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Key Breed Facts
Intelligence / Trainability
Children and Other Pets
Caring for a Portuguese Water Dog
Average Cost to keep/care for a Portuguese Water Dog
Breed Specific Buying Advice
The Portuguese Water Dog is a distinctive looking dog that as their name suggests, loves being in and around water. They have webbed feet which means they are extremely strong swimmers. They also boast having non-shedding coats with their hindquarters and tails being clipped short which adds to their unusual and charming looks. Although a relative newcomer to the UK, the Portuguese Water Dog is still a very popular choice in Portugal, more especially with fishermen although they are renowned for being good companions and family pets too.
It's thought the Portuguese Water Dog was first introduced to Portugal by Moor traders and that they share an ancestry with other water dogs found in Europe at that time in history. They became a firm favourite with Portuguese fishermen, thanks the breeds’ love of water and the fact they could retrieve lost nets. They were also prized as hunting and guarding dogs on land which led to these charming dogs being high in demand.
However, it was only in the 11th century that the Portuguese Water Dog was first written about by monks who described how a dog had saved drowning man from a ship wreck. The actual origins of the breed remain a bit of a mystery, but it is thought they are descendants of the same type of working and herding dog as the Poodle, Puli as well as the Kerry Blue Terrier. There are those who believe the breed’s ancestors hailed from far flung Asian countries of the world too.
By the late 1800's, King Carlos I became an enthusiast of the breed and through him, the popularity of the PWD soared. By the 1930's a wealthy Portuguese Shipping Heir, one Vasco Bensaude, purchased examples of these proud dogs from local fishermen and started his own breeding programme. Most Portuguese Water Dogs can trace their ancestry back to one of his dogs called "Leao".
Today, the Portuguese Water Dog remains a bit of an unknown here in the UK, but the breed is recognised by The Kennel Club. With this said, anyone wishing to share a home with one of these extraordinary, water loving dogs would need to register their interest with a breeder and be put on a waiting list because so few puppies are bred and registered with The Kennel Club every year.
Height at the withers: Males 50 - 57 cm, Females 43 - 52 cm
Average weight: Males 19 - 25 kg, Females 16 - 22 kg
Portuguese Water Dogs are large, athletic looking dogs that boast having extremely weather resistant coats. Their hindquarters are normally clipped with just a plume of hair being left on the tips of a dog's tail. PWDs can have two types of coat with the first being long and wavy whereas the other type is that much shorter and harsher to the touch with dogs having very compact curls all over their bodies. Their heads are large, yet nicely proportioned with their skulls being a little longer than a dog’s muzzle. They have a very distinct and well-defined occiput and stop with their muzzles tapering slightly to their noses.
They have a central furrow in their foreheads and nice wide noses with well open nostrils. The colour of their noses matches the colour of a dog's coat. Their eyes are round and medium in size being set well apart on a dog's face and can be either black or dark brown in colour, but the rims are always dark. Their ears are heart shaped and thin, drooping down and being well set above a dog's eye level and which dogs carry close to the head.
The Portuguese Water Dog has a strong jaw with a perfect scissor bite where their upper teeth neatly overlap their lower ones and they also boast having well developed canines. Their necks are straight, well-muscled and short with dogs carrying them high. Front legs are straight, nicely boned and muscular. Shoulders are well laid back and well-muscled.
Their bodies are nicely proportioned with dogs having wide withers and nice wide and deep chests that reach down to their elbows. Ribs are well sprung and loins short and strong with dogs having moderately tucked up bellies. Their back legs are straight and extremely well-muscled and their feet are round in shape but rather flat with toes not being too knuckled up or long. The membrane in between a dog's toes reaches to the tip and is covered with hair. Their tails are thicker at the base but taper to the tip and is moderately set. PWD's carry their tails gaily and slightly curved when they are on the move or alert.
