The Portuguese Podengo (Podengo Portugues), the Pequeno, Medio, and Grande, are a group of three closely related hunting dogs native to Portugal, where they are the country’s National Dog. Primarily distinguished by size, all three were tasked with hunting different types of animals. Modern kennel clubs treat the sizes differently; some consider them separate breeds and others consider them to all be different varieties of the same breed. All three sizes come in two distinct coat varieties, a smooth and a wire. The Portuguese Podengo is also known as Podengo Portugues, Portuguese Rabbit Hound, Portuguese Rabbit Dog, and Portuguese Sighthound.
The Portuguese Podengo was developed long before written records of dog breeding were kept, meaning that very little of this breed’s ancestry is known with certainty. This situation is exacerbated by the fact that Portuguese Podengo were primarily kept in rural areas and less would have been said about them in any case. However, some facts are known and others can be interpreted based on existing evidence.
The Portuguese Podengo is generally regarded as being a member of a family of primitive-looking, prick-eared hunting dogs native to the Mediterranean. Other members of this family include the Cirneco dell’Etna of Sicily, the Pharaoh Hound of Malta, the Ibizan Hound of the Balearic Islands, and the Podenco Canario of the Canary Islands. The Portuguese language refers to all of these breeds as Podengos. These breeds are all considered to be quite ancient, and are regarded as some of Europe’s oldest breeds. There are two primary theories regarded the origins of these breeds, that they were developed in the Middle East or that they were developed in the Mediterranean Islands. It is not clear when the Portuguese Podengo was first developed, but evidence found underneath the Lisbon Cathedral indicates that the breed was in existence in Portugal no later than 700 B.C.
Although there is substantial debate among researchers as to the exact date, dogs were domesticated form the wolf sometime between 14,000 and 100,000 years ago. It is now accepted that dogs were most likely domesticated in one or two events which took place in the Middle East, India, Tibet, or China, where the local wolves are smaller, less aggressive, and more comfortable in the presence of man than in other places. The first dogs were virtually indistinguishable from the wolf, and were probably nearly identical in appearance to the Dingo, a semi-wild dog native to Australia. These early dogs served their hunter-gatherer masters as hunting aides, camp guardians and companion animals. Dogs proved so invaluable that they rapidly spread across the world, and eventually came to be found everywhere that humans did except for a few remote islands.
Approximately 14,000 years ago, agriculture developed in the Middle East. Agriculture allowed for large sedentary populations, which were initially concentrated in Mesopotamia and Egypt. These larger populations became highly socially stratified, with an entrenched nobility. The ruling classes of these ancient kingdoms had a substantial amount of free time for recreation, and one of their favorite pastimes was hunting. Both regions have vast areas of open land which are home to fleet-footed prey such as hares and gazelles. In order to take advantage of local game conditions, ancient hunters bred specialized hunting dogs with keen eyesight and immense speed. Depictions of dogs which are obviously sight hounds begin to appear in both Egypt and Mesopotamia between 5,000 and 7,000 years ago. One of the most commonly recorded varieties was the Tessem, the preferred hunting dog of the Egyptian Pharaohs. This dog was obviously highly valued as many of them were mummified alongside their royal masters so that they might accompany them into the afterlife. Surviving images of the Tessem are virtually indistinguishable from modern Podengo-type dogs, especially the Pharaoh Hound and the Ibizan Hound.
It is a commonly held belief that the Tessem and other Egypto-Mesopotamian sight hounds were acquired by the Phoenicians, a people native to the coastal regions of modern day Israel, Lebanon, and Syria. The Phoenicians were renowned across the Ancient World as maritime traders, who maintained economic links stretching from Persia to England. The Phoenicians are believed to have brought these ancient breeds across the Mediterranean, giving rise to the Podengo-type dogs. History shows that Phoenicians did have some influence in all regions where Podengo-type dogs were traditionally found. Phoenician colonists founded the North African city of Carthage, which went on to rule a great empire. The Carthaginians turned the trading empire of the Phoenicians into a military and political one, eventually coming to directly rule parts of all territories where Podengo-type dogs are native. In addition to the Middle Eastern breeds, the Phoenicians may have also been responsible for the spread of the Sloughi, a very ancient breed native to North Africa. Although less discussed than role of the Phoenicians or Carthaginians in globally distributing the breed, it is in fact no less likely that the Greeks may have spread these dogs across the Mediterranean. The Greeks were also accomplished maritime traders in and around this time with a major presence in the Middle East and across the Mediterranean. This theory (which is plausible at best) is primarily based on modern historians interpretation of the nearly nonexistent evidence surrounding the spread and growth of these ancient societies, and the dogs that were believed to have existed and accompanied them. Additionally, recent genetic tests fail to support this particular theory of the breed’s genesis and have indicated that the Pharaoh Hound and Ibizan Hound are not nearly as old as once believed and are also less closely related to other sighthounds than previously thought.
