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Portuguese Water Dog

Nicole Cosgrove

The Portuguese Water Dog is a medium to large sized purebred dog. It was a rare breed until recently but has various talents including competitive obedience, agility, search and rescue, retrieving and guarding. Its recently gained attention is due to the fact that it is the breed President Barack Obama and his family have two of, one called Bo and the other called Sunny. Where once it was a working dog that was used by fishermen now it is an intelligent companion who still has a love for water.

Here is the Portuguese Water Dog at a Glance
Name Portuguese Water Dog
Other Names Water Dog, Cao De Agua
Nicknames Portie, PWD
Origin Portugal
Average size Medium to large
Average weight 35 to 60 pounds
Average height 17 to 23 inches
Life span 10 to 14 years
Coat type Thick, short, dense, wavy or curly
Hypoallergenic Yes
Color Black, white, brown, silver fox, grey
Popularity Somewhat popular – ranked 52 by the AKC
Intelligence Very intelligent – smart dog
Tolerance to heat Good – can handle warm and somewhat hot weather but not very hot
Tolerance to cold Very good – can handle quite cold temperatures just not the extreme
Shedding Low – does not shed much
Drooling Low – not a dog prone to drool or slobber
Obesity Average – just do not over feed and give daily exercise
Grooming/brushing Moderate to high – needs a fair bit of care including brushing three times a week at least
Barking Occasional – not constant but does bark
Exercise needs Very active – needs daily exercise or can be destructive
Trainability Moderately easy – eager to please
Friendliness Excellent – very social
Good first dog Good but may be better with experienced owner
Good family pet Excellent with socialization
Good with children Excellent with socialization
Good with other dogs Excellent with socialization
Good with other pets Very good to excellent with socialization
Good with strangers Good but needs socialization and can be wary
Good apartment dog Very good – can adapt though would be best with a yard
Handles alone time well Moderate – prefers not to be alone for long periods
Health issues Very good – quite a healthy breed but can be prone to some issues such as hip dysplasia, heart problems when young and eye problems
Medical expenses $485 a year for pet insurance and basic care
Food expenses $275 a year for dry dog food and treats
Miscellaneous expenses $585 a year for license, basic training, professional grooming, toys and other miscellaneous costs
Average annual expense $1345 a year as a starting figure
Cost to purchase $2500
Biting Statistics None reported

The Portuguese Water Dog’s Beginnings

The Portuguese Water Dog or PWD is from Algarve, Portugal, bred hundreds of years ago there to be a working dog helping fishermen. There is a theory that suggests there is some relation between it and some version of the Poodle. The first written reference to it is from an account by a monk of a sailor drowning and being rescued by one.

Being great swimmers they would herd fish into nets, be a courier from one ship to another, jump in the water to rescue lost tackles, nets and even the odd person. They were viewed by the fisherman as part of the crew. It was called the dog of water, the Algarvian water dog and the Portuguese Fishing dog.

Even the cut they were given was all about aiding them in their duties. It was left with long hair around its vital organs to keep them warm, trimmed to aid in swimming and around the neck and head the hair would help protect it from injury. They were so good at their job even people who wanted to just go on casual fishing trips would often rent them to come with them. Over the years as technology developed the dogs were needed less. By the 1930s numbers were very low and the breed was in danger of becoming extinct.

New Lease on Life

It was a wealthy Portuguese breeder and shipping magnate who began a breeding program that in the end saved the breed. His name was Vasco Bensuade and in the 1930s he went looking for PWDs to breed and re-establish them. In fact half of the PWDs alive today can trace their line back to one of his particularly successful studs. Another breeder continued Vasco’s work into the 1950s and working with others also helped the breed travel including to the US in 1958.

The Portuguese Water Dog Club of America was formed in 1972 and in 1983 it was recognized by the AKC. A genetic pool that was stable was established there as well as is England. It is ranked 52nd most popular breed by the AKC up by quite a bit thanks in large part to its residence at the White House.

The Dog You See Today

This is a medium to large sized dog weighing 35 to 60 pounds and standing 17 to 23 inches tall. It is a muscular, robust dog with broad head, broad black nose, round and medium sized dark eyes and ears that are high and hang down. The tail is thick at the base and then tapers to the end and is not docked to aid it when swimming. It also has webbed feet for better swimming too.

The coat of the Portuguese Water Dog is single, curly or wavy, thick, short and dense. Common colors are white, browns, black, grey and silver and there can be mixed patterns in hair. It is often cut in one of two ways, a lion clip where the mid body, rear and muzzle are kept short with tuft on the tail or the retriever clip where it is trimmed all over an inch long.

The Inner Portuguese Water Dog


The PWD is a highly energetic dog with a great love of play and having fun and a great sense of humor. It is definitely a smart dog but it will happily act clownish to entertain you. It is very much a people dog and wants to be where you are and with the family. It does though tend to bond more closely with one owner.

It can vary from one dog to another whether it is more laid back or more stubborn or somewhere in the middle. It is a very happy and cheerful dog and has a lot of love and affection to offer. It is alert too and will let you know if an intruder is trying to get in. It also does have some protective instincts. While a new owner could be fine with it, since its level of willfulness can vary and it is such high energy it may be better with experienced owners.

This dog prefers not to be left alone for long periods and are likely to follow you around the home. They are sweet and spirited, but with the right exercise and raising they tend to be calm and even tempered. Be warned though it does like to chew so make sure it has toys and things to rotate through that it can chew on without getting into trouble.

It tends to be an occasional barker but that can be more frequent in some dogs. Some will vocalize a lot to try and get their own way so that comes down to training. When they do bark it is quite distinctive and it is loud. It is usually friendly with strangers or at least tentatively wary. It doe slike to jump in greeting so this is another thing to train them out of.

