The Rafeiro Do Alentejo Dog Breed – The Portuguese Mastiff

Rafeiro do Alentejo

Also called the Portuguese Mastiff, the Rafeiro do Alentejo

is big and imposing, but a gentle giant.

This is a dog breed with 3 names! As well as Portuguese Mastiff and Rafeiro do Alentejo, they can also be called the Alentejo Mastiff. Oddly, the Portuguese word “rafeiro” means “mongrel”, even though this breed is definitely a pure breed, recognized in the U.K. by the Kennel Club, and in the U.S.A. by the American Kennel Club as Foundation Stock, and of course also by the Portuguese Kennel Club.

A red Rafeiro do Alentejo (Portuguese Mastiff) standing sideways to the viewer, on grass.
Rafeiro do Alentejo, Portuguese Mastifff

Rafeiro do Alentejo Temperament

This breed has a serious nature. They are calm and confident, and walk around slowly with deliberation. You won’t see a Rafeiro do Alentejo get too exuberant or show much excitement, like a Labrador! This grumpy nature hides the fact that they are extremely loyal to their family members and home.

This dog has been bred to protect livestock such as sheep day and night, and to be able to think and act on their own, without direct instruction from a shepherd. This means they are independent, and do not readily accept instructions from a human. Some people would call them obstinate!

This is a gentle giant of a dog around the home, getting on well with children and other dogs. However they are very protective, and alert to anything unusual going on in the area. While they are not aggressive, they will challenge any strangers with a booming bark and an intimidating posture.

This attitude means that they do not welcome strangers or newcomers into the house warmly – they will watch the behavior of their owner towards the new person, and remain wary until they get to know them.

The Portuguese Mastiff was not bred to run fast, and they are happy taking a long slow walk each day. They don’t need a big yard for exercise, but they DO need a large home to live in. Their size makes them unsuitable for apartment living.

A grey Rafeiro do Alentejo dog standing on brown earth with green trees in the background.
Rafeiro do Alentejo

Rafeiro do Alentejo Breed History

These dogs are named after the Alentejo region of southern Portugal. They are thought to be derived from the ancient Molosser type of dog from Asia, but it’s unknown when they first appeared in Portugal. It’s likely they were brought by the Romans.

Once on the Iberian peninsula it is likely that the Estrela Mountain dog and the Spanish Mastiff were involved in developing the Portuguese Mastiff.

These dogs were bred to be working dogs, helping to move sheep from one grazing area in the mountains of North Portugal to the plateau of Alentejo in the south, and back. They helped to shepherd the flock, keeping the sheep together and heading in the right direction. They also protected the sheep from animal predators such as wolves and bear, as well as from human bandits.

They were developed to be continually alert to their surroundings, especially at night, raising the alarm if anything suspicious occurred. This alert and suspicious nature still makes them good guard dogs to this day.

The need for such large guardians declined over time, with large predators being hunted to virtual elimination, and modernization of farming methods.  The use of dogs on farms fell out of favor, and this breed declined in numbers.

However a small number of dog enthusiasts kept the breed going, but the numbers are very small – this is a rare dog breed!

A grey Rafeiro do Alentejo close up of head and shoulders
Rafeiro do Alentejo


This is an easy dog breed to groom. The straight, medium length coat does not shed much, and only needs weekly brushing. You should start to brush your dog from the first day you bring it home, to help bonding and get the dog used to close contact with you.

The Rafeiro do Alentejo has large ears that can pick up infections, so they should be checked every week for any signs such as redness, swelling or a bad smell.

Vital Statistics

Height: 28 inches to 29 inches
Weight: around 100lbs
Lifespan: 12 to 14 years


Black, Yellow, Grey or Fawn with white markings, or White with markings

Ease of Training

The Rafeiro do Alentejo is NOT an easy dog to train, due to their independent and obstinate nature. This is definitely not a breed for a first-time dog owner. It is very important to start socialization as soon as possible. This means taking the dog out and introducing him to new sights, smells, new people and of course other dogs and animals.

Because they are very territorial and will try to deter anything they consider strange, it’s very important to arrange for regular visits from friends and family, in order to get the dog used to new people turning up and not being a threat.

I strongly recommend taking your new Rafeiro do Alentejo to puppy training classes as part of the socialization process. Once they get to 6 months it is a good idea to work one-on-one with a professional dog trainer, to improve the low obedience level that these dogs tend to have.

Head and shoulders close up of a red Rafeiro do Alentejo dog.
Rafeiro do Alentejo


This is a big dog with a territorial nature and a defensive attitude when it comes to strange people. They are surprisingly alert, especially at night, and will quickly raise the alarm if anything unusual is going on. As a watch dog, they are excellent.

Any would-be intruder will be put off by the sound of the deep bark of the Rafeiro do Alentejo. But when they see the dog approach, they are almost certain to be deterred from venturing any further. This dog was bred to protect, and they have the attitude and the imposing size to challenge unwanted guests. This breed makes an excellent guard dog.

Health Considerations

There are 3 main issues that may affect your Rafeiro do Alentejo;

  • Hip dysplasia
  • Bloat
  • Ear infections.

Reputable breeders will have their stock regularly screened by a vet to reduce the incidence of hip dysplasia.

The risk of bloat can be minimized by using an anti-gulping bowl to feed your dog. This design of bowl slows down the rate the dog can eat at.

anti-gulping bowl
Anti gulping bowl

Fun Feeder Go Slow Anti-Gulping Dog Bowl

  • Encourages eating and drinking at a slower pace
  • Dishwasher safe
  • Encourages pet to eat or drink at a slower pace preventing indigestion, vomiting and bloating
  • Suitable for wet or dry food; Great solution for dogs who eat and drink quickly


Breed Recognition

The Rafeiro do Alentejo (Alentejo Mastiff) is recognised by;

  • the Fédération Cynologique Internationale. (FCI)
  • The Associação Dos Criadores Do Rafeiro Do Alentejo, the official breed club for the Rafeiro do Alentejo in Portugal.
  •  American Kennel Club (as the Rafeiro do Alentejo) in the Foundation Stock Service group
  • the United Kennel Club in the United States, in the Guardian Dog Group, as the Alentejo Mastiff.

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