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BaxterBoo Blog
June 27, 2013

Meet the Breed: The Portuguese Water Dog

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  • Height: 17" - 22”
  • Weight: 35-55 pounds
  • Historical function: Working alongside fishermen.
  • Modern function: Companion, agility, therapy dog
  • AKC classification: Working

Physical Characteristics:

The Portuguese Water Dog is often called Portie for short or abbreviated to PWD. In Portugal, it is referred to as the Cão de Água. This is a medium-sized, sturdily built dog with a wavy or curly coat. Thought to be most closely related to the Standard Poodle, the main difference between the breeds is the stockier bone structure of the Portie. The head is domed and has heart-shaped hanging ears. The eyes are brown or black. The body is muscular and just slightly longer than it is tall at the withers. The tail is not docked and is used to assist in swimming, as are the webbed feet. The legs are straight. The wavy or curly single coat does not shed and is often good for those with allergies. Coat colors are black, brown, or black and white or brown and white. Occasionally, a PWD may be white. 

History of the Breed:

The Portuguese Water Dog originated in Portugal and worked alongside fishermen in the Iberian peninsula. They were so valuable performing various jobs that they were considered crew. One was described in 1297 by a monk who recounted one pulling a drowning sailor from the sea. Cão de Água, as the dog is called in Portugal, translates to "dog of water."  They were kept partially shaved in a lion cut to prevent drag and longer over vital organs. The PWD nearly became extinct by the 1930s. The breed was resurrected with the help of a wealthy benefactor, Vasco Bensaude, a Portuguese shipping magnate, who selected prime sailing dogs to rebuild the breed. The first pair of Portuguese Water Dogs were imported to the US in 1958. The breed is enjoying a boost in popularity with the addition of "Bo" to the Obama family as the "DOTUS" (Dog of the United States.)


The Portuguese Water Dog is very intelligent and, as a working dog, is very active. This combination of intelligence and activity makes them good at agility and for work as therapy dogs. They are becoming increasingly used in hospitals because of their hypoallergenic non-shedding coats. These wonderful characteristics can work against them, however, as under-exercised, bored dogs will often find their own forms of entertainment and mischief.  

  • Best suited for: Active families willing to give this dog plenty of mental and physical exercise. 
  • Preferred living conditions: This dog does well with strong leadership and prefers to be near people as well as playing in the yard. Throwing a stick in the water for a game of fetch is their idea of bliss.

Care and Health:

  • Grooming requirements: This non-shedding coat should be brushed and combed regularly. The hair does not grow as quickly as a Poodle's so clipping does not have to be done as frequently. The two style of clipping include the working Lion cut (with the face and back end shaved) and the pet clip, which is about 1-2" all over. This may be shortened during the summer.  
  • Exercise needs: Daily walk or run as well as mental exercises. 
  • Life expectancy: 10-14 years.
  • Health concerns: May be prone to hip dysplasia and PRA. 

Breed Club Links: Portuguese Water Dog Club of America. Perfect Pairings: Katie's Bumpers - Original Bumper Dog Toy

Have any stories about a Portuguese Water Dog? Please share!

Featured photo courtesy of Five Furlongs. First Dog Bo photo from Wikimedia commons.  

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This entry was posted by Mary.

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