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Portuguese Water Dog Breed Information: Facts, Traits, Pictures & More


Last Updated: August 3, 2023 | 16 min read | Leave a Comment

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Are you on the search for your forever doggo? Whether you’ve settled on the Portuguese Water Dog or you’ve just stumbled across this handsome fella and you want to find out more, you’ve come to the right place.

In this guide, you’ll learn everything all prospective Portuguese moms and dads need to know. We’ll start with his fun personality to how much he loves water (it’s a lot if you couldn’t guess!) And his nutritional needs to how to style his coat, and much, much more.

The Portuguese Water Dog, affectionately known as the PWD or Water Dog, is a rare sight in America. But thanks to a PWD named Bo Obama, the former First Dog of the United States, the breed is becoming increasingly popular. He is loving, fun, and adventurous. But he is a very outgoing and full-on doggo that some families find too much to take on. So, let’s find out if you and this breed are a perfect match!

Breed Overview
    • weight iconWeight35-60 Pounds
    • height iconHeight17-23 Inches
    • lifespan iconLifespan11-13 Years
    • color iconColorsBlack, White, Brown
  • Child Friendliness
  • Canine Friendliness
  • Training Difficulty
  • Grooming Upkeep
  • Breed Health
  • Exercise Needs
  • Puppy Costs


Working Dog on a Fishing Boat
Portuguese Water Dogs were bred hundreds of years ago to help Portuguese fishers.

The Portuguese Water Dog hails from, you guessed it, across the pond in Portugal. He hails from the dogs favored by Portuguese fishermen centuries ago. It’s not entirely clear when he first came into existence, but the breed is several hundred years old. It is believed that he shares the same ancestors as the Poodle because of their similar appearance and the fact they love water.

In his native lands, he is known as the Cao de Agua, which literally translates to “dog of the water.” His role was to herd fish into his master’s nets, retrieve gear that had fallen overboard, and swim from the boat to shore with messages and light equipment. Portuguese fishermen sailed wherever the cod was. This took the PWD from Portugal to Newfoundland, all the way up to the freezing waters of Iceland.

Fast forward to the 20th century, when fishermen no longer needed their canine companions because their boats were modernized with technology. Meaning the PWD was out of a job. This meant that numbers dwindled to the point of near extinction. Thankfully, a wealthy dog lover named Vasco Bensuade made it his mission to save the beloved breed.

Bensuade set up a breed club and set out the breed standard. The PWD made its way to America in the latter half of the 20th century. The Portuguese Water Dog Club of America was established in 1972. At the time, there were only 12 known PWDs in America. But just ten years later their numbers increased to approximately 650. The American Kennel Club (AKC) fully recognized the breed in 1983.

The Portuguese Water Dog was a relatively rare sight in America until former President Barack Obama took office. He brought with him his two gorgeous PWDs, Bo and Sunny, and the world saw just how amazing the breed is. Since then, his popularity has increased. He now ranks around 50th place out of 197 breeds in the AKC’s canine popularity contest.


Curly Haired Dog in a Field
This incredibly friendly breed is approachable and warm.

This breed craves human companionship. This personality trait hails from the close bond he formed with his fisherman master. Portuguese Water Dogs are generally outgoing and love all humans, especially their family. Some tend to form a close bond with their primary caregiver more so than other family members. This is great for training but can sometimes make some family members jealous. Don’t take it personally; it’s just in his genes!

Despite craving human companionship, he is relatively independent, too. Rarely do these two traits come paw in paw. Meaning that you can leave him alone for a few hours at a time without having to worry about him becoming too anxious. This independent nature is a big appeal to those who like well-balanced canines.

He is eager and enthusiastic in everything he does, and his happy-go-lucky nature is infectious for sure. Most PWDs are always up for playing games in the yard with their family or going out for daily adventures making new friends. He also LOVES water, and he’ll grin from ear to ear when you get the water hose out! He also loves to snuggle with his family too, and this big ball of fluff makes a fab hot water bottle.

His mind is always on the go, so if you want him to be well-behaved, he needs to be entertained throughout the day. As you can imagine, this boat puller loves to tug and pull things, including tablecloths off tables and food from counters. This trait is known as counter surfing, and you should make an effort to teach him this is naughty from a pup. He is also known to stand on his back legs and hop when he gets excited! Overall, he is a uniquely comical canine for sure!

Size & Appearance

Black and White Dog Laying on a Boat
PWDS are average in size, weighing a maximum of 60 pounds.

Portuguese Water Dogs are medium-sized dogs. At maturity, he weighs between 35 to 60 pounds and measures between 17 and 23 inches from paw to shoulder. Like most breeds, the females tend to be smaller than the males. Overall, PWDs are robust in build and hardy-looking dogs. This is what allows them to work all day. In and out of the water, in both freezing and warm conditions.

