The Cão de Castro Laboreiro, or Dog from Castro Laboreiro, or Portuguese Cattle Dog or Portuguese Watch Dog, is a dog breed of the livestock guardian dog type, originating from Castro Laboreiro in the northern mountains of Portugal.
The name, "Dog from Castro Laboreiro", refers to a small town, Castro Laboreiro, in the far north of Portugal, now a parish in the Melgaço urban area. It is in the same mountains as the Peneda-Gerês National Park. Although now served by modern highways, the mountainous, rocky area was once quite remote. The modern breed is descended from a very old molosser type, which worked with livestock herders in the mountains, defending against wolves and other large predators.
The origin of the Cão de Castro Laboreiro is not known, although many legends are given. The Portuguese breed club notes that "Everything that is written about their origins is pure fiction, without any scientific or historical accuracy...data is rare, or does not exist...most guardian and herding breeds do not have records before 1900".
There are mentions of the Castro Laboreiro in the 19th century (1800s) but none before 1800. Camilo Castelo Branco in his novella A Brasileira de Prazins (1882) (The Brazilian Girl from Prazens) mentions "the dogs of Castro Laboreiro, very fierce..."
The modern breed today is of the general type of livestock guardian dog that moved with the pastoralist nomads of the transhumance into many areas of the world, possibly arriving before 3000BC in the Iberian Peninsula. It is generally theorized that the origin was in Mesopotamia where modern sheep and goats were domesticated. Modern genetic studies have shown that the modern breed is unique from other similar breeds in Portugal; and in the future, DNA studies may provide more evidence about the movements of the ancient types from which the modern breed developed.
With the eradication of wolves and other large predators the Cão de Castro Laboreiro lost its original use. Changes in agricultural methods over the last hundred years led to many of these dogs being abandoned, turning feral and becoming a problem for those that raise cattle and horses.
Today, most of the breed has been removed from its native range and purpose, and is kept as a companion and guard dog. It was first exhibited at a dog show in 1914, and the first written breed standard was by veterinarian Manuel Marques, in 1935, and the breed was recognised by the Clube Portugues de Canicultura, the official Fédération Cynologique Internationale kennel club for Portugal founded in 1897. The Cão de Castro Laboreiro is recognised by the Fédération Cynologique Internationale in Group 2, Section 2.2 Mastiffs, Mountain Type, Portugal (breed number 150). Other breeds in Section 2.2 include the Cão da Serra da Estrela (number 173) and the Rafeiro do Alentejo (Alentejo Mastiff), number 96. It is also recognized by the United Kennel Club in the United States, in the Guardian Dog Group. It may also be listed under the name Cão de Castro Laboreiro, similar-sounding names, or different English versions of the name (such as Portuguese Cattle Dog or Portuguese Watch Dog) by large commercial breeders, minor kennel clubs that require little to no breed verification for registration, and internet-based dog registry businesses, where it is promoted as a rare breed for those seeking a fashionably novel or unique pet. Nevertheless, the number of specimens of this breed does not exceed 500 in the whole world. In Portugal, there are a half dozen of breeders, a couple of them in Europe, in United Kingdom (Cao Castro Laboreiro UK), (Germany) and one in the US.
The desired appearance for which the Cão de Castro Laboreiro has been bred is somewhat wolflike in outline. It is a large dog, but not oversize. Height should not be above 60 cm (24 in) at the withers and weight should not be more than 40 kg (88 lbs); females somewhat smaller. Coat colours are also described in wolf terms, dark wolf colour, light wolf colour. Most breeders prefer what is considered the most authentic, called mountain colour (cor do monte), also described as similar to the coat of a wolf. The mountain colour is a mixed light and dark grey interspersed with individual hairs (not spots) that are brown (called pine-seed) or dark red (called mahogany), in a brindle.
Health issues specific to the breed have not been documented. Dogs represented as Cão de Castro Laboreiro may be mixed with other breeds, which may have other genetic health problems. Puppy buyers should enquire of breeders about types of health testing done on the sire and dam; responsible breeders will be able to provide information. Being a "rare breed" does not guarantee immunity from inherited disease or disability.