Splash around with this water-loving dog – the Portuguese Water Dog! Learn more about the personality, trainability, health, and grooming of this special dog breed. Does your Cão de água (as the Portuguese call them) need some extra care? We have Dog Boarders in Melbourne, Brisbane, and all around Aus who are ready to pamper your Portie!
Quick Facts ✔
Height – 43 – 57cm
Weight – 16 – 27kg
Lifespan – 12 – 15 years
Country of origin – Portugal
Breed type – Working dog
- Families with children
- Active families
- Owners interested in agility training
Portuguese Water Dog Breed History ♜
As the name makes obvious, Portuguese Water Dogs come from Portugal. And, they have something to do with water. But here’s the deeper dive on the history of the Portuguese Water Dog.
Because Portugal looks directly into the Atlantic Ocean, this country has always had a rich oceanic history. In fact, when the Ancient Romans settled in this area, they named the region after it’s most important port, Portus Cale. The name “Portugal” stems from the Latin title, which goes to show that the sea is written into this nation’s identity.
You can imagine, then, that fishing is a big part of life in this sea-faring nation. And what better crew mate can you have aboard than a skilled fishing dog? That’s where the Portuguese Water Dog comes in.
This fluffy pup has been helping Portuguese fishermen for thousands of years. However, no one knows when exactly the breed came about. Many believe the Portuguese Water Dog shares a common ancestor with the German Poodle – I mean, look at that curly fur! There’s also reason to believe the Kerry Blue Terrier and Irish Water Spaniel have influenced the breed. Beyond that, though, we don’t know which other breeds sired this water-friendly pup.
We do know that this dog was just about as comfortable on land as they were in the ocean. Day-to-day tasks included herding fish into nets, retrieving any fishy escapees, and pulling gear back into the boat. Some fishermen had even trained their Portuguese Water Dogs to deliver messages to other boats in the area. Think of them as curly-haired carrier pigeons.
As essential as these dogs were for generations, they were eventually rendered obsolete by modern technology. By the 20th century, fishing boats became more sophisticated, and fishing methods became more efficient. Suddenly, the Portuguese Water Dog was without work.
The breed may have seen its end were it not for a man named Vasco Bensuade. This wealthy businessman may not have worked alongside the Portuguese Water Dog in the fishing boats, but he knew a good doggo when he saw one. He adopted a handsome boy named Leão and started an official breeding program in 1937.
Within a few decades, the Portuguese Water Dog would start making the rounds in dog shows. Through such exposure, they started to gain popularity as an ideal family dog in countries outside of Portugal. Some of these dogs also transitioned seamlessly into water rescue teams.
In the future, we can bet that this dog is only going to become more popular.
Portuguese Water Dog Personality Traits ★
Like many other working dogs, the Portuguese Water Dog is loyal, engaged, and intelligent. However, there’s a unique quirkiness in this working breed. Indeed, life with a Portuguese Water Dog is full of laughter and games. As you’ll come to learn, they’ll perform any number of silly antics to capture the attention of their beloved Owners.
In general, these doggos are quite even-tempered and people-pleasing. Having said that, some can be a bit more stubborn and hard-headed. Even so, these dogs are all about their favourite humans, and can sometimes become protective of their two-legged family. Socialisation is key so that this dog knows the difference between being a good watch dog and being too territorial.
As a breed of high intelligence, the Portuguese Water Dog is confident and clever. Without the right amount of mental stimulation, they’ll figure out how to entertain themselves through any number of wily means. They’re great decision-makers and problem-solvers, and won’t wait for anyone’s permission before they do whatever they’ve put their mind to. It’s for this reason that training is so important for this breed.
Trainability and Training Tips
Portuguese Water Dogs are large and in-charge, which makes training an absolute non-negotiable. Without proper training, these dogs can become over-dominant and over-vocal. They’ll generally always be gentle and kind to their beloved Owners, but improper training is dangerous for any human or animal outside of the immediate pack.
Socialisation, then, is the best starting point for any Portuguese Water Dog. Getting this doggo accustomed to gentle and positive interactions with new people and other dogs is important to setting standards for a Portuguese Water Dog. The earlier you can surround your pup with other dogs and new people the better. And the better the socialisation process, the more prepared this dog will be to live in a multi-animal home or a home with small children.
Command training is also a huge part of owning a Portuguese Water Dog. These dogs should learn the basics as soon as possible before their large size makes training more difficult. Because they are so intelligent and people-oriented, many Portuguese Water Dog Owners say that this part of the training process is easy and quick. Of course, positive reinforcement training is wonderful for this breed.
From there, we encourage Pet Owners to add new fun challenges in their training sessions. These dogs are amazingly smart and can be learn to complete a number of complicated tricks. And while they’re fantastic at agility training, they’ll really shine if you can tap into their breed history. Water-based games are their favourite, from dock diving to underwater fetch to backyard pool obstacle courses, these dogs will spend hours in the water. They absolutely adore it.
You probably guessed it – this dog is high-energy. Bred for long days on a fishing boat, this dog won’t quit until it’s quitting time; even then, they might have some energy left over. This is a dog that needs an active lifestyle to stay happy; they won’t accept only a few spins around the block or a daily trip to the dog park.
