Portuguese Water Dog

Table of Contents

portuguese water dog portrait
Get ready to dive into the world of the Portuguese Water Dog, a bundle of energy and joy that's bound to make waves in your heart! These extraordinary canines are not only skilled swimmers with a rich seafaring history, but they also sport hypoallergenic coats that keep allergies at bay.

Join us in this comprehensive guide as we explore everything you need to know about this breed, including their appearance, temperament, ideal environment, grooming, exercise requirements, training tips, dietary needs, health concerns, history, and more.

Best For

The Portuguese Water Dog is the perfect companion for active families and individuals who love spending time outdoors. With their high energy levels, these dogs thrive on regular exercise and mental stimulation, making them ideal for those who enjoy hiking, swimming, or agility training.

Overview

OFFICIAL NAMEPortuguese Water Dog
OTHER NAMESPortie, PWD, Cão de Água Português, Cão de Água Algarvio
ORIGINPortugal
BREED GROUPWorking Group
BREED SIZEMedium
HEIGHT17-23 inches
WEIGHT35-60 lbs
LIFESPAN11-13 years
LIVING SPACELarge
SENSITIVITY TO COLD WEATHERModerate
SENSITIVITY TO WARM WEATHERModerate
GROOMING NEEDSHigh
EXERCISE NEEDSHigh
TRAINABILITYHigh
BARKING TENDENCYModerate
BITING TENDENCYLow
DROOLING TENDENCYLow
SHEDDING LEVELLow
POPULARITY RANK46th
portuguese water dog by the sea
Photo: LynMc42k/Getty Images

Appearance

The Portuguese Water Dog is a medium-sized breed with a robust, athletic build that reflects its working heritage. This well-proportioned dog typically stands between 17 to 23 inches tall at the shoulder, with males weighing between 42 and 60 pounds, and females ranging from 35 to 50 pounds.

Their strong, muscular bodies are designed for both agility and endurance, making them versatile and adaptable working dogs.

The head of the Portuguese Water Dog is broad and features a slightly domed skull, with a well-defined stop and a wide, black nose. Their medium-sized eyes are set well apart, and their color can range from various shades of brown to black, depending on the coat color. The expression is often described as steady, calm, and attentive.

Their heart-shaped ears hang down and are set above the level of the eye, giving them an endearing appearance.

One of the most distinctive features of the Portuguese Water Dog is its tail. The tail is thick at the base and tapers toward the tip, acting as a powerful rudder when swimming. It is usually carried in a relaxed curve but can be raised when the dog is alert or excited.

The coat of the Portuguese Water Dog is another notable characteristic, setting it apart from other breeds. Their coats are either curly or wavy, with a thick and waterproof texture that protects them from harsh weather conditions. The curly coat consists of compact, cylindrical curls, while the wavy coat has a more gentle, flowing wave pattern.

Both coat types are low-shedding and hypoallergenic, making them suitable for people with allergies.

Portuguese Water Dogs come in a variety of colors, including black, white, various shades of brown, and combinations of black or brown with white markings. Some may also have a unique silver sheen on their coat, which can develop as they mature.

Grooming plays an essential role in maintaining the appearance of a Portie’s coat. Traditionally, Portuguese Water Dogs were groomed with a “lion clip” or a “retriever clip.” The lion clip involves shaving the muzzle and hindquarters, leaving the rest of the coat long, while the retriever clip features an evenly trimmed coat all over the body.

portuguese water dog's face close up
Photo: LynMc42k/Getty Images

Temperament

The Portuguese Water Dog is known for its spirited, friendly, and intelligent temperament, making them a delightful companion for families and individuals alike. These canines are renowned for their loyalty and strong bond with their human companions. They thrive on being an integral part of the family and enjoy participating in various activities, whether it’s a quiet evening at home or an adventurous outing.

Porties are highly intelligent dogs, which makes them quick learners and eager to please. Their intelligence, combined with their innate curiosity, means they are always up for learning new things and exploring the world around them. This trait also means that they require mental stimulation to prevent boredom, which can lead to undesirable behaviors. Providing them with puzzle toys, interactive games, and engaging in training sessions are excellent ways to keep their minds sharp and satisfied.

One of the most endearing qualities of the Portuguese Water Dog is its playful nature. They have a lively and fun-loving personality, making them a great playmate for children and adults alike. Their high energy levels mean they enjoy participating in various games and activities, making them a perfect fit for households that appreciate an active and engaging pet.

However, it’s essential to remember that their playfulness should be accompanied by proper supervision, particularly around young children, due to their size and strength.

