The Portuguese Water Dog breed, commonly referred to as PWD, is a curly-coated affectionate dog that thrives in human company. They are excellent companion dogs for owners who can match their energy levels and active lifestyle. They get along very well with children, and are great as family pets, but it is one of the rarer breeds now.
As the it is obvious from the breed name, the Portuguese Water Dog breed comes from Portugal, where they worked as a water dog, herding fish into their master’s nets. They were simply called “Cao de Agua” which literally means ‘water dog’ in the Portuguese language.
The curly coat indicates their common lineage with the Poodle dog breed, but there is a wavy-haired version too. These dogs probably originated in Central Asia, from where came most herding types of dogs. But their ancestors are thought to have reached Portugal as early as the 5th century along with Visigoths. Another possibility is that they were brought in to the country by the Moors sometime in the 8th century.
These water dogs proved to be especially useful for the fishermen in this coastal country as they could do several jobs, including acting as messengers between shipping vessels as well as between the boats and the shore. They would actively take part in fishing by herding the fish into the trawler nets by swimming around them. They were excellent retrievers of fishing equipments too. This multifunctional dog was quite popular in Portugal until the beginning of the 20th century when large-scale mechanization completely transformed the traditional ways of fishing.
The breed declined rapidly in the 20th century, nearly becoming extinct but for the efforts of a wealthy businessman named Dr. Vasco Bensuade who took an interest in reviving the breed. He introduced them to many countries, actively promoting the breed and making its presence felt in show circles. The dog began to be seen in dog shows in the United States by the 1950s, but gained the acceptance of the American Kennel Club in 1984.
PWDs are medium-large dogs typically measuring 17 inches to 23 inches. They have a muscular body supported on sturdy legs, but it is entirely covered in a single coat of long hair that grows continuously, much like human hair. The most common coat color is solid black or black with white chest and chin, but brown coats and parti-colored coats in a mixture of black, white, and brown also occur. Their ears are floppy and the tail is long and tapering. Their coat is often trimmed in different styles, one old favorite being the ‘lion cut.’
Portuguese Water Dogs are highly intelligent and reliably obedient dogs. Their vocalization when something is amiss, or when they are looking for their owners, makes them ideal as assistance dogs, especially for people with hearing and visual impairment. They tend to stay close to their owners at all times, and can be trained to alert them when the telephone rings.
They are generally one-master dogs, but love attention from all family members and even strangers who reach out to pet them.
Grooming and exercise
The curly coat of the Portuguese Water Dog breed requires regular grooming that involves daily or alternate day brushing of the coat. Since the coat keeps growing indefinitely, it is essential to keep it short by a good trim every 4 to 6 weeks.
The Portuguese Water Dog breed is full of energy, and requires plenty of exercise and activities to stay happy. A few walks on the leash may not be sufficient for these high energy dogs. This is not a breed for a sedate indoor life, and may develop destructive behavior when bored. They like to remain active all through the day and would appreciate the company of an equally active owner. They enjoy retrieving games both in water and on land. These dogs should be ideally provided opportunities to run and swim.
Even though they love the outdoors and can work in both hot and cold climates, they need to live indoors with their owners. That is how they used to work traditionally, always staying close to their masters and living with them in the fishing vessels.
Common health issues of Portuguese Water Dog dog breed
The Portuguese Water Dog breed is relatively healthy with only a few problems, including canine hip dysplasia and progressive retinal atrophy. Juvenile cardiomyopathy is seen in this breed, as is a lipid storage disorder referred to as GM1 for which genetic screening is available. Both these conditions are fatal. Endocrine problems such as Addison’s disease and eye problems like distichiasis are occasionally seen. The life expectancy of Portuguese Water Dogs is around 12 to 14 years.