When it comes to their coat, the Portuguese Water Dog has a profuse coat that covers their entire body except on the underside of their front legs and thighs. There is no undercoat in either variety, however, dogs with longer coats have loose waves and a nice sheen on their coats with the hair on a dog's ear standing upright being well feathered. Dogs with shorter coats have much denser, harsher and more compact curls which lack the sheen of longer coated dogs. The hair on a dog's head matches their body and the hair on their ears is slightly wavy. A dog's muzzle as well as their hindquarters from the last rib towards their tail is clipped with two thirds of their tail being clipped leaving just a plume of hair on the tip. The accepted breed colours for Kennel Club registration are as follows:
When a Portuguese Water Dog moves, they do so with a lively gait taking short steps when walking. When trotting they are light on their feet and when galloping they do so energetically.
The Kennel Club frowns on any exaggerations or departures from the breed standard and would judge the faults on how much they affect a dog's overall health and wellbeing as well as their ability to perform.
Males should have both testicles fully descended into their scrotums and it is worth noting that a dog can be a little lighter or heavier as well as slightly taller or shorter than set out in the Kennel Club breed standard which is only given as a guideline.
The Portuguese Water Dog is highly prized in their native Portugal for being a loyal, friendly and intelligent dog that likes nothing better than to please. However, they are quite independent thinkers and quite wilful thanks to a stubborn streak in them which one of the reasons they need to be handled and trained with a firm, yet gentle hand. The Portuguese Water Dog needs to know their place in the pack and what an owner expects of them.
With this said, they are a good choice for families because in the right hands and with the correct amount of early socialisation, the Portuguese Water Dog is easy to train. They become valuable members of a household and like nothing more than to be involved in everything that goes on around them. However, they are high-energy dogs and as such they do better when living with people who lead active, outdoor lives and where one person usually stays at home when everyone else is out of the house so that they always have company. If left to their own devices for too long, a Portuguese Water Dog might develop separation anxiety which often sees these dogs mouthing things they find around the home which is very much the "retriever" trait in them.
Because they are so intelligent, a PWD needs to be given the right amount of mental stimulation every day otherwise a dog could develop some unwanted and destructive behavioural issues around the home. They thrive in a country environment because they love being outside and more especially around water. However, care must be taken when walking a PWD anywhere near any dangerous watercourses just in case they decide to jump in.
Portuguese Water Dogs are not the best choice for first time dog owners because they need to be socialised, handled and trained by people who are familiar with the specific needs of such a clever, high-energy dog. They also need a tremendous amount of coat care which is another reason when they are not the best choice for novice owners.
Although PWDs are social by nature and love playing, they have a high prey drive which means they should not be trusted around smaller animals and pets they don't already know because they could well see them as "fair game". Care should also be taken as to where and when a Portuguese Water Dog runs off the lead more especially when there is livestock and wildlife close by.
Portuguese Water Dogs are known for their fun-loving natures and they enjoy nothing more than to play interactive games with the people they love. They excel at many canine sports which includes activities like flyball and agility to name but two.
PWDs are better suited to people who have secure back gardens they can safely roam in whenever possible so they can really express themselves as they should. As such, they are not the best choice for people who live in apartments bearing in mind that a Portuguese Water Dog is not only very intelligent, but they are high-energy characters with a low boredom threshold.
Although the Portuguese Water Dog forms strong ties with their families, they are not generally known to suffer from separation anxiety providing they are never left on their own for too long that is. No dog likes to be left to their own devices for longer periods of time which could see them develop some unwanted and destructive behavioural issues around the home. This is a dog's way of expressing their frustration and to relieve the stress/boredom they are feeling at being on their own for too long.
Some PWDs like the sound of their own voices a little too much which is something that needs to be gently nipped in the bud when a dog is still young being careful not to frighten them. Others will only bark when there are strangers about or when something they don't like is going on in their surroundings.
As their name suggests, a PWD loves swimming and will take to the water whenever they can more especially when the weather is hot or even when it is chillier. However, if anyone who owns a dog that does not like water should never force them to go in because it would just end up scaring them. With this said, care should always be taken when walking a Portuguese Water Dog off the lead anywhere near more dangerous watercourses just in case a dog decides to leap in and then needs rescuing because they cannot get out of the water on their own.
PWDs are incredibly loyal to their families and they are always on the alert which in short, means they are extremely good watchdogs. However, rarely would a Portuguese Water Dog show any sort of aggressive behaviour whilst going about the business of protecting an owner and their property unless they feel threatened in any way that is, in which case they would stand their ground not letting anyone passed them and barking to alert an owner.