Socialization plays a crucial role in shaping the temperament of a Portuguese Water Dog. Early exposure to various people, animals, and environments helps them develop into well-rounded and confident adults.

A properly socialized Portie is typically good with other dogs and pets, displaying a friendly and tolerant attitude. They are also known to be quite gentle with children, making them an excellent addition to families with kids of all ages.

Portuguese Water Dogs have a strong protective instinct, which can make them excellent watchdogs. They are attentive and alert to their surroundings, often barking to announce the arrival of visitors or any perceived threats. However, they are not overly aggressive and can be quite welcoming once they understand that the newcomer poses no threat to their family.

It’s important to note that the temperament of a Portuguese Water Dog can vary depending on various factors, including genetics, upbringing, and socialization. When choosing a Portie puppy, it’s essential to research the breeder and meet the parents to ensure they exhibit the desired temperament traits.

Consistent training, socialization, and positive reinforcement from an early age will also help shape a well-behaved and happy adult dog.

Ideal Environment

Ideal Owner

The ideal environment for a Portuguese Water Dog is one that caters to their physical, mental, and social needs. Porties are best suited for active households with pet parents who are committed to providing them with regular exercise, mental stimulation, and companionship. They thrive on being an integral part of the family and appreciate spending quality time with their human companions.

Other Pets

These dogs enjoy the company of other pets and are generally good with both dogs and cats, especially if they have been properly socialized from a young age. Introducing them to other animals gradually and under supervision will help facilitate harmonious relationships within the household.

Physical Environment

Portuguese Water Dogs can adapt well to various living situations, ranging from apartments to large homes with spacious yards. However, given their energetic nature, they should have access to outdoor spaces where they can play, explore, and expend their energy. Fenced yards or nearby dog parks are excellent options for ensuring your Portie gets the exercise and socialization they need.

Climate Adaptability

When it comes to climate adaptability, the Portuguese Water Dog’s thick, waterproof coat provides protection against cold temperatures and wet conditions. Their working history in the chilly waters of the Atlantic Ocean means they are well-equipped to handle colder climates. However, it’s essential to monitor them during extreme cold spells and provide appropriate shelter and warmth when necessary.

On the other hand, Porties can also tolerate warmer climates, but extra precautions should be taken to ensure their comfort and safety. During hot weather, it’s crucial to provide ample shade, fresh water, and limit their exposure to direct sunlight. Exercise should be planned for cooler parts of the day, such as early mornings or evenings, to prevent overheating.

portuguese water dog by the water during sunset
Photo: Sparty1711/Getty Images

Grooming

The Portuguese Water Dog requires regular grooming to maintain its distinctive coat and overall health. Caring for their unique hypoallergenic coat involves brushing, bathing, trimming, and other general maintenance tasks.

Coat Care

Portuguese Water Dogs have either curly or wavy coats, both of which are low-shedding. However, they still need consistent brushing to prevent matting and to keep their coat clean and healthy.

Ideally, you should brush your Portie’s coat at least once or twice a week using a slicker brush or a comb with wide teeth. This will help remove dirt, debris, and any loose hair, ensuring the coat remains tangle-free and smooth.

To make brushing easier and more effective, it’s a good idea to mist the coat lightly with water or a detangling spray before brushing. This helps in preventing breakage and makes it easier to work through any tangles or knots. Always brush in the direction of hair growth, starting from the head and working your way down to the tail.

Bathing

Portuguese Water Dogs do not require frequent baths, as over-bathing can strip the natural oils from their coat, leading to dry skin and other issues. Generally, you can bathe your Portie every 6 to 8 weeks or as needed, depending on their activity level and how dirty they get. Use a gentle, dog-specific shampoo to ensure their skin and coat remain moisturized and healthy.

When bathing your Portie, be sure to thoroughly rinse out the shampoo to prevent any residue buildup, which can cause irritation. After bathing, towel dry your dog and use a hairdryer on a low heat setting to dry the coat completely, as dampness can cause skin problems.

Trimming and Clipping

Portuguese Water Dogs need occasional trimming or clipping to maintain a neat and manageable coat. It’s generally recommended to trim their coat every 2 to 3 months, depending on the growth rate and the desired length. You can either learn to do this yourself or take your Portie to a professional groomer.

Traditionally, Portuguese Water Dogs were groomed with either a “lion clip” or a “retriever clip.” The lion clip involves shaving the muzzle and hindquarters while leaving the rest of the coat long. The retriever clip features an evenly trimmed coat all over the body, maintaining a uniform length of about 1 inch.

