The Rafeiro do Alentejo is a breed that originated in Portugal as a herd guardian that would move with cattle from pasture to pasture. The name refers to the south-central region of Portugal, Alentejo, where the dog originated. The word “rafeiro” means mongrel in Portuguese. These dogs are believed to be descended from the large working dogs brought to Portugal from the Tibetan highlands. Although these dogs were in use for a long time, a standard was not established for the breed until the 1950s. Throughout the next 3 decades, this breed suffered a decline not only in their numbers, but also the quality of the breed since dogs that were not very healthy or meeting breed standards were being bred. A small group of breeders set out to save the dogs and return them to their previous high standard. Today the breed is in recovery although they remain somewhat rare outside of Portugal, where they are still considered a vulnerable breed. The Rafeiro do Alentejo is not yet officially recognized by the AKC, but they are being recorded in the AKC’s Foundation Stock Service. The purpose of this service is to keep records and information on breeds that are rare or still being developed.
The Rafeiro do Alentejo is a large and powerful breed. They stand at about 25 to 28 inches tall at the withers and they usually weigh between 100 and 132 pounds. The males are typically larger than the females. These dogs can also be slightly larger than the standard as long as they are well proportioned. The large head is often said to be bear like in shape, with a broad and rounded skull. The wide muzzle is an average length with a somewhat shallow stop. The oval shaped nose is black and the eyes are small and dark. Yellow eyes are considered a fault. The triangular ears are small in comparison to the rest of the head and are somewhat high set. They are folded forward to rest against the side of the dog’s face. These dogs have a strong tail that is long with a slight curve. The Rafeiro do Alentejo’s coat is medium length and thick. It is straight and dense over the whole body. The coat may be black, yellow, or fawn, and may have white markings. They may also be white with colored markings. These dogs are easy to groom and require little effort most of the time. Twice a year they will shed heavily and will need lots of extra brushing during this time.
The Rafeiro do Alentejo is a breed that is often described as sober and self-confident. They are known to be very effective guard dogs and will be alert and vigilant, especially at night. These dogs are wary of strangers, but are not aggressive and will not attack. As a family companion, these dogs are not only protective, but they are also affectionate with children and are quite docile in the home. That being said, they are not a dog for everyone. Without proper training and socialization they can be badly behaved and stubborn. This is a somewhat dominant breed that needs a strong owner that can act as a pack leader to the dog. This means being naturally authoritative, which will command the obedience of the dog. This dog independent in addition to being dominant, and a meek owner will have a lot of trouble controlling them. The Rafeiro do Alentejo will need to begin obedience training while they are still puppies. Firm and consistent commands will get the best results, but do not be too harsh on these dogs, they are sensitive to tone of voice. Harsh punishments and a raised voice will not be effective on these dogs. Positive reinforcement will help to train these dogs much more quickly. It is also important to begin socializing these dogs while they are still young. This is a process that should include taking the dog out to expose them to new people, places, and situations. This helps to ensure that the dog grows up to be well rounded and friendly. It will also keep their protective nature from turning into aggression.
Although the Rafeiro do Alentejo is inactive indoors, this breed needs a large yard and is therefore not recommended for apartment life. The yard should be securely fenced in to keep them from going off and investigating anything they think is suspicious. This is a working breed that is happiest with a job to do, but in lieu of work, they will need regular exercise outside the home such as a long walk. This breed does not have a high demand for exercise like some other working breeds.
Rafeiro do Alentejos are believed to be a relatively healthy breed, but there is very little data available. They have sometimes been known to suffer from hip dysplasia, which can affect the dog’s mobility. As with many large breeds, bloat and gastric torsion are concerns that owners should be aware of. Bloat happens when too much air gets in the stomach, usually caused by the dog eating too fast. The stomach inflates and can twist, cutting off air supply and blood flow. Bloat requires immediate medical attention, but can be prevented by feeding the dog small meals from an elevated food dish. A healthy Rafeiro do Alentejo will live about 12 years.
Overall the Rafeiro do Alentejo is a rare breed that is a hard worker. They are slowly becoming more well known. These dogs are protective of their family and easy to care for. They have low grooming and exercise requirements. This breed needs plenty of training and is not for the inexperienced owner.