Portugal’s Largest Breed

Two years after we first wrote about the Transmontano Mastiff in 2018,  the ancient Livestock Guardian breed originating in the Portuguese province of Trás-os-Montes was recognized by the Fédération Cynologique Internationale – or FCI.  Registered by that organization under the name, Cão de Gado Transmontano, the Transmontano is the largest (and most rustic) of the Portuguese dog breeds, and is still bred almost exclusively by shepherds and herdsmen.

In fact, 95% of the northern Transmontano Mastiff population is used to protect vast flocks of sheep from predation, particularly those from wolves. It’s not hyperbolic to write that the breed was shaped by the wolf: A Transmontano has a nearly square, a very large body weighing upwards of 145 pounds for a male, a long, massive head exuding strength, and a character determined to use it if necessary.

Interestingly, once a Transmontano is away from his flock, he loses any aggression and becomes actually docile and reserved. This isn’t to suggest that if a potential owner doesn’t keep sheep, they have a marvelous pet on their hands. The Transmontano is a working dog through and through, and oh, owners report that the breed has an inclination (and the dexterity) to dig holes in the ground that are big enough to lay inside if only for a few minutes. The harsh climate of  the breed’s homeland of Trás-os-Montes explains this: In an environment of temperature extremes, the best place to buffer against winter chills or escape summer heat is a good hole in the ground. Too, this is an independent breed that can tilt towards being dominant, possibly possessive of food, people and things, and if the dog feels he or she has been treated unfairly, they can hold a grudge.

Not a breed for a first time owner.

We mentioned earlier that breeding is done almost entirely by herdsmen. In 1994, an aggressive program commenced in Montesinho Natural Park in northeastern Portugal to reduce losses to wolves by placing Transmontano pups with these stockmen. The park kept a registry of litters and made the youngsters available to shepherds in cooperation with the Transmontano Mastiff Breeders’ Association.

In 1995, the breed was exclusive to Portugal with no known exports to other countries, and thus, it was rarely seen outside of the northern Iberian peninsula. In 2014, the breed was imported to farmers and ranchers in Western states. One of those states, Oregon, brought in the breed as part of a study to document the notion and efficacy of “bigger and “bolder” breeds as a deterrent to wolf predation after the reintroduction of wolves to the northeastern part of the state. After the wolf’s return in 2008 and through 2014, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife documented “86 fatal wolf attacks on livestock.

As no surprise to dog folk, the overall consensus was that the dogs did well at keeping away wolves, and were far better than traditional guard dogs at deterring coyotes.

More photos of this breed may be found here.
Top photo of a Transmontano is by Carlos via Wikipedia’s Creative Commons Attribution-Share A.le 4.0 International license.

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