In ancient times
In 1297 in a monk’s account of a drowning sailor who was pulled from the sea by a dog with a “black coat, the hair long and rough, cut to the first rib and with a tail tuft”.
These theories explain how the Poodle and the Portuguese Water Dog may have developed from the same ancient genetic pool. At one time the Poodle was a longer-coated dog, as is one variety of the Portuguese Water Dog. It is said that the current day Poodle, Kerry Blue Terrier, and Irish Water Spaniel are possibly ancestors of the “water dog”.
The PWD was a breed on the verge of extinction when, during the 1930s, Vasco Bensaude, a wealthy Portuguese shipping magnate, began to seek out fishermen’s dogs for use in a breeding program to re-establish the breed. Bensaude’s kennel was named Algarbiorum, and his most famous dog was Leão (1931–1942), a very “type-y” (that is, standard-conformant) fisherman’s stud dog, who was bred to so many different females that about half of the pedigreed Portuguese Water Dogs in existence can trace their lineage back to him. Bensaude was aided by two Portuguese veterinarians, Dr. Francisco Pinto Soares and Dr. Manuel Fernandes Marques. His work was carried on by Conchita Cintron de Castelo Branco, to whom he gave his last 17 PWDs and all his archives.
Dr. António Cabral was the founder of the Avalade kennels in Portugal. Ch. Charlie de Avalade (Charlie), a brown-coated dog, and C. B. Baluarte de Avalade (Balu) were two of his many famous PWDs. He registered his first PWD in 1954, after Bensaude had pioneered the re-establishment of the breed in Portugal. Cabral worked with Carla Molinari, Deyanne Miller, Sonja Santos and others to establish PWDs in the US. The “Mark of Cabral” is a triangular shape of different color/textured hair, usually 2 to 3 inches (5 to 8 cm) from the base of the tail.
Deyanne Miller is the person most responsible for the rise of the PWD in America. In 1972, the Millers, along with 14 others, formed the Portuguese Water Dog Club of America, Inc. (PWDCA). She worked with dogs from both the Cintron and Cabral lineages to establish a stable genetic pool of PWDs in the US at her Farmion kennels. Another early US breeder of PWDs was actor Raymond Burr.
The closest relatives of the PWD are widely thought to be the Standard Poodle. Like Poodles and several other water dog breeds, PWDs are intelligent, can have curly coats, have webbed toes for swimming, and do not shed. However, Portuguese Water Dogs are more robustly built, with stout legs, and can have a wavy coat instead of tightly curled. If comparing the structure to that of a Poodle, there are significant differences between the two breeds. The Portuguese Water Dog is built of strong substantial bone; well developed, neither refined nor coarse, and a solidly built, muscular body. The Portuguese Water Dog is off-square, slightly longer than tall when measured from prosternum to rearmost point of the buttocks, and from withers to ground. Portuguese Water Dog eyes are black or various tones of brown, and their coats can be black, brown, black and white or brown and white.
Male Portuguese Water Dogs usually grow to be about 20 to 23 inches (51 to 58 cm) tall, and they weigh between 40 and 60 pounds (18 and 27 kg), while the females usually grow to be about 17 to 21 inches (43 to 53 cm) tall, and they weigh between 35 and 50 pounds (16 and 23 kg).
PWDs have a single-layered coat that does not shed, and therefore their presence is tolerated well among many people who suffer from dog allergies. Persons with dog allergies, however, should consult their medical advisor before considering the purchase of any dog.
Most PWDs, especially those shown in conformation shows, are entirely black, black and white, brown, or silver-tipped; it is common to see white chest spots and white paws or legs on black or brown coated dogs. “Parti” or “Irish-marked” coats, with irregular white and black spots, are rare but visually striking. “Parti” dogs are becoming more common in the United States. However, in Portugal the breed standard does not allow more than 30% white markings. Overall, white is the least common Portuguese Water Dog color, while black with white markings on the chin (“milk chin”) and chest is the most common color.