A growing number of modern researchers are coming to the conclusion that the Podengo-type dogs were actually developed on the Mediterranean Islands. There is very solid evidence for the Cirneco dell’Etna’s presence in Sicily from at least 2,500 years ago. These breeds could have been developed on any of these islands, most likely but not necessarily Sicily, and then spread to the others by the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks, or Romans, all of whom had a substantial presence in the Iberian Peninsula where both Spain and Portugal are located. It is sometimes suggested that the first Podengo-type dogs to arrive in Iberia were crossed with the local wolves to adapt them to local conditions. The Iberian Wolf is a distinct subspecies from other European wolves, and is characterized by its smaller size, lighter build, and a pair of dent marks in its front legs. As all dogs and all wolves can freely interbreed with each other, it is quite possible that such crosses occurred, although no records have survived.
However and whenever the Portuguese Podengo arrived in Portugal, it quickly became the most commonly used hunting breed in that country. There are no sight hounds or scent hounds native to Portugal, so the Podengo Portugueso became a more generalized hunter which served both roles. Over the course of its history, the Podengo Portugueso has likely been influenced by a number of breeds. The breed was likely crossed with a variety of hunting breeds kept by the Romans, the Pinscher-type farm breeds of the Visigoths, as well as the Sloughi-type sighthounds kept by the Moors. Eventually, the Portuguese developed three distinct size varieties for use on different game.
The Podengo Portugueso Grande was the original version, and also the largest. This dog was used to hunt large game such as deer, boar, and wolf. In most countries a breed such as the Podengo Portugueso Grande would have been paired with a Mastiff-type breed to attack dangerous prey and hold it in place. This breed is both strong and courageous enough to bring down a boar or wolf without the aid of other breeds when hunted in sufficiently large packs. The Portuguese Podengo Grande came in two coat varieties, a smooth and a wire. The Ibizan Hound is also found in these two coat varieties, which may indicate a close relationship between the two breeds.
Not only did Portugal once contain a fair amount of big game, the nation has always had a very large population of rabbits. The hunting of rabbits became very important to Portuguese farmers. Not only are rabbits an agricultural pest that eats crops and digs holes that can break the legs of livestock, but they also provided an important source of protein and hides. Over time, Portuguese hunters developed a smaller breed from the Podengo Portugueso Grande that was better suited to hunting rabbits. The smaller size made the breed somewhat more maneuverable but also conserved valuable resources, as the smaller the dog, the less it needs to eat. This new breed became known as the Podengo Portugueso Medio. It is unclear whether the Medio was bred down using the smallest examples of the Grande, or whether the Grande was crossed with another breed. It is unknown exactly when the Medio became a distinct variety, but it was at definitely before the 15th Century, very likely before the 11th and possibly over a thousand years earlier.
Although the Podengo Portugueso Medio was very skilled at locating rabbits and running them down in the open field, it was too large to follow them into very thick brush, tight crevices, or similar places. Portuguese breeders again reduced the size of the breed to allow it to pursue rabbits wherever they may go. As with the Medio, it is unclear whether the Pequeno was the result of the exclusive breeding of small Portuguese Podengo or crosses with different breeds. The resulting dog became known as the Podengo Portugueso Pequeno. The Pequeno and the Medio are traditionally used in tandem with each other. Both breeds locate the rabbit’s hiding place, and then the Pequeno is sent in to flush it out. Once the rabbit makes a run for it, the Medio is released to run it down and kill it.