Dental Care

Regular dental care is essential for maintaining your Portie’s overall health. Brushing their teeth at least two or three times a week helps prevent tartar buildup, gum disease, and bad breath. Use a dog-specific toothpaste and toothbrush designed for canine dental care.

In addition to brushing, providing dental chews or toys can help promote good oral hygiene and keep your dog’s teeth clean and strong.

Nail Trimming

Portuguese Water Dogs need regular nail trimming to prevent overgrowth, which can cause discomfort and affect their gait. Generally, you should trim your dog’s nails every 3 to 4 weeks, depending on how quickly they grow. Use a guillotine-style or scissor-style nail clipper specifically designed for dogs, and be cautious not to cut the quick, as it can cause pain and bleeding.

portuguese water dog sitting on top of a mountain
Photo: LynMc42k/Getty Images

Exercise

Portuguese Water Dogs are an energetic and active breed with high exercise needs. Their working heritage as seafaring dogs means they require regular physical activity to stay healthy and happy. Providing your Portie with adequate exercise not only keeps them physically fit but also helps prevent boredom, which can lead to undesirable behaviors.

Exercise Amount & Types

A Portuguese Water Dog typically needs at least 60 minutes of exercise each day, divided into two or more sessions. This can include a combination of different activities, such as brisk walks, jogs, hikes, and swimming. As natural water dogs, Porties particularly enjoy swimming and water-based activities, so incorporating these into their exercise routine is highly beneficial and enjoyable for them.

Dog Sports

In addition to daily walks and swimming, Portuguese Water Dogs thrive on engaging in various dog sports and activities that challenge their agility, strength, and intelligence.

Some popular options include agility trials, obedience training, rally, flyball, and dock diving. Participating in these activities not only provides physical exercise but also offers mental stimulation and strengthens the bond between you and your dog.

If you’re interested in canine competitions, Portuguese Water Dogs are known for their success in various dog sports, thanks to their intelligence, trainability, and athleticism.

They excel in events like agility, obedience, rally, and even water trials designed specifically for water dogs. These competitions provide an excellent opportunity for your Portie to showcase their skills and abilities while enjoying the challenges and stimulation these events offer.

Exercise Precautions

When exercising your Portuguese Water Dog, it’s essential to consider factors such as their age, health, and fitness level. Puppies and senior dogs may have different exercise requirements compared to adult dogs, so it’s crucial to adjust the intensity and duration of their activities accordingly. Always consult your veterinarian for guidance on the appropriate exercise routine for your dog.

Training

Portuguese Water Dogs are highly intelligent and trainable, making them a pleasure to work with when it comes to training. Their eagerness to please and natural curiosity contribute to their ability to quickly grasp new commands and concepts. However, as with any breed, it’s essential to approach training with patience, consistency, and positive reinforcement techniques.

When training your Portie, it’s crucial to start early, ideally during puppyhood. Early socialization and exposure to various people, animals, and environments will help shape a well-rounded and confident adult dog. Puppy training classes can be an excellent way to introduce your Portuguese Water Dog to basic obedience commands while also providing valuable socialization opportunities.

Portuguese Water Dogs respond best to reward-based training methods, such as positive reinforcement, where desired behaviors are rewarded with treats, praise, or playtime. This approach not only helps build a strong bond between you and your dog but also fosters a positive and enjoyable learning environment.

Consistency is key when training your Portie. Ensure that all family members use the same commands and enforce the same rules to avoid confusion and promote effective learning. Additionally, keep training sessions short and engaging to maintain your dog’s interest and prevent frustration.

Given their intelligence and energy levels, Portuguese Water Dogs can become bored with repetitive tasks. Incorporating variety and challenges into their training routine will help keep them mentally stimulated and excited about learning. Teaching them new tricks or participating in dog sports like agility, obedience, or rally can provide additional opportunities for mental and physical enrichment.

It’s important to remember that every dog is different, and your Portie’s progress may vary depending on factors such as temperament, previous experiences, and individual learning pace. Patience and persistence are essential in ensuring a successful and enjoyable training experience.

portuguese water dog playing with a ball in the park
Photo: Barbie Lee/Getty Images

Diet & Nutrition 

The diet and nutrition of a Portuguese Water Dog play a crucial role in maintaining their overall health and well-being. Providing your Portie with a balanced and age-appropriate diet is essential for their growth, development, and energy needs.

What to Feed & How Much

When choosing food for your Portuguese Water Dog, look for high-quality dry, wet, or raw food options that follow the AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) guidelines. These guidelines ensure that the food meets the nutritional requirements necessary for your dog’s health.

