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Cao de Agua Breed Description

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Breed Organization

Portuguese Water Dog Club of America

Native Country

Other Names
Portuguese Water Dog, Portie, Cao de Agua Portuguese, PWD, Waterdog

Life Expectancy
Approximately 10-14 Years

Litter Size
Average 5-7 Puppies

Breed Group

General Description

The closest relatives of the PWD are widely thought to be the Kerry Blue Terrier, Barbet and Standard Poodle. Like Poodles and several other water dog breeds, Portuguese Water Dogs are highly intelligent, can have curly coats, have webbed toes for swimming, and do not shed. However, Portuguese Water Dogs are more robustly built, with stout legs, and can have a wavy coat instead of tightly curled. If comparing the structure to that of a Poodle, there are significant differences between the two breeds. The Portuguese Water Dog built of strong substantial bone; well developed, neither refined nor coarse, and a solidly built, muscular body. The Portuguese Water Dog is off-square, slightly longer than tall when measured from prosternum to rearmost point of the buttocks, and from withers to ground. Portuguese Water Dog eyes are black or various tones of brown, and their coats can be black, brown, black and white or brown and white.

Portuguese Water Dogs have a single-layered coat that does not shed, and therefore their presence is tolerated extremely well among many people who suffer from dog allergies.

Most Portuguese Water Dogs, especially those shown in conformation shows, are entirely black, black and white, brown, or silver-tipped; it is common to see white chest spots and white paws or legs on black or brown coated dogs. "Parti" or "Irish-marked" coats, with irregular white and black spots, are rare but visually striking. "Parti" dogs are becoming more common in the United States. However, in Portugal the breed standard does not allow more than 30% white markings. Overall, white is the least common Portuguese Water Dog color, while black with white markings on the chin ("milk chin") and chest is the most common color combination.

Breed Standard

Head: Strong and broad. Domed skull. Prominent brow bones. Pronounced stop. Muzzle narrower at the nose than at the base. Strong jaws. Nose wide, matching coat color. Thick lips.
Ears: Set on high, thin, hanging flat against the head with the back edge standing out slightly.
Eyes: Medium-sized, round, slightly slanted. Eyelids edged with black.
Body: Strong. Short, rounded neck without dewlap. Broad withers. Chest broad, well let-down. Well-sprung ribs. Small abdomen. Straight back. Slightly sloping croup.
Tail: Thick at the base, tapering toward the tip. In action, curled in a circle. The tail is a valuable tool for swimming and diving.
Hair: Tough. No undercoat. Two varieties: long and wavy, or in short tufts. Wavy hair on the head (crisp hair in the second variety) forming a sort of topknot.
Coat: Solid or a combination of colors. Solid white, black, or brown. A combination of black or brown with white.
Size: Dog: 54 cm. (21.3 in).Bitch: 46 cm. (18 in).
Weight: Dog: 19 to 25 kg. (42-55 lb).Bitch: 16 to 22 kg. (35-48.5 lb).


The Portuguese Water Dog, as the name suggests, is native to Portugal. In its native land it is called the Portuguese Water Dog, which means "dog of water." It was developed from working dogs in the Iberian Peninsula. Excellent swimmers, the dogs worked alongside Portuguese fisherman for hundreds of years doing numerous jobs. They were so valuable they were considered part of the crew. The lion trim had a specific purpose. The fishermen would shave the rear and muzzle to aid in swimming and working in the water. Long hair was left to help keep vital organs warmer and protect the dog from injury on the main body, neck and head. The dogs worked herding and catching fish, retrieving broken nets or anything that fell into the water, carrying messages from one ship to the other or from ship to shore and even guarded the boats in foreign ports. The dogs were so popular even non-commercial fishermen could rent one for their fishing trips. As time went on technology replaced the dogs’ jobs and by the 1930s the breeds’ numbers dropped considerably. It was not until a wealthy Portuguese man named Vasco Bensaude started a breeding program in an attempt to save the breed did their numbers rise once again. The first pair of Portuguese Water Dogs was imported to the USA in 1958. In 1972 the Portuguese Water Dog Club of America was formed. In 1983 the breed was first recognized by the AKC. Some of the Portuguese Water Dog's talents are obedience, water trials, agility, therapy dog and assistance dog.

Another early US breeder of PWDs was the actor Raymond Burr.


Portuguese Water dogs make excellent companions. They are loving, independent, and intelligent and are easily trained in obedience and agility skills. Once introduced, they are generally friendly to strangers, and enjoy being petted, which, due to their soft, fluffy coats, is a favor that human beings willingly grant them.

Because they are working dogs, PWDs are generally content in being at their master's side, awaiting directions, and, if they are trained, they are willing and able to follow complex commands. They learn very quickly, seem to enjoy the training, and have a long memory for the names of objects. These traits and their non-shedding coats mean they excel at the various Service Dog roles such as hearing dogs (assistance dogs for the deaf), mobility dogs, and seizure response dogs. They also make unusually good therapy dogs.