From a very early time, Portuguese sailors realized that the Pequeno was not only capable of chasing rabbits from the narrowest of hiding places, but also very skilled at driving rats and mice out of their hiding places in the wooden framework of sailing vessels and killing them. Rats and mice are serious problems on boats; they spread disease, consume valuable food and water, and damage the ship and its equipment. A serious rodent infestation can scuttle voyages and cost lives, resulting in great economic and personal loss. Portuguese Podengo became highly valued by Portuguese traders and explorers, and helped usher in a long period of Portuguese naval and trade dominance around the world. There is evidence to suggest that the Pequeno was already a common sight on Portuguese vessels since the time that King Alfonso I founded the Portuguese nation and drove the Moors from Lisbon. If so that would date the breed’s creation to no later than the 1140’s, although the evidence for the dog’s existence is not quite definitive until the early 1400’s. Beginning in the late 1300’s, Portuguese explorers began probing the coastlines of Africa and the expanses of the Western Atlantic, seeking a way to reach the immense trading wealth of the Orient. The Podengo Portugueso accompanied almost all of the great Portuguese voyages of exploration, including those of Magellan and De Gama, and this breed was likely the first European breed introduced to vast stretches of Latin America, Africa, the Indian subcontinent, and East Asia. The breed was so useful that Spanish and Italian sailors acquired them for their own use as well, and the Podengo Portugueso Pequeno is even believed to have accompanied Christopher Columbus on his journeys to the New World.
For many centuries, all three Portuguese Podengo served their masters as determined hunters. They continued to be used in the much the same way until the last two centuries. Once likely kept in small packs, these breeds began to be kept in large kennels, many with dozens of dogs. Additionally, as large game became increasingly scarce in Portugal, the usefulness of the Podengo Portugueso Grande diminished to the point that it was no longer beneficial to keep such a large dog and like their previous prey they became increasingly scarce as well. At one time, all three varieties were kept relatively pure, but the Grande and Medio were increasingly interbred, partially as a result of the Grande’s rarity. By the end of the 20th Century the Grande was so rare that it was feared that it might become totally extinct. There is currently a program in place in Portugal that gives registration to non-pedigreed Grandes. It is hoped that this program will expand the gene pool of the Grande to the greatest extent possible and hopefully give rise to a resurgence of the breed with healthy specimens.
Throughout the breeds history Portuguese breeders have focused almost entirely on the dog’s working ability, not on its physical appearance. They were also disinterested in turning their breed into a pet, and the vast majority of breed members in existence today remain as working dogs. Only in recent decades, have dog fanciers from across Europe become interested in keeping the Podengo Portugueso as a companion and show dog. To that end the Federation Cynologique Internationale (FCI) recognized all six size and coat variations as varieties of the same breed in 2008.
Portuguese Podengo have probably been present in the United States for decades. It is agreed that Portuguese immigrants brought their dogs with them throughout the 20th Century, and many of them used their imported dogs to found sizable hunting kennels once in the United States. However, the breed did not catch the attention of other American admirers until the 1990’s. The first Americans to import breed members for anything other than hunting did so in the early part of that decade after the internet allowed them to research the breed and make contact with Portuguese kennels. In 1995, the Great Lakes Portuguese Podengo Club (GLPPC) was founded by a small group of interested fanciers, which is now known as the American Podengo Portugueso Medio/Grande Club (APPM/GC). The club initially focused on the Medio variety but also represented the other two as well. The first known Smooth-Coated Podengo Portugueso Pequeno was imported into the United States in 1995. Slowly, the breed’s population increased in the United States as a result of imports and a small group of breeders. In 2001, the first wire-coated Pequeno was imported. For a variety of reasons, the Pequeno variety quickly became far more popular than the other two combined in the United States, and in 2003 fanciers of the smallest variety decided to separate their breed. In that year the Portuguese Podengo Pequeno Club of America (PPPCA) was founded. Both the PPCA and the APPM/GC had the ultimate goal of getting their breed’s registered with America’s two most important canine organizations, the American Kennel Club (AKC) and the United Kennel Club (UKC).
In 2004, the Portugueso Podengo was accepted into the AKC’s Foundation Stock Service (AKC-FSS), the first step towards full recognition with that organization. Initially, all three varieties were treated as the same breed but were subsequently divided into two: the Podengo Portugueso Pequeno and the Podengo Portugueso (Which itself contains two varieties: the Medio and the Grande). The AKC recognizes both coat types of all three sizes. In 2006, the UKC granted full recognition to the Podengo Portugueso as one breed with six varieties, in much the same way as the FCI. On January 1st, 2011, the AKC accepted the Pequeno into its Miscellaneous Class, the last step before full recognition, and also declared the PPPCA to be the breed’s official parent club. It is now expected that the Podengo Portugueso Pequeno will become a full member of the Hound Group within the next few years, unless a reorganization plan is accepted in which case the breed would became a member of a group dedicated to sighthounds. Currently, the Podengo Portugueso remains in the FSS, largely due to its low numbers, but its fanciers are determined to continue their efforts towards full recognition.
