Portuguese Sheepdog (Cão da Serra de Aires)
The Portuguese Sheepdog (Cão da Serra de Aires) is a bright, sturdy and accomplished sheep herding dog with homeland in Southern Portugal. It was bred virtually exclusively for working purposes during the XX century but in recent decade it earned sizeable recognition as a companion dog in European countries. The breed was nicknamed the Cao Macaca, or the Monkey Dog, since its muzzle bears resemblance to that of a monkey.
The Cao da Serra de Aires is a fairly newly created breed, which story began in southern and central regions of Portugal nearly 100 years ago. Despite its young age the breed’s origin is the matter of speculation rather than the concrete evidences. Nowadays it’s universally accepted that it was invented in the beginning of the XX century by the Conde de Castro Guimarães (Count of Castro Guimarães). It remains unclear though, which carrier of the title is responsible for development of the breed, but it’s safe to assume that the first, Manuel Ignacio de Castro Guimarães.
The count owned several Briards brought from France to look after his sheep herds. This breed was in good repute as a sheep herder during 10s and 20s of the XX century and was widely spread throughout Europe. The Briards of the count demonstrated excellent herding skills but they had problems in adaptation to rigorous mountainous climate and cliffy terrain of Portugal. To enhance their working abilities the count mated his dogs with local Iberian herding breeds, probably the Catalan Sheepdog and the Pyrenean Shepherd.
Regardless of how the Portuguese Sheepdog was developed the rumours of its stamina and intelligence quickly disseminated across its homeland. That’s why by the end of 20s of the XX century it became widely known in highlands as well as in the neighbouring region of the Alentejo. The breed was mostly utilised to manage sheep, but it was occasionally charged with herding and driving cattle and other livestock. It was extoled for its capability to operate in the most severe weather conditions as well as for its robustness and endurance.
The Portuguese Sheepdog obtained official acceptance by the Portuguese Kennel Club in 1932. Portugal escaped active participation in World War I and it wasn’t dragged into World War II at all. This purports that the breed wasn’t affected by wartime hardships and its population experienced virtually no decrease.
Nevertheless by the end of the 70s of XX century its future hadn’t already looked as bright as previously. As modern technology entered agricultural industry herding dogs became less necessary and the Cao da Serra de Aires suddenly became extremely rare. At that point several concerned breeders unified their efforts to rescue the breed from complete extinction. Their hard work paid off and in 1996 the Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI) gave its full recognition to this dog. In 2006 the United Kennel Club (UKC) granted its formal acceptance to the breed.
In the recent years increasing numbers of the Portuguese Sheepdog have been brought to other countries. In Europe it is owned solely for a companionship and as a show dog although outside of its homeland the breed remains barely known. In highlands of Portugal quite a few specimens keep performing their original duties of a sheepherder.
The Portuguese Sheepdog was in essence designed specifically as a working dog and its personal traits match perfectly to this role. However in the last two decades its breeders strived to make its temperament softer and more biddable in order to satisfy increasing demand in this breed in a role of a family dog. The Portuguese Sheepdog is renowned for an outmost loyalty to its human family but it’s highly prone to become a one-person dog especially if reared by a single individual. This frisky and high-spirited dog is generally fine with familiar children although it’s too vigorous and rumbustious to become a suitable playmate for a toddler.
The Portuguese Sheepdog has a strong tendency to be standoffish and distrustful in the presence of strangers. Timely and extensive socialisation is imperative for this breed otherwise human aggressiveness can become a real issue. This dog usually demonstrates a well-developed protective instinct, which makes it a rather acceptable watchdog. The breed has both enough power and desire to guard its family and territory and can be tasked into an excellent guard dog.
The Portuguese Sheepdog is usually quite polite with other canines and can live with another dog with relatively few issues. Nonetheless the breed is predisposed to seek for a dominant stance in the company of other dogs and this feature is commonly much more pronounced in males than females. This dog possesses rather week hunting drive but it certainly needs to get accustomed to the existence of other creatures since an early age. At the same time some individual specimen may develop into passionate cat chaser without timely and vast socialisation.
The most common problems for the breed include:
· canine hip dysplasia;
· elbow dysplasia;
· patellar luxation;
· eye problems;
· gastric dilatation – volvulus;
The Portuguese Sheepdog has long lavish coat, which needs surprisingly insignificant amount of care. Be mindful that too much brushing can spoil naturally rustic appearance of this dog so it should be brushed rather semi-regularly. Tangles and matts do appear occasionally in its hair but it’s better to work them out manually.
The dog’s ears should be inspected and cleaned on a regular basis. The Portuguese Sheepdog should be bathed rather infrequently to evade washing off natural body oils.
The Portuguese Sheepdog is well-known for its quick-wittedness and desire for learning. The breed can be taught very sophisticated herding behaviour with minimal efforts. It commonly achieves incredible success in canine sports as competitive obedience and agility.
However, this dog is characterised with dominative nature and won’t be eager to learn and please if handled by meek or indecisive person. The trainer should deserve the breeds’ respect and submission by treating it with a firm, but fair hand. At the same time excessive harshness should be avoided in training regimen since the Portuguese Sheepdog reacts best to verbal encouragement and food incentives.
As intelligent and assiduous working breed the Portuguese Sheepdog requires plentiful opportunities to exercise not only its body but also its mind. This dog will appreciate a chance to pass through some advanced agility course but it wants nothing more than to perform its original task of a sheep herder. If you plan to keep this breed solely as a pet get prepared to invest at least an hour of your daily time in walking and playing with your dog.
The Portuguese Sheepdog won’t be comfortable in small city apartment, as it needs a room to roam and play, preferably in the form of a large safely enclosed yard. The dog, which is deprived of necessary physical activity, will usually show some unwelcomed patterns in its behaviour including hyperactivity, destructiveness, unreasonable barking and aggression.