The Cão de Castro Laboreiro: Discovering the Breed

The Cão de Castro Laboreiro, also known as the Portuguese cattle dog or Portuguese watchdog, is a unique livestock guardian breed that hails from the remote northern regions of Portugal. 

In this article, we will delve into the history, physical characteristics, temperament, health, and lifespan of the Cão de Castro Laboreiro dog breed.

A Brief History of the Cão de Castro Laboreiro Dog Breed

The Cão de Castro Laboreiro has been a part of Portuguese history for centuries. It is believed to be one of the oldest dog breeds in Portugal, and its origins can be traced back to the Castro Laboreiro region in the northwestern part of the country.

This breed was mainly used to guard flocks, homes, and people from wolves and other large predators. The breed was described as being “ferocious against wolves.”

Origins and Ancestry

The exact origins of the Cão de Castro Laboreiro are not known, but it is believed to be a descendant of the ancient Molosser dogs that were brought to the Iberian Peninsula by the Phoenicians around 3,000 years ago.

It is interesting to note that the Molosser dogs were used by the ancient Greeks and Romans in battles and as guard dogs. The fact that the Cão de Castro Laboreiro is their descendent speaks to its impressive lineage and heritage.

The development of the Cão de Castro Laboreiro has also been influenced by other local breeds like the Serra da Estrela and the Alentejo Mastiff.

The Breed’s Role in Portuguese History

During the feudal period in Portugal, the Cão de Castro Laboreiro was highly valued as a guard dog and was used to protect the properties of the nobles. This breed’s loyalty and protective instincts made it an essential part of the Portuguese culture.

It is said that the Cão de Castro Laboreiro was so valued for its guarding abilities that it was often given as a gift to other nobles and even royalty. This is a testament to the breed’s strength, intelligence, and loyalty.

Recognition and Preservation Efforts

The Cão de Castro Laboreiro has faced some threats over the years, including population decline and genetic deterioration due to interbreeding with other breeds.

However, in the 20th century, efforts were made to preserve the breed’s purity. Today, the breed is an important part of Portuguese culture but remains rare. The Cão de Castro Laboreiro is recognized by the Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI) and Portuguese Kennel Club. 

Physical Characteristics of the Cão de Castro Laboreiro

The Cão de Castro Laboreiro is a fascinating dog that is known for its unique physical characteristics. In this section, we will delve deeper into the size and build, coat and color, and distinctive facial features of this magnificent breed.

Size and Build

The Cão de Castro Laboreiro is a medium to large-sized dog that is well-built and muscular. Males typically weigh between 66 to 110 pounds and measure between 22 to 26 inches in height. Females are slightly smaller, weighing between 55 to 88 pounds and standing 20 to 24 inches tall.

The Cão de Castro Laboreiro has a broad chest, a strong back, and powerful legs that are perfect for running and jumping. This breed is agile and athletic, which makes it an excellent choice for activities such as agility training, hiking, and tracking.

Coat and Color

The Cão de Castro Laboreiro has a dense and thick coat that is weather-resistant and slightly rough to the touch. Possible coat colors include black, chestnut, and mahogany.

The Cão de Castro Laboreiro requires regular grooming to keep its coat in good condition. Brushing the coat once or twice a week will help to remove dead hair and prevent matting. The Cão de Castro Laboreiro should be bathed only when necessary to avoid drying out its skin.

Distinctive Facial Features

The Cão de Castro Laboreiro’s facial features exude strength and confidence. This breed has a broad head with a strong muzzle and powerful jaws. The eyes are small, almond-shaped, and amber-colored, with an intense and focused look.

The ears are set high, are triangular in shape, and hang close to the head, which adds to the breed’s alert and watchful appearance. The Cão de Castro Laboreiro’s facial features are not only impressive but also serve a purpose.

The strong jaws and broad head make the Cão de Castro Laboreiro an excellent guard dog, while the small eyes and high-set ears allow it to be alert and aware of its surroundings at all times.

Temperament and Personality Traits

The Cão de Castro Laboreiro is well known for its loyalty and protective instincts. Here is a closer look at the breed’s intelligence, trainability, socialization, and interaction with other animals.

Loyalty and Protective Instincts

The Cão de Castro Laboreiro is a fiercely loyal breed that will protect its family and home at all costs. This breed’s guarding instincts make it an excellent watchdog that will bark and alert its owners if it senses any danger or threat.

Intelligence and Trainability

The Cão de Castro Laboreiro is an intelligent breed that is eager to learn and please its owners. This breed responds well to positive training methods and requires regular exercise and mental stimulation to keep its mind active and engaged.

However, the Cão de Castro Laboreiro can be stubborn at times and may require a firm hand and consistent training to ensure discipline and obedience.

Socialization and Interaction with Other Animals

The Cão de Castro Laboreiro can be a social dog breed when raised in a loving and nurturing environment.

However, it is essential to socialize the breed at a young age to prevent aggression and territorial behavior towards other animals and strangers. This breed can get along well with children and other pets if introduced early and trained correctly.

Health and Lifespan of the Cão de Castro Laboreiro

The Cão de Castro Laboreiro is a relatively healthy breed that can live up to 12 years of age. However, like all breeds, this breed can be prone to certain health issues that owners should be aware of.

Common Health Issues

The Cão de Castro Laboreiro is prone to certain health problems, such as: 

  • Hip Dysplasia: An orthopedic, hereditary condition marked by incongruency of the bones that form the hip joint
  • Elbow Dysplasia: Also an orthopedic and hereditary condition in which the joint incongruency affects the three bones forming the elbow 
  • Eye Problems: The breed is susceptible to eye conditions, such as glaucoma, cataracts, and progressive retinal atrophy (PRA)

Exercise and Activity Requirements

The Cão de Castro Laboreiro is an active breed that requires regular exercise and activity to keep them physically and mentally stimulated. Daily walks and playtime in a secure yard, or park can help keep them healthy and happy.

Diet and Nutrition

A balanced diet and proper nutrition are essential for the health and longevity of this breed. Owners should feed them high-quality dog food that meets their nutritional needs and monitor their weight to prevent obesity, which can lead to various health issues.


The Cão de Castro Laboreiro is a unique dog breed that embodies the strength, loyalty, and resilience of the Portuguese shepherding culture. This breed’s history, physical traits, and temperament make it a fascinating breed.

If you are looking for a loyal and protective companion that is both physically and mentally engaging, the Cão de Castro Laboreiro might be the breed for you.

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