Portuguese Water Dog: Training and Care

Fishermen have prized the Portuguese Water Dog for centuries in its native Portugal. Porties are great swimmers and divers and they were used to help the fishermen bring in nets, fish, carry messages between the boats and to shore, as well as for guarding the boats at times. These active, loyal dogs make excellent family dogs and they can be a good choice for people who are allergic to dog hair and dander because their coats shed very little.

Portuguese Water Dog

History of the Portuguese Water Dog

There are numerous theories about the early origins of the Portuguese Water Dog and how their ancestors arrived in Portugal. They may have come from central Asia, or been brought to Portugal by the Berbers or Moors in the 8th century. Or the Goths and Visigoths may have brought them with them at the same time that other tribes took dogs that became the Poodle since there are similarities between the two breeds. When the Visigoths invaded Portugal in 400 AD, they brought the Portuguese Water Dog type dogs with them. At one time it seems that the Poodle had a longer coat than they do now and so does one type of Portuguese Water Dog, suggesting an even stronger link between the two breeds. There may also be a connection to the Irish Water Spaniel and the Kerry Blue Terrier, which have a similar coat.

However the Portuguese Water Dog arrived in Portugal, the dogs have been used as working dogs and water retrievers for hundreds of years, helping fishermen in their work. At one time the dogs existed all along the Portuguese coast, working from the warm waters of the Atlantic in the south to the cold waters of Iceland. The dogs are called Cao de Agua in Portugal, or Dog of Water. They are also known as the Portuguese Fishing Dog in Portugal.

The Portuguese Water Dog was nearly extinct in the 20th century when Vasco Bensaude, a wealthy Portuguese shipping magnate, started searching for the dogs in the 1930s and worked to re-establish the breed through a breeding program.

The Portuguese Water Dog came from Portugal to New York, by way of England, in 1958. The Portuguese Water Dog Club of America was formed in 1972. The American Kennel Club recognized the breed in 1983.


Portuguese Water Dogs can live up to 14 years of age. They are considered to be a relatively healthy breed, although there are some genetic issues that can appear. Like most larger dogs, hip dysplasia is a possibility. You should talk to a breeder about hip dysplasia and find out if they have had their dogs’ hips x-rayed. Ask about the results and check the OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals) database for hip ratings for the dogs.

The Portuguese Water Dog may have some eye diseases including cataracts and progressive retinal atrophy. There is testing available to determine if a dog is a carrier for PRA so breeders can avoid using dogs that may carry the disease.

GM1 Storage disease can occur in Portuguese Water Dogs. This is a genetic problem which is fatal if it occurs. However, this disease has been almost entirely eliminated from the breed.

Juvenile Dilated Cardiomyopathy is a very rare disease but it is fatal if it occurs. It affects young dogs and causes heart failure. Research is currently ongoing for this disease.

Before getting a Portuguese Water Dog you should talk to a breeder about health issues in the breed and ask questions about the health of their dogs. Find out what kind of health testing they do and what kind of tests you will need to do on your dog as he gets older. Even pet owners need to participate in the health testing process to help breeds stay healthy.

Temperament and Training

The Portuguese Water Dog is a very affectionate and loving dog. They make wonderful companion dogs and they are excellent family dogs. They are very intelligent and it’s easy to train them for many kinds of work, dog activities, and sports. They can excel at obedience, agility, rally, musical freestyle, frisbee, flyball, and all water sports. They can learn very quickly, although they can also be quite independent at times. They usually like to stay close to their people. They are usually very friendly dogs. They may be reserved with strangers at first, but as soon as you give a PWD the okay, they will also be friendly with strangers. They love to be petted.

Portuguese Water Dogs do have strong retrieving instincts and, like some of the retriever breeds, this can lead them to chew on things sometimes, so you should be sure to put away things you don’t want them to chew on.

The PWD is also a very high energy, athletic dog. They often make a wonderful pet for an active owner or family because they do need a lot of exercise and they enjoy doing things with their people. They do not want to be left alone. These dogs shouldn’t be allowed to become bored or they can become destructive. They’re very smart and they can find ways to get into trouble.


Portuguese Water Dogs have a non-shedding coat and they can be a good option for someone with an allergy to dog hair or dander. Their coat can be either curly or wavy, or a mixture of the two. Their coat won’t come out on its own and it needs to be professionally cut about every 8 weeks. You will need to brush the dog’s coat every other day. These are not low maintenance dogs. Most PWD owners have their dogs cut in a lion cut or a retriever cut. With the lion cut the back parts of the dog are shaved and the front parts are left long. This is the traditional cut for the Portuguese Water Dog in Portugal. The retriever cut leaves the hair cut about one inch long all over the body. Bathe the dog as necessary.

You should clean your dog’s ears weekly to prevent ear infections.

Trim your dog’s nails on a weekly basis to keep them short. If you trim them each week, removing just a small amount of nail, then you won’t cut the quicks or harm your dog.

Special Needs or Care

The Portuguese Water Dog loves to swim and they are usually naturally good swimmers. They have webbed toes. If you possibly can, try to take your PWD to the water and let them spend some time swimming, or take part in some water sports with your dog. It should really make your Portuguese Water Dog happy. These dogs can be excellent at water rescue work.

Share this

Tatiana is a Los Angeles, CA based dog care and behavior counselor with 26 years of experience working with dogs and their families. She holds a M.S. in Psychology with an emphasis in Animal Behavior.