The Mucuchies are Venezuela’s one and only native dog breed. They originated in the early 1600s in the state of Merida in the Andes Mountains. They are named after the town of Mucuchies, located in that region, which means “place of cold”. This breed is also referred to as the Snowy (Nevado), and the Paramo's dog (Perro de los Paramos).
Spaniards first landed in what eventually became Venezuela in 1498, on Christopher Columbus’ third journey to the Americas. Like many invaders, the Spanish brought their dogs with them when they traveled. As they conquered the indigenous people and took over their land, they settled in with their dogs. These foreign canines were not distinct species and mixed with each other and other local dogs. They included Pyrenean, Spanish, and Algerian Mastiffs, Great Pyrenees, Moroccan Aidas, and Atlas Shepherds. These dogs were used for herding and guarding livestock.
Therefore when the Spanish Augustinian friars came to Merida in the late 1500s, bringing their Pyrenean Mastiffs from Navarra and Aragon with them, they should not have been surprised to find a similar type of dog already living in the Andes. But they were, according to historical accounts. At any rate, they allowed these similar Andean dogs to crossbreed with their Pyrenean Mastiffs, developing the Mucuchies breed. The Mucuchies, slightly smaller than other European Mastiffs, were a strong, hard working, and versatile dog breed. They excelled at shepherding and guarding livestock and their even temperament made them valued companions, as well. The friars imported the first sheep to this region, which provided meat, milk, and wool; their Mucuchies, more suited to the Andean environment than their imported dogs, served them well in protecting the herds of sheep.
Ironically, this Venezuelan dog with Spanish ancestry is associated with Venezuelan independence from Spain, and has become a symbol of Venezuelan nationalism. Such recognition rightfully belongs to the Mucuchies, since the founding father of Venezuela, Simon Bolivar, who freed that country and several others from Spanish rule, did so with the help of his devoted companion, a Mucuchies named Nevado. In fact, Nevado even became a martyr in the fight for Venezuelan independence.
Simon Bolivar and his men, during their liberation campaign, crossed the Andes Mountains, stopping in Mucuchies, known for its snow capped mountains and windy moors. They were to stay at the Moconoque Hacienda, but when they arrived at the gates, a puppy, barking ferociously, barred their way until its master called it off. Simon Bolivar was impressed by the puppy’s bravery and the owner, Don Vicente Pino, gave him the Mucuchies pup as a gift. The dog was named Nevado, meaning snowy, because its jet black coat and white tail resembled the snowy crest of the Andean highland and the moors. Tinjaca, an Indian who accompanied Bolivar and loved dogs, was assigned to care for the dog and the three—Nevado, Tinjaca, and Bolivar—became constant companions. All three were often seen together in battles and Nevado was credited with saving Bolivar’s life numerous times. At one time, the Spanish Royal Army kidnapped Tinjaca and Nevado, hoping to use Bolivar’s beloved dog as blackmail, but the Indian and the dog managed to escape.
On July, 24, 1821, at the Battle of Carabobo where Venezuela won its independence from Spain, Tinjaca was seriously wounded and Nevado, stabbed with a lance, was killed on the battlefield. Don Tulio Febres Cordero, a Merida historian, witnessed Nevado’s death and wrote about the deep anguish on Bolivar’s face when he saw the dead body of his beloved dog. Several paintings of Simone Bolivar with Nevado pay tribute to their heroism. In the Plaza Bolivar, located in the town of Mucuchies, a statue has been erected of Bolivar, Tinjaca, and Nevado, memorializing both their friendship and bravery.
This versatile breed spread throughout the Venezuelan Andes and into Caracas. They became the most widespread between 1926 and 1927; at this time in their history, however, poor breeding and over inbreeding took the Mucuchies on a downhill slide as the quality and purity of the breed degenerated. By the 1960s, they were in danger of extinction. In response to the situation, a group of breeders formed a club in 1961; they drew up a standard and promoted uniformity and proper breeding. Their efforts resulted in improving the numbers and purity of the Mucuchies. But this upsurge did not last.
Despite the fact that in 1964, the Mucuchies were proclaimed the national dog breed of Venezuela, in recent years the breed is once again, on the brink of extinction. Poor breeding practices, such as crossing them with larger dogs like St. Barnards, and over inbreeding have made purebred Mucuchies more difficult to find. Another problem has been a confusion regarding the founding breed; some believed the Mucuchies descended primarily from the Great Pyrenees dog of French origin, rather than the Spanish Pyrenees.
