As the name denotes, the Portuguese Water Dog developed in Portugal and is known there as Cão de Água (pronounced Kownde ahgwa), dog of the water.
The breed developed many centuries ago as a seafaring working dog and predates the Poodle. The Portuguese fishermen kept these dogs as a working part of their crew and paid them wages just as their human crew mates were paid. The Water Dogs would act as couriers, carrying messages between ships and from ship to shore, and would dive into the sea to retrieve broken fishing nets and equipment that had fallen overboard. Often they would have to dive under water to retrieve submerged articles.
Though the Portuguese Water Dog was a loyal fisherman’s companion and an alert guard for more than 400 years, in Portugal modern fishing technology caused the near extinction of this breed by the 1960’s.
The breed was revived by a small number of dedicated U.S. breeders in the 1970s so that by 1981 there were about 500 dogs in the United States. PWDs came later to Canada and grew quickly in popularity, from an estimated 35 dogs in 1992 to about 400 in 1998. In 1998 there were about 4500 PWDs living in the United States and Canada.
The American Kennel Club recognized the Portuguese Water Dog in January 1984, and the Canadian Kennel Club recognized the PWD eight years later in April 1992. In 2001, new PWD registrations totaled 1098 in the U.S. and 306 in Canada.
The breed is definitely no longer in danger of extinction; but because of its very narrow gene pool, it is imperative that people considering breeding learn as much as possible about the breed and have their breeding stock tested for all genetic faults. Breeding stock must meet the standard for conformation as set out by the Canadian or American Kennel Club, have an acceptable temperament, and be of a quality that will ultimately improve the breed.
Portuguese Water Dogs are successful in Conformation, Obedience, Rally-O, Agility, Tracking, Herding, Flyball, Free Style and Drafting competitions. They are wonderful Therapy Dogs, used in Search and Rescue and some even train their dogs for field retrieving. They truly excel at PWDCA (Portuguese Water Dog Club of America) Water Trials which the PWDCC has been sanctioned to hold since 2001.
The Portuguese Water Dog is a loyal, affectionate, energetic, intelligent family companion and watch dog and it thrives on and demands human attention. It needs people, bonds readily and is loyal to its crew mate. It thrives as a family member and gets on well with children and other pets. The Portuguese Water Dog has a unique sense of humor and its owner needs a sense of humor as well. It will invariably compete for centre stage. In its role as a watchdog, the PWD is alert and protective rather than aggressive. It is cautious and sensible with strangers.
Its attractive, playful appearance often belies its true character. It remains a true working dog, tough and independent at times, not a dog for everybody. The PWD is a strong, robust, medium-sized, agile dog with the stamina and endurance to do a full day’s work. It should be of substantial bone and well muscled. Its head is large with a broad top skull and muzzle. The Canadian Kennel Club Breed Standard (link), provides detailed description of the correct PWD temperament and structure.
The life expectancy of the average Portuguese Water Dog is 12 to 15 years. They tend to mature slowly and remain active well into their senior years.
The PWD is not successful as a kennel dog. It is a people-oriented dog and requires prolonged daily human interaction for proper personality development and as it has a coat with no undercoat, it does not have the required natural insulation to survive in an unheated kennel in extreme climates.
People with allergies can usually tolerate living with a Portuguese Water Dog’s non-shedding coat. It is recommended that you spend several hours with adult Water Dogs before you buy a puppy in order to test your allergic response.
The Portuguese Water Dog has a non-shedding coat that continues to grow as human hair does. It has no undercoat. The coat can be curly or wavy. The colours are black or brown with or without white markings, or white with or without black or brown markings. The coat should be clipped in either of the two acceptable clips. In the Retriever Clip, the entire coat is scissored or clipped to a length of one inch in appearance except at the end of the tail which is left long. In the Lion Clip, which is the traditional clip of Portugal, and the only show clip allowed in countries other than the United States and Canada, the hindquarters as well as the muzzle are clipped short, the end of the tail is left long and the coat on the head, neck, forequarters and chest is left long to resemble a lion’s mane.
Whether curly or wavy, regular grooming of this breed is necessary. The Water Dog’s ears and teeth should be cleaned weekly. Although the coat does not shed, it must be combed or brushed thoroughly several times a week to prevent matting and tangling, and to remove broken hairs and debris from the coat. Frequent baths and regular hair cuts maintain the health of the coat and skin as well as the appearance of the dog. You can learn to bath and groom your PWD yourself or have it done by a professional groomer.
Daily doses of exercise are a must or the PWD will provide its own exuberant exercise indoors. Portuguese Water Dogs require an owner as active, involved and intelligent as they are or they will soon be running the household and getting into mischief. The robustness and high spirits of this fisherman’s dog should be understood as natural exuberance to be channeled and expressed appropriately.
Rare is a Portuguese Water Dog that does not like to be in the water. Where access to water is possible, they enjoy playing and working in the water with their families. They can, however, survive perfectly well in areas where swimming is not possible.
Basic obedience training must start from the moment you bring your puppy home. The training and socialization of the puppy actually starts in the whelping box with its dam and siblings. In general, puppies should not be removed from their litter mates until they are about 8 weeks old.
They should also have significant human contact during this time for proper socialization.
The PWD is extremely intelligent and easily trained. It is important to remember that this breed is not just a pretty face, it is a true working dog that is happiest with a job. Left to its own devices it can become a household demon. Training must be kept interesting or the PWD will become bored and your training efforts will be counter-productive.
The retriever qualities inherent in this breed result in the PWD being mouthy not intentionally destructive. In a growing puppy and adolescent dog this mouthiness may result in unintentional destructiveness and nipping. Proper supervision, numerous toys, confinement in a safe comfortable area such as a dog crate when not under supervision and proper training will help control this mouthiness and redirect it into useful and fun games. As an adult, it enjoys carrying things around and usually has a favourite fuzzy toy in its mouth or nearby.
House training is not difficult provided you set aside the required time and are consistent with your training. Consult with the breeder of the puppy for recommended techniques.
A time spent in proper training and socialization of the puppy and adolescent PWD will result in an adult that will be a wonderful companion.
The Portuguese Water Dog is not a breed for everyone. The challenge of channeling the stamina, intelligence and exuberance of this dynamic dog can be frustrating at times but ultimately rewarding. The commitment of your time and effort to training and caring for your Portuguese Water Dog is a responsibility that can not be taken lightly.