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Portuguese Water Dog


The Portuguese Water Dog, also known as the Cao de Aqua, the Portuguese Fishing Dog, the Portie, and the Water Dog, is an old breed used to herd fish into nets, to retrieve lost tackle and to act as a courier from ship to ship, or ship to shore. This hardy breed worked from the warm Atlantic waters of Portugal to the chilly waters off the coast of Iceland. The Portie is known for its unique appearance when clipped in a lion trim, and for its distinctive webbed feet. The Portie was first recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1983 and classified in the working dog breed group.
The adult male Portuguese Water Dog stands 20 to 23 inches at the withers; adult bitches stand 17 to 21 inches in height. Males weigh 42 to 60 pounds, and females weigh 35 to 50 pounds. Their hair requires regular brushing and grooming cuts, but they shed very little and are considered to be a hypoallergenic dog.

History & Health


The precise ancestry of the Portuguese Water Dog is not known. Some experts claim that this breed traces back to 700 B.C., to the wild Central-Asian steppes near the Chinese and Russian border. Early inhabitants of that area raised cattle, sheep, camels, horses and dogs. History has it that some of these rugged Asian herding dogs were captured by the Berbers, who slowly migrated across North Africa to Morocco. Their descendants, the Moors, came to Portugal in the 8th century, along with their water dogs.
Another theory is that the ancestors of the Porti came with the Goths, a confederation of German tribes. Some of them (the Ostrogoths) went west, and their dogs were known as the German pudel (today's poodle). Others went south (the Visigoths) to fight the Romans, and their dogs became known as the Lion Dog. The Visigoths invaded Spain and Portugal (then called Iberia) in 400 A.D, bringing their dogs with them. Thus, the Poodle and the Portuguese Water Dog do share a common, but distant, ancestry.
This breed remained in its roughest original form for centuries on the Portuguese coast. However, by the start of the 20th century, the fishing industry in Portugal declined. Then, in the 1930s, Dr. Vasco Bensuade, a wealthy Portuguese shipping magnate and dog fancier, decided to rescue the breed. The Portuguese Water Dog Club was reorganized, as the Clube Portuguese de Caniculture, with his assistance.
Several Portis were brought to England in 1954. The Kennel Club (England) recognized the breed as a Working Dog, but registrations were few and far between. In 1958, Mr. and Mrs. Harrington of New York received a pair of Portis from England. Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Miller, of Connecticut, also acquired direct imports from Portugal. The Portuguese Water Dog Club of America was founded on August 13, 1972, with only twelve of the breed known to be in the country at that time. By September 1982, there were over 650 registered Portis in America. The breed was admitted to the Miscellaneous class of the American Kennel Club in 1981. It was recognized for full registration in 1983, and became eligible to compete as a member of the Working Group in 1984.


The average life span of the Portuguese Water Dog is 11 to 14 years. Breed Health concerns may include Addison's disease, follicular dypslasia, hip dysplasia, dilated carduiomyopathy, progressive retinal atrophy and glycogen storage disease.

Temperament & Personality


Portuguese Water Dogs are known for two things: their skill in the water and their sense of humor. This breed was used on Portuguese fishing boats to herd fish, catch fish, and carry messages between boats. The fishermen regarded them as part of the crew and allowed them to eat the fish and even paid the dogs for their services. The camaraderie of the fishing boat made them people dogs, they love spending time with their families and want to be included in all family activities. Perhaps the fishing boats were were they learned to be showmen, as well. Owners report their dogs are prone to silly behavior, repeating it when it gets a laugh, and each time adding a little more flair. These dogs are excellent with children and make a companion for active families.

Activity Requirements

Portuguese Water Dogs have stamina to spare. These guys can run all day and come back for more, so couch potatoes need not apply. They are too large for apartment living and are best suited for homes with lots of room to run. They make excellent jogging, biking and hiking companions, and swimming pool owners will have a hard time getting their dogs out of the water. One to two hours per day of vigorous activity will keep your Portuguese Water Dog happy and healthy.
This thinking breed needs to work their minds as much as their bodies. Many owners find their dogs excel in agility activities, and this gives the dogs a chance to run, think, and bond with his favorite people.


Portuguese Water Dogs are fairly easy to train. Some can have an independent streak, so training early is the best way to ensure success. They respond to praise and treats, and should never be treated harshly. Discipline, physical correction and shouting will cause your dog to develop avoidance behaviors. They possess the desire to please, and are generally well-behaved by nature, so they rarely test the patience of their trainer.
After basic obedience has been mastered, your Portuguese Water Dog should graduate on to advanced obedience or agility training.

Behavioral Traits

The hardest behaviors to train out of your Portuguese Water dog are chewing and jumping on people. They get very excited when you return home or when a visitor comes to the door, and they will grab an object and bound to the door as a greeting. This can go on well into adulthood.
Separation Anxiety can develop in this breed, especially if their exercise requirements are not met. Portuguese Water Dogs express anxiety by chewing destructively, so before you leave your dog alone, you should exercise him and leave him with plenty of interesting chew toys in order to save your furniture and shoes.

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.

An essential characteristic; distinctively large, well proportioned and with exceptional breadth of topskull. Expression--Steady, penetrating, and attentive. Eyes-- Medium in size; set well apart, and a bit obliquely. Roundish and neither prominent nor sunken. Black or various tones of brown in color. Darker eyes are preferred. Eye rims fully pigmented with black edges in black, black and white, or white dogs; brown edges in brown dogs. Haws are dark and not apparent. Ears--Set well above the line of the eye. Leather is heart shaped and thin. Except for a small opening at the back, ears are held nicely against the head. Tips should not reach below the lower jaw.

Skull--In profile, it is slightly longer than the muzzle, its curvature more accentuated at the back than in the front. When viewed head-on, the top of the skull is very broad and appears domed, with a slight depression in the middle. The forehead is prominent, and has a central furrow, extending two-thirds of the distance from stop to occiput. The occiput is well defined. Stop--Well defined. Muzzle--Substantial; wider at the base than at the nose. Jaws--Strong and neither over nor undershot. Nose--Broad, well flared nostrils. Fully pigmented; black in dogs with black, black and white, or white coats; various tones of brown in dogs with brown coats. Lips-- Thick, especially in front; no flew. Lips and mucous membranes of the roof of the mouth, under tongue, and gums are quite black, or well ticked with black in dogs with black, black and white, or white coats; various tones of brown in dogs with brown coats. Bite--Scissors or level. Teeth--Not visible when the mouth is closed. Canines strongly developed.

Neck, Topline, Body

Neck--Straight, short, round, and held high. Strongly muscled. No dewlap. Topline--Level and firm.

Body--Chest is broad and deep, reaching down to the elbow. Ribs are long and well-sprung to provide optimum lung capacity. Abdomen well held up in a graceful line. Back is broad and well muscled. Loin is short and meets the croup smoothly. Croup is well formed and only slightly inclined with hip bones hardly apparent. Tail--Not docked; thick at the base and tapering; set on slightly below the line of the back; should not reach below the hock. When the dog is attentive the tail is held in a ring, the front of which should not reach forward of the loin. The tail is of great help when swimming and diving.

Shoulders are well inclined and very strongly muscled. Upper arms are strong. Forelegs are strong and straight with long, well muscled forearms. Carpus is heavy-boned, wider in front than at the side. Pasterns are long and strong. Dewclaws may be removed. Feet are round and rather flat. Toes neither knuckled up nor too long. Webbing between the toes is of soft skin, well covered with hair, and reaches the toe tips. Central pad is very thick, others normal. Nails held up slightly off the ground. Black, brown, white, and striped nails are allowed.

Powerful; well balanced with the front assembly. Legs, viewed from the rear, are parallel to each other, straight and very strongly muscled in upper and lower thighs. Buttocks are well developed. Tendons and hocks are strong. Metatarsus long, no dewclaws. Feet similar in all respects to forefeet.

A profuse, thickly planted coat of strong, healthy hair, covering the whole body evenly, except where the forearm meets the brisket and in the groin area, where it is thinner. No undercoat, mane or ruff. There are two varieties of coat:

Curly--Compact, cylindrical curls, somewhat lusterless. The hair on the ears is sometimes wavy.

Wavy--Falling gently in waves, not curls, and with a slight sheen.

No preference will be given to coat type, either curly or wavy.

Two clips are acceptable:

Lion Clip--As soon as the coat grows long, the middle part and hindquarters, as well as the muzzle, are clipped. The hair at the end of the tail is left at full length.

Retriever Clip--In order to give a natural appearance and a smooth unbroken line, the entire coat is scissored or clipped to follow the outline of the dog, leaving a short blanket of coat no longer than one inch in length. The hair at the end of the tail is left at full length.

No discrimination will be made against the correct presentation of a dog in either Lion Clip or Retriever Clip.

Black, white, and various tones of brown; also combinations of black or brown with white. A white coat does not imply albinism provided nose, mouth, and eyelids are black. In animals with black, white, or black and white coats, the skin is decidedly bluish.

Short, lively steps when walking. The trot is a forward striding, well balanced movement.

An animal of spirited disposition, self-willed, brave, and very resistant to fatigue. A dog of exceptional intelligence and a loyal companion, it obeys its master with facility and apparent pleasure. It is obedient with those who look after it or with those for whom it works.

Summary Statement
The Portuguese Water Dog is spirited yet obedient, robust, and of unexaggerated, functional conformation; sure, substantially boned and muscled, and able to do a full day's work in and out of the water.

Any deviation from the described ideal is a fault. However, those inherent characteristics that are imperative for the maintenance of proper type, and therefore cannot be overlooked, are listed as Major Faults.

Major Faults
1. Temperament--Shy, vicious, or unsound behavior.
2. Head--Unimpressive; small in overall size; narrow in topskull; snipey in muzzle.
3. Substance--Light or refined in bone; lacking in muscle.
4. Coat--Sparse; naturally short, close-lying hair, partially or over all; wispy or wiry in texture; brittle; double-coated.
5. Tail--Other than as described. Extremely low set. Heavy or droopy in action.
6. Pigment--Any deviation from described pigmentation; other than black or various tones of brown eye color; pink or partial pigmentation in nose, lips, eyes, or eye rims.
7. Bite--Overshot or undershot.

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Sources: American Kennel Club


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