Dog Breed Group: Working Dog
Life Span: 12-14 years
Weight: Male: 14-15, Female: 13-14
Height: Male: 18-19, Female: 17-18
Origin of Name: The Cão da Serra de Aires (Portuguese Sheepdog) is a medium-sized breed of dog of the herding dog type.
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Cao da Serra de Aires is considered a relatively recently developed breed, but its history is actually quite mysterious. No one is completely certain how the breed was formed, but there are many theories. All this is known with certainty that Cao da Serra de Aires was developed in Portugal, probably southern or central Portugal, and it has been found in the mountainous region of Serra de Aires since the early years of the 20th century.
The first record of Cao da Serra de Aires dates from the first decades of the 20th century. Because of this, it is widely believed that the breed was first developed at that time. However, the lack of evidence is not entirely conclusive as accurate records of most European herring breeds do not exist prior to that time. Even early mentions of the breed claimed that it was found in the Serra de Aires Mountains, a small range located mainly in the south-central part of the country. The Serra de Aires Mountains formed the boundary of the traditional areas of Ribetozzo and Oeste, with the Alentezzo considered to be the primary houses of the breed.
Although the records of Cao da Serra de Aires are known only from the 20th century, the area in which it was developed has been breeding sheep dogs for thousands of years. Breeds such as the Catalan Sheepdog and the Pyrenean Shepherd are considered to be the oldest of all European herring breeds, and may possibly descend directly from sheep dogs from the Middle East. These breeds are similar to Cao da Serra de Aires, and are generally considered part of the same family. Some also claim that the Cao da Serra de Aires was developed by crossing these dogs with other Iberian herring breeds, but there is no firm evidence to support this claim.
The most prevalent theory for the origin of Cao da Serra de Aires assumes that it was developed in the early 20th century by Conde de Castro Guimares. Although the sources are not specific as to which holder of that title developed the breed, they almost certainly mean the first, Manuel Ignacio de Castro Guimares. The King of Portugal specifically coined the title for Manuel Ignacio in 1909, meaning that if this theory is correct, Cao da Serra de Aires was not developed earlier than at the time. Reportedly, Konde had several birds imported from France which he used to flock to his sheep. This seems highly probable because the brayard was a very well-regarded breed at the time, and it was very well known throughout Europe during 1910 and 1920 as a result of the service of the French Army in the First World War. Proven to be excellent shepherd dogs, but they were not ideally suited to the local climate and terrain. To develop the best possible breed for sheep working in the Serra de Aires Mountains, Condé crossed his dogs with local Iberian herring breeds, possibly the Catalan Sheepdog and the Pyrenean Shepherd. It is not clear what evidence exists to support this theory, but it seems that the presence and characteristics of the breed are stated as circumstantial evidence exists. Although Cao da Serra de Aires was developed, it was well known by the late 1920s in its mountainous home and neighboring area of Alentezzo. The breed was maintained for many decades, especially by working farmers in central and southern Portugal. The dog was mainly used to herd and drive sheep, but was also used to work with cattle and other livestock on the occasion. These breeders focused only on traits that affect a dog's ability to function, such as intelligence, training, climate resistance, athleticism, and the like. The result was an excellent herring dog ideally suited to the environmental conditions found in their homeland. The breed is commonly referred to as Cao Macaca or Monkey Dog, as it had a monkey-like face. Although primarily kept as a Working Dog, the Cao da Serra de Aires was standardized at a relatively early date. In 1932, the Portuguese Kennel Club founded Drs. Antonio Cabral and Drs. Granted full recognition to the breed, using a standard written by Felipe Morgado Romiros. Fortunately for the breed, Portugal's participation in World War I was very limited, and it did not enter World War II. This meant that the Cao da Serra de Aires did not suffer the dramatic population decline experienced by many European herring breeds.
Although Portugal did not suffer as severely as many other breeds, it became very rare in the years following the war. The introduction of modern technology made the breed increasingly less necessary. At the same time, the vast tracts of the breed's traditional homeland transitioned from farm to suburban housing development as the Portuguese capital of Lisbon continued to develop.
Work that it was not recognized by FCI and therefore the international popularity that came with such recognition was not gained. By the late 1970s, Cao da Serra de Aires was very rare, and many thought it was on the verge of extinction.
Cao da Serra de Aires may have been lost forever were it not for the dedicated work of a small number of followers. In the late 1970s, a group of breeders and owners banded together to save the breed. For the last forty years, they have gradually worked to increase the number of the breed while maintaining its overall quality. Cao da Serra de Aires has benefitted greatly from a new group of radicals. During the 1970s and 1980s, the breed was increasingly discovered by middle class Portuguese suburbanites. The breed was well liked due to its intelligence, good temperament and attractive appearance. Realizing that the future of the breed is probably primarily as a companion, breeders are increasingly focused on the qualities that make the breed ideally suited to life as a Companion Dog.
During the last 2 decades, an increasing number of Caos da Serra de Aires have been exported to other countries. Outside Portugal, the breed is specifically known as a companion animal and a show dog. In 1996, FCI formalized the breed as a member of the breed group. It is not clear whether members of any breed have been exported to the United States, but if there are any, it is a very small number of individual dogs. Despite this rarity, the United Kennel Club (UKC) granted full recognition to the breed in 2006 as a member of the Herring Dog Group, although the UKC officially calls the breed a Portuguese sheepdog. Although there are now many breed members outside Portugal, the breed is extremely rare outside their country. Some Chaos da Serra de Aires are still operating in Portugal, particularly in the mountainous homeland of the breed. However, a large proportion of the breed's members are now primarily kept as Companion Dogs, which presumably lies the future of the breed.