Portuguese Water Dog (Porties): Dog Breed Characteristics & Care

History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

Standing side profile of a Portuguese Water Dog

LynMc42k / Getty Images

The Portuguese water dog is a medium-sized working breed from Portugal with floppy ears, facial hair, and wavy or curly hypoallergenic fur. Since these dogs don't shed significantly, they're a preferred breed among people with mild to moderate allergies. Portuguese water dogs are also a high-energy breed, so they're best suited for active owners seeking a companion for outdoor activities.

Portuguese water dogs are workers that pick up training and obedience skills quickly, which also makes them a common choice to be service animals. While they're popular for their easily trainable nature and intelligence, these dogs are also friendly and loving family pets.

Breed Overview

  • Group: Working
  • Weight: 42 to 60 pounds (males); 35 to 50 pounds (females)
  • Height: 20 to 23 inches (males); 17 to 21 inches (females)
  • Coat: Wavy or tightly curled
  • Coat Color: Black, black and white, brown; Sometimes white- or silver-tipped
  • Life Span: 10 to 13 years
  • Temperament: Intelligent, obedient, companionable, brave, friendly
  • Hypoallergenic: Yes
  • Origin: Portugal

Characteristics of the Portuguese Water Dog

The Portuguese water dog was bred to work with fishermen, and the breed still carries its historical water-loving personality to this day. Your Portie will thrive when exercised regularly, especially when it comes to swimming, and when it's spending time with you. Overall, these dogs have a friendly temperament and enjoy being close to their owners. They also get along very well with kids and other pets, and they're always eager to play. Porties do have an independent streak, but with proper amounts of exercise and training, they can be perfectly well-behaved dogs who strive to please.

Affection Level High
Friendliness High
Kid-Friendly High
Pet-Friendly High
Exercise Needs High
Playfulness High
Energy Level High
Trainability Medium-High
Intelligence High
Tendency to Bark Medium
Amount of Shedding Low

History of the Portuguese Water Dog

The Portuguese water dog is an ancient breed; the first written description of these dogs appeared in an account written by a monk in 1297. Porties are close relatives of another ancient breed, the poodle. It’s thought that modern Portuguese water dogs and poodles developed from the same genetic pool, with distinct historical paths separating the breeds in terms of personality, appearance, and temperament.

Portuguese water dogs became close companions of humans early on thanks to their predisposition to life on the sea. They worked closely alongside Portuguese fishermen, swimming between boats to retrieve lost tackle and herd fish into nets. The “founding sire” of modern Portuguese water dogs was a dog named Leão owned by Vasco Bensaude, a wealthy Portuguese businessman in the 1930s. It’s believed that more than half of all Portuguese water dogs’ lineages can be traced back to Leão.

Porties were popularized in the U.S. in the early 1970s with the creation of the Portuguese Water Dog Club of America. While they’re still known for loving water, the dogs are revered today mostly for their friendliness as pets and their show-worthy qualities.

Although the breed was first recorded by a monk in the late 13th century, Portuguese water dogs have become particularly well-known in the past few decades. This is thanks to former U.S. President Barack Obama and his family, who had two Portuguese Water Dogs—Bo and Sunny—during their time in the White House.

Obama On The South Lawn
The White House / Getty Images

Portuguese Water Dog Care

The Portuguese water dog can be an incredible companion, but it's important for prospective owners to prepare for its care needs. These dogs require considerable amounts of exercise and grooming, but thanks to their intelligence, they are usually very trainable and eager to please.

Exercise

Porties are high-energy working dogs that require regular exercise to stave off boredom. In addition to regular walks and plenty of swims when possible, Portuguese water dogs thrive in training-based activities like agility, nose work, dock diving, therapy work, and obedience. About an hour of exercise per day, coupled with playtime and brain-boosting activities, is recommended to keep Portuguese water dogs at their best both mentally and physically.

