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Portuguese Cattle Dog Temperament: A Dual Personality

The Portuguese Cattle Dog temperament is fascinating. This breed (also called

Cão de Castro Laboreiro) is a Molossian-type mountain dog with a dual personality.

When he is on duty, he is a sometimes-ferocious guardian livestock dog (GLD) who takes his job of protecting his flock from wolves very seriously.

But off duty, he is a docile family companion who loves children.

Portuguese Cattle Dog Temperament

1. Intelligent

Like most working dogs, the Portuguese Cattle Dog is smart. He learns quickly, but he will only listen to one master. This makes him a training challenge.

2. Independent

The shepherd depends on the Portuguese Cattle Dog to do his job independently. He is used to making his own decisions.

3. Loyal

This dog will not take orders from other people. But he is completely obedient to his master.

4. Docile with Family

The Portuguese Cattle Dog temperament is gentle with family. This dog enjoys playing with children. He considers them his herd and is very affectionate with them.

5. Protective

The Portuguese Cattle Dog temperament is protective of his family as well as his flock.

6. Courageous

The Portuguese Cattle Dog is fearless when doing his job. He has no problem facing up to wolves.

7. Vigilant

Alertness is the defining trait of the Portuguese Cattle Dog. He is on constant patrol looking for threats. He lives with his flock night and day and watches over them from a higher spot.

Needless to say, he is an excellent watchdog as well as guard dog.

8. Ferocious

The Portuguese Cattle Dog temperament can be aggressive if he feels his charges are in danger.

9. Suspicious

He is very suspicious of strangers. He will never allow one to approach his flock.

10. Dominant

The Portuguese Cattle Dog does not do well with other dogs. He is used to being in charge and can be dog-aggressive as well.

11. Vocal

He has a unique “thunderous” voice that he uses when he senses a threat. It starts with a growl and works up to a high-pitched howling.

12. Hardy

This breed is used to living outdoors. As above, he is used to living with his flock. This is no apartment dog.

13. Adaptable

These dogs lived a nomadic lifestyle for centuries. The Portuguese Cattle Dog temperament has evolved to respond well to changing environments.

This may explain why they’re able to transition to life as family dogs so well.

Portuguese Cattle Dog History

Early History

The Cão de Castro Laboreiro (“Dog from Castro Laboreiro”) originated on the Iberian Peninsula in Portugal.

No one seems to know exactly how long this breed has been in existence. The earliest record dates back to 1882, but it’s almost certain that it has been much longer than that.

It appears to have been around for centuries, guarding farmers’ livestock and property.

In fact, it may be one of the oldest guardian livestock breeds. One theory is that the Portuguese Cattle Dog is descended from Molossers, ancient Roman war dogs.

In Decline

Today, the Cão de Castro Laboreiro is considered by some to be endangered. One estimate is that there are only 500 left in the world.

There have been many reasons for this. As foreign breeds were brought in from other countries, property owners started replacing their guard dogs with them.

These breeds included German Shepherds, Boxers, Dobermans, and Rottweilers. A rising crime rate in Portugal increased the need for these guard dogs.

Some people simply abandoned their Portuguese Cattle Dogs as farming declined in the area. Ironically, as there was less need for the Portuguese Cattle Dog, some became feral and began living like wolves themselves.

Today, there are not many Portuguese Cattle Dogs left in Portugal. Those that remain are used mostly as military dogs, police dogs, and family dogs.


The breed is now becoming better known outside of Portugal. The Portuguese Cattle Dog breed was recognized by the Federation Cynologique Internationale (FCI) in 1955 and by the United Kennel Club (UKC) in 2006.

Though the Portuguese Cattle Dog is beginning to be promoted as a rare breed, the American Kennel Club (AKC) does not yet recognize it.

Portuguese Cattle Dog Training

This breed is not a good choice for an inexperienced dog owner. He has been trusted to guard flocks for centuries without the need for human supervision. And this makes him very independent-minded.

The Portuguese Cattle Dog is also very suspicious of strangers and hypervigilant about protecting his flock (or family). He has even been known to be aggressive in that situation.

He is also known for taking commands only from his master and no one else. And he can be difficult to control.

All of this means that this dog needs firm, consistent training. But training methods also need to be gentle and respectful. This is a tricky balance for inexperienced dog owners to find.

This breed also needs early socialization. Because he is very stranger-suspicious, he needs to be exposed to many different people in different environments.

It’s important to remember that he can be aggressive in situations he finds threatening. But he has that gentle side that makes him a good family companion with the right training.

It’s unlikely that he would be aggressive with children. He treats them just as he does the flocks that he guards so well.

Helpful Dog Training Resource:

For help with training your Portuguese Cattle Dog, you should take a look at The Online Dog Trainer by Doggy Dan. Doggy Dan is an expert Dog Trainer based in New Zealand. His online resource contains Hundreds of Excellent Dog Training Videos that will take you step-by-step through the process of developing a healthy, happy well-behaved dog.

Portuguese Cattle Dog Appearance

General Appearance

The Portuguese Cattle Dog is a large Molosser type of dog with a sturdy, rectangular-shaped body. His back is strong and fairly long. His single coat is short, thick, and smooth.

Portuguese Cattle Dog color can be mahogany, chestnut brown, or what the locals call “mountain color.” It is mixed light and dark gray with brown or dark red brindling.

His head is fairly large and elongated with a somewhat flattened skull. The ears are triangular with rounded tips, medium-sized, and high-set.

His eyes are medium-sized and nearly triangular in shape. They can be brown, black, or hazel. The nose is large, and his nose and lips are both black.

