Portuguese Water Dog

Portuguese Water Dog breed
John Walton
Written by John Walton

The Portuguese water dog was initially a great retriever dog. These dogs were highly appreciated as fishing companions by Portuguese fishermen for their great skills of herding fish into nets and retrieving fishing gear. However, as fishing got industrialized, this breed got nearly extinct by the 20th century, until a passionate shipping magnate decided to re-establish the breed.

Nowadays, this dog is a very funny and affectionate family companion, very appreciated for his high intelligence and trainability.

Breed Characteristics

AdaptabilityAbove Average
Health and GroomingBelow Average
All Around FriendlinessHighest
Exercise NeedsHighest

Dog Breed Group:Working Dogs
Height:1 foot, 5 inches to 1 foot, 11 inches tall at the shoulder
Weight:35 to 60 pounds
Life Span:10 to 14 years

Commonly called «Cao de Agua» (Water Dog in Portuguese) in their homeland, these water-loving dogs were of great help for fishermen on the coasts of Portugal and later in Newfoundland, thanks to their great retrieving and herding skills.

Also nicknamed Porties, these dogs are now very affectionate family companions, but still keep their intelligence and are very quick to learn any new tricks or skills. They love to work and be useful, so make sure you give them a constant job to do. They are great in obedience, agility and even therapy.

With proper training, there are even more activities a Portie may do, as he is very adaptable with most situations. He may even live in an apartment if exercised enough.

Although most people say this is a hypo-allergenic breed, like his relative the Poodle, the truth is that he does shed a bit of hair, just not as much as most dogs. The best way to test this theory is to spend some time with a dog of this breed and watch out for any reactions.

Main Highlights
  • Being a great retriever dog, the Portie is very mouthy, barking at any unusual appearance, and chewing at mostly anything he would find. He also makes a good watch dog, though not a great guardian;
  • He loves to have fun, so the PWD would constantly do funny things or play the fool in order to get your attention;
  • Portuguese Water Dogs need daily intense exercise because of their high energy levels. They make great jogging companions and would happily go for a swim whenever they can;
  • They are great with children and get along pretty well with most pets;
  • These dogs are hypo-allergenic because they shed very little to no hair.
Breed History

It is believed that some of the dogs left the Asian steppes with the Gothic tribes. When Ostrogoths went west, their dogs became the German poodles (poodle-hund in German, meaning puddle dog, or water dog). On the other hand, the Visigoths went South and their dogs became the Lion Dog. In 413 BC they invaded Iberia, and the dogs found their settlement first in Aquitania in 418 and then they spread throughout the entire Iberia by 470 BC.

The specific «Portuguese Water Dog» was first mentioned in 1297, as a dog with a «black coat, the hair long and rough, cut to the first rib and with a tail tuft». Apart from the dog itself, the account also depicts the traditional haircut of this breed. By that time, these dogs were used by fishermen in Portugal to drive fish into nets, swim messages from boat to boat, or retrieve fishing gear from the water. They were excellent fishing crew members, especially as fishermen only bred dogs with the strongest skills, hence the more useful.

By the 1930’s, the Portuguese Water Dog population was nearly extinct, until a wealthy Portuguese shipping magnate decided to establish a breeding program to bring them back to their former glory. He managed to do this by seeking and selecting fishermen’s dogs which had the exact traits of the Portuguese Water Dog. Several kennels were established in Portugal after the magnate Vasco Bensaude had established Algarbiorum and began breeding Portuguese Water Dogs. In 1954, dr. Antonio Cabral registered his first PWD, of the Avalade kennel.

He also tried to establish the PWD in the U.S. with the aid of Deyanne Miller, Carla Molinari and Sonja Santos, but the most responsible for increasing the breed’s popularity there was Deyanne Miller. In 1972, she and her family managed to establish the Portuguese Water Dg Club of America. She even tried to establish a strong and healthy genetic pool for the breed from two lineages, at her Farmion kennels.

In 1983, the Portuguese Water Dog was finally recognized as a distinctive breed by the ACK, and now ranks 69th in popularity among all 155 dog breeds and varieties already recognized by the ACK.


The Portie is a medium to large breed dog, with males as high as 20-22 inches and weighing between 42 — 60 lb, while females only weigh between 35 — 50 lb and measure between 17 — 20 inches at the shoulder.

