Let's talk Portuguese Water Dogs

As comfortable on land as they are in the sea, the Portuguese Water Dog is perhaps the original fisherman’s friend. Once an invaluable companion to Portuguese fishing crews, the Portuguese Water Dog is a natural swimmer who brings energy and enthusiasm to just about any task they’re given. Fun-loving with what comes across as a wonderful sense of humour, the Portuguese Water Dog makes a wonderful companion for anyone who enjoys active adventures and plenty of affection. In both directions. 

Official name: Portuguese Water Dog

Other names: Cão de Agus Português

Origins: Portugal

Side view of Portuguese Water Dog in black and white

 Drooling tendencies  Very low  Warm weather? Medium
 Shedding level  Very low  Suited to apartment living ? High
 Energy level*  High  Family pet?* Very high
 Compatibility with other pets  Very high  Can stay alone?*

* We advise against leaving pets alone for long stretches. Companionship can prevent emotional distress and destructive behavior. Speak to your veterinarian for recommendations.

Every pet is different, even within a breed; this snapshot of this breed specifics should be taken as an indication.

For a happy healthy and well-behaved pet, we recommend educating and socializing your pet as well as covering their basic welfare needs (and their social and behavioral needs).

Pets should never be left unsupervised with a child.

Contact your breeder or veterinarian for further advice.

All domestic pets are sociable and prefer company. However, they can be taught to cope with solitude from an early age. Seek the advice of your veterinarian or trainer to help you do this.

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Illustration of Portuguese Water Dog
Male
48 - 58 cm Height
19 - 25 kg Weight
Female
43 - 53 cm Height
16 - 22 kg Weight

 

 Baby age  Birth to 2 months  
 Puppy age  2 to 12 months
 Adult age 12 months to 7 years
 Mature age  7 to 10 years
 Senior age  From 10 years

Portuguese Water Dog standing in long grass

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Get to know the Portuguese Water Dog

All you need to know about the breed

Given the Portuguese Water Dog’s age-old connection to water, the fact that it’s their middle name is anything but a surprise. In addition to an obvious passion for splashing, these aquatically inclined canines have webbed feet and a rudder-like tail that could give Michael Phelps a run for his money. Whether delivering messages on the high seas or working alongside fishermen, Portuguese Water Dogs have spent centuries putting their remarkable swimming and diving abilities to good use.

The medium-sized Portuguese Water Dog has a single, water-repellent coat that is tightly curled or wavy. Most owners keep their coat in a retriever clip, where the hair is trimmed to 1 cm all over their body, or styled in the show-stopping lion clip, where the hair on the muzzle and hindquarters is shaved. Regardless of the coiffe, grooming your Portuguese Water Dog will take some effort, but the irresistibly adorable result is well worth it.

Fun-loving and enthusiastic, the Portuguese Water Dog is an active breed that adapts well to life indoors provided they get plenty of opportunities to spend their surplus of energy. It’s also important to keep your Portuguese Water Dog mentally occupied to discourage any undesirable behaviours that could arise if prolonged boredom sets in. Whether it’s dock-diving, retrieving balls from the water, or just hanging out, you can be sure the Portuguese Water Dog will be up for it – as long as it’s with you.

Close-up of Portuguese Water Dog looking towards camera

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2 facts about Portuguese Water Dogs

1. Naval secrets

Portuguese Water Dogs not only provided essential service to fishing crews: in the 16th century, these skilled swimmers served the Spanish Armada by carrying messages back and forth between boats. Some even believe that, when the English defeated the Armada, some of these brave dogs made it to shore where they bred with local dogs. If true, the Portuguese Water Dog could have contributed to certain bloodlines like the Irish Water Terrier or the Kerry Blue Terrier. 

2. Swimming in the big leagues 

In the early 2000s, Don Novello, famous for playing Father Guido Sarducci on Saturday Night Live, and executives from the San Francisco Giants baseball team joined forces with Pets in Need, an organisation promoting animal adoption, to create B.A.R.K. or the Baseball Aquatic Retrieval Korps. So, which breed did they choose? That’s right, the Portuguese Water Dog. Six elite canines were trained to retrieve home run balls that landed in the waters behind the Giant’s PacBell stadium. The rogue balls, called “Splash Hits” were then auctioned off to support Pets in Need.

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History of the breed

While it’s believed the Portuguese Water Dog is an ancient breed originating in the Central Asian Steppes around 700 B.C., how they came to Portugal remains a subject of speculation. The first written record of the breed dates back to 1297, when a monk wrote an account of a drowning sailor being saved by a dog resembling the Portuguese Water Dog. The rescue clearly made an impression because, by the 16th century, Portuguese Water Dogs were a mainstay of Portuguese fishing. The dogs were used for everything from guarding boats to retrieving fishing tackle from the water and herding fish into nets. Some say they even acted as foghorns, using their resonant bark to prevent collisions on the water.

The advent of commercial fishing in the 19th century meant the need for these hard-working fishing dogs waned, and they soon risked extinction.

Fortunately, in the 1930s, shipping magnate Vasco Bensaude launched an effort to save the Portuguese Water Dogs. A breed club was organised, and a standard was written. Portuguese Water Dogs began appearing in dog shows and, in 1958, arrived on American soil, where they continue to enjoy popularity as a beloved family pet.

Portuguese Water Dog puppy sitting looking at camera in black and white

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From head to tail

Physical characteristics of Portuguese Water Dogs

1. Head

Large, well-proportioned head with thin, heart-shaped ears.

2. Ears

Dark, slightly slanted eyes set well apart.

3. Coat

Thick, strong single coat, can be curly or wavy.

4. Body

Well-muscled body and well-sprung ribs.

5. Tail

Thick-based tapering tail held in a ring at attention and used as a rudder in water.

Portuguese Water Dog sitting in grass looking at camera

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Things to look out for

From specific breed traits to a general health overview, here are some interesting facts about your Portuguese Water Dog
Three Portuguese Water Dogs running across sand

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Caring for your Portuguese Water Dog

Grooming, training and exercise tips

The Portuguese Water Dog’s fast-growing hair should be brushed or combed three times weekly and cut monthly. Additionally, their coat should always be rinsed with fresh water after a dip. Make sure to brush teeth and wipe ears out regularly, checking for signs of infection. Your Portuguese Water Dog should get at least 30 minutes to an hour of daily exercise. Luckily, these enthusiastic dogs are keen for just about any activity in addition to the obvious swim. Think jogging, hiking, playing fetch – the list goes on.Portuguese Water Dogs are fast learners who also happen to be fairly sensitive and, as such, respond best to training that uses positive reinforcement. These intelligent dogs benefit greatly from regular mental stimulation and are excellent candidates for obedience and agility training.

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All about Portuguese Water Dogs

While the alert and protective Portuguese Water Dog makes a highly effective watchdog capable of barking to alert their owners of anything suspicious, their medium size and rather polite behaviour stop them just short of making good guard dogs. 

Portuguese Water Dogs are deeply devoted to their human families and prefer to be with them as much as possible. They can tolerate being solo for short periods of time, if necessary, but should never be left on their own for hours at a time.

Other breeds that might interest you.

Sources

1 - Veterinary Centers of America https://vcahospitals.com/ 

2 - Royal Canin Dog Encyclopaedia. Ed 2010 and 2020

3 - Banfield Pet Hospital https://www.banfield.com/

4 - Royal Canin BHN Product Book

5 - American Kennel Club https://www.akc.org/