The Portuguese Podengo Pequeno is one of the oldest of all dog breeds. Brought to the Iberian Peninsula over two thousand years ago by Romans and Phoenicians, these primitive dogs have not changed much since ancient times. The breed has flourished in Portugal for centuries. While dogs from northern Africa undoubtedly influenced the breed during the Moorish invasion in the 8th century, the Portuguese people let nature filter out what they felt were inferior qualities from those crossings. They only intentionally bred the best Podengos from each generation, especially those with well-ingrained natural hunting talent. Over time, this created a superior small hunting dog that was well-adapted to the tough terrain and rough climatic conditions of the Portuguese landscape. These strong, sturdy, versatile hounds used sight, scent and sound to locate their prey.
“Podengo” is a Portuguese word used to describe dogs that hunt in packs. “Pequeno” means “small.” Portuguese Podengo Pequeno literally translates to "small Portuguese pack-hunting dog," which is an accurate description of the breed. Podengo Pequenos are light-footed, endurance-trotting dogs that are among the finest of all canine rabbit hunters. In Portugal, most rabbits live in rocky crevices and thick briars rather than in underground dens. Often working alongside their larger Podengo Medio cousins, Podengo Pequenos flushed rabbits from their hiding places. Their fearless flushing abilities also made Pequenos excellent ratters and mousers. The breed was first seen on medallions, mosaics and bas reliefs found in Roman ruins and Portuguese churches of the 10th and 11th centuries. The superb hunting skills of the Podengo Medio and Pequeno, together with the abundance of rabbits in Portugal, helped that country survive during the long Moorish occupation. This is commemorated in a 10th century Visigoth tomb decoration depicting a Podengo with a rabbit in its mouth, which was later placed on the front facade of the 14th century Cathedral of Tomar.
The first smooth-coated Podengo Pequeno arrived in the United States in 1995. The first wire-haired Pequeno arrived in 2001. The Portuguese Podengo Pequeno Club of America (PPPCA) was formed in 2003. It merged with the American Portuguese Podengo Pequeno Club in 2010, forming one organization dedicated to promoting, preserving and protecting this primitive breed in the United States. Portuguese Podengos are recognized by most major purebred dog organizations, including the American Rare Breed Association (ARBA), United Kennel Club (UKC), United States Dog Agility Association, American Sighthound Field Association and American Kennel Club (AKC). All three Podengo varieties (the Pequeno, Medio and Grande) were admitted to the AKC Foundation Stock Service under a single breed designation in 2004. In 2008, in order to prevent interbreeding between the Podengo Pequeno and its larger cousins, the PPPCA asked the AKC to classify the Pequeno as a separate breed, and the AKC agreed. (The AKC’s European counterpart, the Federation Cynologique Internacionale (FCI), has a system to discourage cross-breeding of separate varieties within a breed if asked to do so by the breed’s country of origin. The AKC does not.) The Portuguese Podengo Pequeno became eligible to participate in the AKC’s Miscellaneous Class in January 2011, with a Hound Group designation. It will have full AKC recognition as of January 1, 2013, as a member of the Hound Group. Podengo Pequenos are seen in AKC agility, obedience and rally events. They serve as therapy and service dogs, and many continue to happily hunt rabbits with their owners, especially in Portugal. Today, Portuguese Podengo Pequenos are found throughout the United States. The Podengo is one of 10 National Dogs of Portugal and is the symbol of the Portuguese Kennel Club (the Clube Portugues de Canicultura, or CPC). It is the most popular hunting breed in Portugal; even competitive show Podengos are also hunters in their country of origin, which helps keep breed type true to breed function.
The Portuguese Podengo Pequeno is a robust, healthy dog that typically lives well into its teens. Some have lived past twenty. There are few reported genetic disorders in this breed. The most common maladies that Podengo Pequenos suffer are broken toes and other injuries related to hunting and other outdoor activities. Inherited health concerns include Legg-Calve-Perthes disease and luxating patellas. Fortunately, both of those conditions usually are evident well before a dog reaches breeding age.