Rafeiro do Alentejo (Alentejo Mastiff)

Country of origin:
Height (cm):
Weight (kg):
Life span (years):
black, wolf grey, fawn or yellow, with or without brindling, always with white markings; or white with patches of these colours
Hair length:
average, short
Recognized by:
FCI code:
Good with kids:
Pros Cons
  • good with kids
  • calm
  • excellent watch and guard dog
  • dominant
  • owner must be a leader        
  • sheds a lot


The Rafeiro do Alentejo (Alentejo Mastiff) is a powerful and multipurpose dog, which came to existence in Portugal many centuries ago. This solidly build and courageous breed mostly serves in its homeland as a property guardian but it also makes an even-tempered and obedient companion animal. It is virtually impossible to meet its specimen in other countries.

The initial development of the Rafeiro do Alentejo occurred in Alentejo, which is located on the Portuguese borders with Spain in the south. Obviously enough that it was granted its name in honour of this historic region. It evolved without direct involvement of its human companion and it’s universally referred as a mix-breed dog. The true ancestry of the breed is nothing more than the subject for mere speculation.

Majority of experts have no doubt about its close relationship to the Tibetan Mastiff. The strong probability holds that the Anatolian Shepherd Dog and the St. John’s Water Dog are also among forefathers of the Rafeiro do Alentejo. It’s also suggested that the breed’s members occasionally were crossed with the Estrela Mountain Dog and the Mastin de Espanol both of which seasonally drove the cattle across Alentejo.

The Rafeiro do Alentejo was prized by native tribes for its impressive power, calm temperament and well-developed protective instinct. The breed was a crafty cattle driver, which was able to direct its subordinated domestic animals across enormous distances with minimal assistance from a human. It was also responsible for warding off wild predators from the stock. As indigenous people changed their lifestyle’s preferences and began to settle down, the predominant role of the dog shifted from a stock herder to a guardian of property of Portuguese nobility.

In XVIII century Portugal’s powerful monarchy ceased to exist and the Rafeiro do Alentejo , being a symbol of royal power, wealth and prosperity, was threatened by a complete extinction. Fortunately, two cynologists, Antonio Cabral and Filipe Romeiras, decided to prevent the final decay of the breed and started to keep tracks of their breeding program and its current situation. Thanks to their efforts the first standard of the breed was established in 1953.
In the 60s and 70s of XX century the population of the Rafeiro do Alentejo once again experienced a serious decline. The point is that in the wake of political turmoil in Portugal in these decades many of individual dogs were killed while other simply turned into strays. By the 80s of XX century the high-quality specimens became so rare that the breed’s survival was deemed as barely possible. The efforts of Faculty of Veterinaries in Evora and the persistent work of its fanciers helped to pull the breed from the edge of final disappearance.

The Rafeiro do Alentejo was one of the first Portugal breeds officially accepted by the Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI). In 2005 it was registered in the AKC’ Foundation Stock Service. The United Kennel Club (UKC) granted its recognition to the breed in 2006.

The Rafeiro do Alentejo is a calm, strong and steady dog with dominant character. It’s not recommended for a novice dog owner, who will most likely have serious difficulties with its training and socialisation. This dog must pass through consistent and early obedience training in order to become a well-mannered and complaisant companion animal. It is notable for well-developed drive to protect people it loves so it usually handles children of its family with gentleness and consideration. Nevertheless the breed’s member should never be left alone with a young child without proper supervision.

As a rule the Rafeiro do Alentejo displays natural wariness when it comes across unknown person. It commonly demonstrates conscientious attitude to its work of a guardian and won’t waver to apply to necessary aggression if needed. With its ferocious appearance and deep resounding bark this dog usually makes an excellent watchdog. It’s worth to mention though that this breed possesses quiet and steadfast temperament and rarely plays the role of an aggressor.

Without extensive socialisation the breed tends to develop certain issues with other dogs. Its authoritative demeanour and great physical strength imply that confrontation with other canine may have fairly serious consequences. That’s why the Rafeiro do Alentejo should be always kept leashed while being walked. The dog possesses average hunting drive and can live together with other non-canine pets if it has been introduced to their presence since a young age. It will definitely treat a household cat as a part of its pack if they have shared the same roof long enough.
Health problems

The most common problems for the breed include:
• canine hip dysplasia;
• gastric torsion.

The Rafeiro do Alentejo has moderate grooming requirements. Its coat of medium length needs regular and careful brushing in order to maintain its neat and glossy look. The dog is a seasonal shedder and will lose great amount of its hair twice a year. During these periods it should be brushed on a daily basis to get rid of dead hair.

It is essential to pay appropriate attention to such common care procedures as nails clipping and teeth brushing. The Rafeiro do Alentejo ears should be regularly inspected and cleaned in order to avoid health issues in this area.

The training of the Rafeiro do Alentejo is usually a task of an average difficulty. Unlike most of other breeds this dog isn’t overwhelmingly willing to pleasure. This stern and dependable working dog would rather prefer to have a major assignment such as guarding your house than to perform some trifle tricks to entertain your guests.

Training strategy for this dog should totally rely on firm but fair handling and plentiful of dog’s favourite treats. It isn’t recommended to apply to forceful methods to stimulate this dog to work since they won’t bring adequate results. If the Rafeiro do Alentejo spots weakness in the character of its trainer it will never perceive it as a true leader and therefore oblige to him or her. So it would be wise decision to hand over its training to an experienced handler.

The grown-up Rafeiro do Alentejo is known to be a fairly calm and low-energy dog, which will be quite content with a long and vigorous daily walk. This dog is usually quiet and relaxed indoors although it strives to live outdoors where it has an opportunity to carry out its main guarding duties.

Due to its working drive this breed is ill-suited for apartment living and it will really enjoy the life of a suburban dog in the house with a sizeable and securely fenced back yard. Without proper amount of physical activity the Rafeiro do Alentejo will gradually evolve into destructive, nervous and uncontrollable animal.