It’s easy to see that he is similar in appearance to the more popular standard-sized Poodle, and he often gets mistaken for them. The telling characteristic is his large, broad head. His eyes are medium in size, and his ears are heart-shaped and stop on the same level as his top lip. Portuguese Water Dogs have hind legs that are extremely strong and almost surprisingly powerful.

His tail is thick and tapering, much like the tail of a Labrador Retriever. When he is alert, he holds it upwards in a ring shape. His tail allows him to steer himself in the water. His feet are also webbed, which gives him extra stamina in the water. He is longer than he is tall, which gives him more surface in the water to aid with swimming. Plus, his chest is very deep, giving him extra lung capacity. This dude is built for the water like no other!

Coat & Colors

Black Portie Dog With Lion Haircut
The Lion Haircut is one of the popular haircut options for this breed.

The breed has a thick and profuse coat of lush hair, his most distinctive feature. It covers his whole body evenly. He has no undercoat, which means he sheds much less than other dogs. Although no dog is completely hypoallergenic, he is on the hypoallergenic dog list. Meaning he is much more tolerable for allergy sufferers. This is reportedly why former President Obama chose his dog, Bo.

There are two Portuguese Water Dog coat varieties. The first is the curly type, characterized by compact, cylindrical curls with little shine. The other is the wavy type, and the hair falls in gentle waves with some sheen. If you are looking to show your pup, there is no preference for the coat type.

Two types of haircuts are acceptable. The first is the Lion Clip, which is unique to the breed. As soon as the coat grows long, his coat is clipped from the lower abdomen to his hindquarters, as well as the majority of his tail. Leaving only a tuft of hair at the tip, much like that of a lion’s tail. The other cut is the Retriever Clip. This is where the entire coat is clipped approximately one inch in length to follow the dog’s natural line.

There are three main colors in the PWD breed: black, white, and various shades of brown. Some coats are particolored, either in black or brown with splashes of white. Any amount of white is allowed, but in their homeland, the white color should not exceed more than 30% of their body. White is permissible only if the nose, mouth, and eyelids are dark in color, meaning that he is not suffering from albinism. Many PWDs have a bluish tone to their skin rather than black.

Exercise Requirements

Running Black Dog With Long Tail
This breed is highly energetic, requiring about 60 minutes of daily exercise.

This breed is very energetic and loves to play, play, play. So, if you are looking for a couch potato, this guy is not the one for you! He needs at least 60 minutes of exercise every day, and it needs to be intense if you want to wear him out. This is one of the main reasons he is not suited to every family because many cannot keep up with him.

Without intense daily exercise, he will quickly become bored and frustrated. His retrieving nature will bubble to the surface. You’ll notice that he will start to tug at everything, and chew whatever he can sink his teeth into. Create healthy chewing habits as soon as you welcome him into your home by providing him with plenty of different chew toys. This can be one of the biggest challenges Portuguese Water Dog owners face, so you need to ensure you can meet his exercise needs.

Destructive habits are also commonly a signal of boredom which can lead to anxiety as well. It is best to keep your dog exercised to keep him happy, healthy, and out of trouble.

He is very athletic and curious, so like many working dogs, a leisurely stroll around the block every day will not do it for the PWD. His activities need to be fun like he is, with lots of variation to spice things up. Think agility courses, swimming in the local lake, and long weekend hikes up the mountains. They love spending time with you, so why not enjoy that time doing something you both love outdoors?

Living Conditions

Black Dog With White Mouth by Water
PWDs can thrive in most living conditions, but space for running or swimming is ideal.

The Portuguese Water Dog is an adaptable pooch just as long as his needs are being met. He is a medium-sized dog, but apartment living may not be the best option. If you do live in an apartment, you need to keep him entertained to prevent destructive boredom and cabin fever from setting in. He has a loud, sharp bark that booms. This is another consideration to think about if you live in an apartment. Although he is not an excessive barker, everyone nearby will know about it when he does bark.

Ideally, his home should have access to a private yard for him to stretch his legs and play in between exercise sessions. His yard should be secured to prevent him from wandering off in search of water or yummy treats. Or to prevent him from chasing the neighbor’s cat, which will keep him entertained. If you’ve got a swimming pool, you need to be prepared to share it with him. It would be cruel to ban him from it!

Most PWDs get along well with humans of all shapes and sizes, and will happily slot themselves into family life. Most are fond of children, but due to his inviting teddy bear appearance, children are eager to love him more aggressively than they should. Since this breed may not consider this acceptable, you should discourage your children from roughhousing with him.

Be cautious when introducing a new dog to your family members. It’s important to supervise dogs and children when playing together, especially when the dog is as large and boisterous as the PWD. He is generally friendly with strangers, and visitors will always be welcomed with a warm smile.

