogs in countries where the procedure has not been outlawed.

About & History

The Cão Fila de São Miguel is also known as the Azores Cattle Dog or the São Miguel Cattle Dog. São Miguel is the largest island in the Portuguese Azores. These dogs have worked on the island for many centuries, though there are limited records available. While they have likely existed for many centuries, we are only able to say with certainty that they have been used as working dogs since the 1800s.

It is likely that the Cão Fila de São Miguel was developed from Molosser-type dogs that arrived to the Azores on ships in the 14th century. These dogs were most likely descendants of Portuguese dogs of similar appearance, such as the Rafeiro do Alentejo and the Cão de Castro Laboreiro. Once imported, dogs were employed to both herd livestock and protect farm yard animals and property. It was essential that the dogs be courageous and athletic in order for them to carry out their roles satisfactorily.

This breed was well-respected by the islanders for its strong work ethic and because they would gladly guard their family members; showing an obvious and admirable devotion to their masters.

Some individuals have been exported internationally, mainly to those countries that have strong shipping links with the Azores, such as Portugal and Brazil. It was not until 1984 that the first breed standard was written, as emphasis prior to this was always placed on the dog’s working ability alone. Not long after this, the Portuguese Kennel Club officially recognised the breed and classified him as a Cattle Dog.


Cão Fila de São Miguel Large Photo
Rui Teixeira / Wikipedia.org

Bred for function, it is essential that the Cão Fila de São Miguel maintain the ability to herd livestock with good stamina and protect their herd with strength. Their skull is broad and square in shape and they should have a powerful, large jaw. Their dark brown eyes are oval in shape and uncropped ears should be medium in size and dropping. Their body must be strong and well-muscled and in good proportion with no exaggerated features. They have a broad chest and a straight back. Their tail is of a medium length and will curve slightly. Hind dew claws are permissible.

Their skin is thick and pigmented, while their coat is short and dense. Their fur is always brindle and may be shades of brown, grey or black. Small white patches are accepted. Once matured, males reach heights of 50cm to 60cm and weights of 25kg to 35kg, while the slightly smaller females will weigh from 20kg to 30kg and measure between 48cm and 58cm.

Character & Temperament

With their owner, the Cão Fila de São Miguel will be intensely dedicated and receptive. They show their masters a great deal of admiration and are always keen to do what they are told. They are happy to show affection, though do not tend to overly rely on human companionship. When it comes to their interactions with strangers, the Cão Fila de São Miguel is less compliant and is often very wary of new people. Intensive socialisation can help these dogs become more accepting and can prevent unwanted aggressive behaviour.

An intelligent working dog, this breed will snap at the cows to herd them in certain directions. They show no fear, even when dealing with big, wild cattle. If not used to work, they like to put their mind to something, so will usually take on the role of watch dog and guard dog, even if never asked. They are very protective over the children of the household but cannot be trusted alone with them due to their potential strength.

Socialising the Cão Fila de São Miguel with other animals poses a significant challenge and some will actively pursue and fight with smaller pets. Dog to dog aggression is very common. In most cases, they do best as the only pet in the home.


Training of the Cão Fila de São Miguel must start from a very young age and must be intensive. Training this breed can never stop as they require a dominant presence in their life who keeps them on track during their lifetime. They need a huge amount of exposure to other dogs and people if they are to tolerate them as adults.

Training this dog to do the work they have been bred to do is a doddle and they take to most herding activities very well indeed. They can also excel in obedience as they certainly don’t lack any brains.


With absolutely no health studies having been performed on the Cão Fila de São Miguel, we have to rely on anecdotal evidence when it comes to predicting the health issues they may run in to. It is generally accepted that they are a hardy breed that live well into their teens and enjoy good health.


Any medium to large-sized dog can be prone to bloat, and those with a well let-down chest are at an even higher risk. Older dogs will develop bloat more often than their younger counterparts and pure-bred males are overrepresented. It is hypothesised that those that eat quickly may develop the condition more frequently than slow-eaters, so slow-feeding bowls may be a good investment.

Hip Dysplasia

Hips that are malformed will cause a dog issues for the rest of its life. Initial symptoms may manifest as a reluctance to run and a hesitation to stand from lying down. Signs may be subtle at first but will inevitably worsen as the dog ages and osteoarthritis sets in.

To minimise the risk of puppies being born with hip dysplasia, their parents should be ‘Hip Scored’. Only dogs with acceptable hip scores should be bred from.

Exercise and Activity Levels

The extremely high exercise requirements of the Cão Fila de São Miguel are due to the fact that they would always have been expected to work for long hours without a break. They have impressive stamina and a minimum of 90 minutes of daily exercise are required for those breed members that are not used to actively work in the fields. In the absence of a job, owners should encourage their dog to participate in regular activities, such as agility work, to keep both their mind and body active.

Any exercise should be carried out in a controlled and supervised area as this dog cannot be trusted around other pets. When in public, they must be kept on a secure harness or lead and any garden they have access to should be tightly fenced in.


Having had to deal with spending much of their day outside in all weather conditions, it is no surprise that the Cão Fila de São Miguel is a low maintenance breed that needs little in the way of grooming on a day-to-day basis. A good brush down once a week will remove dead fur and any dry skin that has accumulated. Bathing should only be done when necessary and a mild shampoo, such as one containing oatmeal or aloe vera is advised.

When ears are not cropped, they stand in a semi-erect fashion and can be prone to infections so should be regularly checked. For most, an ear cleaning once or twice a month will suffice.

Famous Azores Cattle Dogs

A breed that is not well known outside of its homeland of the Azores, and one that is mainly seen within the not-so-glamorous world of farmyard work, there are no celebrity breed members of whom to speak.


It is likely that the farmers on the Azores have been cross-breeding their farmyard dogs with other local breeds over the years, but there are no specific Cão Fila de São Miguel cross-breeds that are currently recognised.

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