Personality and Character

This versatile dog is a trustworthy working companion due to his high intelligence and retrieving abilities, and high energy levels. On the other hand, he has a great sense of humor and loves to play, so he would make a great family dog, especially when there are children around. Due to his fun-loving personality, the Portuguese Water Dog would certainly play the clown when he wants to get your attention.

Nobody can say for certain that the Portie would be well-tempered, docile or strong-minded, as they may be as different as humans. Some are strong-willed and would try to challenge your authority, while others would gladly obey you and do anything you tell them to. Of course, most of them would be somewhere in between.

Training a PWD is very easy as well, due to his high intelligence level and great desire to please. He is quick to learn instructions and loves to be useful, so he is most happy when he is given a clear job to do. But always make sure he understands you are the pack leader, as he may consider himself above his owner.

Positive training is the best for this breed, with praising and rewarding of good behaviors, so he would quickly learn what he has to do. While training, try to avoid repeating the same tricks or instructions for a long time, or your Portie would get tired and may decide he won’t do that anymore.

Their great sense of smell recommends Portuguese Water Dogs for a wide range of retrieving, sport and agility trials. They also love water, so providing them with a small pool or water source would be great for them.

Beware of chewing in puppies, as they just love to do it! Provide a lot of chewing toys to distract them from your valuable objects, and you can even try some treat traps to keep them busy and chewing on what they are supposed to.

As all dogs, the Portie needs very early socialization to be able to act friendly towards dogs and other people. Make your puppy familiar with any noises, sounds, smells, people and situations he may encounter throughout his life. Even with a lot of socialization, reactions to strangers may vary from one dog to another, but they won’t act aggressively. Some may act very friendly, while others would be a bit reserved.

Health and Potential Problems

As with most purebred dogs, the Portuguese Water Dog is prone to a series of genetic diseases, especially because of the limited gene pool for this breed. This is why responsible breeders carefully study the pedigree of each dog, to only breed the healthiest dogs without any signs of illness. Unfortunately, the increasing popularity and demand for PWD puppies has led many people to breed any dogs, without proper knowledge of health issues, hence still perpetuating the responsible genes.

  • Cataracts: are usually noticed as the eyes get a cloudy appearance. This is an opacity on the lens of the eye, which makes it difficult for the dog to see. This condition usually appears in old dogs, but sometimes it can be removed surgically to improve his vision;
  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy: this term is used for a range of eye diseases triggering the gradual decaying of the retina. This will make the dog become night-blind at first, followed by gradual loss of eyesight during the day. Dogs may adapt very well to living with this condition, but it is very important to have them genetically screened for it, to avoid the perpetuation of the gene;
  • Hip Dysplasia: usually affecting larger breeds, hip dysplasia may also appear in smaller ones, deepening with jumping or falling. This condition may not be very obvious, so X-ray screening may be necessary to track it. Arthritis may develop as a dog with this condition ages, so keep a close eye on his joints, especially if you know his parents were also affected;
  • Juvenile Dilated Cardiomyopathy: the puppy’s heart may become weakened and dilated and cannot pump blood efficiently. Some dogs may die weeks or months after a congestive heart failure, while others may die suddenly without showing any signs of illness. Dogs that have already suffered a heart failure are usually put to sleep to avoid any further suffering;
  • Addison’s Disease: is a serious disease, caused by the insufficient production of adrenal hormones by the adrenal gland. You may notice your dog vomiting, lacking energy or having a poor appetite, so it’s good to take him to the vet, even though these symptoms seem vague and you thing they may indicate a lighter condition. Stress and potassium levels may emphasize these signs and even lead to death if the condition is not discovered in time. Screening tests are available for this disease, and affected dogs or those who are predisposed should never be bred;
  • GM1 Storage Disease: this is a recessive genetic disease caused by a deficiency of the enzyme beta-galactosidase. This disorder is inevitably fatal, causing abnormal accumulation of acidic lipid material in the nervous system, and becomes obvious when the puppy is about six months old. Affected puppies would show tremors, paresis, ataxia or seizures, all signs of cerebellar malfunction. This condition has been closely monitored and because all the similar disorders share the same genetic pool, it has been largely eliminated from this breed.

