Portuguese Water Dog

Portuguese Water Dogs

Janeb13 / Pixabay

The Portuguese Water Dog is a medium-sized dog with a soft and fluffy single layer coat that does not shed, making them a preferred breed among those with dog allergies. They’re working dogs who are generally friendly, loving, and intelligent, and who pick up training and obedience skills quickly. Because of this, Portuguese Water Dogs make great service animals. They’ve become particularly well-known in the past decade 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. Although Portuguese Water Dogs are said to by hypoallergenic, note that there is no such thing as a truly hypoallergenic dog, and all dogs do shed dander to some degree.

Breed Overview

  • GroupWorking (AKC)
  • Size:
    • Weight: 42 to 60 pounds for males, and 35 to 50 pounds for females
    • Height: 20 to 23 inches for males, and 17 to 21 inches for females
  • Coat: Wavy or tightly curled
  • Color: The most common coat colors for Portuguese Water Dogs are black, black and white, and brown, though their coat color may also be white or silver-tipped.
  • Life Expectancy: 10 to 13 Years

Characteristics of the Portuguese Water Dog

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 the breed appears in an account written by a monk in 1297. Portuguese Water Dogs, often called “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 and helping retrieve lost tackle and herd fish into nets. The “founding sire” of modern Portuguese Water Dogs is a dog named Leão, who was owned by a wealthy Portuguese businessman named Vasco Bensaude 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 states in the early 1970s with the creation of the Portuguese Water Dog Club of America, and while they’re still known for their water-loving tendencies, Portuguese Water Dogs are revered today mostly for their friendliness as pets and their show-worthy qualities. They are currently ranked 51 out of the 192 breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club.

Portuguese Water Dog Care

Porties are high-energy working dogs who require regular exercise to stave off boredom. In addition to regular walks (and plenty of swims, if possible!), Portuguese Water Dogs thrive in training-based activities like agility, noseworkdock diving, therapy work, and obedience. Long daily walks, coupled with plenty of play time and brain-boosting activities, are required to keep Portuguese Water Dogs at their best both mentally and physically.

While the Portuguese Water Dog does not shed, this breed of dog 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 who spend a lot of times swimming, comprehensive care should be taken to ensure their skin, coat, and ears are properly cleaned to prevent infection or inflammation from salt or chemicals.

In terms of training, most Portuguese Water Dogs love to learn, and adapt quickly to new skills through the use of positive reinforcement. Training Porties is a great way to build up their bond with their humans, and can help mitigate behavioral problems caused by boredom. Because they’re such fast learners, Portuguese Water Dogs make exceptional therapy and service dogs, and often excel at competitive canine sports.

Overall, Portuguese are friendly dogs who enjoy being close to their owners. They do have an independent streak, but with proper amounts of exercise and training, many Porties are perfectly well-behaved dogs who strive to please. Those who are interested in having their Portuguese Water Dog trained as a therapy dog should take note of their individual dog’s unique personality traits, and should work closely with a therapy dog training organization, such as Pet Partners or Therapy Dogs International to ensure their dog is suitable and effectively trained for the role.

Common Health Problems

Like all purebred dogs, Portuguese Water Dogs are susceptible to certain types of injuries and illnesses. Keep in mind that not all Portuguese Water Dogs are at risk, and that all dogs can develop health problems. Common disorders associated with the breed include:

In the case of progressive retinal atrophy, juvenile dilated cardiomyopathy, and storage disease, prevention is generally only achieved by identifying carriers of the relevant genes and not breeding those dogs further. 

Diet and Nutrition

Similar to most dogs, Portuguese Water Dogs do best on a high-quality, high-protein 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 vets. Feed twice a day instead of leaving food out for grazing, to establish routine and discourage overeating.

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

It’s always smart to do your research before deciding on the type of dog that’s right for you and your family. You can find a wealth of additional resources about Portuguese Water Dogs through the Portuguese Water Dog Club of America (PWDCA), as well as through talking to current owners of the breed. The PWDCA also offers Portie rescue and adoption services.

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Otherwise, check out all of our other dog breed profiles.