Portuguese Watchdog

Linda Simon
Dr Linda Simon (MVB MRCVS, University College Dublin)
Photo of adult Portuguese Watchdog
Schiowa / Wikipedia.org

While exact details are unknown, it is thought that the Portuguese Watchdog is a truly ancient breed that has been in existence for millennia. Though classified as a Mastiff type dog, they do not display many of the physical features seen in a typical Mastiff, instead resembling Labrador Retrievers. They can be differentiated from Labradors easily thanks to their characteristic wolf grey and brindle coats.

More so than anything, the Portuguese Watchdog is renowned for the dedication it shows to its owners and its willingness to sacrifice itself to protect those it loves. A superb watch dog and guard dog, this breed will easily deter any wolf from a field or burglar from a yard. In the wrong hands, the Portuguese Watchdog can become aggressive and dangerous, so it is important that they are homed with an experienced and capable owner.

About & History

The Portuguese Watchdog is also known as the Cão de Castro Laboreiro, which translates to mean 'the dog from Castro Laboreiro', with Castro Laboreiro being a mountainous region in the north of Portugal. This region was once remote and secluded, full of predatory threats, such as wolves and bears.

It is impossible to know the true origins of the breed, as though it is believed to be a truly ancient dog, there are sparse records to prove this. In fact, the Portuguese Kennel Club itself states that any theory on their ancestry is 'pure fiction'. The most widely held belief is that the Portuguese Watchdog is a descendant of the ancient Molosser dogs. His ancestors would have travelled with the nomadic farmers for thousands of years, offering protection to both them and their livestock.

Inevitably, with the rise of modern farming, the Portuguese Watchdog largely fell from favour. Nowadays, the Portuguese Watchdog is used as both a companion animal and watch dog (of both land and livestock), largely restricted to their native Portugal. The first breed standard was written by Mr. Manuel Marques, a Portuguese veterinarian, in the early 1900s. Internationally, the UKC recognise them within their Guard dog group, while the FCI recognise them within their Mastiff section. Incredibly, there are thought to be only 500 breed members in existence today.

It is interesting to note that some believe that the Portuguese Watchdog was brought to Newfoundland by Portuguese sailors in the 1500s and may have contributed to the Labrador dog breed; the physical similarities being considerable. However, as with all theories on the history of the Portuguese Watchdog, this is just speculation.

It should be mentioned that many sources confuse the Portuguese Watchdog with the Rafeiro do Alentejo (also known as the Portuguese Mastiff), an entirely different, though probably closely-related, Portuguese breed of dog.


Portuguese Watchdog Large Photo
Schiowa / Wikipedia.org

As mentioned, the Portuguese Watchdog does bear close resemblance to the Labrador Retriever, a breed that more of us will be familiar with. Broadly speaking, the Portuguese Watchdog should be sturdy and robust, with a rectangular body. Unlike other Mastiff type dogs, the Portuguese Watchdog should be free of wrinkling and not overly-sized. They have a broad head with a long muzzle. Their almond shaped eyes may be brown or black, though there nose is always black. Their ears are not too large, and should fall close to the face. They have deep chests with a tucked- up abdomen and their back should not be curved. Their limbs are well-muscled and end in round feet which may have either single or double dew claws.

The Portuguese Watchdog is well-known for its short, straight coat and attractive colouring. Fur can be a mix of grey, brown or red. Cor do monte or "colour of the mountain" is the preferred coat colour of breed fanciers, which includes a mix of grey and brindle.

Males measure between 55cm and 60cm, while females reach heights of 52-57cm. Individual breed members’ weights vary greatly but are generally between 20kg and 36kg.

Character & Temperament

A dog that has served humankind for thousands of years, the Portuguese Watchdog is both loyal and obedient, willing to serve its master. It excels when it comes to the role of guard dog, alert to its surroundings and fiercely protective of its property.

While not overtly aggressive, the Portuguese Watchdog can be hostile with new people, and is not likely to display affection with those it doesn’t know well, instead choosing to bark and threaten them. However, it does form close attachments with its family, and often bonds strongly to one family member in particular.

Without sufficient socialisation, the Portuguese Watchdog may not tolerate other animals or children, and so requires plenty of attention and handling when young. Most breed members cannot be trusted with smaller animals, as they may try to attack them.


Not a task for the faint of heart, the Portuguese Watchdog is a particularly difficult breed of dog to train. They have a tendency towards dominance and can be very head strong. They require an experienced trainer that will act as the alpha in the relationship and will never allow the dog to think it is in charge. As is common in fiercely loyal breeds, the Portuguese Watchdog is unlikely to obey commands from anyone other than closely trusted family members. They will question authority constantly, so need firm and consistent instruction at all times. As they can be sensitive they benefit most from a positive reinforcement programme.


It is difficult to comment accurately on the health of the breed, as no relevant studies have been performed and there are so few breed members in existence. Given the rarity of the breed, it is paramount that only healthy animals are used for reproducing. All breeding adults should be examined by a veterinarian and the following conditions should be monitored for:

Hip Dysplasia and Elbow Dysplasia

Within the United States, the Orthopaedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) is the organisation trusted to perform tests on breeding animals and ensure that they are not likely to have puppies with dysplastic joints. Similar organisations exist worldwide, and are used by prudent breeders. The use of such screening programmes is most important within small breed populations, where it is even more essential to ensure that the population is healthy.

Ocular Conditions

Ocular conditions might include entropion, ectropion, cataracts, Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) and corneal dystrophy. For those Portuguese Watchdogs that are being bred in the USA, they can be tested by the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF). The value in this is that breeding animals that are apparently normal may be found to carry defective genes and can be removed from the breeding pool.


The likelihood of an animal developing bloat within their lifetime is thought to have a genetic component. Other factors, such as an animal having a particularly deep chest, can also play a role. It is impossible to predict which animals will develop this condition, so some vets elect to perform a prophylactic surgery called a gastropexy on high risk animals.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Throughout history, the Portuguese Watchdog has led an active lifestyle, patrolling fields tirelessly and reacting quickly to any perceived threat. As such, they require regular exercise to keep their minds occupied. They would ideally live in a rural setting where they have a large expanse of land to roam. If this is not possible, they should be provided with a couple of long walks each day.

Unlike other intelligent breeds of dog, the Portuguese Watchdog does not get frustrated if not provided with mental stimulation, and is content to patrol its land for hours on end. It would not be suitable to attempt to keep this breed within a small home.


As the Portuguese Watchdog can be strong-willed, any grooming routines should be introduced early on in their life. An owner should attempt to make grooming a positive experience by rewarding good behaviour with praise and food treats. The short coat of the Portuguese Watchdog benefits from twice weekly brushing, and their dew claws will need to be trimmed every few months. They will also need regular ear checks and should ideally have their teeth brushed a few times a week.

Famous Portuguese Watchdogs

Given the very small population size, it is not surprising that there are no celebrity Portuguese Watchdogs.


There are no popular Portuguese Watchdog crosses, and efforts are currently going in to keeping the breed safe from extinction rather than out-breeding them.

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