Ponta da Pinta
Estrela Mountain Dog
Is the Estrela a good family dog?
Their immense docility and dedication to their owners makes them potentially great family dogs, very patient with children. However, they need to learn to respect them, from day one, in order to control their tendency to be dominant and to prevent them from being overly protective and biting unknown people.
Do they need to be taught how to guard?
No, their protection and guarding instinct is natural, but socialization is very important, so that they won’t become aggressive and learn to control that instinct, accepting visitors peacefully.
Should they attend obedience classes?
Definitely and the sooner the better, providing they’re done by an ethical and qualified dog trainer. Those classes, which should also be attended by the owners, will help them control their Estrela puppy better, prevent the pup from becoming too dominant, help them overcome insecurity and fear and become a happier animal. They might also teach them to refuse food offered by strangers, in order to prevent an eventual poisoning.
Is it difficult to walk an Estrela by the leash?
As long as they’re used to the leash, there should be no difficulty, because as a rule they do not tend to pull, walking quietly beside the owner. However, it is convenient to be alert, because if they come across a cat or especially a large, agitated or dominant dog, the Estrela will tend to react and pull hard enough to make the owner fall.
Does the Estrela learn quickly and easily?
Yes, being very intelligent and observant, they learn easily, sometimes even what they should not (opening taps and doors, including that of the refrigerator, removing cables and plugs from electrical outlets, etc.). Due to their stubbornness, they rarely obey the first time, and persistence is required to educate them.
I would like to do agility training my Estrela. Is it possible?
Yes, although it depends a lot on their physical constitution. Larger and heavier Estrelas will find it more difficult , but many others are very agile and athletic, thus having adequate body conditions. On the other hand, the individual character will determine the degree of difficulty or ease of learning this practice: although most Estreas are stubborn, there are also others who are obedient and easy to train.
I live in an apartment with a large terrace. Is that suited for an Estrela?
It is totally inadvisable. The Estrela is an animal tailored for large spaces and life in freedom, so enclosure in an apartment or terrace or small patio will tend to make them apathetic and depressed or take on destructive behaviour, scraping doors and chewing furniture, especially if they’re not daily allowed a long walk and the possibility of running.
Do they tend to be aggressive?
Although character is partly determined by genetics and there may be some bloodlines that tend to produce dogs of stronger and highly dominant temperament, potentially with some aggressiveness, usually the Estrela is not an aggressive dog unless they grow uneducated, without limits, which could possibly cause them to bite if confronted. They are essencially, and if educated with common sense and some ground rules, defensive and dissuasive and will only bite ultimately to protect themselves and their human family or the animals in their custody, as well as the property they’re supposed to keep.
How old should an Estrela be introduced into a herd so to easily adjust to it?
As soon as possible, preferably soon after weaning. Many shepherds have their bitches give birth by the cattle, so that the puppies get used to it early on. However, pups up to 4 months should have no difficulty in adapting and there are cases of successfully placed older ones.
Do they need to be taught how to guard cattle?
No, because the Estrela has a protective instinct towards any people or critters they grew up with and love. However, a growing puppy may take a few months to show a protective attitude and they will learn their job faster if hey are accompanied by an older working dog.
My Estrela puppy wants to nibble on the lambs’ ears. How can I stop him?
This is typical puppy behaviour, especially when permanent teeth start erupting and they feel the need to nibble whatever comes at hand, but it’s also a way of playing. They should be prevented from doing so with a reprimand or possibly a light slapping. If they insist on this behaviour, they should be separated from the lambs or goats by a fence but remaining close to them. Over time, they will learn to respect them.
My Estrela puppy always tries to nibble on my hands. Is this normal or will he become an aggressive adult?
It is normal but they have to be taught that this behavior is not acceptable. A firm “no” pronounced whenever this happens may be enough to deter them, although a slight slap is often required. An alternative that usually works will be to open their mouth and press a finger at the end of the tongue.
Don't Estrelas kill or hurt poultry or other domestic animals smaller than them?
The typical Estrela Mountain Dog has a low prey drive, which means no predatory tendency. Therefore, if they get used to other animals such as cats, birds, rodents, for example, they will tend to become fond of and protect them.
Does the Estrela get along with other dogs?
They tend to get along well with other dogs as long as these are not dominant or overactive. They’re usually patient and tolerant towards small dogs. However, caution is required when interacting with large dogs, especially if they are energetic or dominant. For this reason, it is advised that if you already have an a Estrela and want to buy another one, opt for the opposite sex. However, many people own more than one Estrela of the same gender without any conflict; usually in these cases, they are siblings or grew up together, or, in the case of males, their relationship is friendly because they do not live with any intact bitch, or because at least one of them has been neutered.