The ideal Portuguese Water Dog Owner is someone who already does a ton of outdoor activities so that this pup can easily fit into their active lifestyle. For those who aren’t too outdoorsy or adventurous, this dog will demand a pretty drastic life change. Otherwise, this pup will quickly become destructive and bored at home.
If you work outside of the home for any number of hours, the best option is to bring in a dedicated Dog Walker to break up their alone time. Even with a fun outing with their favourite Dog Walker, however, this pup will still need additional playtime and exercise.
When you can, try merging your mental training sessions with exercise. This will help the Portuguese Water Dog expend their energy faster. This might include playing a game of hide and seek with their favourite toys or setting up a scavenger hunt in which they have to jump, swim, and sniff out treats or other appealing items.
If your Portuguese Water Dog has leftover energy, they’ll let you know. It can be a bit frustrating in the beginning when you’re trying to figure out the right exercise routine, but once you’ve settled on the right combination of playtime, training, and all-out exercise, you’ll have a dog that is loving and cuddly at the end of the day.
As this is a large dog, we don’t recommended that they live in a tiny apartment. However, their exercise level is much more important than house size. Some Portuguese Water Dogs are content to be in a smaller home if they’re able to go everywhere with their Owner or get plenty of outdoor time.
A backyard area is a plus so that you can set up elaborate obstacle courses and training sessions in a closed setting. But if you’re thinking of leaving your Portuguese Water Dog in the yard so that they can tire themselves out, it’s not a good idea. Instead, this pup will likely try to escape or dig up your flower bed or any number of things to stave off the boredom.
One last thing that we should mention about the Portuguese Water Dog’s living conditions is that this pup can be a little mouthy. By that, we mean they like chewing and picking things up and putting their mouth on just about everything. Protect your home, and their health, by providing them with appropriate chew toys.
Portuguese Water Dog Grooming ✄
The first thing that you might notice about this dog is their poodle-like coat. Some Portuguese Water Dogs have a more poodle-like curly haired coat while others have wavy hair that will produce some dander and shedding. Because Portuguese Water Dogs are so closely tied to Poodles and Kerry Blue Terriers, two of the top hypoallergenic dog breeds, these curly-haired pups are often appropriate for families with dander allergies.
The curly-haired Portuguese Water Dog has a non-shedding coat that must be combed and clipped instead of brushed. The wavy coat also requires brushing and clipping. Both styles require you to brush or comb about every two or three days. You’ll need to clip them about every 6 to 8 weeks.
When it comes to clipping, there are a few different styles to choose from, with the most popular being the Retriever clip and the Lion clip. The Retriever clip is a short, sporty cut that stays the same length across the entire body. The Lion clip is similar to the showy Poodle Continental clip with a lion-like mane at the front and buzzed rear end with a tail fluff.
In addition to coat care, it’s also important to keep this water-loving dog’s ears clean and their teeth healthy.
Portuguese Water Dog Health +
Although this breed is energetic and lively, there are a few health issues that your vet will want to keep an eye on.
Like many large breed dogs, Portuguese Water Dogs are prone to hip dysplasia, cardiomyopathy and progressive retinal atrophy.
They may also be at higher risk for seizures, digestive sensitivity, hair loss, and Addison’s disease. Some can suffer from distichiasis, a condition in which the eyelashes grow inward. And, there’s also a risk for GM1 storage disease, which is a congenital condition fatal to affected puppies. According to the Portuguese Water Dog Club of America, researchers from New York University were able to identify the gene responsible for GM1 storage disease so that all breeding dogs can now be screened.
Fun Fact ♥
Although this breed has struggled to break into the list of most popular dog breeds, they’ve frequently sat alongside some of the most powerful people in the world, particularly in the United States.
Former American president John F Kennedy’s brother Ted Kennedy brought his Portuguese Water Dogs along with him during his time as a US Senator. Whether he was signing legislation or meeting with important politicians, you would find one of his three Portuguese Water Dogs – Splash, Sunny or Cappy – in tow.
It was these three lively pups that later convinced President Barack Obama’s family to adopt their own Portuguese Water Dog, Bo. In fact, Bo was a gift from Ted Kennedy himself.
Bo became the first Portuguese Water Dog to grace the White House, and was later joined by another adorable Portuguese Water Dog, Sunny.
Final Thoughts on the Portuguese Water Dog
If you’re looking for a dog that is full of life and good humour, the Portuguese Water Dog may just be the breed for you. Make no mistake: this is a high energy dog who needs a lot of exercise and training. However, their goofy attitude and loveable cuddles make them an excellent family dog. It’s a good idea to bring in a trusted Dog Walker to help manage those high energy needs.
Portuguese Water Dogs also sport a poodle-like coat, making them suitable for families with dog allergies. It’s important to consider, though, that some of these dogs are born with wavy fur while others sport the more hypoallergenic curly coat. Both will require regular grooming and clipping.
Tireless, amusing, absolutely adorable, we wouldn’t be surprised to see more Portuguese Water Dogs in the future as this breed climbs the popularity polls.