Portuguese Water Dogs

When the First Family welcomed Bo, the Portuguese Water Dog, to the White House, they put the spotlight on this rare breed of water-loving canine. Fortunately, the Portie likes attention almost as much as he likes playing with children and swimming. An important consideration before diving in to ownership of a Portuguese Water Dog: If you don’t want a dog who prefers to be wet, this isn’t the dog for you. Those caveats aside, this curly mop of good natured, possibly less allergenic canine could be just the ticket for your family.

Is the Portuguese Water Dog the Right Dog for You?

Portuguese Water Dogs are high energy dogs with a lot of enthusiasm. They are very outgoing, curious and friendly – and very smart. There’s a lot of dog inside that moderately sized, curl-covered body.

The breed was developed in Portugal, where the breed served as the fisherman’s equivalent of a farmer’s right-hand man. They retrieved nets, delivered messages and pretty much did anything that was asked of them with enthusiasm and style. Few people need that kind of water-logged helper anymore, so the Portie's smarts and enthusiasm have been put to other uses. One of the most notable: When San Francisco opened its new bayside ballpark for the Giants, a team of Porties went to work retrieving home run balls out of the water. The dogs, known as the Baseball Aquatic Retrieval Korps, or BARK, quickly became an attraction on their own.

But the Portie doesn’t need paid work; he’ll happily do most anything you want. The dogs do very well at obedience, agility and other canine sports, as well as more people-based activities such as boating, hiking and helping the kids chase a soccer ball. The problem won't be finding things for your dog to do, but rather finding time and energy to keep your dog busy. Don't bring a Portie into your family unless you have plenty of both to spare.

Portuguese Water Dogs weigh anywhere between 35 and 60 pounds and have a wavy to curly coat that comes in a number of colors with or without white markings. Black and brown dogs are the most common; white is the least common. Their curly coats, somewhat more loosely coiled than a Poodle's, don't shed much, but left untrimmed, will continue to grow indefinitely. Expect to brush the dog thoroughly at least weekly and have him professionally clipped every other month.

What about allergies? The jury’s still out. The Portie, like many dogs with coats like the poodle, may be better tolerated by people with allergies, especially mild ones. Do understand, though, that there’s truly no such thing as a dog that will not cause any allergies.

The Portie is a wonderful family dog and typically great with children, although all child-pet interaction should be supervised by adults. Also, because the dog can be rambunctious and some fall under the “big dog” category, they may be too much for toddlers.

Give your Portie plenty of exercise and he'll be happy in an apartment, a small suburban home, or a vast country estate. Just don't expect him to handle being alone in the backyard. If you get a Portuguese Water Dog, make him a member of your family, not an outdoor dog.

7 Tips to Bring Home a Healthy Portuguese Water Dog Puppy

  1. Don’t ever, ever, ever buy a puppy from a pet store. You’re more likely to get an unhealthy, unsocialized and difficult to housetrain puppy and will be supporting the cruelty of high-volume puppy mills.
  2. Start your search for a good breeder on the Web site of the Portuguese Water Dog Club of America, which maintains a referral list for breeders. Choose one who has agreed to be bound by the club's Code of Ethics, which prohibits its members from selling puppies to pet stores and outlines the responsibilities of its member breeders to the dogs they produce and the people who buy them.
  3. Ask your breeder to show you written documentation from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) clearing your puppy's parents of hip dysplasia. Each dog used in breeding should also have his or her eyes examined annually and the results reported to the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF).
  4. Do not purchase a puppy from a breeder who cannot provide you with written documentation that the parents were cleared of health problems that affect the breed. Having the dogs "vet checked" is not a substitute for genetic health testing, and any breeder who says her lines are free of all these problems or that they're not a concern, is either lying or knows almost nothing about Portuguese Water Dogs. Look for your puppy elsewhere.
  5. Don't hesitate to consider an adult dog, although you'll rarely find a PWD in a shelter or rescue. Because many health and behavior defects hide until maturity, you can avoid both problems by adopting an adult PWD (or Portie mix) from a rescue group. 
  6. Puppy or adult, take your PWD to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot visible problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.
  7. Make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.

Health Issues Common to Portuguese Water Dogs

Portuguese Water Dogs are at risk of hip dysplasia, a crippling disorder of the hip socket that requires costly surgery to treat and often leaves the dog stricken with arthritis later in life.

Additionally, the breed can be affected by a number of genetic eye abnormalities. One eye problem, microphthalmia, can be diagnosed with an eye exam at the age of 8 weeks, so have your puppy examined for this condition if his breeder hasn't already done so. These results should also be reported to CERF.

Another eye disease that can affect PWDs, progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), has a genetic screening test available through Optigen, and the puppy's parents should have been tested. Testing forms and additional information are found on the PWDCA's Web site.

A rare condition known as GM1, which causes a fatal build-up of toxins in the nerve cells of puppies, was discovered in the Portuguese Water Dog. Through the determined efforts of the breed club, a DNA test was developed, and no affected puppies have been born for several years. Under no circumstances should you obtain a puppy from a breeder who cannot provide you with written documentation of his parents' GM1 status.

Other diseases that can affect the breed and for which the PWDCA recommends genetic screening include heart, elbow, knee and thyroid problems, as well as a condition known as sebaceous adenitis, an inflammation of the sebaceous glands that leads to hair loss and skin disease.

There are other conditions that may affect the Portuguese Water Dog for which there are no screening tests, such as gastrointestinal disorders, epilepsy and allergies. Your puppy's breeder should be willing – in fact eager – to go over the health histories of his parents and their close relatives and discuss how prevalent those particular health concerns are in his lines.

Condition Risk Profile Cost to Diagnose and Treat
Hip Dysplasia
Medium $1,500-$6,000
Addison's Disease High $1,000-$5,000
Follicular Dysplasia High $200-$500
Estimates based on claims paid by Embrace Pet Insurance


Pet Insurance for Portuguese Water Dogs

Pet insurance for Portuguese Water Dogs costs more than for mixed breed dogs. This is because Portuguese Water Dogs are more likely than mixed breed dogs to make claims for hereditary conditions that are expensive to treat.

Embrace pet insurance plans offer full coverage for all breed-specific conditions (excluding those that are pre-existing) to which Portuguese Water Dogs are susceptible. The best time to get pet insurance for your Portuguese Water Dog is when he’s a healthy puppy. You can’t predict what will happen in the future, and pet insurance is the one thing you can’t get when you need it the most.