Living with a Portuguese Water Dog

What will training look like?

Training a PWD is moderately easy so while results will be gradual it is not something that is going to take a lot of extra effort or time. They are intelligent and they are hard working so if you know how to approach the training it will go well. It needs a firm owner, one who is clearly the dominant pack leader. It needs clear and fair rules, consistency and a patient and positive trainer. Treats, rewards, praise are all the best ways to get through to it. Stay calm but be in charge at all times. If it thinks it can get away with it it will push you to give in to letting it have its way.

Early socialization is another thing to be focused on so that it grows into a trustworthy dog who is happy with different people, places and situations. Because of its work background this breed needs mental as well as physical activities and training and socialization is a great way to meet those needs. For that reason you could easily take training beyond basic levels.

How active is the Portuguese Water Dog?

The Portuguese Water Dog is a very active breed so will need owners able to commit to several hours a day of training and exercise. It can adapt to apartment living but really ideally needs a yard and is best in a home with more space. It will need at least two long brisk walks a day, some may need three. If it becomes destructive and starts acting out this could indicate it is not getting enough mental and physical stimulation.

This is a dog with a lot of stamina and one that has been bred to work so will need to be kept busy. This is not a dog happy to laze around most of the day. It loves to swim, will be happy to join you on hikes or jogs and of course trips to a dog park where it can run off leash and play with you, as well as socialize.

Caring for the Portuguese Water Dog

Grooming needs

This is a low shedding dog and is considered to be a hypo-allergenic breed, as much as any dog can be. If allergies are a concern you should check this out with a visit before you buy though. It requires a fair amount of attention still though. It coat should be brushed at least three times a week if not daily to keep it looking good and free of tangles. Bathing should just be done when it needs one, too often and it can damage their skin.

It will need trips to a professional groomer on a regular basis for stripping or trimming as if left unchecked it does just keep growing. It will also need the hair around its eyes and face trimming back. There are two main coat clips used for the Portie, as mentioned, the retriever and the lion. It should be noted that while similar to the Poodle the coat of the PWD actually grows more slowly so will need a little less attention.

It will like any dog need its teeth brushed at least two to three times a week. It should also have its ears checked for infection and then wiped clean with a cotton ball, cloth and cleanser. Its nails if not worn down naturally with activity, should be clipped when they get too long. This is something that should be done by someone with experience.

Feeding Time

How much exactly your dog will need to eat will depend on its size, age, activity level and metabolism rate. An average range though is 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 cups of a good quality dry dog food a day. It should be eaten in at least two meal sittings, not all in one go. Make sure it also has fresh water all day and be aware being smart and agile PWDs have been known to go up on their back legs and counter surf for further treats!

Portuguese Water Dogs with children and other animals

With the right raising and socialization it is good with children, happy to play and be energetic with them, affectionate and loving of them especially those it was raised with. However because of their energy levels and rambunctiousness they can be overwhelming for young children. In fact some breeders will not home a Portie with children younger than 3 years old. Just make sure the children are taught how to properly interact with them and to supervise when needed.

When raised with other pets it gets along fine with them, is even accepting of cats. However it is probably best to supervise around small pets and it may want to chase strange animals like squirrels. It gets on well with other dogs and enjoys the chance to socialize with them.

What Might Go Wrong?

Health Concerns

A Portie can live for 10 to 14 years and is a very healthy breed in general though of course there are some ailments it can be afflicted with. These include hip dysplasia, eye problems, a fatal nerve disease, Juvenile Dilated Cardiomyopathy and Addisons.

Biting Statistics

Looking at reports of dog attacks in the US and Canada against people that did bodily harm, there are no reports that name the PWD as the breed responsible. This does not mean something could not cause a PWD to snap or react aggressively. Any dog has that potential, certain triggers, situations or environments for example. Make sure you get a dog you can actually care for properly. A dog is less likely to become aggressive or snap when it has been trained well, socialized well, gets enough mental and physical exercise and is fed and cared for.

Your Pup’s Price Tag

This is not a cheap dog to opt for. Because of expensive medical costs on screening for health concerns this pushes up the price tag if you want to buy from a good and experienced breeder. Pet quality Porties are going to be about $2500, but if you want something show quality from a top breeder that could even double. For some breeds there is the option of getting a shelter or rescue dog but the PWD is not a dog commonly found in such places. Avoid backyard breeders or buying from puppy mills or other bad breeders, these are not places we should be funding and your dog’s line and health is at risk.

Other costs at the time of getting the puppy will include some basic items needed and some medical needs. Items might be things like a crate, collar, leash, bowls for example for about $200. Medical concerns would be having a vet check it over, deworming, shots, spaying or neutering, micro chipping and blood tests for another $300 or so.

Annual medical needs for just basic care that includes check ups, pet insurance, flea and tick prevention and vaccinations come to about $485. Food costs will start out at about $275 a year for dry dog food and treats. Then there are other miscellaneous costs like grooming, toys, licensing and basic training as well as others for about $585 a year.

This gives a total of $1345 as a starting figure for annual costs.


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The Portuguese Water Dog can be a great companion but must be in a home that understands its needs and is able to meet them. It is very intelligent, energetic and hard working so it needs to fulfill those needs. It is also a very social dog and will want to be around family and involved in what is going on.

It can be quite a handful as a puppy and there may be jumping and some naughtiness, which may last longer than many dogs as it is slower to mature. It will need an owner able to handle being firm when it is needed without upsetting it, as it can be sensitive. As the name implies it loves to swim and is great at it too, so try to give it opportunities to do so in between the usual walking.

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.