The breed was brought to Portugal by the Romans and Phoenicians two millenia ago, in ships, from the eastern shores of the Mediterranean. It is believed that there were already three sizes at that time. The dogs thrived in Northern Portugal where the wooded mountains provide plenty of wild prey as well as berries and fruit. Small pockets of similar dogs survive in Andalucia and the islands of Ibiza,Malta and Sicily - although they are called by different names. The Podengo of Portugal and Galicia becomes the Podenco in Andalucia.
All Podengos were used for hunting. Indeed the concept of a pet dog was unknown. The sizes developed naturally as being best suited to particular types of prey. For the Pequeno, this would have been small rodents, for the Medio rabbits and hares and for the Grande wild boar. Rough-haired coats developed for the thicker briar of the Alentejo and Algarve in the south.
Due to the clement Atlantic climate, most Podengos still live outside. Many still run freely about during the day although they may return to guard a home at night. In the past, there were substantial wild packs of the dogs living in woods and forests. Only the Podengo Grande has been kept in kennels, as they are still used to hunt wild boar, in packs, followed by hunters on foot. Unlike more recent dogs such as the Jack Russell, Boxer and German Shepherd (called Alsatian in Briain since 1914) which were specifically bred in England, Ireland and Germany from chosen pairs only a century or so ago, the Podengos mostly chose their own partners.
Because food was always scarce and most Podengos had to feed themselves, natural selection produced highly effective hunters. With the Grandes, the best hunters in the pack would be selected for breeding. All types have retained their excellent sense of smell and hearing and their ability to trot for hours on end without fatigue. Agility, at which the Medio particularly excels, was a question of survival in avoiding the sharp tusks of wild boar. Their tremendous enthusiasm for digging, was needed to chase out rabbits, from their burrows. Often Pequenos would be used to run down inside the burrows, which were too small for Medios.Speed across rough ground, leaping from boulders, jumping across low vegetation, clambering up walls and trees with low branches all developed naturally as the best chasers survived to breed and the less able did not.
The word Podengo is probably best translated into English as hound. Like all hounds, they will howl at the moon or anything else that catches their fancy. This name was applied to any dog used for hunting - without the appendage fox, grey, basset etc applied by the English. Breeding was catholic and doubtless other types mixed over the centuries with the original Near Eastern strain.
The Portuguese used Podengos on their ships, to keep down rats, and thus they travelled to Portuguese colonies in Brazil,Africa and Asia. It is even thought that the Australian dingo may have originated from the Podengo. Certainly in the near Portuguese islands of Madeira, the Azores and Cape Verdes, similar dogs may be found. Possibly Portuguese fishermen brought them to St John`s and other North American fishing ports, but they might not have survived the winters out of doors. The Portuguese brought the Labrador back from Newfoundland (the name means farmer in Portuguese) and some of these also interbred with Podengos.
Today, there is less hunting in Portugal and the packs of Grandes are much diminished. Medios and Pequenos mostly live a more sedentary life, often chained up in small back yards or on roof terraces. Some are rescued by Northern Europeans who treat them more as pets and less as guardians. But their spirit, affection, good nature, speed and agility remain undiminished.