Thanks to their intelligence and the fact these dogs love to please in the right hands the Portuguese Water Dog is easy to train. However, as previously mentioned their training must start early, it should be consistent and always fair so dogs know what is expected of them. In the right environment and with the correct amount of socialisation and training, the PWD excels when it comes to learning new things which they do very quickly bearing in mind that this means they quickly learn both the good and the bad.
Portuguese Water Dogs have proved themselves to excel in many canine sports, but they are also often used as therapy dogs working in hospitals, hospices and schools. They are also frequently used as hearing dogs, assistance dog and mobility dogs that help people with household tasks they are unable to do themselves.
Portuguese Water Dog puppies like all puppies are incredibly cute and it is all too easy to spoil them when they first arrive in a new home. However, they are also very intelligent and therefore quick to learn new things, both the good and the bad. As such, it's important for owners to start out as they mean to go on which means that as soon as a puppy is settled, they must be taught the rules and boundaries so they understand what kind of behaviour is acceptable and what is not. It also helps establish a pecking order and who is the alpha dog in a household. With this said, the first commands a PWD should be taught are as follows:
Portuguese Water Dogs love being in a home environment and they get on particularly well with children. However, because they are known to "mouth" things, any interaction between a PWD and the kids should be supervised by an adult to make sure things don't get out of hand which could lead to one of these fun-loving dogs mouthing a smaller child.
They are not particularly good around small pets and other animals although if a dog has grown up with a family cat in the home, they generally get on well together, but they would think nothing of chasing a neighour’s cat whenever the opportunity arises. They are social dogs by nature and as long as a puppy has been well socialised at an early enough age, Portuguese Water Dogs usually get on well with other dogs.
For further advice please read our article on Keeping Children Safe around Dogs.
The average life expectancy of a Portuguese Water Dog is between 12 and 15 years when properly cared for and fed an appropriate good quality diet to suit their ages.
The PWD is known to suffer from very few hereditary health issues and are known to be healthy and robust dogs However, there are a couple of health issues worth knowing about if you are planning share your home with one of these active, water-loving dogs. The conditions that seem to affect the breed the most include the following:
PWD puppies would have been given their initial vaccinations before being sold, but it is up to their new owners to make sure they have their follow-up shots in a timely manner with the vaccination schedule for puppies being as follows:
There has been a lot of discussion about the need for dogs to have boosters. As such, it's best to talk to a vet before making a final decision on whether a dog should continue to have annual vaccinations which are known as boosters.
A lot of vets these days recommend waiting until dogs are slightly older before spaying and neutering them which means they are more mature before undergoing the procedures. As such they advise neutering males and spaying females when they are between the ages of 6 to 9 months old and sometimes even when a dog is 12 months old.
Other vets recommend spaying and neutering dogs when they are 6 months old, but never any earlier unless for medical reasons. With this said, many breeds are different and it is always advisable to discuss things with a vet and then follow their advice on when a dog should be spayed or neutered.
Some PWDS can gain weight after they have been spayed or neutered and it's important to keep an eye on a dog's waistline just in case they do. If a dog starts to put on weight it's important to adjust their daily calorie intake and to up the amount of exercise they are given. Older dogs too are more prone to gaining weight and again it's essential they be fed and exercised accordingly because obesity can shorten a dog's life by several years. The reason being that it puts a lot of extra strain on a dog's internal organs including the heart which could prove fatal.
PWDs are known to be predisposed to suffering from allergies and it's important for a dog to see a vet sooner rather than later if one flares up. Allergies can be notoriously hard to clear up and finding the triggers can be challenging. With this said, a vet would be able to make a dog with an allergy more comfortable while they try to find out the triggers which could include the following:
All responsible Portuguese Water Dog breeders would ensure that their stud dogs are tested for known hereditary and congenital health issues known to affect the breed by using the following schemes:
Apart from the standard breeding restrictions for all Kennel Club registered breeds, there are no other breed specific breeding restrictions in place for the Portuguese Water Dog.