Because of the high probability of one of these genetic disorders occurring in the breed, only get your puppy from a responsible breeder, who can offer you screening test results for any of them. He should also have a health clearance for the parents of his breeding stock, to make sure he would only breed healthy dogs and help eliminate the bad genes from the breed.

Care Features

Having such a high energy level, the Portuguese Water dog should only be kept in an apartment if sufficiently exercised daily. With proper exercise, he would keep calm indoors, but the best home for this dog would be a house with at least a small yard.

He loves to spend time outdoors, but he should be allowed inside with his family for as much as he likes, as the Portie is also a very affectionate dog. Otherwise, he may develop separation anxiety, expressed by destructive behaviors, excessive barking and other disorders.

Keep this dog busy with a constant job to do, as he loves mastering new skills. He may be trained for agility, obedience, tracking, or even to be a therapy dog. Whatever keeps his mind busy would be great for a Portuguese Water Dog.

Feeding Schedule

You can save a lot of money by feeding your dog high quality food that suits his particular needs. Energetic dogs, especially those from working lines, need a high-calorie diet, to help them keep up with their activities. Feeding an adequate diet will prevent them from developing food-related health issues like obesity (which is not a serious threat in this breed, though), allergies, hot spots, etc.

Usually, the proper amount for a Portie is about 2.5 to 3.5 cups of high quality dry kibble, but it all depends on the age, metabolism and physical activity of your specific dog. Also, different dog food brands may have different concentrations, so always check the food package for feeding instructions.

Females that are pregnant in late stages or breastfeeding should be given as much food as they want, to allow for proper development of the puppies and to make sure they have enough milk. Puppy kibble is best for them during this time, as it holds more nutrients than regular adult food.

Coat, Color and Grooming

All Portuguese Water Dogs have a single coat, but it may vary from curly to wavy. Coloration may vary from white to various shades of brown, or black. White areas may occur in black or brown dogs.

Caring for the Portuguese Water Dog’s coat is very easy, as it grows very slow and sheds little to no hair. This is a hypo-allergenic dog breed, mainly because of this reason. However, he still needs regular brushing and combing at least two or three times a week to keep his hair free of dust and debris and to help distribute the body oils. This way, your dog would have a neat and shiny coat with little effort.

Always give your Portie a fresh water rinse after a swim. They love water and would splash at any time, so chemicals or salts in the water may trigger skin problems.

Trimming the coat depends on the dog’s activity. Show dogs are usually put into the clip  with the face and rear shaved, and the rest of the coat left to grow, while working PWD’s are usually given a uniform cut, with all the coat appearing to be about one inch long. This is usually applied for easier maintenance, when you and your dog don’t have as much time of grooming.

Brush your PWD’s teeth at least two or three times a week to prevent gum disease and accumulation of bacteria and tartar. Trim his nails as needed, usually once or twice per month if your dog doesn’t wear them down naturally. Usually, you can guess the time to trim them when you hear them clicking on the floor as your dog walks by the house.

Children And Other Pets Compatibility

Portuguese Water Dogs are great with kids, mainly because of their high energy level and fun-loving personality. They love to play and children are the bets companions for this. Although, young children may get a bit scared by bustling young puppies, so this may not be the best combination.

Always supervise young children while playing with the dog to avoid accidental biting because of kids pulling their tails, paws and ears, especially in very young dogs. Teach them never to touch a dog while sleeping or eating, and especially to not try to take away his food, no matter how good friends they usually are. Food is food and dogs never bargain about it!

These are friendly dogs which would usually get along well with other dogs if properly socialized from a young age. Cats would also be safe around a PWD that has been raised next to them.

The Portuguese Water Dog is a great dog for the right owner, who is willing and has the time to give him the attention and exercise he needs daily. If your energy needs match and you are an active person, you should have great fun together. This dog may be a bit challenging, though, as he may be quite strong minded, but this is not the rule with the breed.

Always make sure you get a healthy puppy and that you see the genetic screening tests of both parents, as they may be prone to a range of serious genetic disorders.

About the author
John Walton
John Walton

John Walton lives in Somerville, MA, with his two dogs, two sons, and very understanding mate. He is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a mentor trainer for the Animal Behavior College, an AKC Certified CGC Evaluator, and the Training Director for the New England Dog Training Club.