Is it true that there are Estrelas working as assisted therapy dogs?
Yes, at least in Portugal and the United States, a country where dogs must be officially certified in an American Kennel Club program (Canine Good Citizen) in order to have this activity.
Is the Estrela a one-owner dog?
Not necessarily. Within the family, they will tend to choose a person to whom they will dedicate and obey more, although if well educated, they’ll respect and love the whole family. In circumstances change and they have to be placed with a new owner, many Estrelas adapt easily, especially if they are cherished and respected in their new life.
What’s the Estrela lifespan?
The norm is between 12 and 14 years, although some live longer (16 or more years)
Do they tend to suffer from any disease?
As with most large or giant breeds, the Estrela has some tendency for problems such as hip and elbow dysplasias, dilated cardiomyopathy and hypothyroidism, so it is inadvisable to buy a puppy whose parents have not been health tested against at least some of these diseases. This precaution is not in itself a guarantee of the dog's health but it indicates an ethical attitude by the breeder and a greater probability that the dog will not suffer from one of these problems. At Ponta da Pinta, in addition to screening my breeding dogs and other males I use at stud, I seek to gather as much health information as possible concerning their bloodlines and plan breeding with that data in mind. That way, I'm more likely to breed healthy dogs.
My Estrela's parents don't have hip dysplasia but he has and it’s serious. Why did this happen?
Because, although they have normal hips, his parents are most likely both carriers of many genes responsible for causing hip dysplasia, and your dog inherited them from both. If he had inherited them from just one of them, he would not have dysplasia, but having duplicated these recessive genes (or rather, copies of genes), he would necessarily be affected. There may possibly be an environmental cause for your dog's dysplasia if he has had a serious accident, for example in the event of a hit or a serious blow, although normally an experienced orthopedic veterinarian can radiographically detect if an injury was caused by an accident.
I heard that the Estrelas must have their ears pulled back and a hook at the tail end. Why is that?
Because these are two typical Estrela traits, which help distinguish them from other dogs, such as the Rafeiro do Alentejo or the Cão de Castro Laboreiro (two other Portuguese livestock guardian dog breeds). There are two functional reasons why the ears should be pulled back: they are less exposed to the bite of their ancestral enemy, the wolf, and less likely to be affected by otitis. As for the hook, there is no practical reason for its existence. In fact, certain types of hooks, formed by bone degeneration, are dysfunctional because they tend to cling, for example, to more or less dense vegetation.
Is an Estrela purebred if it has dewclaws and a black palate?
Not necessarily. Many dogs of other breeds nd mongrels have both characteristics.
Are the dewclaws of any use?
Many people, especially shepherds, believe that dewclaws help the dog walk on snow or other slippery surface and up and down steep hills. However, this will depend on the dewclaw’s type, configuration and positioning: if it is formed solely of skin, rather than a tendon or bone, it is of no use. In any case, the claim that dewclaws are useful has never been proven, no scientific test has shown it. On the other hand, the dog is the only spurred canid, no other in the wild has this feature (the only wolves with dewclaws are wolf dog hybrids).
Can the Estrela be black or white-coloured?
No. There are brindle Estrelas whose stripes are wide and usually express themselves over an already dark coat with a lot of black pigment (dark fawn or agouti), therefore appearing to be black. And also very light-coloured ones, who appear light cream or greyish, the resut of a gene that dilutes the fawn/sable colour. The gene copies that make dogs black or white do not exist in the Estrela.
Is there any difference between the long-coat and the short-coat Estrela rather than the length of the fur?
No. The only differences that exist are not related to variety but to bloodlines (apart from each dog's individual character differences, of course).
They say that you should not mate both varieties together because half-coat dogs are born. It is true? And why does Ponta da Pinta make such matings?
What is known as “half-coat” can either happen from an inter-variety mating or from a regular breeding between dogs of thr same variety. It is the result of the action of genes called "modifiers" that can alter the length of the hair. It is because of the action of these genes that variations in coat length exist within both varieties. For example, long-coat Estrelas that have a shorter coat may, especially in summer, after shedding the winter undercoat, appear to be short-coated. As for our choice of breeding the two varieties together, we do it when we consider that such a mating can, at various levels, benefit both.
How often should one brush an Estrela?
For long-coated ones, at least every fortnight, preferably once or twice a week, although at the time of changing the undercoat it is advisable to comb every day. It will greatly depend on the condition of the coat. Short-coated Estrelas do not require such frequent brushing, usually only in times of shedding, which happens twice a year. In any case, regular brushing, whatever the variety, is advisable to check the condition of the skin and the possible presence of dangerous foxtails that can pierce ii, or parasites such as fleas or ticks.
My young Estrela is shedding a lot. Is that normal?
