The Portuguese Podengo Pequeno (Pequeno) is a small, robust, and rustic breed, originally from Portugal. They are smart, lively dogs that make willing watchdogs while serving as your companion. These natural rabbit hunters are members of the Hound Group, and they will hunt alone or in a small pack. The Pequeno is a national breed of Portugal.
In Portugal, the word “Podengo” is used to refer to a specific type of primitive, pack-hunting dog with erect ears, a wedge-shaped head (like a four-sided pyramid), a sickle-shaped tail, and either a smooth and wire coat. Dogs of this type are thought to have originated with Phoenician and Roman merchants who navigated the coasts of the Mediterranean basin in the time of classical antiquity. When these dogs reached Portugal, the needs of the local hunter and the harsh terrain shaped the Portuguese Podengo Pequeno into a tenacious rabbit hunter.
The Portuguese consider the Podengo to be a single breed with three sizes, the "grande" (large), the "medio" (medium) and the "pequeno" (small). However, in the United States, the American Kennel Club classifies the Portuguese Podengo, as having two sizes—the grande and the medio, and this is a separate breed from the Portuguese Podengo Pequeno.
The Portuguese Podengo Pequeno is not simply a Portuguese Podengo that has been bred down in size. Traditionally, the different size dogs had different functions. For example, the grande-size Portuguese Podengo was bred to hunt deer and wild boar, and the Pequeno was bred to hunt rabbit. In addition, the Portuguese Podengo Grande is squarer in shape, while the Pequeno is longer than it is tall. This somewhat rectangular shape helps it enter dense thickets and rock crevices while chasing its quarry.
In the 15th century, it’s believed that Portuguese explorers took Pequenos on board ship with them to act as vermin killers. The dogs were valuable passengers because keeping the ship free of vermin would help protect perishable cargo from damage and reduce the risk of the sailors contracting vermin-carried diseases. Once the ships reached land, the Pequenos had a new purpose, to hunt and provide fresh meat for the sailors.
Like the Portuguese Podengo, the Pequeno comes in two coat varieties, the smooth and wire. According to the breed standard, the smooth coat is short and very dense, and the wire coat is medium in length, rough and harsh with longer beard hair on the muzzle. Both varieties are shown naturally, not trimmed or sculpted. Routine brushing is all that is required to keep the coat looking its best.
The smooth coat was historically more popular with hunters and breeders, so the wire-coat variety was eventually lost. In the 1980s, a few breeders of the smooth coat decided to recover the wire-coat variety, and now the gene pool has been expanded to include the wire coat once again.
The Pequeno is a small dog, standing 8-12 inches at the top of the shoulder and weighing between 9 and 13 pounds. But considering their history of high endurance hunting, they require mental stimulation and regular, brisk exercise, either on-leash or in a fenced-in area, due to their instinct to chase. Their intelligence and activity level make them excellent partners for dog sports, like agility or rally.