Grooming

While the Portuguese Water Dog is a low-shedding breed, it still needs regular—and often extensive—grooming. Porties should be brushed two to three times a week and trimmed once a month to keep their fur from becoming tangled or matted. For Portuguese water dogs that spend a lot of time swimming, extra care should be taken to ensure their skin, coat, and ears are properly cleaned to prevent infection or inflammation from salt or chemicals in pools. Like all breeds, it's also important to trim your dog's nails and brush its teeth regularly to prevent dental disease.

Training

In terms of training, most Portuguese Water Dogs love to learn and adapt quickly to new skills through the use of positive reinforcement. Basic obedience lessons can begin as early as eight weeks of age. Training Porties is a great way to build up their bond with their humans, and it can help mitigate behavioral problems caused by boredom (like becoming destructive around the house). Because they’re such fast learners, Portuguese water dogs make exceptional therapy and service dogs and often excel at competitive canine sports.

Those who are interested in having their Portie begin therapy dog training should take note of their individual dog’s unique personality traits. Work closely with a reputable therapy dog training organization to ensure the dog is suitable and effectively trained for the role.

Portuguese Water puppy
Portuguese water puppy  suefeldberg / Getty Images
Portuguese Water Dog swimming
Julia Christe / Getty Images

Common Health Problems

Like most purebred dogs, Portuguese water dogs are susceptible to certain genetic health problems. Responsible breeders can test their dogs for many of these issues and avoid breeding dogs that may pass genetic problems on to puppies. Common conditions associated with Porties include:

  • Hip Dysplasia: Most common in large-breed dogs, hip dysplasia is caused by a malformation of your dog's hip joints as it ages.
  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA): This degenerative eye disease eventually leads to blindness.
  • Juvenile Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM): Juvenile DCM is a genetic condition affecting the heart that can cause death in puppies aged five weeks to seven months.
  • Storage Disease: This genetic disease causes toxic and fatal buildups of enzymes in a puppy’s nerve cells.
portuguese water dogs as pets illustration
Illustration: The Spruce / Kelly Miller

Diet and Nutrition

Portuguese water dogs do best on a high-protein, high-quality diet optimized to suit their individual needs. Because of their elevated activity levels, many Porties may need a higher caloric intake than other dogs, though exact caloric needs should be determined based on discussions between owners and their veterinarians.

Feed this breed twice a day instead of leaving food out for grazing, which will help establish a routine and discourage overeating. If your dog becomes overweight, it can be more likely to develop medical problems like hip dysplasia. Talk with your vet to create a healthy meal plan based on your dog's age, weight, and activity level.

Where to Adopt or Buy a Portuguese Water Dog

To find a Portuguese water dog, check your local shelters and rescue groups. Similar breeds can also make a great addition to your family, and many are in shelters waiting for their forever homes.

If you're planning to adopt a puppy, ensure your breeder provides any relevant medical tests for the litter's parents and allows you to see the conditions in which their dogs are kept. These dogs can cost anywhere from $1,500 to $3,000 from a breeder, though prices may vary depending on pedigree and availability.

To start your search, check out these resources for the national breed club, rescues, and the AKC:

Portuguese Water Dog Overview

Pros
  • Does not shed significantly

  • Gets along well with other pets

  • Intelligent and responds quickly to training

Cons
  • Needs regular brushing and grooming

  • Requires more exercise than other less-athletic breeds

  • Potentially destructive when not exercised or entertained enough

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

If you’re interested in similar breeds, check out:

There’s a whole world of potential dog breeds out there. With a little research, you can find the right one to join your family!

FAQ
  • Do Portuguese Water Dogs Make Good Pets?

    The Portuguese water dog, or Portie, is known for being a wonderful pet for active families. These dogs are highly trainable, friendly with children and other animals, and very energetic.

  • Do Portuguese Water Dogs Bark a Lot?

    This is typically a quiet breed that is not known for excessive barking, though your dog may still bark to alert you of strangers or unusual circumstances. If you're having trouble with a loud Portie, there are plenty of ways to discourage barking through training.

  • Can Portuguese Water Dogs Be Left Alone?

    The Portuguese water dog is not a smart breed choice for owners who are away from the house often, as it is prone to develop separation anxiety when lonely or bored. These dogs bond quickly with their family, and they do best with owners that are eager to bring their pup along for activities.