The Sierras usually change their undercoat twice a year, in spring and autumn, in order to prepare themselves for the next season, and many of them have radical sheddings, which greatly alter their appearance. In most cases, this is the reason, although ia hair loss can also be caused by problems such as scabies, mange or others.
Should the Estrela’s coat be cut in summertime?
Except for some exceptional (health) reason, it should not, since the fur protects them from the heat but also from the ultraviolet rays. In spring, they lose their winter undercoat, acquiring another, less dense, better suited to the heat season. Some long-coated Estrelas’ summer undercoat is so thin that it makes them appear to be short-coated. As for ohers, usually with a very dense, long and profuse coat, on the contrary, one hardly notices they’re shedding. As a rule, frequent brushing over this period (about a month) is sufficient to keep the coat carefully and more adjusted to withstand the heat.
Should they be bathed regularly?
How often should an Estrela be washed depends on the type of life they have. For Estrelas living in the countryside, outside, lying on the dirt or the straw, bathing will be useless unless they get very dirty or need them for health reasons. Good regular brushing will keep the coat and skin free from dust and dry vegetation, and will usually be enough to keep them in good condition. On the other hand, frequent bathing removes a layer of greasiness essencial not only for the skin, without which it will tend to dry and eventually peel, but also to the coat, as this greasiness coats the hair, forming a kind of waterproofing layer, which protects them from humidity, the rain and the snow.
Is it true that they hate swimming and even getting wet?
If they are accustomed to contact with water, lakes, swimming pools or even the sea from an early age, especially if lured by the owners or other dogs of the pack, they will enjoy swimming. Otherwise, they will avoid water.
Can they endure very low temperatures? What about high ones?
Yes. The Estrela, whatever the variety, adapts to different climates, developing a thicker, denser coat and undercoat when they live in cold climates, allowing them to stay warm, and acquiring a lighter, sparse coat as a means to adjust to high average temperatures.
Why does the Estrela have a tendency to escape?
Although dedicated to its owner, the Estrela retains an independent nature, in addition to the curiosity inherent in their protective instinct, which makes them want to inspect the surroundings to see if all is well. If in a pack, when carrying out their original role, one of them tends to patrol the área, while the others stay close to the cattle. It is therefore very important to make sure that your property is adequately isolated by a high solid wall or fence (of at least 6 feet) to prevent them from escaping. Otherwise, they could be run over or poisoned, cause an accident, etc.
Is it true that they bark a lot?
Yes, especially when young. It is theie way of deterring intruders and potential threats.
Why do some Estrelas have their heads totally black and others only a black muzzle? Which is more correct?
The “mask”, black or just dark, is one of the typical characteristics of the Estrela Mountain Dog. It is caused by a gene, which can be expressed to its minimum extent, only around the nose, or to its maximum, all over the head, neck and chest. It is believed that the currently popular skull-extended mask would not exist in the old days, given the photos of Estrelas from the first half of the twentieth century, all with the mask occupying only the muzzle and eventually a small area over or around the eyes.
I hear it's not a good idea to get two puppies from the same litter. Why?
Adapting two puppies that have grown up together to a new life in a new home with new owners and new habits can be a little more difficult or time consuming because they will tend to seek each other's comp any more than their new humans’. However, that might not necessarily happen, it will depend very much on their temperament and especially on the attitude of the owners and the time they devote to them. Unless they have a fearful temperament or experienced some trauma, they will not resist their humans’ cuddlings.
I don't know whether to purchase a male puppy or a female. Which one is the best?
In many cases, more important than the dog's gender is choosing their individual temperament. There are quieter Estrela puppies and more energetic ones, often litter mates. It is important to evaluate the character of the parents and ask the breeder for help in selecting the puppuy that seems most suitable for you. Many people prefer females because of the widespread idea that they are more submissive and less likely to run away, although this idea does not always correspond to reality. Others choose males because they do not want to deal with the embarrassment of heats, although their tendency to mark territory may be a deterrent, especially for those who want to let the dog indoors.
What is Ponta da Pinta's partnership program?
This is a synergy that enables people who live close to us and have good conditions to offer to an Estrela, to acquire, for a symbolic value, an excellent quality puppy, who may contribute to our breeding project, being mated under our guidance.
Why should I pay a high price for an Estrela puppy from a breeder if I can buy one for a low price in the Estrela Mountains, by the road?
