The Majorca Shepherd dog is a rare specimen that most people have probably never seen. It is referred to as the “Ca de Bestiar,” and hails from the Balearic Islands of Spain. This medium sized dog is used to guard sheep and serves as a general all-around farm dog. It is black with white chest markings and comes in two varieties, short hair and long hair. No one knows exactly when the breed first surfaced but its lineage goes way back thousands of years.
1. It’s Not A Labrador
Most of us have never had the privilege of spotting a Majorca Shepherd but even if we did, our eyes may have fooled us. They look very similar in appearance to the popular black Labrador Retriever, one of America’s most popular breeds.
Besides looking almost identical in the face, they can both be black with short hair and have white markings on their chest.
In fact, some Lab owners have even questioned whether their dog was in fact the Majorca Shepherd. That being said, the odds are low because they are typically only found in their native land.
So how can you tell the difference between the two? Majorca Shepherds are typically larger dogs. They stand up to 4 inches taller and can weigh up to 8 pounds heavier than their counterpart.
Think you may have one on your hands? The only way to be 100% certain is to get a DNA test. Chances are, it’s not the rare Ca de Bestiar!
2. It Has A Noble Heritage
While the exact date that the Majorca Shepherd arrived is unknown, the breed came at around the time of the conquest of Majorca.
The dog is believed to have come along with James I of Aragon to conquer Majorca, the largest of the Balearic Islands located in the Mediterranean Sea.
He traveled by sea with a legion that included one hundred and fifty-five ships, fifteen hundred horsemen, fifteen thousand soldiers and most likely Ca de bestiar dogs.
James conquered Majorca overthrowing Abu Yahya, governor of the island, on December 31st, 1229. The exact number of dogs that entered the island is unknown, but the origin of the breed began here.
3. Their Black Coat Can Tolerate High Temperatures
Typically, dogs that have black or dark coats get hotter with higher temperatures. This is because black absorbs more sunlight than white or lighter colors.
The Majorca Shepherd is the exception. Because they were developed in the Mediterranean climate, they are able to withstand the hot dry summers of the Balearic Islands. Majorca, their homeland being the hottest of the islands averaging 88.7 F in August.
Their sleek black coats also played another interesting role. According to this article, bandits during the sixteenth and seventeenth century would use the breed’s dark color to sneak up on and attack travelers during the night.
It also gave the dog the advantage when guarding against any looters or thieves. This wasn’t the dog you wanted to run into during a late-night escapade.
4. The Majorca Shepherd Almost Went Extinct
Many dogs have been on the brink of extinction including the famous scent tracking Bloodhound which only had 51 registrations back in 2013. Most recently the English Water Spaniel fell victim to the Extinct Dog Breeds List.
Faced with dwindling numbers and the possible extinction of the breed, a man by the name of Alonso Guasp took charge in an initiative to save the breed in 1970.
He was successful in preserving the true purebred Ca de Bestiar and on May 26th, 1982, the Fédération Cynologique Internationale officially recognized the breed.
In 2006, the United Kennel Club followed suit, officially recognizing the Ca de Bestiar in their database of dog breeds.
5. Mallorcan Shepherds Compete In Spain
Since 1978, the Club del Ca de Bestiar has been promoting and holding various competitions for the breed.
The Monograph Exhibition of the Ca de Bestiar is an annual race held in Porreres. Dogs are judged and winners are announced in several different categories.
In addition to organizing dog shows, the Club also hopes to inform the public about the breed. They also aim to maintain the original characteristics of the breed from the 1980’s.
6. The Ca de Bestiar Wears A Special Wooden Collar
Many of the Majorca Shepherds in Spain wear a special handmade collar that is crafted from Hawthorn wood. Together, the Hawthorn tree along with the Moorish palm are used by many shepherds.
Their ease of use makes them a popular choice because their wood is easy to laminate and easy to turn on a lathe.
The shepherds adorn the collars with embellishments made of aluminum, a popular resource on the island. These collars are a traditional part of the culture and heritage centering around the amazing breed.
To this day, shepherds use these “necklaces” on their dogs.
7. The Breed Was Contaminated And Then Recovered
Upon the arrival of tourists on the island, other breeds started mating with the Ca de Bestiar. These included the Doberman, German Shepherd, Great Dane and Mastiff.
This led to a contamination of the pure breed. The German Shepherd specifically had the most impact on the dog, adding more aggression to their temperament.
At one point, they were even referred to as “feien carn” which translates to “making meat” in Catalan. They were given this name because they would aimlessly kill chickens, ducks and even sheep.
Far from the original state of a pure-bred Ca de Bestiar and on the brink of extinction a small group of enthusiasts began the process of recovering the breed.
To produce the standard, a group of enthusiasts and lovers of this dog began to favor pups selected as the best examples of the characteristics they had been looking for.The Story of the Modern Ca de Bestiar
Alonso Guasp and the Club del Perro Pastor Mallorquín foundation were both pivotal in the process and recovery of the breed which was officially recognized in 1980 cementing its legacy.
There are currently only around 4000 Majorca Shepherd dogs in the world and there is a good chance that you will never see one in person. If you do get the honor, be careful, they don’t do well with strangers and are very protective of their owners.
This breed is not for the inexperienced and fits much better with a single person as opposed to a family. They are extremely loyal and will guard you with their life. To this day, they remain a symbol of pride in their homeland.
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