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Portuguese Water Dog Breed Info: Pictures, Traits & Facts

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By Nicole Cosgrove

portuguese water dog puppy

Height: 17 – 20 inches
Weight: 35 – 60 pounds
Lifespan: 11 – 13 years
Colors: Black, white, brown, black and white, white and chocolate
Suitable for: Active individuals or families, those seeking a no-shed dog, homes near water in rural or suburban areas, owners who enjoy outdoor activities
Temperament: Loving, Independent, Athletic, Biddable, Affectionate, Social, Hardworking, Adventurous, Vocal, Highly intelligent

Are you looking for a confident pooch to share outdoor adventures with? One that is intelligent, motivated, and sweet as heck? Well, with the Portuguese Water Dog you may have finally met your match!

And those with pet hair and dander allergies are in luck – Portuguese Water Dogs are also hypoallergenic and don’t shed one bit.

This breed originated in Portugal in the Algarve region. They were originally bred to work as all-purpose helpers to fishermen and used their smarts and swimming ability to perform a vast number of complicated tasks.

As far back as 1297, there have been accounts of drowning sailors rescued by large, black, rough-coated dogs with tufted tails. It is possible that the Portuguese Water Dog and the Standard Poodle both sprang from this ancient stock.

Today this noble water dog has been mostly replaced in their jobs by technology, but they are still used to this day for water rescue. Portuguese Water Dogs also make excellent herders, therapy dogs, service animals – anything where their big brains and sensitivity can shine!

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Portuguese Water Dog Puppies 

portuguese water dog puppy
Image Credit: cynoclub, Shutterstock

Portuguese Water Dog puppies are curious, fluffy, and rambunctious – total heart stealers! And they grow into keen-minded, energetic dogs that need a certain amount of social, physical, and mental stimulation.

But before you get lost in those puppy eyes, ask yourself some questions: does your work schedule allow for frequent puppy bathroom and exercise breaks? Is your financial situation stable enough to support a dog through sickness and health for over a decade?

And if you get in touch with a breeder, ask them plenty of questions too. They’ll be happy to provide recommendations, advice, and information on how they socialize and care for their dogs. And if they aren’t, you should probably reconsider getting a dog from them.

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3 Little-Known Facts About the Portuguese Water Dog

1. They Truly Are Made For Water

The athletic Portuguese Water Dog is so named because of their aptitude and breeding for water work. They have been used to chase fish into nets, retrieve a fisherman’s lost tools, rescue humans from drowning, and even carried messages for the Spanish Armada.

Whether it was their love of water that came first, or the intent to breed them as helpers to fishermen, these pups are built for the water. They even have webbed toes to help them swim better!

2. They Helped the San Francisco Giants Play More Baseball

For a few years in the early 2000s, a team of six Portuguese Water Dogs were employed by the San Francisco Giants. Whenever homerun balls went careening off into the ice-cold waters of the San Francisco Bay, B.A.R.K. (Baseball Aquatic Retrieval Korps) was tasked with retrieving them.

These “Splash Hits” were then put up for auction and the proceeds donated to a local non-profit animal shelter.

3. The Breed Is A Favorite of American Political Families

Ted Kennedy was a huge fan of Portuguese Water Dogs. He brought his two pups, Splash and Sunny, everywhere with him. Senator Kennedy even wrote a kid’s books from Splash’s perspective called My Senator and Me: A Dog’s Eye View of Washington, D.C.

President Obama even has a Portuguese Water Dog! Bo is one of Sunny Kennedy’s puppies and was given to the Obama family as a “White House-warming” present.

Brown Portuguese Water Dog
Image Credit: melchor gama, Pexels

Temperament & Intelligence of the Portuguese Water Dog 🧠

Portuguese Water Dogs are loving, active, thoughtful, and whip-smart. They are eager to please and you can train them to nearly any task.

They are friendly with strangers and love making new friends. Portuguese Water Dogs are likely to bond most closely with one person but are exceedingly loving with their entire family. Their social nature means that they prefer not to spend significant time alone.

One unique feature of these perky pups is that they use a surprising range of vocalizations to communicate. They are generally quiet dogs, but they’ll talk to you with their multi-octave voices in a mixture of burbles, barks, whines, and pants.

Are These Dogs Good for Families? 🏡

The affectionate and gentle Portuguese Water Dog is an excellent family companion. They get along especially well with active, older children.

However, their independent nature can cause friction if these dogs are treated roughly or rudely by smaller kids. Dogs ought to be trained to interact with children, and vice-versa. Teach your pup and kids how to be gentle and respectful, and they’ll get along swimmingly.

Does This Breed Get Along with Other Pets? 🐶 😽

Similarly, the most important part of inter-pet relations is making sure all the animals have been properly socialized with one another. The bright and highly trainable Portuguese Water Dog will take well to socialization with other animals and will pose no problems.