For the moment, there are no DNA tests or BVA screening schemes available for the Portuguese Water Dog under the Assured Breeder Scheme. However, all breeders should have their dogs tested using the following:
As with any other breed, PWDs need to be groomed on a regular basis to make sure their coats and skin are kept in top condition. They also need to be given regular daily exercise to ensure they remain fit and healthy. On top of this, dogs need to be fed good quality food that meets all their nutritional needs throughout their lives.
PWD puppies are boisterous and full of life which means it's essential for homes and gardens to be puppy-proofed well in advance of their arrival. A responsible breeder would have well socialised their puppies which always leads to more outgoing, confident and friendly dogs right from the word go. With this said, any puppy is going to feel vulnerable when they leave their mother and littermates which must be taken into account. The longer a puppy can remain with their mother, the better although it should never be for too long either.
It's best to pick a puppy up when people are going to be around for the first week or so which is the time needed for a puppy to settle in. Puppy-proofing the home and garden means putting away any tools and other implements that a boisterous puppy might injure themselves on. Electric wires and cables must be put out of their reach because puppies love chewing on things. Toxic plants should be removed from flowerbeds and the home too.
Puppies need to sleep a lot to grow and develop as they should which means setting up a quiet area that's not too out of the way means they can retreat to it when they want to nap and it's important not to disturb them when they are sleeping. It's also a good idea to keep "playtime" nice and calm inside the house and to have a more active "playtime" outside in the garden which means puppies quickly learn to be less boisterous when they are inside.
The documentation a breeder provides for a puppy must have all the details of their worming date and the product used as well as the information relating to their microchip. It is essential for puppies to be wormed again keeping to a schedule which is as follows:
There are certain items that new owners need to already have in the home prior to bringing a new puppy home. It's often a good idea to restrict how much space a puppy plays in more especially when you can't keep an eye on what they get up to bearing in mind that puppies are often quite boisterous which means investing in puppy gates or a large enough playpen that allows a puppy the room to express themselves while keeping them safe too. The items needed are therefore, as follows:
All puppies are sensitive to noise including Portuguese Water Dog puppies. It's important to keep the noise levels down when a new puppy arrives in the home. TVs and music should not be played too loud which could end up stressing a small puppy out and which could end up making them more timid and shy by nature.
As previously mentioned, PWD puppies would have been given their first vaccinations by the breeders, but they must have their follow up shots which is up to their new owners to organise. The vaccination schedule for puppies is as follows:
When it comes to boosters, it's best to discuss these with a vet because there is a lot of debate about whether a dog really needs them after a certain time. However, if a dog ever needed to go into kennels, their vaccinations would need to be fully up to date.
Older PWDs need lots of special care because as they reach their golden years, they are more at risk of developing certain health concerns. Physically, a dog's muzzle may start to go grey, but there will be other noticeable changes too which includes the following:
Older dogs change mentally too which means their response time tends to be slower as such they develop the following:
Living with a Portuguese Water Dog in their golden years means taking on a few more responsibilities, but these are easily managed and should include taking a look at their diet, the amount of exercise they are given, how often their dog beds need changing and keeping an eye on the condition of their teeth.
Older PWDs need to be fed a good quality diet that meets their needs at this stage of their lives all the while keeping a close eye on a dog's weight. A rough feeding guide for older dogs is as follows bearing in mind they should be fed highly digestible food that does not contain any additives:
Older PWDS don't need to be given the same amount of daily exercise as a younger dog, but they still need the right amount of physical activity to maintain muscle tone and to prevent a dog from putting on too much weight. All dogs need access to fresh clean water and this is especially true of older dogs when they reach their golden years because they are more at risk of developing kidney disorders.
The Portuguese Water Dog boasts having a single, but extremely thick and water-resistant coat that can be harsh with very tight curls or moderately long with much looser curls. A dog's hindquarters are usually clipped which is often referred to as a "lion clip" because all that's left on a dog's tail is a plume of hair on the tip. This task is best left up to an expert dog groomer and it would need to be done a few times a year to keep things tidy and which also means that a dog's grooming needs are kept to a minimal in between visits to the grooming parlour.