The Portuguese Water Dog also gets along well with other animals, just as long as he is socialized well as a pup. So, if you are looking for a canine addition to your multi-pet household, this guy makes a great contender. The only animal he might struggle to live with is fish. So Koi fish lovers aren’t going to be a great match for this guy.


Black Dog Jumping in Water
Though they are relatively easy to train, early training and socialization are best for ideal results.

The Portuguese Water Dog is a very intelligent and submissive dog breed. This makes him relatively easy to train, and he’ll pick up commands swiftly. But like all dogs, he needs guidance and early training. The best way to train the PWD is to use the positive reinforcement training method. By rewarding him with praise, toys, and food, when he has done good, he is bound to repeat the behavior. He will sulk if you scold him.

Like many working dog breeds, he also has an independent streak that can sometimes get in the way of obedience. Thankfully, his eagerness to please his master usually wins. But this independent streak and his intensely energetic nature might be too much for first-time dog owners to handle. To overcome his sometimes stubborn streak, always make training sessions fun.

For your PWD to transform into the polite pooch that we have described, he needs to be socialized well as a pup. Working with a responsible trainer from an early age will go a long way to ensuring a polite pooch. As soon as you bring your pup home, you need to get out there and mix him with as many different dogs and humans as possible. This will not only teach him basic doggy manners but will also build his confidence. That being said, he may not enjoy the wide-open nature of dog parks, so keep him on leash until you know his personality and level of training well.


Black and White Dog Standing in Front of Trees
Even with possible breed-specific conditions, PWDs can live healthy lives when made a priority by the owner.

This breed is relatively healthy, and typically enjoys an average lifespan of 11 to 13 years. As a Portuguese Water Dog mom or dad, the responsibility falls on you for him to lead a healthy lifestyle. Provide him with daily, intense exercise, feed him the best nutrition within your budget, and keep up to date with health checks. Again, working with a top-quality breeder can ensure better health.

Like all purebred dogs, the Portuguese Water Dog is susceptible to a particular set of health conditions over others. And these are a great starting point when it comes to breed research and health. Your PWD might suffer from none, some, or all of these, or completely different conditions altogether. When in doubt, always get in contact with your vet. Here are the most common health conditions to affect the breed.

Eye Conditions

The Portuguese Water Dog is prone to a variety of eye conditions. The most common to look out for is progressive retinal atrophy (PRA). Essentially, this is the deterioration of the retina, which eventually causes complete vision loss. Signs of PRA include poor vision and apparent clumsiness. Night blindness is one of the first noticeable signs.

Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is a common health concern in medium-sized dogs and larger. This occurs when the joint develops rapidly or unevenly. Uneven growth means that the joint wears down much quicker as a result of additional wear and tear. Which causes painful mobility and eventually arthritis. Symptoms include struggling to stand, lay, or climb the stairs and general exercise intolerance.


This is sometimes known more simply as GM1. It is a storage disease that leads to problems with the central nervous system. Symptoms such as loss of coordination, lethargy, seizures, and behavior changes need to be acted upon with an immediate vet examination. Unfortunately, affected dogs rarely make it to one year of age. A responsible breeder will conduct a DNA test to identify the gene.

Juvenile Dilated Cardiomyopathy

This is an inherited disease that results in sudden death in puppies aged between five weeks and seven months. Unfortunately, there is no cure for this condition, and it cannot be tested for.


Black and White Dog With Leaf in Its Mouth
Be sure to feed dog food that is appropriate for your dog’s age.

The average Portuguese Water Dog will consume around three cups of food every day, split into at least two different meals. The amount you feed him will depend on his age, size, and energy levels. If your PWD is working the shores all day, you can expect he’ll need more than this to fuel his shift.

Always read the kibble packaging, as this will offer you tailored advice for your pup. If your pooch regularly leaves food in the bowl, you are likely feeding him too much.

Always feed your PWD age-appropriate food. This is particularly important when he is a puppy. Puppy kibbles provide the extra fats and proteins he needs to grow into a healthy adult. Feeding your dog the best nutrition you can afford will go a long way to keeping him healthy. Avoid feeding him fatty, human foods because this increases the chances of canine obesity.


Happy Black Dog in the Sun
Minimal shedding makes PWDs attractive pets, but their coats do need some attention.

The Portuguese Water Dog has a dense, luscious coat that is easier to care for than it looks. He needs brushing two to three times a week to ensure that his locks are kept tangle and dirt-free. A slicker brush, or a soft-ended comb-type brush, is a great choice of tool to tame his curls and waves. When brushing him, take extra care to be gentle because he doesn’t have an undercoat that protects his skin.

