Portugal - Estrela Mountain DogThe 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 colonized the Iberian Peninsula, or later by the invading Visigoths. Regardless, there is no disagreement that the Estrela is one of the oldest breeds in Portugal. Those early livestock guardian dogs were not the distinct breed we know 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, a powerful mouth, 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 1900’s, and even then, they were mostly ignored in early dog shows. The Portuguese admired foreign breeds much more than their own. Shepherds often castrated their dogs to prevent them from leaving their flocks to mate. These factors were having a negative effect on the Estrela. So from 1908 to 1919, special shows were held to promote and preserve the Estrela breed in the region. During this period there was some attempt at a registry (of which there is no surviving record). Special livestock guardian working trials were included in these shows. The trial consisted of an owner/shepherd 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.