Portuguese Water Dog

Written by: Jamie
Updated: March 22, 2021

Their magnificent lion trim steals the attention every time! Learn all about the Portuguese Water Dog in today’s guide below.

black and white portuguese water dog

Height: Male 20-23 inches, female 17-21 inches
Weight: Male 19-27 kilos, female 16-23 kilos
Lifespan: 11-13 years
Pedigree? (registered with the KC?): Yes, this breed is registered with the Kennel Club.

Positives and Negatives

Check out the pros and cons of the Portuguese Water Dog below:


  • Hypoallergenic, good choice for allergy sufferers
  • Ideal family pet
  • Can live on a boat, loves water
  • A great watchdog, therapy, and service dog


  • High grooming maintenance
  • Prone to boredom, mental stimulation needed
  • Mouthy, tendency to nip and chew
  • High exercise needs

portuguese water dog sitting on the boardwalk


The Portuguese Water Dog is noticed by its extravagant lion trim. They’ll turn the head of any passer-by! In Portugal, they’re called cão de água, which translates to ‘dog of water’.

It should be no surprise that this breed loves water and has webbed feet which helps them swim better.

This breed would assist fishermen on their trawlers across the seas of Portugal to Newfoundland.

Today, they are still used by Portuguese fishermen, although technology has replaced most of their positions. These hardworking canines are very adaptable and can even live in an apartment if their exercise needs are met.

The Portuguese Water Dog size is medium, although they are on the larger end of that scale. Coat colors are seen in white, black and white, brown, white and brown, and brown.

White coats aren’t commonly seen in the breed. Coats should always be washed with plain water after swimming as salt, debris or chlorine can make brushing difficult.

Barak Obama is a proud owner of two Portuguese Water Dogs named Bo and Sunny! Bo was given to the Obamas as an inauguration gift from Senator Kennedy in 2009.

Ted Kennedy was inspired by the breed and wrote the children’s book My Senator & Me: A Dog’s Eye View of Washington, D.C. Sunny was later welcomed in 2013.

portuguese water dog in a white background


Portuguese Water Dogs originate from the Algarve area of Portugal. They were known as working dogs who would accompany fishermen.

Some of their jobs would include passing messages from ships to land, herding fish, and retrieving lost fishing tackle. Their voice would also establish the whereabouts of ships in conditions of poor vision.

Water Dogs of the Mediterranean are thought to be the original ancestors of the PWD. The first written recording of the breed is in 1297 by a monk.

It describes a drowning sailor who was rescued by a dog with a rough, long black coat trimmed to the ribs and a cluster of fur on the tail. It is thought the breed could date as far back as the 5th century.

Many years ago this dog was commonly found across the shores of Portugal. Eventually, technology took over and replaced the need for these canines.

Today the PWD is still classed as a working breed and is used as a guard, service, and therapy dog. Water rescue is also a position filled by the Portie.

King Carlos I of Portugal was an owner of the Portuguese Water Dog in the 1800s. This led to a rise in the popularity of the breed, however, this wasn’t long-lasting.

By the 1930s the PWD was on the brink of extinction until Portuguese businessman Vasco Bensaude started a breeding program. He called his kennels Algarbiorum.

The AKC recognized the Portie in the 1980s. Thanks to the Obama family’s interest in the PWD, this pooch saw the biggest rise in its popularity since the 1960s.

In the UK they are still relatively uncommon although there is a Portuguese Water Dog Club of Great Britain for breed enthusiasts.


Portuguese Water Dog Temperament:
This breed is smart, deeply loyal, stubborn, strong-willed, athletic, and fun. These canines have a fantastic personality and fit right into the family fun.

Adventurous and independent, the Portuguese Water Dog can be left alone for a few hours here and there.

portuguese water dog in front of the lake

PWDs aren’t ideal for first-time owners and need a leader with time and experience. These canines are known to be vocal and should be taught the quiet command before barking becomes excessive.

PWDs have been used as guard and watchdogs so will always be on the alert.

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Are Portuguese Water Dogs Good with Strangers?

Porties aren’t very trusting of strangers. They are often reserved and will need socialization to allow their friendly side to shine through. Whilst they aren’t known to be aggressive these canines will become protective if they feel threatened.

Are Portuguese Water Dogs Good with Children?

