Choosing a Portuguese Water Dog

The Portuguese water dog is not yet common in the United States, although it is steadily rising in popularity especially since the Obama's obtained a dog for their daughters. The current "first dog" in the White House is a Portuguese water dog named "Bo".

As the name implies, the breed hails from Portugal where it is a much loved and hard working companion of fishermen. Portuguese water dogs are medium sized, strong swimmers and active energetic family pets.

History and Origin

Some people believe that the Portuguese water dog dates back to 700 B.C. when it was a patrol dog near the Chinese Russian border. At that time, the dog may have been a herder for cattle, sheep, camels and horses. At that point, there are two primary theories as to how the dog traveled from the Chinese Russian border to Portugal. One theory maintains that the Berbers captured the dogs and spread across North Africa, finally arriving in Portugal in the 8th century. The other theory holds that the dogs were taken by the Goths, a German tribe. This tribe invaded Spain and Portugal in 400 A.D. and the dogs stayed there.

Regardless of the theories, once the dogs reached Portugal, they had found a home. Fisherman quickly learned that the Portuguese water dog, called cao de agua (water dog) in Portuguese, was an excellent hard working dog. They were used to herd fish into the nets, retrieve lost tackle or broken nets, and to act as a courier from ship to ship and ship to the shore.

For centuries, the Portuguese water dog was a constant companion of the fishermen, but in the early 20th century, agriculture became more popular than fishing, and the popularity of the breed diminished. The dogs nearly vanished. In the 1930s a wealthy Portuguese shipping magnate took it upon himself to save the breed from extinction. With much effort, Portuguese water dogs slowly rebounded and in 1954, were accepted into the English Kennel Club.

In 1958 the United States became interested when a pair of dogs arrived in New York. In 1972, a group of 16 individuals had a meeting at a home in Connecticut and formed the Portuguese Water Dog Club of America with an initial enrollment of only 12 dogs. Due to the dedication of the club members, the number of Portuguese water dogs in the United States rose to 650 by 1982, and by 1983, the breed was accepted into the American Kennel Club.


The Portuguese water dog is a medium sized dog with either a longhaired coat or curly coat. Common coat colors include black, white, various tones of brown or combinations of these colors. The hair coat infrequently sheds and is water-resistant. The feet are webbed, which explains their strength as swimmers.


The Portuguese water dog stands 20 to 23 inches at the shoulder and weighs between 42 to 60 pounds.


Friendly and active, the Portuguese water dog makes an excellent pet for an active family, especially those who enjoy water sports or outdoor activities.

Home and Family Relations

Since their coats infrequently shed, this is an excellent breed for people with allergies. The water resistant hair coat allows the dog to spend a lot of time outdoors. Although they take well to children if raised around children, they don't always do so well if a child is introduced into the family later in the dog's life.


The Portuguese water dog is an intelligent and obedient dog that takes well to training. They thoroughly enjoy water and excel at water sports and activities. Training should begin early in their life. Without training, their natural protective and guard dog instincts may become a problem.

Special Care

The Portuguese water dog is not a good choice for people looking for a "couch potato" dog. This is an active and energetic dog that craves exercise. They seem to have boundless energy and may develop behavioral problems if not kept active. Early socialization is critical to prevent their natural guard dog tendencies. The long hair coat requires frequent grooming to prevent mats or tangles.

Common Diseases and Disorders

The Portuguese water dog is a relatively healthy dog with few health concerns. Some diseases that have been reported in this breed include:

Progressive retinal atrophy is a degenerative disease of the eyes that slowly results in blindness.

Hip dysplasia is a malformation of the hip joints and can result in pain, limping and arthritis.

Alopecia is a disorder of hair loss.

In addition, Portuguese water dogs are prone to ear infections or swimmer's ears if they tend to swim a lot. Make sure their ears are thoroughly dried after each swim.

The average life span of the Portuguese water dog is 10 to 12 years.

We realize that each dog is unique and may display other characteristics. This profile provides generally accepted breed information only.

Chris Cosgrove contributed to this story.