You might know the Portuguese Water Dog (PWD) as the official mascot of the Obama White House administration. Here's an in-depth look at this unique, working breed.
The PWD originated in the Algarve region of Portugal, but quickly dispersed along Portugal's coast, where it helped fishermen with all kinds of water-related tasks including herding fish into nets, retrieving tackle, and acting as water courier between ships and shore. The PWD didn't stay put for long. The breed eventually worked its way over to the Icelandic coast, where it helped cod fishermen with their catches.
Known as as the Cao de Agua or the Portuguese Fishing Dog in its country of origin, the PWD came close to extinction in the early 20th century during a time of great unrest in Portugal. Shipping tycoon Dr. Vasco Bensuade, a dog fancier, made it his mission to save the breed. Enlisting the help of two veterinarians, Dr. Francisco Pinto Soares and Dr. Manuel Fernandes Marques, Bensuade developed a breeding program using fishermen's dogs. Bensuade's kennels effectively re-established the breed in Portugal.
The PWD made its way to America in the 1950s via cooperation between Portuguese breeders and American PWD enthusiasts. Today America's 51st most popular dog breed, it has been recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) since 1983.
Portuguese Water Dogs have become popular in this country thanks to their intelligence, trainability, and lovingly effervescent personality, and the fact that it was the official dog of the Obama White House Administration certainly doesn't hurt.
The PWD is a high-energy, working dog that needs training, constant exercise, and stimulation to prevent boredom, which can lead to destructive behavior. He is friendly overall, but bonds strongly with his master, making him a wonderful companion dog for an owner or a family that understands what the breed requires.
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The PWD is a robust and substantially-built dog well suited to work in marine environments as a swimmer, diver, retriever, fish herder, and courier. His alert and spirited expression paired with his duty-bound disposition suggests that he is ready for whatever task he is assigned.
The PWD is slightly longer than it is tall. Males stand 20-23 inches at the shoulder and weigh 42-60 pounds, while females stand 17-21 inches at the shoulder and weigh 35-50 pounds. The muscular neck is short and straight, leading into a level, firm topline. The PWD is a broad and deep-chested dog with a wide, muscular back. Shoulders are well-formed and strong. Forelegs are solid and straight and the hindquarters are powerfully built and well balanced. The utilitarian tail sits just below the back line and is thick at the base, but tapers. Round, flat feet are webbed with thick central pads.
The PWD has a large head with an exceptionally wide topskull. It is well proportioned and the skull is a hair longer than the muzzle. The defined muzzle is wider at the base and tapers slightly at the nose. Medium-sized, roundish eyes are wide set, and ideally black or dark brown in color, with darker shades preferred. Ears sit high above the eyeline and are held against the head. The expression is steady and alert.
The hypoallergenic, waterproof coat is either curly and without sheen or wavy with a mild sheen. Black, white, and brown are acceptable solid colors, but black or brown coats with white markings are also acceptable. The AKC recognizes two clips: the Lion Clip (muzzle, midsection, and hindquarters are clipped) and the Retriever Clip (the entire coat is uniformly clipped to about one inch with the exception of the end of the tail).
The PWD is loyal and intelligent. He is as affectionate as he is brave and obedient. Known for his overall sound temperament, he is both a faithful companion and a hard worker. Although he is generally friendly with everyone, he tends to be a dog loyal only to his owner at heart. A high-energy dog, he needs lots of exercise and is happiest when he is mentally and physically busy with a task, preferably in the presence of his master or his pack.
Most PWDs are healthy, but hip dysplasia and eye diseases such as cataracts and Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) can be health issues for the breed. Responsible breeding can go a long way toward reducing the likelihood of inherited conditions.