Portuguese Water Dogs, often called Porties or PWDs, are a little-known dog breed with an infectiously joyous personality, lustrous curly coat, and more than a little wit to spare. Their amiable personality and boundless energy make them perfect companions for families with small kids and other pets alike. Though their lineage reaches back thousands of years, not many people know much about this breed today.
To help remedy that and spread awareness about this underrated dog breed, we’ve put together a list of some of the most interesting facts you’ll ever need to know about the Portuguese Water Dog. Read on for the details!
The 7 Portuguese Water Dog Facts
1. They Have a Rich History
Portuguese Water Dogs trace their ancestry all the way back to the BC days, though nobody seems to agree on a specific year or even century. Some posit that the Berbers of Africa brought them to Europe after they became the more-modern Moors, while others claim the Ostrogoths of Eastern Europe really had them first. Either way, Poodles and PWDs are thought to stem from these cultures.
Hailing from the western Asiatic Steppes, they emigrated to the Iberian Peninsula which encompasses modern-day Portugal and Spain. Commonly called cão de agua or “dog of water” in Portuguese, this hardy water-loving breed was used to retrieve lost tackle, fetch frayed fishing nets, and even ferry messages between trawlers in the eastern Atlantic. Porties were largely relegated to Europe until the 20th century when a pair was brought to America. Today, they’re not a very well-known breed and are sometimes even confused for Poodles.
2. They Have Dense, Curly, and Non-Shedding Coats
Let’s get this out of the way upfront: no dog is 100% hypoallergenic in the sense that they’ll never trigger animal allergies. They do, however, shed very little compared to other fluffy, curly dog breeds out there. The coat demands regular brushing to stay free of mats and ideally, a nice short retriever cut to make grooming easier. More showy, majestic Porties might boast the shaggy lion cut, which makes them look fierce but takes more time to brush.
3. Portuguese Water Dogs Have Webbed Feet
Yes, really! The Portie was a steadfast fishing companion that could herd fish into trawler fishing nets, retrieve lost items, and more by using their specialized webbed feet. It’s not quite as obvious as a duck’s feet but looks a little similar if you spread their toes. The thin membrane helps the dog paddle in shallow water, and they love swimming even to this very day!
4. They Almost Became Extinct
As the Portuguese fishing industry dwindled, so did PWD populations. Some sources claim the breed was nearly extinct as early as the 1930s, while this vintage New York Times article from the 70s claims there were as few as 50 as of the 1960s.
There’s a silver lining: Vasco Bensaude, a Portuguese shipping magnate, was concerned about the breed’s continuity after breeding programs were interrupted during WWI. Bensaude’s breeding programs continued for several more decades under his protegee, Conchita Cintron de Castelo Branco. Together, those two men are very likely to thank for every single Portie alive today.
5. They Charmed a Senator and President
While they had poor popularity for a long time, PWDs made waves with some select influential individuals. Chief among them was Senator Ted Kennedy, who famously paraded his two Porties with him everywhere. Their names were Splash and Sunny.
Funnily enough, Kennedy even wrote a children’s book entirely narrated in Splash’s voice. When President Barack Obama was inaugurated in 2009, Ted Kennedy gifted the First Family one of Sunny’s brothers, a pup named Bo Obama who passed away in 2021.
6. Only Two Haircuts Are Show-Approved
The Portuguese Water Dog has very long hair if allowed to grow for an extended period, but most people choose to adopt one of the two show-approved haircuts. The short, practical all-over retriever cut, and the showy, flowing lion cut. Unkempt and in-between coats that don’t fit either one of those standard cuts won’t make the cut, so to speak.
7. Porties Were Formally Recognized in 1984
From humble fishing beginnings to near extinction, where did the Portuguese Water Dog go in history? To America, as of the 1970s. The lovable, energetic Portie became so popular the Portuguese Water Dog Club of America was founded in 1972 after a couple named the Millers received a pair of PWDs in a rare-breed exchange.
The breed was just so rare that they weren’t AKC recognized until 1981 when they were considered a “Miscellaneous” class of breed, which meant they couldn’t compete in shows. They weren’t allowed into the ring until 3 years later.
Portuguese Water Dogs are sadly underrated, with a turbulent history and perky, can-do attitude. They might not be as well-known as a Labrador Retriever or a Golden, but Porties are lovable family companions that will keep you active. Whether you’re swimming or jogging, they’re along for the ride.
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Featured Image Credit: Lynda McFaul, Shutterstock