Portuguese Water Dog Breed

Portuguese Water Dog Splashing in Puddles
  • Other names:
  • Cao De Agua
  • Cao De Agua Portugues
  • Cao De Agua Algarvio

Documented along the coasts of Portugal as early as the 1200's, the Portuguese Water Dog is a rare breed. If you are lucky enough to get your hands on one of these strong, hard working canines, you will be rewarded with a devoted companion whose spirited, friendly nature shines through with every activity. We recommend this breed for families or owners with active lifestyles since they have been known to become problematic if bored or lonely. Other highlights of this breed? A hypoallergenic, non shedding coat, affinity for other pets and ease in training.

Portuguese Water Dog Breed Details

Breed Specs
Purebred10-14 yrs.17-22 in.35-60 lbs
  • Friendliness
  • Overall
  • Family Friendly
  • Kid Friendly
  • Pet Friendly
  • Stranger Friendly
  • Maintenance
  • Easy to Groom
  • Energy Level
  • Exercise Needs
  • General Health
  • Shedding Amount
  • Behavior
  • Barks / Howls
  • Easy to Train
  • Guard Dog
  • Playfulness
  • Watch Dog
  • Ownership
  • Apartment Friendly
  • Can Be Alone
  • Good for Busy Owners
  • Good for Novice Owners
  • Intelligence
* The more green the stronger the trait.

This strong, spirited breed is a member of the working dog group. Highly trainable, eager to please and devoted, they make excellent companions, exercise buddies and even therapy dogs. Although found in abundance along the Portuguese coasts, these dogs have made their way into the households and hearts of many countries-- even the Obamas are a fan of the breed, they have two! The breed is recommended for active families or individuals, with or without pets. The first and foremost requirement is that you have enough time to spend exercising and training them; a bored, lonely Portuguese Water Dog may develop behavior problems.

Consider the following facts about the Portuguese Water Dog before deciding upon this breed:


  • Great family pet
  • Usually lives harmoniously with other pets
  • Highly intelligent and trainable
  • Alert dog/watchdog
  • Friendly with visitors and new faces
  • Hypoallergenic
  • Excellent exercise buddy
  • Loyal, especially to the family "alpha"
  • Loves attention and spending time with you
  • Enjoys any outdoor activity, especially swimming!
  • Can work as a therapy dog


  • Tendency for behavioral problems if under exercised or lonely
  • Must have at least an hour of outdoor activity daily
  • Not an apartment dog
  • Not for sedentary lifestyles
  • Fenced yard is preferable
  • Not a guard dog
  • Moderate grooming maintenance is required

Portuguese Water Dog Breed Description

The Portuguese Water Dog has come to the attention of many potential owners due to former president Obama owning a pair-- Sunny and Bo-- but this best kept secret of Portugal has been a top choice in their home country for hundreds of years! This medium sized, robustly built working dog has a curly or wavy hypoallergenic coat that doesn't shed(a major draw for the breed). You often see this breed with a lion cut or a uniform clip, regardless, he will always possess an alert, penetrating stare. Owners feel like they truly connect with their PWD and understand the time and effort it takes to maintain one. Here's some Portuguese Water Dog info on breed intelligence, exercise needs and personality:

Intelligence- Portuguese Water Dogs' intelligence level is very, very high. They are eager to please and easily trained as long as you can devoted enough time to keeping them occupied; they may become more than a handful if bored. These dogs are most notable for working with fishermen, however, they make excellent therapy dogs.

Kids, Pets, Strangers- Whether you consult the Portuguese Water Dog wiki page, Dogs 101, or any breeder's page you will find all information is in agreement. This breed is great with children and is usually not problematic with other pets. PWDs are even friendly with strangers, especially if the owner is comfortable with them.

Exercise- This breed is keen for any and all adventures. Swimming, hiking, running, games-- your Portuguese can keep up with it all. That being said, plenty of daily exercise is a MUST; the breed is not recommended for low activity or sedentary people. A large yard or property is much preferable to apartment living since a bored, confined PWD can be destuctive.

Portuguese Water Dog Breed History

The modern Portuguese Water Dog is thought to be a descendant of the Poodle, Irish Water Spaniel and Blue Terrier; they do, indeed, share quite a few similarities of appearance and personality with the Poodle. Found along the coasts of Portugal for for hundreds of years, the breed can be verified there in 1297 by the writings of a monk who had witnessed the "lion dog" save a drowning man from the ocean. Cao de Agua or "Dog of Water" became the moniker of these dogs who excelled at working in water and quickly became fisherman's best friend. Herding fish into nets, retrieving nets and acting as a courier between ships were just a few of the breed's spectacular abilities even in frigidly cold waters.

Vasco Bensaude, a wealthy shipping magnate, is credited from saving the breed from extinction during the 1930s with the help of his stud Leao (who is considered the sire of the PWD as we now know it). Traditional fishing methods may have changed but the breed was saved as the first litter of Leaos was born in 1937. Portuguese Water Dog history is still developing in other countries, for instance, the breed didn't make it to America until the late 1950's and was not AKC recognized until 1981. Certainly such a remarkable dog will continue to increase in popularity.

