Portuguese Water Dog

AKC Working Group


Photo copyright © Cook PhoDOGraphy. All rights reserved.

Photo copyright © Cook PhoDOGraphy. All rights reserved.

Developed from working dogs brought by invaders and settlers to the Iberian Peninsula, the Portuguese Water Dog has aided Portuguese fishermen for many centuries. He herded and caught fish, carried messages between ships, retrieved anything that fell overboard, and guarded the catch and boats when in port. The dogs were valuable enough to be considered part of the crew and were given their share of both the fish and the money earned for the catch. Retired fishermen would often rent out their dogs to bring in some extra money. Gradually technology replaced the Portuguese Water Dog. Radios sent messages. Winches pulled in the nets. By the 1930s, the breed was almost gone. Luckily, a wealthy shipping tycoon, Vasco Bensaude, took an interest in the Portuguese Water Dog and set out to gather fine specimens and start a breeding program. United States interest in the Portuguese Water Dog began in 1958 with the importation of the first pair. The Portuguese Water Dog Club of America was formed in 1972, and the breed was accepted for AKC registration in the early 1980s. In the United States, the highly intelligent Portuguese Water Dog is primarily a companion dog, but also excels at water trials, obedience, agility, and as a therapy dog and assistance dog.


The Portuguese Water Dog is a medium-sized, hardy, and muscular dog. The coat varies from a flat, wavy, shiny type to a thick, open curl to a tight curl. Two coat clips are used: the lion clip, with face and rear shaved; and the working retriever, or pet clip, in which the dog is scissored so that the coat appears to be about an inch long all over. The single layered, non-shedding, virtually hypoallergenic coat comes in black, white, brown, parti-color (white with spots), or black or brown with white markings. The body is solid and sturdy, slightly longer than tall. The topline should be straight and level. The brisket should reach the elbows, and the chest should be broad. The head is large and broad on top with a pronounced stop and occiput. The top of the skull should appear rounded. The heart-shaped ears hang down beside the head, but should not hang beyond the lower jaw. The eyes are dark and the teeth meet in a scissors or level bite. The tail starts out thick near the body, then tapers. The legs are very straight, strong, and parallel. This breed has more webbing between the toes than many other breeds, which aids in swimming.

Key Facts

  • Height:  20 to 23 in. (male); 17 to 21 in. (female)
  • Size:  Medium
  • Weight:  42 to 60 lbs. (male); 35 to 50 lbs. (female)
  • Availability:  Difficult to find
  • Talents:  Retrieving, watchdog, guarding, water rescue, agility, competitive obedience, and performing tricks


Portuguese Water Dogs love to swim. Some are chewers. Breeding stock should be tested for GM-1 Gangliosidosis, a fatal hereditary nerve disease. Puppies with this disease generally do not survive beyond the age of 6 months. Due to DNA testing, the incidence of GM1 has been greatly reduced in this breed, but carriers do still exist in the population. Some Portuguese Water Dog lines are prone to hip dysplasia and PRA. A DNA test for PRA is now available and is recommended for breeding stock. Buy only from stock with OFA, PennHIP, or another national hip-dysplasia clearance and current CERF or OFA eye clearance.
The Portuguese Water Dog is good for individuals with allergies, as the coat doesn’t shed. The coat grows more slowly than a Poodle’s and doesn’t require as frequent scissoring or clipping. The Portuguese Water Dog’s vocalizations span many octaves.


Lively but sensible and loyal. Affectionate and fun to be around. Stable, pleasant temperament. Brave. Highly intelligent and trainable; they might outthink their owners! Generally willing to please—an obedient dog. Spirited, with great stamina, yet calm. Portuguese Water Dogs have a super sense of humor and love to be in the spotlight of attention. Dominance, barking, and indoor-activity level vary greatly with the individual.


  • Children:  Excellent with children
  • Friendliness:  Reserved with strangers
  • Trainability:  Easy to train
  • Independence:  Fairly independent
  • Dominance:  Moderate
  • Other Pets:  Generally good with other pets
  • Combativeness:  Not generally dog-aggressive
  • Noise:  Average barker
  • Indoors:  Moderately active indoors
  • Owner:  Not recommended for novice owners


  • Grooming:  Regular grooming needed
  • Trimming and Stripping:  Moderate trimming or stripping needed
  • Coat:  Curly or wavy coat
  • Shedding:  Very light
  • Exercise:  Moderate exercise needed
  • Jogging:  An excellent jogging companion
  • Apartments:  Will be OK in an apartment if sufficiently exercised
  • Outdoor Space:  A small yard is sufficient
  • Climate:  Does well in most climates
  • Longevity:  Moderately long lived (12 to 15 years)

Useful Links

AKC® Portuguese Water Dog Breed Standard


Portuguese Water Dog Breed Club


Search for a Breeder


Rescue Organizations


Books about the Portuguese Water Dog


Portuguese Water Dog Gifts