All three varieties of Podengo Portugueso remain very rare in the United States. There are fewer than 400 Medios and probably fewer than 200 total members of the other two varieties. Although the breed is rare in the United States, its fanciers are dedicated to increasing its popularity and are striving to achieve full recognition with the AKC. In Portugal, where the Podengo Portugueso has been named the national breed, the vast majority of all three varieties of Podengo remain almost exclusively working dogs. In the United States, a sizable majority of Podengo Portugueso Pequenos are primarily companion animals, but a very large percentage, and perhaps the majority, of the other two varieties are hunting dogs. All three varieties are used in a number of performance and companion events such as agility, obedience, and lure coursing.
All three size varieties are virtually identical in all aspects other than size, and the two coat types are identical in all other aspects than coat. Very primitive in appearance, the Portuguese Podengo is very similar to a number of other prick eared hunting dogs native to the Mediterranean, such as the Ibizan Hound and Pharaoh Hound. The Pequeno is a very small dog, while the other two are medium-sized. The average Pequeno stands between 8 and 12 inches tall at the shoulder and weighs between 9 and 13 pounds. The average Medio stands between 16 and 22 inches tall at the shoulder and weighs between 35 and 44 pounds. The average Grande stands between 22 and 28 inches tall at the shoulder and weighs between 44 and 66 pounds. The average Pequeno has slightly shorter legs proportional to its body size than the other varieties, and this size is usually around 20% longer from chest to rump than it is tall from ceiling to shoulder. The other two varieties are almost exactly square in proportion. All three sizes have a very generic body structure without any noticeably exaggerated features. The tail of this breed is somewhat long and quite thick. It is usually held low with a curve when at rest, and either horizontal or in a sickle shape when the dog is in motion.
The face and head of the Portuguese Podengo is very primitive. The head is lean, chiseled, and wedge-shaped. The heads of some Pequenos are rounded in a manner similar to that of the Chihuahua, but most of these dogs have a flattened skull. This breed has a relatively long head which blends in very smoothly into the muzzle. The muzzle itself is also quite long, but not quite as long as the skull. It is usually wide at the base and then tapers somewhat strongly towards the end. The muzzle contains tight-fitting lips and ends in a nose that should be darker in color than the rest of the coat. The eyes of this breed are almond-shaped, set obliquely, and range in color from honey to amber brown. The ears of this breed are some of its most distinctive features and stand fully erect, but point out to the sides. They are quite large in size, triangular in shape, and end in a fairly sharp point. The overall expression of most breed members is bright, lively, and somewhat wild.
Portuguese Podengo come in two distinct coat varieties, a smooth and a wire. The Smooth-Coated has short, very dense, and smooth hair. The Wire-Coated has a medium-length coat which is less dense than that of the smooth, as well as being rough and coarse. The Wire-Coat forms a distinctive beard and occasionally a mustache. All sizes of Podengo Portugueso may be found in any shade of yellow or fawn, from the darkest to the lightest. These colors may either be solid or with white markings. These dogs may also be white, with or without any fawn of yellow markings. The Podengo Portugueso Pequeno also comes in two additional colors, which are acceptable but disfavored in the show ring, black and brown. Pequenos may be solidly black or brown, brown or black with white markings, or white with black or brown markings.
The Portuguese Podengo has a temperament which is similar to that of many other primitive hunting breeds. These dogs tend to form close attachments with its family, and are known for its great loyalty. Some breed members have a tendency to become one-person dogs, but most will form equally strong attachments to all members of a family. These breeds vary tremendously in terms of affection level. While some are very openly affectionate, most are more reserved. In Portugal, this breed is almost always kept outdoors in large kennels, and does quite well as an outdoor dog in warm climates. Portuguese Podengo have an average reputation with children. Breed members that have been properly socialized with them usually get along well with them, but those that have not been exposed to kids from a young age may or may not be tolerant of them.
These dogs are naturally suspicious of strangers, and most are quite aloof around them. With proper socialization most of these dogs will be very tolerant of and polite with strangers, although few will ever be particularly fond of their presence. Without the proper socialization, this breed has a tendency to become nervous, fearful, or overly protective with strangers any of which may lead to aggression. Most Portuguese Podengo make alert and reliable watchdogs, although some to a greater extent than others. Although not especially aggressive, some Medios and Grandes make acceptable, if perhaps not exceptional, guard dogs.