Although some local traders sell so-called “roadside puppies” with a vaccine, not all of them do, and there is a risk that the animal may contract or have already incubated a potentially lethal infectious disease, such as distemper or parvovirus. In addition, they are usually not dewormed or treated against fleas and ticks and are often early weaned, with possible behavioural issues as a result. On the other hand, you will not know if they are purebred and have no idea what their parents are like. What if these are aggressive and the pup inherits this temperament? If, on the contrary, you choose to acquire from a serious breeder, you will know at least the mother, eventually also the dog's father (most breeders often breed their bitches to studs owned by others); they will be vaccinated, dewormed ad treated against external parasites, raised in good hygiene conditions, and much less likely to contract an infectious disease. In addition, parents should have been screened against genetic diseases, such as hip and elbow dysplasias and dilated cardiomyopathy, to try to reduce the puppy's chances of suffering from such problems. On the other hand, some of these breeders give health warranties, which cannot fully guarantee that the pup will not have an inherited disease but mean that, if that happens, they will offer some form of compensation.
My dog Serra makes a false pregnancy in every heat. My vet says that if she has a litter, that tendency will disappear. Is that a good idea?
Some vets advise bitch owners to make them have at least one litter as a way to prevent tumours in their reproductive organs and to help maintain their psychological balance. However, if that happened, it would further increase the already excessive dog population in the world. Although many people want their dear bitch to have a litter so they can keep a puppy from her, they should ponder this decision thoughtfully: on the one hand, the puppies are likely not to resemble their mother; on the other, they would take the possibility of abandoned, needy puppies, possibly in life-threatening conditions, to be adopted instead (and there are so many!). There is another important issue: the only two reasons for breeding a litter should be, contributing to improving a breed or, in the case of non pure-bred dogs, breeding balanced dogs with exceptional working skills. When considering mating your bitch, you should first have her evaluated by a judge in a conformation dog show to determine if she is of breeding quality, and have her screened against the most common hereditary diseases in the breed (hip and elbow dysplasias, dilated cardiomyopathy); take the same care at choosing the male she will be bred to (you should be aware that breeding a poor-quality litter will be doing the breed a bad service and contributing to its degeneration). Still, these procedures are no absolute guarantee that the puppies will not develop inherited diseases that will cause suffering to them and their owners. You should also take into account that: 1st, for lack of experience as a breeder, if something goes wrong puppies may die, as well as the bitch, or it may be necessary to perform a caesarean section; 2nd, the market is saturated with much more supply than demand, so it may be difficult to sell or even offer the puppies, and if you fail to do so, the costs of feeding, vaccinating, deworming until they finally leave home will be huge.
Is it a bad idea to let my Estrela dog mate with his mother or a daughter or sister?
It is possible and even probable, because every animal carries recessive genetic mutations - and the likelihood that two related dogs will carry the same mutation and both will pass it to their offspring (which will be affected by it) is high. Some breeders work in line-breeding, or even in tight in-breeding, to maintain a particular type that distinguishes their dogs from those of other breeders. The results may be excellent in morphology, but they involve risks such as hereditary weaknesses and character problems. Therefore, inbreeding should only be used sparingly and by experienced breeders.
Is the Estrela Mountain the place to find the best mountains?
No. As elsewhere, there are typical and atypical dogs in the Estrela Mountain Range. The safest way to get a typical dog is to get it from a breeder who gives guarantees (pedigree-registered dogs, control of inherited diseases such as hip dysplasia, after-sales care). It is not advisable to buy a dog by the road in Serra da Estrela, because: 1st, they may not be puré-bred; 2nd, they have not been vaccinated and are likely to have contracted parvovirus, distemper or some other infectious life-threatening disease, and should be infested with internal and external parasites such as roundworms, fleas, ticks, etc.
Should I give milk to my Estrela puppy?
Cow's milk contains high lactose, harmful to the intestinal flora of dogs. If a dog likes milk or a puppy has to be weaned early, they may be given goat or sheep milk or a mixture of skimmed cow's milk with egg yolk and some olive oil. Alternatively, you may opt for commercial dog milk.
Do Estrelas eat a lot?
They usually don’t. Depending on their size and weight, as well as the quality of the food, an average adult eats between 400 and 900 grams.
Can they eat bones?
Bones, a great calcium-rich food, should be an important part of a dog's diet. In their original condition, in nature, dogs, like most other canids, have to hunt and feed not only on meat but also on viscera, organs and bones. Like any dog, the Estrelaa can and should chew non-flaking cow or calf bones - which should be cooked to eliminate bacteria. They help keep the dog's teeth clean, but should not be given to puppies because of the risk of breaking or misaligning the teeth. Dogs may also eat chicken carcass bones, but avoid turkey, duck or rabbit bones, which may pierce their stomach, leading to death.
Which is better, dry kibble or a natural diet?
A natural diet containing meat, bones, guts and organs (preferably raw, as long as of good quality, free of antibiotics and bacteria, otherwise they should be cooked) but also cooked rice or pasta and vegetables is healthy, However, it takes some time to prepare. If that's not possible, a good quality dry kibble is a practical alternative.