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Cao de Gado Transmontano: The Reserved Iberian

Four Portugese LGD breeds
The Iberian Peninsula, nowadays located in 2 countries: Portugal and Spain, brought forth several livestock guardians (LGDs). Among them the Cao de Gado Transmontano, a breed that developed out of Iberian mastiffs, with its origins in the highlands of North Portugal, Tras-os-Montes.

In August 2012 we visited several northern Portuguese nature areas to investigate the current situation regarding traditional herding and some endemic LGD breeds. The Iberian region, as mentioned nowadays located in Spain and North Portugal, still has a population of wolves. The Iberian wolf is subspecie of the European wolf and is isolated from other European wolf populations.  It is smaller and due to the semi open habitat and rather low prey specie numbers they often are solo or duo hunters.

In the early 80’s, after the 1979 European Habitat Directive was established, Portugal asked for help to assist them in creating a conservation plan for ‘their’ Iberian wolves. They asked the right person and they got the best help they could get. Prof.dr. JL van Haaften, an experienced wildlife specialist from the Netherlands, went to Portugal and together with local colleagues he investigated the situation. His keen research resulted into useful conclusions and he initiated a package of measures to conserve and manage the Northern Portuguese nature and wildlife.

Today Prof.dr. van Haaftens work still is the foundation for successful conservation and conflict prevention. We were lucky enough to have him as support and advisor for several years until he unfortunately passed away in the summer of 2012.

Bad hunting management, in the years before the Habitat Directive, resulted in a poor population of prey species (Roe deer) in Portugal. More and more shepherds were suffering severe losses caused by wolves and like almost everywhere the public support for wolves was dramatic. So explaining the importance of predators to the public, especially to those who live and work in wolf territory, and providing sufficient conflict prevention measures were and are prime required actions.

Cao de Gado pup
Several LGDs developed in the Iberian region through time and our attention was focused
on a few specific breeds including Cao de Gado Transmontano. The Iberian wolf conservation foundation ‘Grupo Lobo’ (founded with the help and advice of Prof.dr. van Haaften) already provided shepherds with this LGD.

During our research in North Portugal we discovered that traditional herding has diminished and many shepherds today keep their flocks in paddocks close by the village. Some paddocks are located relatively far from farms and village yet just as far from the forest and wilderness borders. Most of the time we found paddocks with flock in it and one or two LGDs present and no human presence, the paddock sealed off with typical natural rock walls.

 Paddocks close to the villages
The current method of livestock farming, the small Portuguese wolf population and the fact that they hunt solo or in small numbers asks for a certain type of LGD. The Cao de Gado Transmontano is definitely suited for the situation. These large, rustic, strong and short coated dogs are well adapted to warm, dry climate and capable to work independent in various situations. They have a serious yet soft impression and their reserved and docile nature towards (strange) people works in their advantage because encounters with strangers (tourists) are very common in North Portugal.

When approaching these calm dogs they show caution without aggression. Their vigilance and actions towards attacking wolves are exceptional. Adult males live well together without too much conflict. When guarding flocks in remote paddocks one or two dogs are sufficient. The few shepherds that still herd their flocks through the highlands and more forested areas should double the number of guardians to maximize security. In the wild wolves are in their element and they will test and wear out opposing LGDs to the max while hunting livestock.

When you bond with the Cao de Gado Transmontano their reserved nature will transform into a loyal friendship. They can be handled without problems and they are sensitive for human attention and kindness. The continuation of utility use of the Cao de Gado in Portugal will decrease relatively fast with the current changing of livestock farming.

Monument: Portugese shepherd and Cao de Gado Transmontano

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