Opt for products that use high-quality protein sources, such as chicken, fish, or beef, along with whole grains, fruits, and vegetables to provide essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

The amount of food your Portie requires will depend on factors such as age, weight, activity level, and metabolism. Generally, adult Portuguese Water Dogs should be fed twice a day, with the daily portion divided into two equal meals. Puppies may require more frequent feedings, typically 3 to 4 times a day, to support their rapid growth and development.

It’s important to monitor your dog’s weight and adjust their food intake accordingly to prevent overfeeding and obesity, which can lead to various health issues. Consult your veterinarian for guidance on the appropriate portion size and feeding schedule for your specific dog.

Treats

Treats can be a valuable training aid and a way to reward your Portie for good behavior. However, they should be given in moderation, as excessive treats can contribute to weight gain and imbalances in their diet. Choose healthy, low-calorie treats, and consider using fresh fruits or vegetables, such as apple slices, carrots, or green beans, as a nutritious alternative.

Water

Fresh water should always be readily available for your Portuguese Water Dog. Ensure that their water bowl is clean and filled with fresh water daily, and check it regularly throughout the day to make sure they have an adequate supply.

Health

The Portuguese Water Dog is generally a healthy breed with a life expectancy of 11 to 13 years. However, like all breeds, they may be prone to certain genetic and health conditions.

Some common health issues associated with Portuguese Water Dogs include:

Hip Dysplasia: This is a genetic condition in which the hip joint doesn’t develop properly, leading to arthritis and pain. Regular check-ups, maintaining a healthy weight, and providing appropriate exercise can help manage this condition.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA): PRA is an eye disorder that causes gradual vision loss, eventually leading to blindness. Responsible breeding practices and early detection through regular eye exams can help manage this condition.

Juvenile Dilated Cardiomyopathy: This is a rare but severe heart condition that affects young Portuguese Water Dogs, causing heart failure and often resulting in sudden death. Early diagnosis and proper medical care are crucial for managing this condition.

Storage Disease (GM1 Gangliosidosis): A rare genetic disorder that affects the nervous system, causing progressive neurological decline. There is currently no cure for this condition, but responsible breeding practices can help prevent its occurrence in future generations.

Addison’s Disease: Also known as hypoadrenocorticism, Addison’s disease is a hormonal disorder resulting from insufficient production of adrenal hormones. This condition requires lifelong medication and regular monitoring by a veterinarian.

To maintain your Portuguese Water Dog’s overall health, provide them with a balanced diet that meets their nutritional needs, and monitor their weight to prevent obesity-related issues. Regular veterinary check-ups, including routine vaccinations, dental care, and screenings for potential health conditions, are essential for early detection and treatment of any health concerns.

Additionally, choosing a responsible breeder who conducts health screenings and follows proper breeding practices can help reduce the risk of genetic disorders in your Portie. By taking a proactive approach to your Portuguese Water Dog’s health, you can help ensure they enjoy a long, happy, and healthy life.

barack obama playing with his potuguese water dog
Photo: janeb13/Pixabay

History

The Portuguese Water Dog has a rich and fascinating history that dates back centuries ago. Originating from the rugged coastlines of Portugal, these unique dogs were bred for various tasks related to the sea, making them an integral part of the Portuguese fishing industry.

Portuguese Water Dogs are believed to have descended from ancient herding dogs that were found in the central Asian steppes around 700 BC. These early ancestors eventually made their way to the Iberian Peninsula with the migration of various tribes. Over time, the breed evolved to adapt to their coastal environment, developing exceptional swimming abilities and a waterproof coat.

The primary role of the Portuguese Water Dog was to assist fishermen by retrieving broken nets, diving for fish, and carrying messages between boats. Their strong work ethic and versatility made them invaluable companions for the fishermen who relied on them.

The Portie’s unique “webbed” feet, muscular build, and rudder-like tail allowed them to excel in their water-based tasks, while their intelligence and trainability made them easy to work with.

As the fishing industry modernized, the need for working dogs like the Portie diminished, leading to a decline in their numbers. By the 1930s, the breed was on the verge of extinction.

However, a wealthy Portuguese shipping magnate named Vasco Bensaude took an interest in preserving the breed and began a breeding program using the remaining Portuguese Water Dogs he could find. His efforts played a significant role in saving the breed from extinction and reestablishing their presence in Portugal and beyond.

The Portuguese Water Dog was first recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1983, and they are classified as a member of the Working Group.

In popular culture, the Portuguese Water Dog gained recognition when former US President Barack Obama and his family welcomed two Porties, Bo and Sunny, into the White House.