His muzzle is long and tapers a bit. He has powerful jaws and a scissors or pincer bite.

Portuguese Cattle Dog Size

Average Portuguese Cattle Dog weight is 55-65 pounds for females, 65-75 pounds for males.

Portuguese Cattle Dog height averages 20-22 inches for females, 21-24 inches for males.

Portuguese Cattle Dog Information

Other Names

  • Cão de Castro Laboreiro.
  • Berger da Castro Laboreiro.
  • Castro Laboreiro Watch Dog.
  • Castro Laboreiro Dog.

Portuguese Cattle Dog Lifespan

The life expectancy of this breed is 12 to 14 years.

Portuguese Cattle Dog Health Issues

This is a very healthy breed with no known genetic conditions. Regardless take a look at the resource below. Better to be prepared since no dog breed is immune to illness.

Helpful Dog Health Resource:

Note: if you agree that your health and your dog's health should be a top priority then get a copy of The Ultimate Guide to Dog Health. Your doggy friend will love you for it. This guide will help save you money, time and most of all help you keep your dog healthy.

Caring for the Portuguese Cattle Dog

Portuguese Cattle Dog Grooming

This breed has a weather-resistant coat that is close to self-cleaning. He only needs a weekly brushing and a rare bath.

Of course, like all dogs, he needs routine ear cleaning, nail trimming, and toothbrushing.

Portuguese Cattle Dog Diet

Because of this dog’s high activity level, he may do best on a working-dog formula. You may want to feed him a large-breed formula. Ask your vet if you’re not sure.

Portuguese Cattle Dog Exercise

This is a hard-working breed that needs a lot of exercise. He is able to transition well to the life of a family dog, but he does best with a job to do.

If you have no livestock to protect, he will need another activity to take its place. A home with children would be a great choice for the Portuguese Cattle Dog. He would consider them his flock and protecting them his job.

But he would still need a lot of outdoor exercise. He should have large open spaces to run off-leash. A large yard would be a must.

Finding a Portuguese Cattle Dog

Buying a Portuguese Cattle Dog from a Breeder

This dog is a rare breed. Finding a Portuguese Cattle Dog for sale won’t be easy. At the time of this writing, an Internet search found one Portuguese Cattle Dog breeder in the US.

They are starting to be promoted by the rare breed market, however. They should be easier to find with time.

This breed is recognized by the UKC, so you might try searching their breeder directory. They also host forums where breeders can list their litters.

Even if you don’t find a breeder on the forums, you can post an inquiry. You may connect with someone who can tell you where to find Portuguese Cattle Dog puppies.

You might also try searching Facebook groups for Portuguese Cattle Dog breeders and owners. These groups exist for nearly every breed.

They can be a great resource. You may or may not find a breeder right away. But you can also connect with people who can tell you what it’s like to live with this breed.

Another possible source is YouTube. Many dog owners and breeds post videos of their dogs. Some also publish contact information. Again, this is a good way to connect with current owners.

If all else fails, you may have to look to Europe. You may find a breeder there who is willing to export a Portuguese Cattle Dog puppy.

You could try the FCI’s site or eurobreeder.com. They may be able to help you find a breeder.

Our best estimate of Portuguese Cattle Dog cost is from $600 to $1200.

Vetting the Breeder

If you do find a breeder of Portuguese Cattle Dog puppies, you will want to do your homework before making a purchase.

Rare breeds can be a great moneymaker for “backyard breeders” and puppy mills. Try to get trustworthy recommendations from some of the connections you make online.

When you do find a breeder, you should ask whether you can make a site visit. Even if you’re not able to do that, you should ask anyway.

If they say no, that’s a good sign that they’re hiding something. You should find another breeder. Reputable breeders welcome visits to their facilities.

You might also ask the breeder if you can see the parents and what they know about the parents’ health histories. Ask them if they have a written vet’s record of the puppy’s healthcare and immunizations.

An ethical breeder will breed only healthy dogs. They will have that documentation available. And they will guarantee the health of their puppies.

Puppy mills don’t concern themselves with the health of their pups. Or of the mothers. And they offer no health guarantees.

You may also not get the Portuguese Cattle Dog traits or behaviors that you’re expecting. Puppy mills often inbreed, which means the resulting puppies are less likely to have a predictable temperament. They are also more likely to have health issues.

Portuguese Cattle Dog Rescue/Adoption

Finding a Portuguese Cattle Dog for adoption will also be challenging. It’s not likely that you will find one of these rare dogs at a nearby shelter.

The sources we listed above would be good places to start your search. You may find information about rescue organizations or dogs that owners need to rehome.

There are some great benefits to giving an adult dog a home. The dog may already be spayed or neutered.

It would probably be housebroken. It may even be microchipped.

If it’s nearby, you may also have an opportunity to visit with the dog. You could get to know its personality to see if it’s a good fit for your family. This isn’t possible with a new puppy.

Best of all, you would be giving the quality of life to a dog that really needs it.

Is the Portuguese Cattle Dog the Right Breed for You?

There are a few questions you should ask yourself before considering this interesting but challenging breed.

Do you have the experience it takes to have control over an independent and potentially aggressive dog? Do you live in a rural environment where he would have plenty of space to run?

Can you commit to the high exercise need of this active working breed? And to the socialization he will need?

If you can answer yes to these questions, then the Portuguese Cattle Dog could be a great fit for your family.

If you have children, even better. Yours could be the ideal family to bring out the gentle and nurturing Portuguese Cattle Dog temperament.