From the Portuguese Water Dog Club of America Revised Standard for the Portuguese Water Dog come these descriptions of the two coat types:
- Curly coat: “Compact, cylindrical curls, somewhat lusterless. The hair on the ears is sometimes wavy.”
- Wavy coat: “Falling gently in waves, not curls, and with a slight sheen.”
Many dogs have mixed pattern hair: curly all over the body but wavy on the tail and ears.
If left untended, the hair on a PWD will keep growing indefinitely. Problems associated with this include the hair around the eyes growing so long as to impede vision, and matting of the body hair, which can cause skin irritations. For these reasons, PWDs must be trimmed about every two months and the coat brushed every other day.
The coat is usually worn in a “retriever cut” or a “lion cut”.
The lion cut
In the lion cut, the hindquarters, muzzle, and the base of the tail are shaved, with approximately 1/3 of the tail hair left long, also known as a flag, and the rest of the body is left full length. This traditional cut originated with the fishing dogs of Portugal. The lion cut diminished the initial shock of cold water when jumping from boats, as well as providing warmth to the vitals. The hindquarters were left shaved to allow easier movement of the back legs and the powerful, rudder-like tail.
The retriever cut
The retriever cut is one inch (2.5 cm) long, evenly over the body (although some owners prefer the muzzle or the base of the tail shorter, again, with approximately 1/3 of the tail hair left long, also known as a flag,). This cut is a more recent style and originated because breeders wanted to make the breed more appealing to buyers. Sometimes owners will clip the hair of their dogs very short, especially in the summer months, in modified retriever cut.
Portuguese Water Dogs have a multi-octave voice. They tend to be quiet dogs although they will warn when the home is approached, and they will communicate their desires vocally and behaviorally to their owner. Their bark is loud and distinctive. They may engage in “expressive panting”, by making a distinct “ha-ha-ha-ha” sound as an invitation to play or to indicate a desire for nearby food. They sometimes whine.
The PWD’s biddability, high intelligence, and tendency to vocalise and then seek out its human master when specific alarms occur make it an ideal hearing-ear or deaf-assistance dog. PWDs can be readily trained to bark loudly when a telephone rings, and then to find and alert a hard-of-hearing or deaf master.
Portuguese Water dogs are loving, independent, and intelligent and are easily trained in obedience and agility skills. They are generally friendly to strangers, and enjoy being petted, which, due to their soft, fluffy coats, is a favour that human beings willingly grant them.
Because they are working dogs, PWDs are generally content in being at their master’s side, awaiting directions, and, if they are trained, they are willing and able to follow complex commands. They learn very quickly, seem to enjoy the training, and have a long memory for the names of objects. These traits and their non-shedding coats mean they excel at the various service dog roles such as hearing dogs (assistance dogs for the deaf), mobility dogs, and seizure response dogs. They also make unusually good therapy dogs.
A PWD usually stays in proximity to its owners, both indoors and outdoors. Although very gregarious animals, these dogs will typically bond with one primary or alpha family member. Some speculate that this intense bonding arose in the breed because the dogs were selected to work in proximity to their masters on small fishing boats, unlike other working dogs such as herding dogs and water dogs that range out to perform tasks. In any case, the modern PWD, whether employed on a boat or kept as a pet or a working dog, loves water and attention and prefers to be engaged in activity within sight of a human partner. This is not a breed to be left alone for long periods of time, indoors or out.
As water dogs, the PWD’s retrieving instinct is strong, which also gives some dogs tugging and chewing tendencies. A PWD will commonly jump as a greeting. Owners may choose to limit this behavior. Some PWDs may walk, hop, or “dance” on their hind legs when greeting or when excited. Some PWDs will stand upright at kitchen counters and tables, especially if they smell food above them. This habit is known as “counter surfing” and is characteristic of the breed.
Because of their intelligence and working drive, they require regular intensive exercise as well as mental challenges. They are gentle and patient — but not “couch potatoes”, and boredom can cause them to become destructive