The Portuguese Water Dog
The Portuguese Water Dog is a robust dog of medium stature with a muscled physique. They come in two coat types: wavy and curly, which lack an undercoat, so shedding in minimal. However, their coats are hair, not fur, and thus grow continuously like our head hair grows. These dogs require regular grooming, often needing to be cut down every 6-8 weeks and requiring brushing several times a week to avoid matting.
While many people like to think of PWDs as "hypoallergenic", no dog truly is, as they, like us, shed dead skin cells that create dander. About 30% of the general public is allergic to animal dander, but people can also be allergic to animal saliva. This can be problematic as the PWD is known for frequently licking! Nevertheless, because shedding is minimal, they seem to drop less dander than other breeds and therefore are often more tolerable for people with allergies. This feature has made them a popular breed.
Because of their athletic nature and bouts of intense activity, the PWD is best suited to live with an active owner who will exercise the dog daily. Since these dogs are also highly intelligent, they also need exercise for their mind or they will devise their own games that generally involve destruction ("gutting") of toys and chewing of anything made of wood. Many are also clever counter-surfers that happily climb on tables and countertops to search for anything they consider consumable and some really really enjoy eating tissues and toilet paper (this behavior seems to have a genetic basis). The breed has excellent retriever qualities that, when properly channeled, can result in the dog fetching you nearly anything you want, but can also lead to unintentional mouthiness. They love to work and are easily trained as a result.
For more information on the breed, visit the PWDCA website and read The New Complete Portuguese Water Dog book, by Kathryn Braund and The Portuguese Water Dog by Carla Molinari.
The Portuguese Water Dog Club of America has made available the 2019 "Family" Issue of their club magazine. You can download that HERE.
The Breed Standard
General Appearance: Known for centuries along Portugal's coast, this seafaring breed was prized by fishermen for a spirited, yet obedient nature, and a robust, medium build that allowed for a full day's work in and out of the water. The Portuguese Water Dog is a swimmer and diver of exceptional ability and stamina, who aided his master at sea by retrieving broken nets, herding schools of fish, and carrying messages between boats and to shore. He is a loyal companion and alert guard. This highly intelligent utilitarian breed is distinguished by two coat types, either curly or wavy; an impressive head of considerable breadth and well proportioned mass; a ruggedly built, well-knit body; and a powerful, thickly based tail, carried gallantly or used purposefully as a rudder. The Portuguese Water Dog provides an indelible impression of strength, spirit, and soundness.
Size, Proportion, Substance: Size--Height at the withers--Males, 20 to 23 inches. The ideal is 22 inches. Females, 17 to 21 inches. The ideal is 19 inches. Weight--For males, 42 to 60 pounds; for females, 35 to 50 pounds. Proportion--Off square; slightly longer than tall when measured from prosternum to rearmost point of the buttocks, and from withers to ground. Substance--Strong, substantial bone; well developed, neither refined nor coarse, and a solidly built, muscular body.
For the specifics of the standard, please go to the description on the PWDCA website.
The two coat types may be presented in either a retriever clip or a lion clip. To view these two clips, click on the particular coat clip below.
The character description for the Portuguese Water Dog has changed several times, but generally speaking, is described as "an animal with a fiery disposition and self-willed, brave and very resistant to fatigue." This wording was later soften to "spirited disposition" and "independent". The breed has also been described as "absolutely docile and obedient with those who look after it and with whom it works" and "highly intelligent". Not generally quarrelsome, the dog was bred to guard the fishermen's catch and thus can be independent to the point of preferring to be in charge. All of these descriptions are generally apt -- most specimens are incredibly clever and learn quickly. This is both a blessing and a curse! You will find that your puppy is attentive and welcoming of training sessions, but they bore easily with endless repetition and will start to offer you modifications to the behavior you have been teaching them. Nevertheless, they enjoy -- and often demand --short sessions of training of multiple behaviors and will find ways to amuse themselves if you do not pay attention to them. The breed also is a "people" breed -- the dogs crave being with their owners and generally follow their owner wherever he or she goes.
Some generally annoying habits of the breed are: a hard mouth that can, if the dog is not trained properly, become nippy and highly destructive of furniture, rough play that involves pawing and jumping on people and other dogs, a tendency to lick visitors incessantly, and barking at anyone who might approach your property (house, car, boat, yard). Some PWDs are obsessed with paper and will destroy toilet paper rolls (often eating the paper) and/or eat tissues (used or fresh). Out in the yard, these dogs like to dig, chew on bushes and trees often stripping the bark off, tear around with the zoomies and create racetracks, and eat grass and any vegetables you might have planted. Because the dog is a working animal with an active personality, it can often be described as "too much" for some people.
If you are not prepared to deal with and train these dogs intensely until they are mature (~3 yrs of age), this may not be the breed for you!! On the other hand, if you have done your homework, understand the breed's characteristics, and commit to a sound training program, you will be blessed with a fabulous dog that will thoroughly enrich your life.
Behavioral attibutes from: Braund & Miller, The Complete Portuguese Water Dog, Howell Book House, Inc.
Generally speaking, this breed is relatively healthy and many live well into their teens. Nevertheless, there are a few diseases that are found in the breed and for which good breeders will test when tests are available. The statistics for many of these diseases is available on the OFA website under breed specific statistics ((https://www.ofa.org/diseases/breed-statistics#detail)). These diseases include: