‘The gentle giant’
The Rafeiro do Alentejo, with ‘ Rafeiro’ meaning ‘Mongrel’ (mixed breed) and ‘Alentejo’ as a reference to the Alentejo region in South Portugal.
This breed is also known as the Portuguese Mastiff or the Portuguese Watchdog. This impressive dog breed is relatively unknown. I believe this to be unfortunate, because there is a lot to love when you get to know this ‘gentle giant.’
And giants they are! They are massive in size and big in character. A male can reach a weight up to 40-50 kg (88 to 110 lbs), and females can reach 35 to 45 kg (77 to 110 lbs). So, as you can probably tell by these numbers: They are huge!
They generally are found to be gentle, but they must be socialized early in life and well trained.
Other prominent characteristics are a bear-shaped head and a pair of little brown eyes with a calm and serene expression. They have Triangular ears that flop over to the side of their face. And armed with strong jaws and thin lips.
A deep and wide chest, causing their bark to be pretty impressive. And long limbs with a tail that reaches past their hocks and the tip curved upwards. Their coat is medium in length and quite dense. It can be black, yellow or gray with white markings, or white with markings of any of the previously mentioned colors.
Origin and History
It’s origin and history is up until today a mystery and still open for debate. The most commonly shared theory is that it’s ancestors are originated from the Tibetan Highlands, most likely as descendants of the Tibetan Mastiff.
Most people support the idea that they spread throughout the rest of Asia and Europe while following, as a guard dog, the Roman legions across the Balkan from the Black Sea to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. But this is just one of the few theories that people believe to be true.
I will not go further into detail of the other theories about the origins of the Rafeiro do Alentejo. One thing we know for sure, and that’s the fact that the first ancestor’s origin goes back thousands and thousands of years!
Throughout these thousands of years, they acquired their own characteristics and looks, part of which the genetics most likely come from other local breeds such as the Estrela Mountain Dog and the Spanish Mastiff (see pictures below) Some people believe they also inherited genetics from the Anatolian Shepherd.
It is not until around the 1960’s that they are recognized by both the UKC (United Kennel Club) and the AKC (American Kennel Club), as well as the Portuguese Kennel Club. With this recognition they became officially a purebred race.
The Portuguese Mastiffs traditionally worked as livestock guardians. Traveling from south to north of the land and back to ensure there was enough grazing land to sustain the cattle.
While traveling, their main task was successfully defending the herd from large predators like bears, wild pigs and wolves. It is important to note that they did not do this in a aggressive manner but with scaring the predators away with their impressive size and far reaching deep bark.
Close to Extinction
With the modernization of the agricultural lifestyle, the job for the Portuguese Mastiff became useless and the demand for them declined drastically. As a result they even almost got extincted. With their lowest point around the 1980’s.
This is one of the reasons why this breed is not known by most people and why they are still not with many. Thanks to a small group of breeders and enthusiasts, the threat of extinction lies in the past and they are now known as a ‘stable’ breed. Still, it is not easy to track down this dog. Even in their homeland Portugal there is just a modest number of Rafeiro do Alentejo breeders you can find.
Stoic, sturdy, calm, stubborn, serious, slow… All these traits do apply when you try to explain the nature and characteristics of these dogs. They become very attached to their owner/trainer and they will fly to the moon and back to satisfy them.
That is, only when you can convince him or her they even need a boss/trainer. They are hard to train and very independent. Making them not suitable for a beginner.
This article is written by Xena Kane