Because the PWD has no undercoat, he sheds minimally throughout the year. Seasonal shedding is not a thing compared to other dogs like the Labrador Retriever. This is great news! But his water-loving personality means that he’ll replace the loose hair with mud splashes and soaked carpets. So be sure to keep towels handy!

The PWD will need bathing once every six weeks or so. Although he will need rinsing every time he enters the water to remove dirt, slime, chemicals, and salt that can wreak havoc with his skin and coat. Don’t use shampoo every time because you will strip his coat of his natural oils. Use a hydrating or conditioning shampoo that will go a long way to tame his curls and prevent matting. Wash, rinse, and dry him thoroughly because damp coats and soap suds can also irritate his skin.

Clean his ears once a week to prevent bacterial infections from occurring. Use a doggy-friendly ear-cleaning product or a warm, damp cloth. You’ll need to clean his pearly whites twice a week to keep his breath fresh and to keep periodontal diseases at bay. Trim his nails once or twice a month, or whenever they tap loudly on the floor. Many dog owners don’t realize just how painful long nails can be.

Breeders & Puppy Costs

Puppy Portie Posing Outdoors
Expect to pay at least $1,500 for this rare breed in the United States.

The Portuguese Water Dog is a relatively rare dog breed in America, but it is becoming more popular. So, depending on where you live, you will probably have to travel to find a responsible breeder to work with. The average price of a PWD puppy from a good-quality breeder starts around $2,500. A great place to start your search is on the  AKC’s list of PWD breeders.

There are several things to look out for to determine a good quality breeder from a bad one. A responsible breeder will ensure that you meet them and the puppies in person. Always at their home or breeding environment. They will ask you questions and be knowledgeable about the breeding process. They will also supply you with information, any relevant registration documents, and health certificates.

A poor quality breeder, or worse, a puppy mill, will pile on the pressure to make a sale. They will lure you in with lower prices too. They’ll refuse for you to meet them at home and suggest meeting somewhere public, such as a parking lot. Their puppies will not have been health tested, and they are likely to be uncared for, unloved, and unsocialized. Please do your part for doggy welfare and never work with irresponsible breeders.

Costs do not stop with the initial puppy price. Before committing to any dog, you need to factor in the other initial setup costs, as well as the ongoing costs of owning a dog. He’ll need everything a dog needs, such as beds, crates, toys, and vet care. As well as food, insurance, grooming, etc. It all adds up, and you need to be financially able to care for him. Plus, this guy would appreciate a pool to play in if you haven’t already got one!

Rescues & Shelters

Black Portie Wearing a Maple Leaf Bandana Next to Lake
You might be lucky to find a PWD at a local shelter, so check there first!

For some families, welcoming a puppy into their life is not the right option. Either because of tighter finances regarding initial puppy pricing or because training a puppy is impossible due to work schedules. But that’s okay! If this is the case, why not consider adopting a Portuguese Water Dog from a local shelter? Even if buying a puppy is an option, adopting a dog should always be a consideration.

With so many dogs looking for their forever homes, head out to your local rescue shelters and speak to the staff there about your preferences. They might know of one in the local area or be able to put you on a register for the next PWD that comes in. Alternatively, you can head over to the Portuguese Water Dog Club of America’s Rescue and Relocation program. These guys work specifically to rehome PWDs in need, which increases your chance of finding your soulmate sooner.

As Family Pets

  • The Portuguese Water Dog is a bubbly and bright dog.
  • He is a working breed that requires at least 60 minutes of daily exercise.
  • Exercise should be varied and intense.
  • He is a natural water dog and loves to splash around in the local lake.
  • The PWD is super intelligent and biddable.
  • This means he will be a “mostly” obedient pup!
  • He can have an independent streak, so watch out for this!
  • He can become unruly if not stimulated throughout the day.
  • This means he’ll chew and tug everything in sight.
  • He can be lots of fun if you direct his energy into entertaining games.
  • The PWD is affectionate and loving with his family, especially with his main caregiver.
  • He likes human companionship but can happily spend a few hours by himself.
  • PWDs are more well-balanced than other breeds in this sense.
  • He is friendly and welcoming to strangers.
  • At the same time, he has a loud bark that he’ll use to announce their arrival.
  • Most PWDs get along well with children and other animals.
  • This means he’s suitable for all types of active families.

Final Thoughts

The Portuguese Water Dog was once very rare in America. But thanks to careful and caring breeding, he is becoming more popular. Especially since his breed found itself in the spotlight thanks to Bo, the former First Dog of the United States. Everyone saw just how family-friendly and caring he was and just how fun he was to have around.

But dog ownership comes with responsibility. And hopefully, after reading this breed guide, you now fully understand what it takes to be a PWD mom or dad. The intensely energetic personality brings with it problems if not placed in the right home. But for those that can offer the mental and physical stimulation and the fun environment he craves, will find the perfect pooch in the Portuguese Water Dog.

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