I am so honored to translate and post this superb article written by my dear friend, Teresa Azevedo Gomes. This article is a lovely description and defense of the Serras from someone who has experienced them for generations. Teresa mentored and supported me throughout my pursuit of functional working dogs full of character and heart. She poured her knowledge and love into a rather naive young pastora and I love her dearly. Te amo mi amor, I am grateful for you, your heart, the articles, and the wealth of photos you shower me with.
Cao da Serra da Estrela Breed Defense
Throughout my lifetime, I have devoted myself to the Cao da Serra da Estrela dog, starting very early, at home with memories of big, very sweet dogs.
I carried on my mother’s legacy, who was committed to the excellence of the Cao da Serra da Estrela. In my defense of the indigenous Serra, I followed in my grandfather’s footsteps. My grandfather created the affix – De Penhas Douradas – for his Serras in 1952. In honor of my family’s heritage, I consider myself “obliged” (because of the knowledge I have of the breed) to promote its defense. I have specialized in the short-haired variety, to prevent its extinction. Now with the utmost satisfaction, I see how successful it has been (my achievements, and a family battle).
Serra da Estrela starts out as a loving puppy that soon demonstrates dominance over other animals and with us if we let him. We quickly realize how stubborn he is and why? Because of his superior and perceptive intelligence. The Serra learns everything in an instant and is from a very young age an animal with a profound sense of justice.
As such, as a Serra da Estrela, it’s wise to treat him as if he were a child; with rules, introducing whoever comes to visit, not lying to him, never punishing him unfairly, and providing him with the support he needs (especially when meeting other dogs). If we do not treat him so fairly we risk spoiling or loosing the relationship we have with him.
International Serra da Estrela Breed Appreciation
We need to recognize and appreciate that the Estrela Mountain Dog is a rare treasure, and we often do not realize it. Remember that we have with us an extremely intelligent dog. In this regard, Colonel Costa Campos in his book “O Cao Militar” says: “It is a race as intelligent as the most intelligent, even being endowed with a strong sense of justice, a detail that in the Serra shouldn’t be neglected. That which, as a rule, generates it, is pointed out as a defect, that is, its character is independent, and yet an appreciable virtue there.”
German Miranda, one of the most renowned Spanish breeders and trainers of guard and protection dogs, wrote about the Serra in the Spanish magazine “El Mundo del Perro”. In his first appreciation of the character of our mountain dog, he does so with evident optimism and admiration. Between the Spanish Mastiff, for example, and our “Serra da Estrela”, the author writes: “Perhaps in the nebulous origins of the Iberians Molossoids, a set of different circumstances has contributed to define and distinguish the current Spanish Mastiffs from the classic Cattle Dogs preserved in Portugal.
Original German Miranda Character Test
His original character test revealed that the Serra da Estrela Mastiffs had an admirable, unique, and essential character. In short, he said they were the most precisely functional working and companion dogs he had ever found.
“Finding in the breed Serra da Estrela the qualities he had been seeking for a long time without success in other breeds with similar characteristics and origins,” German Miranda continues describing one of the many fantastic breed specimens that he had the pleasure of testing:
“At first, I was impressed to see those eyes so firmly fixed on me and to hear that muffled, continuous growl indicating the dog’s sense of security. The dog neither retreated nor advanced while I approached it eating.
I immediately understood that the Serra da Estrela dog is naturally predisposed to guard, and performs this function efficiently without requiring any type of training.” Continuing, he says “the character of the Serra da Estrela dog is precisely the key to its qualities. It is a genuine guard and defense dog, with a firm and balanced character, just like our coaches need”.
Serra da Estrela Character
As for the independent character of Serra da Estrela, this is what he concluded:
“Its independence is limited only to strangers, making an exception for those who are closest to it. He forms a very special bond with his owner, to whom he devotes an unbreakable friendship. For this owner, it is capable of laying down its own life. I have concluded that the Serra da Estrela is an intelligent, honorable animal”.
And it is certainly because of his intelligence and enormous sensitivity that Cao da Serra da Estrela has a predilection for children, with a keen sense of guarding and protecting them. The Serra will not only love its own children but also all other children. I have already had the good fortune to observe this in action. And it is not only with children and young that he shows much care and concern. I have seen this dog breed show extreme gentleness and care with the sick. It is very considerate of the elderly, and fragile humans and animals.
The Estrela Mountain Dog is a Multi Purpose Breed
Even after knowing the breed my whole life, he continues to positively surprise me. Serra da Estrela dogs are indeed very special.
The Cao da Serra da Estrela has many natural skills: excellent vision, nose, and hearing. This breed has served in all professional jobs that need them. The Estrela excels in search and rescue. The Portuguese military has used the dogs in numerous positions including firefighting, army and navy divisions.
Serra da Estrela therapy dogs have already been tested in the United States with remarkable success. In Portugal, it has already been used in the same field with very positive results.
This dog is known for its enormous neck strength and exemplary stamina. I am confident that it can also be used as a mushing dog (hitched to a cart or sled) with high efficiency.
Cao da Serra da Estrela Dog Physical Characteristics.
I can’t help but mention their dew claws. For me, the spurs, as the shepherds call them, are one of their defining characteristics. All my dogs are descendants of indigenous herd dogs, and I have never seen a native Serra without them. In my experience, they always have strong hams and either single or double dew claws.
The shepherds say “Cão Esporado, Cão de Gado”. When you have a gorgeous bitch to cross, you don’t choose a dog that doesn’t have double spurs. The Serra did not make it to the present day by accident. Instead, the shepherds who know them so well know how to preserve the characteristics of the breed. They carefully select males and females with double dewclaws as breeding specimens because they know they will have quality litters. Shepherds need the best dogs for grazing, guarding, protection, and company. For long days spent in the Serra with only each other, he’s hardworking, intelligent, and a faithful friend.
Dew claws are natural and desirable in guardian dog breeds. All cattle and mountain dogs alike feature them, and it is what shepherds across Europe value most. For me, a Serra without dewclaws is an incomplete dog. It is missing one of its main characteristics. At the 12 Estadão do Cao da Serra da Estrela, the absence of dewclaws was one of the reasons for disqualification. Any specimen that did not present dewclaws was disqualified from the original breed standard and registration.
The Cao da Serra da Estrela Family Companion
There are a lot of unused capacities in this Cao da Serra da Estrela. The one of the greatest importance is as a Companion Dog. This lack of understanding about the companionship of the Serra da Estrela is only explainable only by the lack of knowledge regarding his remarkable character. This dog breed when adopted into a normal family shows itself as the Greatest Human Companion a dog can be.
Anyone who claims that the Cao da Serra da Estrela is only fit for herds, does not understand the great love and bond the Serra carries for his owners. It would be cruel to deny this remarkable character the essential human companionship he seeks to establish and protect with his life.
The character of this dog was shaped over the centuries by solitude, freedom, companionship, and responsibility towards the shepherd and his flock. He was born in the adversity and grandeur of the mountains that gave him the name. This heritage made him the special dog he is today.
For everything he gave us, for his undying character and love, he will always be my favorite dog.
-Teresa Azevedo Gomes
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Copyright © 2015 by Teresa Azevedo Gomez and translated by Damaris K.
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