As readily apparent from its name the Portuguese Water Dog hails from Portugal and for centuries before it was finally superseded by technology it remained the Portuguese fisherman’s consummate all-purpose fishing tool. The exact ancestral origins of the Portuguese Water Dog remain unknown but it is quite closely related to other European water dog breeds save for the fact that they generally specialized in waterfowl retrieval whereas the Portuguese Water Dog’s specialties lay elsewhere. Unsubstantiated evidence does tend to suggest that the breed’s ancestral heritage originated somewhere in central Asia around 700 B.C. and that the Portuguese water dog was taken to Portugal by the Visigoths circa the fifth century.
Some of the many functions ascribed to the Portuguese Water Dog in earlier times included:
• Herding fish into nets
• Message courier
• Functioning as a lookout
• Translocating and retrieving nets; as well as
• Rescuing capsized fishermen
From the time of the Middle ages the Portuguese Water Dog performed as the ultimate fisherman’s in-water assistant making the lives of the fishermen of the Algarve on Portugal’s southern coast that much easier. Anytime a small fleet of fishing boats would set out the Portuguese water Dog would be in the thick of the action, conveying messages from boat to boat, alerting the fishermen by barking whenever it spotted a shoal of fish and during foggy conditions the dog with its unique “rising-and-falling” bark would act as a canine foghorn.
The first documented evidence of the Portuguese Water Dog was in 1297 from a monks account where he narrates how he was saved from drowning in the sea by a dog with a “black coat, the hair long and rough, cut to the first rib and with a tail tuft.” Known as Cao de Agua in Portugal which translates as “dog of water”, the Portuguese Water Dog is also sometimes referred to as the Portuguese Fishing Dog, the Diving Dog or the Sea Dog.
By the early 20th century as traditional fishing methods became obsolete as a result of advances in technology the Portuguese Water Dog numbers dwindled to the brink of extinction. As fate would have it though, the Portuguese water Dog breed was introduced to one Vasco Bensuade, a wealthy Portuguese shipping magnate who had a fondness for dogs. Vasco Bensuade loved the breed and acquired a dog which he named Leao (lion).
It was through the efforts of Vasco Bensuade that the future of the Portuguese Water Dog was consolidated and a breed standard was written and the dogs thereafter soon began appearing in dog shows. Bensaude’s dog Leao became the founding sire of the kennel he set up to develop and sustain the Portuguese Water Dog breed at Algarbiorum, and Leao also became the standard upon which the Portuguese Water Dog breed was eventually based on.
However despite Vasco Bensuade’s valiant efforts to revive the Portuguese Water Dog, by the 1960s the breed was once again teetering on the brink of extinction with only about 50 dogs in existence worldwide. Once again destiny’s kindly hand reached out to intervene this time in the form of two Americans; Deyanne and Herbert Miller, Jr. The Millers acquired a Portuguese Water Dog from the very same Algarbiorum Kennel that Vasco Bensuade had established in the 1930s (and which was later acquired after his death by a former lady bullfighter, Conchita Branco).
The Millers named the dog that they acquired Renascenca (renaissance) do Al Gharb with high hopes of saving the breed with former founding sire Leao’s descendant. The Millers were successful in their endeavors forming in 1972, along with fourteen other breeders established, the Portuguese Water Dog Club of America, Inc. (PWDCA). Today there are in existence over 5000 Portuguese Water dogs and the breed was admitted to the American Kennel Club in June of 1981 under the miscellaneous category.
The crowning achievement of the Portuguese Water Dog breed’s fight of survival is that in 2009 it was been short-listed as a very strong contender to become part of the First family in the White House as the First Canine. For lovers of this breed such news is a mixed bag because although the resultant popularity will increase breed awareness it will also lead in a surge of backyard breeders, puppy mills pushing the breed and fly-by-night dog owners who are inspired by the sudden publicity and popularity to acquire a Portuguese Water Dog only to abandon it sooner than later!
Portuguese Water Dog Temperament
The Portuguese Water dog breed is a gregarious, fun-loving pet that boasts an excellent and balanced disposition. The dog gets along very well with other pets including dogs and also does extremely well with children. This breed has a high affectionate and playfulness level that is more than sufficient to delight and endear any child making it an ideal family pet.
Portuguese Water Dog Upkeep
In keeping with its ancestral and genetic pedigree this active dog breed needs plenty of physical and mental stimulation on a daily basis if it is not to become a nuisance. Ideally the physical activity should be in the form of a daily swim to sate the dog’s love of water but failing that then a long brisk walk or daily jog should suffice. The Portuguese Water Dog does best when closely integrated and involved with its human family. The coat of this dog breed should be combed every other day in order to prevent matting and clumping and it should also be clipped on a monthly basis.
Portuguese Water Dog Characteristics
Major Health Issues: PRA
Minor Health Issues: GM1 storage disease; Distichiasis; Addisons; CHD; Juvenile Cardiomyopathy; Follicular dysplasia (hair loss); Irritable bowel syndrome (rare); Seizures (rare)
Lifespan: 10 – 14 years
Portuguese Water Dog Form & Function
The Portuguese Water Dog is a well proportioned canine that is slightly longer than it is tall. The breed is of medium build with good musculature and has excellent stamina to work on or out of the water for long durations. This breed exists in two coat variations:
• The long-haired variant also known as the Cao de Agua de Pelo Ondulado in Portugal; and
• The curly-coated variant which is known as the Cao de Agua de Pelo Encaradolado.
The Portuguese Water Dog is also a good choice of dog breed for allergy sufferers because it is hypo to non-allergenic (especially the curly-coated variant).
Like the better known Labrador Retriever that also loves swimming the feet of the Portuguese Water Dog have webbed toes to assist movement whilst in the water.
The coat of this breed is generally trimmed in two variations:
• Lion Trim: Here the rear-end of the dogs body is closely cropped giving the impression of a male lion with a mane; hence the name. The historical value of this type of trim was that supposedly by trimming the dogs coat on the rear half of its body drag was reduced when the dog was swimming. The close trim extends to the tip of the tail which is left untouched as a bushy tuft.
• Retriever Trim: Here the coat of the Portuguese Water Dog is clipped consistently across its entire length to approximately 1 inch in length.
Acceptable coat colors of this breed include: black, brown, white or any combination of black and white or brown and white.