Yes, this breed thrives in a family environment and will bond well with the children. Mouthy behavior such as nipping can be an issue during puppyhood so play should always be supervised. Due to their size, smaller children may become injured through play.

Are Portuguese Water Dogs Ok with Other Dogs?

PWDs are generally sociable and get along well with other canines. Given the right socialization, this dog will be a pleasure to walk around the park. They can live with other dogs and cats provided they have been raised together.


Portie’s requires an hour’s worth of exercise each day, although they can easily accept two! Of course, when possible this breed should be taken swimming.

It’s an activity they thrive in! The PWD is known to be a hard worker and can become bored quickly. Destructive behaviors will form if their activity needs aren’t being met.

Alongside vigorous exercise, mental stimulation will also be required. Dog sports such as agility, obedience, tracking, dock diving, and rally are just some ways to mentally stimulate the PWD.

This breed can also be stimulated in the home by being taught to carry out specific jobs.

portuguese water dog standing on a driftwood log at the beach

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Check out the breed-related health issues of the Portuguese Water Dog below:

  • Hip Dysplasia- Poor development of the hip joint will lead to joint laxity. Over time this will cause arthritis.
  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy- This inherited disease will cause the photoreceptor cells within the eye to deteriorate. Blindness will eventually occur.
  • Juvenile Dilated Cardiomyopathy- A heart disease inherited from parents. Affected puppies generally die between six weeks to twelve months of age.
  • Gangliosidosis– A rare inherited storage disorder with neurological symptoms appearing in puppies as early as 5 months. Normally fatal.
  • Addison’s Disease- The adrenal glands aren’t producing enough hormones which will cause an increase in thirst, increase in urination, diarrhea, and weight loss.
  • Paroxysmal Dyskinesia- A movement disorder often confused with epileptic seizures. Although aware of what is going on, affected dogs won’t have control over their movement.

Intelligence & Training

Portuguese Water Dogs are known to be deeply intelligent. They make outstanding service and therapy dogs not to mention their ability to save lives in the water!

These canines are easy to train provided you know-how. Experienced owners are often better suited to the PWD’s wilful and occasionally stubborn personality.

This breed takes longer to mature than others so patience will be required. Porties do pick up on commands relatively quickly so avoid repetition as this can lead to disinterest.

Ensure the dog has been exercised before a training session so they aren’t pent up with energy. Sessions should last around 10-15 minutes.

portuguese water dog in snow

PWDs thrive off human attention so always offer praise and affection whenever they get something right. Food rewards should be used to gain the dog’s attention.

Set household boundaries and never let these be broken. Always correct and discipline a dog the moment they break a rule.

Whilst growing up the Portuguese Water Dog may be inclined to nip and chew more than other breeds.

Always have toys available. Otherwise, the PWD may look at their owner’s possessions as a potential chew toy!

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You may be wondering are Portuguese Water Dogs hypoallergenic? PWDs hardly shed their fur and for this reason, are known to be a hypoallergenic breed.

They have a thick single coat that’s water-resistant featuring wavy or tight curls. Grooming maintenance is high and if standards aren’t kept a coat can quickly fall into disrepair.

To make brushing an easier process it should be done daily. As they hardly shed, brushing is the only way to remove dead fur. Mats and tangles can quickly form.

A sturdy slicker brush is most ideal for the PWD’s coat. Their fur will need trimming every 8-10 weeks to prevent overgrowth.

portuguese water dog in yacht

The two popular trims are known as the lion cut and the retriever cut. Many owners seek professional help every couple of months to keep the trim in tip-top shape.

Keen owners over time can learn to do this from home although it is time-consuming.

Baths should be given every 6 weeks to keep the coat looking fresh. Work the shampoo down to the skin and thoroughly wash the residue away.

Fur should be blow-dried to remove any moisture trapped within the coat. Don’t bring the dryer too close to the fur as this can cause knots.

Ears will need to be cleaned weekly to remove any debris from the canal. PWD’s are prone to ear infections so it is best to try and prevent these.

Nails should be trimmed every 10-14 days. Teeth should be brushed at least three times a week however, vets recommend this is done daily.

About the Author

Hi, I'm Jamie! I've always been around dogs and now writing about them is an absolute joy.
Read more about my story here.
Reach me at Jamie@woofbarkgrowl.co.uk or connect with me on LinkedIn below.

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