Villano de las Encartaciones

Pippa Elliott
Dr Pippa Elliott (BVMS MRCVS, University of Glasgow)
Photo of adult Villano de las Encartaciones
Javierme /

The Villano de Las Encartaciones (Villano for short) is a dog breed rarer than the Giant Panda. Indeed, in 2018, there were around 1,800 pandas in existence, but less than 100 Villanos.

The Villano de las Encartaciones (not to be confused with the Villanuco de las Encartaciones) was bred for a purpose and has a long history. Sadly, their fierceness and hunting abilities have little place in the modern world, which is reflected in a dramatic decline in numbers. These once-desirable traits include the ability to herd semi-wild cattle, and control them by biting down hard on their necks until the beasts yield.

About & History

There is much debate about the origins of the Villano, which is argued by some to be the 12th century and by others the 19th century. What we can say for certain is the Villano de las Encartaciones is local to the region of the same name, in the most western part of the Basque Country.

The breed was a working dog – specifically a herding dog. Their job was to herd sheep, protect the homestead, and control cattle. However, these weren’t pliable domestic cattle but semi-wild beasts roaming the mountains that didn’t have contact with man from one year to the next. As you can imagine, handling wild cattle is not easy, which is where the courage and brute strength of the Villano made them invaluable to farmers. In fact, the name "Villano" in Spanish translates to mean "Villain" in English, so it's clear they needed a bit of villainous tenacity to do their job!

The genetic heritage of the Villano includes input from a variety of Spanish breeds, including the Cimarrón Uruguayo, the imposing Presa Canario, and the Azores Cattle Dog. The breed nearly became extinct around the time of World War II. It took concerted efforts in the 1960s to bring numbers back from the brink. To do this meant out-breeding with the Spanish Alano. The resulting dogs, whilst close to the original breed, are arguably lighter and faster than their ancestors.


Villano de las Encartaciones Large Photo
Javierme /

Described as a medium-sized dog, the Villano de Las Encartaciones has something of the look of a sporty (or long-legged) mastiff about them. They are a sturdy, heavy set dog with a deep, powerful chest and a strong neck.

The Villano has a long, sickle-shaped tail. In their native regions their ears are often cropped to give them an even more intimidating (as if it was needed!) appearance. They also have a good sized muzzle, well equipped with teeth for clamping down on those errant wild cattle.

Unlike other mastiff-type dogs, they have slightly longer and more slender legs, which gives them the advantage of speed and agility, in addition to strength. The Villano has a short flat coat, which is usually a dark colour with brindle being most common. Other coat colours include solid black or dark brown. Tan or cinnamon is not typical of the breed, and neither are large patches of white.

Character & Temperament

Give a Villano de las Encartaciones a guarding job to do and they’ll be happy. These high-energy dogs are the action hero of the canine world. Indeed, if they were a movie star they’d be Vin Diesel, always busting their way out of trouble.

The majority of the character traits of the Villano reflect their job of work. They are brave, courageous, and protective. Out on a mountain side, when faced with a threat, Villanos have to think for themselves and this can make them difficult to train.

Indeed, the Villano is suspicious of strangers, which makes them good guard dogs but not good as family pets. In a domestic setting, it is vital the dog is well-socialised from a pup, so visitors or strangers don’t arouse their aggressive side.

However, when an owner earns their dog’s respect, the Villano is said to be loyal, calm, sociable, and gentle. But this is only if the dog is given plenty of exercise. Even the most obedient Villano becomes a ticking time-bomb if not given a sufficient outlet for their energy.


In the right hands, the Villano is highly trainable and makes for an obedient dog. However, this only happens when the dog has an active lifestyle and is trained by an experienced handler.

The Villano requires plenty of mental stimulation and a job to do. However, this does mean that one-to-one time spent training helps bond this dog to his handler. It is essential to use reward-based training methods that encourage the dog to offer desirable behaviours. Dominance-based methods are liable to create a dog that’s well-behaved for the handler, but is unpredictable around family-members or strangers.


There is no statistical data as to the health problems linked to the Villano de las Encartaciones. This does not mean they are a paragon of good health merely that the population is low and the relevant data has not been collected. However, the anatomy and lifestyle of the Villano does place them at increased risk of certain conditions.

Gastric Dilation & Volvulus (GDV) or Bloat

Similar to other deep-chested breeds, such as the Great Dane or the Labrador, the anatomy of the Villano places them at greater risk of developing bloat, also known as GDV.

This condition is extremely serious and is almost always fatal without corrective surgery. Even then, the surgery itself carries risks and the mortality rate is higher than for other surgeries.

GDV is the result of the stomach flipping over on itself, sealing the entrance and exit. This means that gas builds up within the closed stomach, causing it to distend. The twisting also restricts the blood supply to the stomach, leading to tissue death. This combination of a distended stomach with a poor blood supply can rapidly lead to shock and toxicity.

But the problems don’t end there, because shock reduces the blood supply to vital organs, such as the kidneys and liver. All of which means unless the twist in the stomach is corrected, the outlook is bleak indeed.

Bloat is most likely to happen when the dog exercises on a full stomach. Other risk factors include a diet high in fermentable carbohydrate, such as soy or pulses. Also, feeding from a height and offering large meals increase the chances of bloat developing.

Symptoms of bloat include retching, but nothing coming up. The dog also tends to be restless and distressed. Collapse can happen within a matter of hours. If bloat is suspected, then emergency veterinary attention is vital to the dog’s recovery.

Tick Borne Diseases

The active lifestyle of the Villano places them at increased risk of acquiring ticks. Depending on where the region where the dog lives, these ticks may carry infectious disease. Examples of tick-borne diseases include: Ehrilichia, Anaplasmosis, Lyme Disease, Babesiosis, Bartonella, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and Hepatozoonosis.

These conditions have vague symptoms, such as fever, lameness, and a lack of energy. Whilst treatment with antibiotics can be effective when caught early, reaching a diagnosis can be tricky. Prompt removal of ticks is most effective at preventing these infectious canine diseases. This involves using a combination of anti-tick products that repel ticks and prevent them attaching, along with a daily tick check to remove any that have attached.

Exercise and Activity Levels

The Villano de las Encartaciones is the opposite of a coach potato. Activity is like breathing, an essential act for this breed. Ideally, they not only need to be on the go but have a job to do, such as guarding or herding.

The Villano is best suited as a farm or guard dog, and absolutely unsuited to life in a city or apartment. If the need for exercise and mental stimulation is not met, the consequences can be dire. At best, the Villano may divert his energy into barking or chewing, and, at worst, they become unruly and even aggressive out of sheer pent up frustration.


A good bristle brush is all you need to keep the coat of a Villano de las Encartaciones healthy. Regular weekly brushing helps distribute conditioning oils over the surface, which waterproof the coat. In addition, grooming keeps the skin in good condition and reduces shedding.

Famous Villanos de las Encartaciones

To find out more about the Villano de las Encartaciones, this active Facebook group is a good starting point.


This is a rare breed that five decades ago was near extinction. At the present time, breeding efforts therefore concentrate on reviving numbers, rather than out-crossing to produce Villano hybrids.

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