Breed Type:  Working Dog
Country of Origin: Portugal
Size: Large
Also known as:  Portie, PDW, Water Dog
Males: Height: 51-58 cm Weight: 18-27 kg
Females: Height: 43-53 cm Weight: 16-25 kg
Exercise Requirements: High
Care Requirements: Medium
Lifespan: 14 Years
Best Suited as: Family Pet / Deaf Assistant Dog

The Portuguese Water dog is well named – it loves the water! Originally called Cão de Água, (“Dog of Water” in Portuguese), the Portuguese Water dog was bred to assist fisherman by both catching fish and scaring them into the fishing nets.

The PDW was made for the water. They have short, flat, rounded webbed paws and rudder shaped tails, and dense, waterproof coats. Sometimes compared to the Poodle, Portuguese Water Dogs are more robust with stout legs, muscular, and have wavy fur instead of a tightly curled coat. Their coat is single-layered, non-shedding, and comes in a several different color combinations – black, black and white, brown, or silver-tipped.  White chest spots and white paws or legs on black or brown- coated dogs are common. Show dogs in Portugal are not allowed to have more than 30% white markings to be considered showable. There are two main coat types, curly and wavy. The Portuguese Water Dog is somewhat longer than tall.

Without a mean bone in his body, this loving dog enjoys being petted, which, due to their soft, fluffy coats, is not a request that is unlikely granted. Porties are known for staying close to their owners and make wonderful, loyal companions. Sensitive to your mood, make sure you do not take out your bad day on your PWD.  When they are ignored or mistreated, the PWD can become quite stubborn. Make them a part of your daily routine and reassure them that they are loved.
If you are looking for a couch potato, you need to keep searching. The PWD requires a daily outlet for their active, boisterous energy.  They are highly trainable and may enjoy agility contests as well as long walks and hikes with their owner. Porties love toys and have a long memory for the names of objects.

Like other water dogs, Portuguese Water Dogs are highly intelligent and alert.  While generally quiet, any visitor to your home will be greeted immediately with the PWD’s loud multi-octave bark.  To let you know that he is interested in play, he may engage in “expressive panting”, or whine.

The Portuguese Water dog has a long history of working in the water. Five hundred years ago in the Algarve region of Portugal, The Portuguese Water Dog was bred as a working dog. The popularity of the breed spread along the coast of Portugal as fishermen found them to be excellent fisherman.  They were trained to herd fish into nets, retrieve lost tackle and broken nets, and to act as couriers from ship to ship. In fact, the Spanish Armada used them for this task.

In the 1930’s Vasco Bensaude, a wealthy Portuguese shipping mogul helped bring the PWD back from near extinction. He used a stud dog named Leão to mate with so many different females that about half of the pedigreed Porties in existence can trace their lineage back to him.

Since that time, Portuguese Water dogs have maintained their notoriety as working water dogs and as loyal pets. The San Francisco Giants once relied on Portuguese Water dogs to retrieve baseballs hit into the Bay waters from Pacific Bell Park. Today, the President of the United States, Barak Obama, keeps one as a family pet.

Care and Grooming
The Portuguese Water dog is fairly easy to care for. They do require some grooming and their coat is often kept in one of two styles – the “retriever cut” or a “lion cut.” In the lion cut, the hindquarters, muzzle, and the base of the tail are shaved and the rest of the body is left full length. In the retriever cut, the fur is cut 2.5 cm long evenly over the body. This cut tends to be more popular today because it is lower maintenance and does not look so unusual. Porties need to be brushed several times a week to prevent matting. They shed very little.

As with all purebred dogs, Portuguese Water dogs are vulnerable to certain diseases. Hip Dysplasia and progressive retinal atrophy can be major concerns for this breed. Because hip dysplasia is genetic, it is best to ask your breeder about family history of this issue. PRA (progressive retinal atrophy) causes night blindness and can lead to complete blindness. A dog can be tested for this gene as well.

Suitability as a Pet
You do not have to worry about jealousy with this loving pet. The PWD gets along well with other pets, often forming strong friendships with them. He will even greet other dogs on the street with a kind shake of the tail and loves playing with other dogs on outings. If properly socialized, your PWD will love all family members, including small children.

Known for swimming, give your PWD plenty of opportunities for exercising this skill.  She also needs open space for running around. Whatever the activity, your PWD will need an hour of vigorous play a day to keep them happy. They make great family dogs and are good with kids and other pets. When brought up with other pets in the home, they will form a strong friendship and respect for each other.

Portuguese Water dogs are known for jumping up on visitors as a greeting and may even dance around on their hind legs when they are excited. The PWD may also exhibit this human like stance at the kitchen counter when he smells food. This habit is known as “counter surfing” and should be discouraged if it is bothersome.

Because the PWD is the ultimate companion dog, ready to serve you on a moment’s notice, he needs a lot of attention and reassurance. If you cannot provide this, it is best to find a less needy dog.  Additionally, this is not a breed to be left alone for long periods of time, indoors or out.

The PWD is also a great bet for those who are allergic to dogs, as these guys do not shed. While it is said that no dog is truly hypoallergenic, this breed comes as close as possible.
Some Portuguese Water Dogs have also made excellent service dogs to the hard of hearing or deaf. The PWD’s have a tendency to vocalize and then seek out its human master when specific alarms occur and can be trained to bark loudly when a telephone rings, and then to find and alert a hard-of-hearing or deaf master.  They have also been used as therapy dogs, mobility dogs, and seizure response dogs.

Veterinary Surgeon, London at Blue Cross UK | + posts

A London based Veterinary surgeon, Sanja is also an avid writer and pet advocate.