Saturday, December 11, 2010

Mystery Solved: Podengo

My husband and I were fortunate to spend a couple of weeks in Spain and Portugal this past October. As we wandered along the beaches and through the cobblestone streets of coastal southern Portugal we kept seeing pointy-eared, scruffy dogs -- little ones, medium ones and the occasional big one. We had seen a few similar scruffy dogs in Spain as well. At first we thought they were just very cute terrier crosses. Then as we kept seeing more and more of these scruffy dogs, we started to wonder if they were actually a breed.

Podengo Pequeno
This afternoon I was chatting with a dog-loving friend who asked me if I'd ever heard of the Podengo, a scruffy dog breed from Portugal. I hadn't. This is rare. I'm usually the one my friends turn to and ask: "Do you know what kind of dog that is?"

(As a youth I was desperate to get a puppy, so I memorized the Encyclopedia of Dogs in an attempt to prove to my parents that I was knowledgeable enough to handle the task. I finally got the dog: Katie, the Cairn Terrier, the first of my scruffy dogs. For some reason that near-encyclopedic knowledge of dog breeds has managed to stick with me all these years. I probably could have used that memory space for something more important, like remembering family birthdays or the names of people I've met at work functions, but no).

My friend's comment sent me on a quest to see if the Podengo was that mystery dog we kept seeing all over Portugal. It is.  The Podengo comes in smooth coat and wire coat in three sizes: Small (Pequeno), Medium (Medio) and Large (Grande). And it's not just any dog breed from's the national dog breed of Portugal. I guess that explains why they were everywhere. And when I say everywhere, I mean everywhere. Rural Portugal doesn't seem to have any sort of enforced leash laws, so these scruffy dogs were running around the countryside, wandering through the city streets and begging for food at restaurants, without their owners anywhere to be found.

Podengo Medio
Obviously I've been remiss in keeping up with the dog times, because, I'm told, this breed is soon to be the hottest must-have dog here in the US. A 2000-year-old hunting breed brought to Iberia by the Phoenecians and now they're being spotted wearing silk dog coats in Manhattan.  I guess that's how it goes. And as of January 1, 2011 the Portuguese Podengo Pequeno is eligible to compete in AKC's Miscellaneous Class, which will give it a big boost when all the scruffy dog lovers like me spot these guys trotting around the ring in televised dog shows.

I just hope that their soon-to-be popularity doesn't lead to them being bred indiscriminately. The breed today has almost no genetic disorders and is extremely healthy, smart and well adjusted to family life -- as it has been for millennia. Traces of the Podengo's DNA are found in little, scruffy, pointy-eared dogs all over the world -- pretty much wherever the Portuguese explorers landed -- as the Podengo Pequeno were used as ratters on Portuguese sailing vessels. But it takes only a few generations of poor breeding in puppy mills to destroy a breed. So let's hope, for the sake of the adorable Podengo, that scruffy dog lovers will get their dogs from reputable breeders who are taking care to maintain this ancient breed's wonderful characteristics.
Podengo Grande

We're not looking for another dog at the moment. Baxter and Kirby are plenty of scruffy canine for one small household. If we were ever to get another purebred, it would probably be a Wirehaired Pointing Griffon like Baxter.  But I have to admit, the Podengo is pretty cute. And we are hoping to spend another vacation in Portugal some day...

(All photos from the Portuguese Podengo Pequeno Club of America.)