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Portuguese Water Dogs are a breed of dog, bred by the Portuguese to be companions at sea. They are similar in size to a Wheaten Terrier and are usually black but can also be brown.

Appearance The hair is either worn in a “retriever cut” or a “lion cut.” In the lion cut, the hindquarters, muzzle, and the base of the tail are shaved and the rest of the body is left full length. This cut originated with the fishing dogs of Portugal to keep the body warm while allowing movement of the back legs. The end of the tail is kept long, because in those days, the fishermen sometimes didn’t know how to swim, and the dog could pull them to safety with its tail.

The retriever cut is left 1″ (2.5 cm) long evenly over the body (although some owners prefer the muzzle or the base of the tail shorter). This cut is a more recent style and originated because breeders wanted to make the breed more appealing and less unusual looking for buyers. Most dogs, especially traditional show dogs, are entirely black or a dark brown; however, it is common to see white chests and legs on black and brown coats. “Parti” coats, with white fur and black spots, are rare but visually striking. The hair is either wavy or curly and is like human hair (and Poodle hair) in that it keeps growing. The hair must be trimmed about every two months and, although it is possible to groom at home, it is usually easier to pay a professional groomer. White hair is finer than black, and parti coat dogs will require more frequent brushing and grooming to avoid matting.

Coat Types In accordance with the breed standard, Portuguese water dogs have two coat types, wavy and curly. From the Portuguese Water Dog Club of America Revised Standard for the Portuguese Water Dog: Curly coat: “compact, cylindrical curls, somewhat lusterless. The hair on the ears is sometimes wavy”. Wavy coat: “Falling gently in waves, not curls, and with a slight sheen”.

[ Portuguese Water Dog with a Brown Wavy Coat ]

Occasionally, a dog may have what is termed an “improper” coat. This is a cosmetic variation that relates to what is believed to be a recessive gene. It causes the dog to have an undercoat (unlike curly- and wavy-coated PWDs), a flatter coat overall, and may have curling on the hocks, and generally appears more Spaniel- or Border Collie-like. Because these dogs do not adhere to the breed standard, they may not be shown in competition, but otherwise are completely healthy and have all the excellent traits of PWDs. Some reports indicate that these coats shed more and are not hypoallergenic, although more study is needed.

For more information on improper coats, see: PWDCA’s Allergy, Hairloss, Dermatology PWD Grooming

The dogs also have an interesting bluish tinge to their skin that is hard to notice underneath their black fur. Their paws are slightly webbed, which one can notice by trying to pass one’s finger between the dog’s toes.

[ Portuguese Water Dog with “Parti Colors” Coat ]

Temperament Portuguese Water dogs make excellent companions. They are loving, sweet, and intelligent. Because they are working dogs, they are perfectly content in being at their master’s side at all times. Owners of this breed will attest that their Portie follows them constantly. This is typical of the breed, as it strives for attention and prefers to be engaged in activity. Do not be surprised if your Portie brings you a “gift” or toy when you get home as another way of getting attention. 

[ Portuguese Water Dog of the Curly Coat Type ]

History Originating back to the 1500s in Portugal, Portuguese Water Dogs (Porties) were originally used by fishermen. They were used to send messages between boats, to retrieve fish and articles from the water, and to guard the fishing boats. (They often received a portion of the catch after a job well done, too!) They helped to bring in nets and to save fishermen when they fell in the water. They were very popular, and this might be where they picked up their loyal and dependable characteristics.

Eventually commercial fishing equipment made the dogs unnecessary. They fell out of favor and almost became extinct. At one point, there were only 25 Portuguese Water Dogs in the world. Since then, breeders have been carefully bringing back the breed. There are now thousands of Porties throughout the world. When there is nothing else to do, Porties like to chew. Heavy-duty chew toys can help keep a Portie occupied.