Unfortunately, some of those dedicated to proper breeding practices with the good intention of restoring the Mucuchies made this error. In 1965, Santiago and Carlos Cruz, with the financial backing of Dr. Siro Gebres Cordero Salas, imported Great Pyrenees to breed back to the pure Mucuchies. Their operation, doomed to failure, was ironically, located at the Moconoque farm, where Nevado was born.
The club formed in 1961 has since disbanded, but in 2008 a new organization was started called the Nevado Foundation, which is working to restore Venezuela’s national dog. The Nevado Foundation has established a kennel with six Mucuchies, two males and four females, in the Avila National Park. The environment and altitude are similar to the breed’s native Andean highlands. Walter De Mendoza, who is president of the foundation, says that the goal is for these pure specimens to replenish the population of true Mucuchies, as well as promote awareness of the breed among tourists and others coming to the Avila National Park. Mendoza says that another goal of the foundation, is to have one or two Mucuchies in every Venezuelan embassy as a symbol of their country’s strength. The Nevado Foundation has asked for and received financial help from President Hugo Chavez. President Chavez has assigned Titana Asuaje, the Ministry of Popular Power for Tourism, to help in the project to preserve the Mucuchies. It remains to be seen, however, whether or not it is too late to bring back the original Mucuchies breed.
Mucuchies are large dogs, rugged and powerful in appearance, who carry themselves with great confidence. This breed measures 22 to 28 inches in height, from ground to withers, and weighs between 66 to 100 pounds.
Their thick, short coat hair may be straight or somewhat wavy, feathering on parts of their bodies. Mucuchies are solid white or white with markings in various shades of honey, gray, or black.
The Mucuchies have long, wedge shaped heads; their foreheads are rounded, with slightly wrinkled brows. This breed has medium sized ears that are triangular in shape, with rounded tips. Their round, brown eyes are set obliquely, and have an expressive look. They have dark eyelids and black noses. The jaws are well developed, and their black lips are thin and tight.
These dogs have short, muscular necks and obliquely placed shoulders. Their broad backs are straight; their chests are deep, with flat ribs. The Mucuchies have long tails, covered with an abundant amount of hair. Their tails hang down to their hocks, when relaxed; Mucuchies raise their tails over their backs when alerted.
The hard working Mucuchies make excellent guard dogs and companions, as they are loyal, confident, and courageous. The Mucuchie forms a strong attachment to its family, to whom it is affectionate, loving, and gentle. These dogs are known to be trustworthy and tolerant with children. They thrive on attention and do not fare well if left home alone all day. In fact, if these dogs are not given enough love and attention, and suffer from mistreatment, they can turn into hostile animals.
They are highly protective of their families; this trait combined with a strong instinct of wariness toward strangers, makes them dependable guard dogs. To ensure they do not get overly aggressive with people they do not know, they need to be well trained. Obedience training and socialization must begin early in the dog’s life.
Training your Mucuchie requires firm leadership, but never harshness. Rules that are clearly understood by the dog must be consistently enforced. This intelligent breed is stubborn, making them challenging to train. They are easily bored and will become impatient with repetition. Short sessions that are fun and varied are the best approach to use with the Mucuchies. Also, taking your dog for a walk on a leash every day is necessary to reinforce that you are in charge. Whichever family member takes the dog for its pack walk should make sure the Mucuchie walks beside or behind him or her, and never in front.
Mucuchies are active dogs, used to working hard; they require at least a long, brisk daily walk, but a jog or run will suit them even better. In addition, these athletic dogs should have a large, enclosed, outdoor space in which to run on a regular basis. The Mucuchies is not a suitable breed for apartment dwellers because of their need for large, open spaces in which to move around. They do best in a home with a large, fenced yard or in a home in the countryside.
The Mucuchies’ short coats require a minimal amount of grooming. Brush the coat weekly to keep it in good condition. Bathe only as needed; frequent bathing can harm the natural oils that protect the dog’s coat and skin.
Mucuchies are a hardy breed with no known genetic issues. They live about ten to thirteen years, on average.