The Portuguese Podengo has traditionally been used in large packs to hunt game. As a result, this breed usually gets along well with other dogs, and most breed members would greatly prefer to share their lives with at least one other dog. However, dog aggression is far from unheard on in this breed, especially among males. Without the proper socialization, this breed can develop major issues with other dogs, and some should probably be kept in a one dog home. As is the case with most “primitive” breeds, the Podengo Portugueso has very strong pack instinct and when kept in large groups is often more responsive to other dogs than humans.
These breeds were bred to hunt and kill other creatures and as a result exhibit very high levels of aggression towards non-canine animals. These dogs will chase and potentially attack and kill virtually any creature that they see. A Podengo Portuguese left alone in a yard for any length of time will likely bring its owner home “presents” of dead animals, and leaving a small creature such as a hamster or rabbit unsupervised with one of these dogs is essentially giving it a death sentence. If raised with cats from a young age most breed members will be fine with those individual cats (but will still likely chase strange cats), but some are never trustworthy with them.
The Portuguese Podengo is regarded as being relatively trainable, especially compared to other hunting hounds. The Podengo Portugueso has competed with some success at agility and obedience competitions. It is also said that this breed will stop a pursuit and return when called much more reliably than most hounds. Most trainers who have experience with the breed claim that it responds much better to reinforcement-based training techniques, especially those that emphasize food rewards, rather than correction-based methods.
Capable of hunting for long hours, these breeds need substantial amounts of activity. The larger sizes should probably get a minimum of 45 minutes to an hour of vigorous exercise every day, although they could definitely get more if provided. The Pequeno can get by on slightly less, but even this size likes to get the most exercise possible. All varieties need a long daily walk, but greatly prefer some time to run off leash in a safely enclosed area. Some of these dogs may be relatively calm indoors once they have gotten their exercise, but others are constantly active. It is highly imperative that owners of these dogs provide them with a proper outlet for their energy; otherwise, they will find one for themselves. Unexercised Portuguese Podengo will likely become bored, destructive, excessively vocal, hyper active, and overly excitable. These breeds excel at hunting and lure coursing, and seem to greatly enjoy participating in them. Some breed members have also competed with success at agility and obedience trials.
The Portuguese Podengo was never intended to be a companion dog, and was bred essentially exclusively as a working hunting dog until the last few decades. As a result, these dogs have considerably less refined temperament than most modern breeds. Working dogs of the open country, these dogs are generally very difficult to keep in an apartment setting. The Pequeno is better suited to life in cramped quarters, but is still less suited than most similarly sized-breeds. Podengos love to dig holes, and will destroy a garden. They bark (sometimes a great deal), jump, and chase other animals. Many of these dogs scent mark their territory, which means that they will lift up their legs on household furniture unless carefully trained not to. All three breeds are tremendous escape artists with strong desires to roam and hunt, and any enclosure which contains them must be very secure. Most breed members do make excellent pets, but some adapt poorly to life without a job.
Both coat varieties are very easy to groom. Each only requires a brushing once or twice a week, although the Wire-Coated may need a more specialized brush. These dogs should be bathed infrequently to preserve natural body oils, ideally no more than once every three or four months. Other than that, this breed only needs the routine maintenance procedures required of all dogs such as nail clipping and teeth brushing. The Portuguese Podengo is an average shedder that will regularly leave hair on furniture, clothes, and carpets, but will generally not cover them.
A rare breed outside of Portugal, there is almost no data available on the breed’s health. It does appear that this breed is very healthy. These dogs were bred for countless centuries as working dogs, and any genetic defect would have been eliminated from breeding lines as a result of natural or artificial selection. They also benefit from an ancient body plan, which is more natural and almost always healthier. In Portugal, this breed also has a very large gene pool. This does not mean that this breed is immune from genetically inherited health problems, but it does mean that it suffers from fewer of them and at much lower rates than is common amongst most other dog breeds. Portuguese Podengo in other countries such as the United States usually have smaller gene pools and may be more vulnerable to genetic conditions. Although proper health surveys have not yet been conducted in the United States, it appears that the life expectancy of these dogs is approximately 10 to 14 years.
Although skeletal and visual problems are quite rare in this breed it is still advisable for owners to have their pets tested by both the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF). The OFA and CERF perform genetic and other tests to identify potential health defects before they show up. This is especially valuable in the detection of conditions that do not show up until the dog has reached an advanced age, making it especially important for anyone considering breeding their dog to have them tested to prevent the spread of potential genetic conditions to its offspring. Doing so will help maintain the good health of the Portuguese Podengo.
Health information on these breeds is very sparse, but based on what is known about similar breeds, the Portuguese Podengo is likely to be most susceptible to the following conditions: