Portuguese Water Dog

Portuguese Water Dog

Group: Working Group

Origin: Portugal

– Males: 20 to 23 inches (ideal is 22 inches)
– Females: 17 to 21 inches (ideal is 19 inches)

– Males: 42 to 60 lbs
– Females: 35 to 50 lbs

Also Known As: Cao de Agua; Portuguese Fishing Dog

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Breed Profile

The Portuguese Water Dog is exceptionally intelligent, has an endless amount of stamina, is brave, and spirited. He is also a devoted and loyal companion and an alert guard dog. This is not, however, the dog for everyone. His high activity level make him an excellent working dog and companion but he needs daily exercise and requires direction. He is people-oriented and does not do well in a kennel environment or left alone for long periods of time. The Portuguese Water Dog thrives on being part of a family and generally gets along well with children and other pets. Though not aggressive, he is alert and protective making him a good watchdog of home and property.

Today, the Portuguese Water Dog is seen participating in various dog sports and activities, including the show ring, obedience, water dog trials through the Portuguese Water Dog Club of America (Note: As of yet, the Portuguese Water Dog Club of Canada does not have a similar program; however, many Canadian dogs participate in the U.S. trials), and agility. He is also seen working as a Therapy Dog and Assistance Dog.

The PWD is a medium-sized, strong and robust dog with a penetrating, almost piercing gaze. He is said to have excellent eye sight and a fair nose, is a very good swimmer and has webbed feet. He has a non-shedding coat that may be either wavy or curly, with no undercoat. Because of his non-shedding coat, the breed may be a good choice for allergy sufferers. The coat is thick and profuse and covers the whole body evenly. He is either black, white, or various shades of brown. He may also be combinations of black or brown with white. The PWD has an effortless and balanced trotting gait, displaying a proud carriage and a contented attitude. He carries his tail high in a ring over the back. His walking gait is light with short steps and his gallop is very energetic.

A Brief History of the Portuguese Water Dog

The Portuguese Water Dog, known as the Cao de Agua “dog of the water” and the Portuguese Fishing Dog, was once popular all along Portugal’s coast where he was said to be prized by fishermen as a companion and guard dog. During this time, the dogs lived and worked on boats where they herded fish into nets, retrieved lost tackle or broken nets and acted as couriers from boat to boat to shore. These tasks required that the dogs be excellent swimmers. They were also capable of diving underwater to retrieve gear and to prevent fish from escaping from the nets. Modern technology, however, nearly caused the extinction of the breed.

Although there are many theories about the Water Dog’s history, there is no doubt that he has an ancient ancestry and is said to pre-date the Poodle. In pre-Christian times, it is said that the “water dog” was seen as nearly sacred. The breed was first brought to the United States in the late 1960s and by early 1970, there were only 25 known Portuguese Water Dogs in the world. However, because of dedicated breeders, by 1981 there were over 500 dogs in the U.S. Today, there are thousands living all over the world and though still not a common breed, it is no longer rare or in danger of extinction.

For additional information on the history of the Portuguese Water Dog, see:


Health Issues

The average life expectancy for the Portuguese Water Dog is 12 to 15 years. They generally mature slowly and remain active well into their senior years. Like all breeds of dogs, the Portuguese Water Dog may be susceptible to certain genetic disorders. The following health issues are considered of greatest concern within the breed:

  • Hip Dypsplasia — Canine Hip Dysplasia is a common inherited condition in many breeds. The PWDCA recommends that all Portuguese Water Dogs used for breeding have their hips x-rayed and certified by the OFA or PennHip.
  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) — PRA causes irreversible degeneration of the retina and eventually causes blindness. At this time, it is believed that the only form affecting Portuguese Water Dogs is Progressive Rod-Cone Degeneration (PRCD). The first reported case was in 1990. Today, a DNA marker based test is available to identify dogs that are either normal, carriers or affected. Testing is available through Optigen. The PWDCA recommends that all breeding stock have annual CERF examinations.
  • Storage Disease (GM-1) — This is a recessive genetic disorder caused by the lack of an enzyme that allows a build-up of toxic substances in the nerve cells. Puppies are generally tested at 7-8 weeks of age unless both parents are litter-tested or ancestor-tested to be normal. An affected puppy will eventually die or need to be euthanized, usually within the first year of life. Carrier puppies will live normal lives; however, they have the potential to pass the disorder on to their offspring if bred. In 1999, a new DNA-based test became available for Storage Disease and it is recommended that all breeding dogs be DNA tested. GM-1 Storage Disease is a rare, genetically transmitted disease.
  • Juvenile Dilated Cardiomyopathy (JDC) — This is an inherited, fatal disease seen in young Portuguese Water Dogs caused by a recessive gene. The disease can cause the sudden or rapid death of a puppy averaging between the ages of six weeks and seven months. In some cases, there are no physical signs or symptoms whatsoever while in others, signs including a loss of appetite, decreased energy level, vomiting and difficulty breathing may be seen 12 to 48 hours in advance. Sadly, there is no known cure or treatment at this time and no genetic testing is available. Prospective owners of Portuguese Water Dogs should discuss this disease with Breeders and inquire if the disease has been produced within their breeding program or genetic lines of the dogs they are working with.
  • Addison’s Disease — This is an inherited disease in Portuguese Water Dogs and should be verified as early as possible. Unless the veterinarian is aware of the tendency to Addison’s in the breed, diagnosis can be extremely difficult. The mode of inheritance for this disorder is not known in the Portuguese Water Dog. Once diagnosed, most affected dogs can be stabilized on medication and live nearly normal lives.
  • Improper Coat — The Portuguese Water Dog can inherit improper coat. This can include some undercoat as well as shedding. The wavy dog with improper coat may look similar to a Flat Coated Retriever or Border Collie and the curly-coated dog may look like the American Water Spaniel or Curly-Coated Retriever. This condition is one of appearance only and does not change the temperament or behaviour of the dog. The CKC Breed Standard, however, considers this coat a disqualification and the AKC Standard views an improper coat as a major fault.
  • Follicular Dysplasia — This is a genetic condition that can affect some Portuguese Water Dogs. This condition can cause the hair to fall out and grow back, or it may never grow back. Generally, the majority of affected dogs are of the tight curly coat variety which are the result of breeding two curly parents. The condition normally presents itself between the ages of two and four years. Other conditions may cause temporary hair loss, such as Thyroid deficiency, Cushing’s disease, allergies, parasites, environmental toxins, and medications.

If you are considering the adoption of a Portuguese Water Dog puppy, or any breed, it is very important to be selective in choosing a responsible and reputable breeder. Ensure that the prospective puppy’s parents have all health clearances. Breeding of any dog should not be done until after they have been proven to be free of evidence of significant hereditary diseases, including those listed above. The PWDCA strongly recommends that “any dog used for breeding be at least two years old, be examined for and evaluated free of hip dysplasia, individually tested for GM-1 status, Optigen rated for PRA status, and have an annual CERF test to determine overall eye health.” (For more information on selecting a breeder, see the articles on the General Information page.)

Additional Health Resources:


Grooming Information

The Portuguese Water Dog has a profuse coat covering the whole body evenly, except for under the arms and groin where it is thinner.

Two varieties of coat exist:

  1. Wavy: The hair is fairly long, wavy and rather loose with a slight sheen. The hair on the top of the head is upright and longer than the leather on the ears.
  2. Curly: The hair is shorter than the wavy variety and forms compact cylindrical curls. On the top of the head, the hair is similar to that of the rest of the coat and the hair on the ears may at times be wavy.

As stated in the Canadian Breed Standard, there are two acceptable clips used for the Portuguese Water Dog and no discrimination is made against the correct presentation of a dog in either of these clips:

  1. Lion Clip: The middle part and hindquarters, as well as the muzzle, must be clipped. The remainder of the coat is left long and the hair on the end of the tail is left at full length.
  2. Retriever Clip: The entire coat is scissored or clipped to follow the outline of the dog, leaving a short blanket of coat appearing no more than one inch in length. The hair on the end of the tail is left at full length. Hair on the ears is trimmed to the leathers. No discrimination will be made against the correct presentation of a dog in either Lion Clip or Retriever Clip.

Companion dogs are most commonly seen wearing the “Retriever Clip.”

Regular grooming is necessary for both the curly and wavy varieties of Portuguese Water Dogs. In order to prevent matting, the coat must be combed or thoroughly brushed on a weekly basis. The Portuguese Water Dog does not shed and, as the coat is hair and not fur, it continues to grow. This results in the need for frequent baths and regular clipping to maintain a healthy coat. The Portuguese Water Dog’s teeth and ears should also be cleaned weekly.

  • Grooming — This section of the Canada’s Guide to Dogs website includes tips, articles and information covering all aspects of dog grooming along with a listing of Groomers from across Canada.

Training Resources

The Portuguese Water Dog is a very intelligent breed and very devoted. Given proper and consistent training, he will willingly learn to do almost anything asked of him. However, if neglected through a lack of attention or training, he will get into trouble out of boredom. Training should also be consistent and kept interesting or he will get bored. Proper socialization and early obedience training are recommended for the new owner.

Due to his inherent retriever qualities, the Portuguese Water Dog can be “mouthy” though not intentionally destructive. As a young puppy, it is important to channel this “mouthiness” so as to control any nipping or destructive behaviour. Several dog toys, confinement in a dog crate when not under supervision, and proper training will help with this. The adult Portuguese Water Dog enjoys carrying things around.

Additional Information

The Portuguese Water Dog Club of America (PWDCA) and the Portuguese Water Dog Club of Canada (PWDCC) websites are excellent sources for information about this breed.

  • The Portuguese Water Dog Health & Litter Database — “The PWDCA Health and Litter Log collects health information from owners and breeders of registered Portuguese Water Dogs. Access is available to all Portuguese Water Dog owners and breeders who register subject to the PWDCA Access and Participation Policy.”
  • Clubs, Sports & Activities — This section of the Canada’s Guide to Dogs website covers several sports and activities and also includes listings of non-breed specific Dog Clubs from across Canada.
  • Working Dogs — The Working Dogs section of the Canada’s Guide to Dogs website provides information and listings of organizations that are involved in various dog jobs, such as Guide Dogs, Therapy Dogs, Police Dogs, Protection Dogs, and much more.

*NOTE 1: CHIC – The Canine Health Information Center “is a database of consolidated health screening results from multiple sources. Co-sponsored by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and the American Kennel Club (AKC) Canine Health Foundation, CHIC works with parent clubs to identify health screening protocols appropriate for individual breeds. Dogs tested in accordance with the parent club established requirements, that have their results registered and made available in the public domain are issued CHIC numbers.” To learn more, visit: www.caninehealthinfo.org

*NOTE 2: The Fédération Cynologique International (FCI) is the World Canine Organization, which includes 91 members and contract partners (one member per country) that each issue their own pedigrees and train their own judges. The FCI recognizes 344 breeds, with each being the “property” of a specific country. The “owner” countries write the standards of these breeds in co-operation with the Standards and Scientific Commissions of the FCI, and the translation and updating are carried out by the FCI. The FCI is not a breed registry nor does it issue pedigrees.

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