They are high maintenance on the grooming front because their coats need a daily brush even though they are non-shedding dogs which is the only way of preventing matts and/or tangles from forming which is particularly true of longer coated dogs. As such a daily brush is necessary and it helps reinforce a bond between an owner and their dog. It's also important to check a dog's ears on a regular basis especially as they love to be in water and to clean them when necessary. If too much wax builds up in a dog's ears, it can lead to a painful infection which can be hard to clear up. The same can be said if too much moisture gets into a dog's ear canal so if a dog has been in the water, it's really important to make sure their ears are thoroughly dried afterwards. In short, prevention is often easier than cure when it comes to ear infections.
The Portuguese Water Dog is a high energy, intelligent dog and as such they need to be given the right amount of daily exercise combined with as much stimulation as possible for them to be truly happy, well-rounded and obedient dogs. Ideally, they need to be given at least 2 hour’s exercise a day and as much mental stimulation as possible which should include lots of interactive games.
A shorter walk in the morning would be fine, but a longer more interesting one in the afternoon is a must. These dogs also like to be able to roam around a back garden as often as possible so they can really let off steam. However, the fencing must be extremely secure to keep these energetic dogs in because if they find a weakness in the fence, they will soon escape out and get into all sorts of trouble.
With this said, PWD puppies should not be over exercised because their joints and bones are still growing. This includes not letting a dog jump up and down from furniture or going up or down the stairs. Too much pressure placed on their joints and spines at an early age could result in a dog developing problems later in their lives.
If you get a PWD puppy from a breeder, they would give you a feeding schedule and it's important to stick to the same routine, feeding the same puppy food to avoid any tummy upsets. You can change a puppy's diet, but this needs to be done very gradually always making sure they don't develop any digestive upsets and if they do, it's best to put them back on their original diet and to discuss things with the vet before attempting to change it again.
Older dogs are not known to be fussy or finicky eaters, but this does not mean you can feed them a lower quality diet. It's best to feed a mature dog twice a day, once in the morning and then again in the evening, making sure it's good quality food that meets all their nutritional requirements. It's also important that dogs be given the right amount of exercise so they burn off any excess calories or they might gain too much weight which can lead to all sorts of health issues. Obesity can shorten a dog's life by several years so it's important to keep an eye on their waistline from the word go.
Because Portuguese Water Dogs are prone to suffer from bloat, it is important that they be fed twice a day instead of giving them just one larger meal a day. It's also a good idea to invest in a stand to place their feed bowl which makes it easier for these large dogs to eat comfortably without having to stretch their necks down low to reach their food. You should never exercise a dog just before or just after they have eaten either because this puts them more at risk of suffering from gastric torsion (bloat) which as previously mentioned, can prove fatal if not treated as a matter urgency.
Puppies need to be fed a highly nutritious, good quality diet for them to develop and grow as they should. As a rough guide, a PWD puppy can be fed the following amounts every day making sure their meals are evenly spread out throughout the day and it's best to feed them 3 or 4 times a day:
Once a puppy is 13 months old they can be fed adult dog food.
Once fully mature, an adult Portuguese Water Dog must be fed a good quality diet to ensure their continued good health. As a rough guide, an adult PWD can be fed the following amounts every day:
If you are looking to buy a Portuguese Water Dog, you may have to go on a breeder's waiting list because so few puppies are bred and registered with The Kennel Club every year. You would need to pay anything upwards of £1000 for a well-bred pedigree puppy. The cost of insuring a male 3-year-old PWD in northern England would be £28.32 a month for basic cover but for a lifetime policy, this would set you back £63.49 a month (quote as of October 2018). When insurance companies calculate a pet's premium, they factor in several things which includes where you live in the UK, a dog's age and whether they have been neutered or spayed among other things.
When it comes to food costs, you need to buy the best quality food whether wet or dry, to feed your dog making sure it suits the different stages of their lives. This would set you back between £40 - £50 a month. On top of this, you would need to factor in veterinary costs if you want to share your home with a PWD and this includes their initial vaccinations, their annual boosters, the cost of neutering or spaying a dog when the time is right and their yearly health checks, all of which quickly adds up to over £1200 a year.
As a rough guide, the average cost to keep and care for a Portuguese Water Dog would be between £80 to £120 a month depending on the level of insurance cover you opt to buy for your dog, but this does not include the initial cost of buying a well-bred, healthy Kennel Club registered pedigree Portuguese Water Dog puppy.