The breed’s hypoallergenic coat and friendly nature made them an ideal choice for the Obama family, who sought a breed suitable for Malia Obama’s allergies. This high-profile adoption brought significant attention to the breed and sparked an increased interest in Portuguese Water Dogs.

Today, the Portuguese Water Dog is cherished both as a companion and a working dog. They continue to excel in water-based tasks and dog sports, showcasing their athleticism, intelligence, and versatility. Their friendly and loyal nature also makes them a beloved family pet, and their unique history adds to their charm and appeal.

Parent Club

The official parent club for the Portuguese Water Dog in the United States is the Portuguese Water Dog Club of America (PWDCA). Founded in 1972, the PWDCA is dedicated to preserving and promoting the breed through education, responsible breeding practices, and various events and activities.

The club serves as a valuable resource for Portuguese Water Dog owners and enthusiasts. You can visit their website here for more information on the breed, club membership, events, and other resources.

Breed Standard

A breed standard is a set of guidelines established by breed clubs or kennel organizations, defining the ideal appearance, temperament, and physical traits of a specific breed. It serves as a reference for breeders, judges, and enthusiasts to evaluate and maintain a breed’s unique qualities.

Covering aspects like size, appearance, and temperament, breed standards are used in dog shows and competitions to assess individual dogs against the ideal representation of their breed.

You can check the Portuguese Water Dog’s breed standard set by the American Kennel Club (AKC) here.

portuguese water dog puppy sitting
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Acquiring

When considering acquiring a Portuguese Water Dog, it’s essential to prepare for the responsibility of owning this intelligent and energetic breed. Research the breed’s characteristics, exercise needs, and potential health issues to ensure that a Portie is the right fit for your lifestyle.

Instead of buying a puppy, consider rescuing a Portuguese Water Dog in need of a loving home. Many Porties are waiting for their forever families in shelters or rescue organizations. The American Kennel Club (AKC) and the Portuguese Water Dog Club of America (PWDCA) can help connect you with rescue groups and available dogs.

Before bringing your new Portie home, prepare a comfortable space with essentials like a bed, food and water bowls, toys, and grooming supplies. Additionally, locate a reputable veterinarian and research local training classes and dog sports clubs to help your Portie thrive as a beloved family member.

FAQs

Are Portuguese Water Dogs rare?

While not as common as some other breeds, Portuguese Water Dogs have gained popularity in recent years, partly due to their adoption by the Obama family. They rank 46th in the AKC’s breed popularity rankings.

Will Portuguese Water Dogs protect you?

Portuguese Water Dogs are not specifically bred as guard dogs, but their loyalty and attachment to their family may lead them to protect their owners in certain situations. However, their primary role has been as a working dog, assisting fishermen with various tasks.

Do Portuguese Water Dogs bark a lot?

Portuguese Water Dogs have a moderate tendency to bark, which can vary depending on the individual dog and their environment. Training and proper socialization can help manage excessive barking and ensure well-behaved behavior.

Can Portuguese Water Dogs live in an apartment?

Although they are energetic and active dogs, Portuguese Water Dogs can adapt to apartment living if provided with sufficient exercise and mental stimulation. Regular walks, playtime, and participation in dog sports can help meet their physical and mental needs.

Are Portuguese Water Dogs hypoallergenic?

Portuguese Water Dogs are considered hypoallergenic due to their low-shedding, curly or wavy coat. While no dog breed is truly allergen-free, Porties may be more suitable for people with pet allergies compared to other breeds.

What is the temperament of a Portuguese Water Dog?

Portuguese Water Dogs are known for their friendly, intelligent, and loyal nature. They are eager to please and form strong bonds with their families, making them excellent companions for those willing to invest time in training and engaging activities.

How much exercise do Portuguese Water Dogs need?

Portuguese Water Dogs require at least an hour of regular exercise to maintain their physical and mental well-being. Daily walks, playtime, and participation in dog sports like agility or obedience will help keep your Portie healthy, happy, and well-behaved.

Fun Facts

  • As their name suggests, Portuguese Water Dogs are natural-born swimmers. Thanks to their webbed feet and robust bodies, they can effortlessly navigate through water. They were originally trained to assist fishermen by herding fish into nets, retrieving lost tackle, and delivering messages from ship to shore.
  • Portuguese Water Dogs have spent time in the White House! Former US President Barack Obama had two of them, Bo and Sunny, during his presidency. Their hypoallergenic coats were a perfect match for his daughter Malia’s allergies.

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