A PWD usually stays in proximity to its owners, indoors as well as outdoors. This is typical of the breed. Though very gregarious animals, these dogs will typically bond with one primary or alpha family member. Some speculate that this intense bonding arose in the breed because the dogs were selected to work in proximity to their masters on small fishing boats, unlike other working dogs such as herding dogs and water dogs that range out to perform tasks. In any case, the modern PWD, whether employed on a boat or kept as a pet or a working dog, loves water, attention, and prefers to be engaged in activity within sight of a human partner. This is not a breed to be left alone for long periods of time, indoors or out.

As water dogs, the PWDs retrieving instinct is strong, which also gives some dogs tugging and chewing tendencies. A PWD will commonly jump as a greeting. Owners may choose to limit this behavior. Some PWDs may walk, hop, or "dance" on their hind legs when greeting or otherwise enthusiastic. Some PWDs will stand upright at kitchen counters and tables, especially if they smell food above them. This habit is known as "counter surfing" and is characteristic of the breed. Although it can be a nuisance, many PWD owners evidently enjoy seeing their dogs walking, hopping, standing up, or "countering" and do not seriously discourage these activities.

While they are very good companions to people who understand what they need, Portuguese Water Dogs are not for everyone. Because of their intelligence and working drive, they require regular intensive exercise as well as mental challenges. They are gentle and patient — but not "couch potatoes", and boredom may cause them to become destructive.

He needs space and lots of exercise, as well as frequent combing and brushing. For competition, the hair on the hindquarters must be clipped from the last rib to two-thirds of the way down the tail.


Herding Dog, Water Dog, Therapy Dog, Pet.


As with all purebred dogs, PWDs are vulnerable to certain genetic defects. Owing to the limited gene pool for this breed, conscientious breeders carefully study pedigrees and select dogs to minimize the chance of genetic disease and improper coat. As with many other breeds, growing popularity has encouraged breeding by people not knowledgeable about the breed.

  • Hip dysplasia
  • Like poodles, PWDs are vulnerable to hip dysplasia, a congenital and developmental problem with the hip joints. However, the risk of a PWD developing hip dysplasia can be greatly reduced by thoroughly checking the pedigrees and health clearances in both the sire and dam of the dog.
  • Cataracts, progressive retinal atrophy, and distichiasis
  • Cataracts and progressive retinal atrophy are two eye diseases found in PWDs. Progressive retinal atrophy, which causes "night blindness", may lead to complete blindness. This is a simple recessive gene. DNA testing, known as "Optigen Testing", can identify dogs carrying the gene for progressive retinal atrophy. "Normal" or "A" dogs do not carry the gene. "Carriers" or "B" dogs carry one copy of the gene and will not express the disease, but pass the gene to 50% of their offspring. "Affected" or "C" dogs have two copies of the progressive retinal atrophy gene and will probably express the disease as late onset progressive retinal atrophy. "B" or "C" dogs should be bred only to "A" dogs to ensure that any offspring will not express the disease.
  • Ingrown eyelashes (distichiasis)
  • occur in some curly-coated breeds, but they are not particularly common in PWDs. Ingrown eyelashes will rub the eye causing extensive corneal ulcerations.[19] The condition is minor so long as it is not ignored, and can be surgically treated if necessary. >GM1 storage disease GM1 storage disease, one of a family of conditions called GM1 gangliosidoses, is a recessive, genetic disorder that is inevitably fatal. It is caused by a deficiency of beta-galactosidase, with resulting abnormal storage of acidic lipid materials in cells of the central and peripheral nervous systems, but particularly in the nerve cells. Because PWDs are all rather closely related to one another and share a limited gene pool, PWDs who were GM1 storage disease carriers were able to be genetically identified, and the condition has now been almost entirely eliminated from the breed. All breeding stock should be tested for GM-1 storage disease or GM1 gangliosidoses, which is a fatal nerve disease that typically appears when a puppy is approximately six months of age. The affected puppy will show clinical signs of cerebellar dysfunction including ataxia, tremors, paresis, and seizures. The pet may also exhibit a change in temperament. Lesions of the retina and clouding of the cornea may occur.
  • Juvenile dilated cardiomyopathy
  • Juvenile dilated cardiomyopathy is a fatal condition caused by an autosomal recessive gene. Affected puppies die suddenly or with very little warning usually between the ages of six weeks to seven months old. The signs and symptoms include a 12- to 48- hour onset of loss of appetite, decreased energy level, vomiting, and difficulty breathing. Some pups have no physical signs or symptoms at all, may just collapse and die, or are found dead by the breeder or new owner. At this time, there is no known cure or treatment but there is a way to prevent producing puppies affected by juvenile dilated cardiomyopathy.

    Breeders now have a DNA gene-based test, based on a cheek swab or a blood sample, which will determine if a dog is a carrier of the gene for juvenile dilated cardiomyopathy. All breeding animals can be tested to determine their status, thus avoiding the breeding of two carriers. A puppy from a sire or dam without the gene will not be affected with this fatal disease.

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