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Things to Know When Owning a Portuguese Water Dog

Curious about what life with one of these active creatures is like? Peruse our breakdown of things you should know about owning a Portuguese Water Dog.

Food & Diet Requirements 🦴

As a highly active breed, you should pay particular attention to the quality of protein in your Portuguese Water Dog’s food. Lean meats and whole foods like fish, fowl, and eggs are nutritionally dense and prime for building strong bones and muscles.

Poor-quality ingredients like animal by-products and “blood meal” are as dubiously healthy as they sound, and we advise avoiding brands with these sorts of ingredients entirely.

Want to give this smarty pants pup some exciting, new foods from time to time? Try letting your Portuguese Water Dog try a small portion of unseasoned, vet-approved veggies and fruits. Many dogs love berries, carrots, and even pumpkin.

Exercise 🐕

The Portuguese Water Dog is no slouch. This is a dog that craves exercise, outdoors, and playtime in abundance. Apartment dwellers beware because you’ll need to be able to provide multiple lengthy outdoor exercise opportunities a day for this pooch.

Active owners only need to apply. Portuguese Water Dogs most relish their outdoor adventures if they can frolic with their best friend – you! They will love hiking, fetch, running, agility training, and more.

And, of course, these pups approve of any outdoor activity involving water. Lakes, beaches, sprinklers – if it’s wet, they’re in! Regular swims during warm months are especially advisable and will help you both cool off in the heat.

Training 🦮

The wonderful thing about training a Portuguese Water Dog is that they are incredibly intelligent, and learn with alacrity and eagerness.

Your dog will excel at obedience training and sports and is a great candidate for service and seizure response dog training. Plus, they’ll love every minute of it!

The not-so-great part, however, is that this breed can often be highly independent. Their work drive is strong, as is their desire for mental stimulation. Training is nearly a necessity with this smart pup, as boredom and under-stimulation can lead to poor behavior and destructiveness.

Portuguese Water Dogs are known for their tendency to jump in greeting, as well as balance and dance on their hind legs. If this is unacceptable behavior, you’ll want to start training your pup the “down” command early on — otherwise, you can kiss food left on the kitchen counter goodbye.

Portuguese Water Dog
Image Credit: susan lipschutz, Pixabay

Grooming ✂️

Portuguese Water Dogs are one of the few breeds that do not shed at all. They are hypoallergenic and make excellent canine companions for those who suffer from animals related allergies.

However, just because they don’t shed doesn’t mean they do not need to be groomed. Far from it! They have hair rather than fur, and it will grow indefinitely if left to its own devices. Regular trims and daily brushing are a necessity to prevent tangles, mats, and dreadlocks.

The Portuguese Water Dog Club of America says there are two types of coats for Portuguese Water Dogs:


“Compact, cylindrical curls, somewhat lusterless. The hair on the ears is sometimes wavy.”


“Falling gently in waves, not curls, and with a slight sheen.”

To keep your fuzzy buddy healthy and looking sharp, you should also routinely check their teeth, ears, and nails. Ears and teeth both need weekly cleanings, and nails should be trimmed about once a month. If you start these routines early in your dog’s life, they’ll soon learn to appreciate your ministrations.

And don’t worry, they’ll give themselves plenty of baths if given half a chance!

Health and Conditions ❤️

The Portuguese Water Dog is a moderately healthy breed with an average lifespan. However, their gene pool became limited for a time when the breed nearly died out. The lack of genetic diversity in this breed means that they are more prone to inherited disorders.

Here’s a list of all the health concerns to watch out for and chat with your vet about:

Minor Conditions
  • Luxating patellas
  • Keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS) or dry eye
  • Eye problems, like cataracts and progressive retinal atrophy (PRA)
  • Pattern baldness
  • Thyroid problems
  • Kidney or bladder stones
  • Underbite or prognathism
  • Allergies, skin and seasonal
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
Serious Conditions
  • Addison’s disease, a disorder of the endocrine system
  • Lymphoma
  • Hemangiosarcoma
  • Hemophilia
  • Epilepsy
  • Elbow and hip dysplasia

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Male vs Female

The male Portuguese Water Dog is larger, and sometimes more muscular. He is more prone to a quarrelsome nature as he reaches sexual maturity, and may exhibit behaviors such as humping, mounting, and marking his territory with urine.

The female, on the other hand, can be a bit gentler in attitude. She is likely to be more delicately boned, though still quite athletic.

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Final Thoughts

So, is the Portuguese Water Dog the right pooch for you?

If you live in a cramped apartment, or far from any parks or lakes then this athletic pup may not be your first choice.

But if you and your family are outdoorsy and looking to include a bright dog in your active lifestyle, then consider welcoming the Portuguese Water Dog aboard!

See also:

Featured Image Credit: T.Ivarsson, Shutterstock

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