Portuguese Water Dog Appearance

The Portuguese Water Dog may be only medium in size but they lack nothing for their impressive appearance. Members of this breed are very sturdily built with strong bones and plenty of muscle, but they are not bulky-- rather, they appear to be capable of hard work and lots of stamina. The head is big and broad with large ears held close to the head. The medium sized eyes are round and set widely apart; it's important to note the "penetrating stare" they fix you with that make their alert, keen intelligence highly apparent. The strong muscular limbs of the Portuguese Water Dog end in webbed feet-- perfect for swimming! PWD tails are thick but not too long and make excellent rudders when they are in the water.

There are 2 Portuguese Water Dog coat types-- curly and wavy. Both types are hypoallergenic, single layered and thick. The curly is Poodle-like, with compact curls that aren't shiny, while the wavy coat is longer and does have a slight sheen to it. The hair can be black, white, brown or a combination of black or brown with white markings. The coat is often cut in 2 basic styles-- the lion clip and the working retriever clip. The lion clip is the characteristic PWD look where the midsection, hindlegs and muzzle is shaved but the rest of the body is kept long (including a plume at the tail's tip); the retriever clip is uniformly clipped over the whole body.

Portuguese Water Dog Coloring

This breed's coat basically involves 3 colors: black, white and brown. Brown Portuguese Water Dogs can be many different shades of brown from dark to chocolate. Solid Black or solid white Portuguese Water Dogs are also considered standard. It is also acceptable to have an individual with a mixture of black or brown hair with white markings as long as the white doesn't exceed 30%; most often these white markings are on the chin and chest. The most common color for the Portuguese Water Dog is the black and white.

Portuguese Water Dog Size

The Portuguese Water Dog size fits comfortably in the "medium" category, perhaps at the larger end of medium. Not too big, they certainly look solidly built with an athletically muscular body built for stamina-- although you may not be able to see it under the curly coat! For those wondering "How big do these dogs get when fully grown?", Portuguese Water Dog weight and height specs are as follows:

Average Adult Height

17-22 in
*Height is measured in inches from the front paws to the top of the shoulder while the dog is standing on all four legs.

Average Adult Weight

35-60 lbs

Portuguese Water Dog Variations

As a breed, the Portuguese Water Dog has few variations among individuals. Coat texture is the main variation and there are two types: curly and wavy. There is no preference as per the breed standard and in both types the hair is strong and thick over the whole body; neither type . The Portuguese Water Dog with wavy coat does have a slight shine to the coat, whereas the curly type does not. Although the the Portuguese Water Dog is not short haired, they are considered hypoallergenic.

There is no such separate breed as a "Miniature Portuguese Water Dog (or Toy, or Teacup)" and breeders advertising them have just bred smaller individuals or outcrossed a PWD with a smaller breed. These small PWDs may have a higher likelihood of health issues so, if you insist on a Mini, make sure you choose a reputable breeder that can answer questions about the two parents and offer proof/certifications of health.

Portuguese Water Dog Temperament

The temperament of the Portuguese Water Dog is, quite simply, excellent all around. They bond closely with the owner or family, especially one person, yet are independent enough to not be "velcro dogs". That's not to say they enjoy being alone-- they certainly don't and will become destructive nuisances if frequently bored and lonely. Luckily, they are very, very intelligent with a great memory; combine this with their spirited, eager to please nature and you have a dog that's pretty easy to train. Don't take this for granted and neglect to start training early-- they need plenty of mental and physical activity to stay well behaved. Jumping is a tendency with this breed so you should teach them from puppyhood that this is not a desired way to greet new friends.

The Portuguese Water Dog's personality is friendly with children, other dogs, non canine pets-- even strangers! An introduction from the owner will do, then they will amuse you with their desire for attention and petting. The Portuguese Water Dog's traits and characteristics, especially his alert intelligence and loyalty, make him a good watchdog; he will be moderately protective but not aggressive. Due to their working history, they are easily convinced to do any task-- they even make awesome therapy dogs. Basically, if you choose this breed you will always have a partner that is down for any activity or adventure! They certainly prefer adventures to lazing around on the couch.

Portuguese Water Dog and Children

Potential owners often ask, "Are Portuguese Water Dogs good family pets?"--or more specifically, "Are Portuguese Water Dogs good with kids?" The answer to both questions is a resounding yes! PWDs make enthusiastic playmates for kids, especially if they're raised together.

A note of warning, though: these dogs can be pretty rambunctious, and might unintentionally hurt small children if the play gets too rough. It's best if PWDs are supervised by adults when playing with small kids or toddlers.

Portuguese Water Dog Photos

Below are pictures and images of the Portuguese Water Dog.

White & Brown Portuguese Water Dog
Wet Portuguese Water Dog
Black Portuguese Water Dog
Portuguese Water Dog Splashing in Puddles

Living Requirements

Owning a Portuguese Water dog is such an exciting experience, but not without responsibilities. They will require a moderate amount of grooming-- brushing, bathing, etc. The coat doesn't shed so brushing is extremely important to keep the coat and skin healthy and free of mats! Also, you should expect to spend a good portion each day of exercising her both mentally and physically. She will need an hour of outdoor activity and continuous training and games.

She may bark to alert you to things she deems necessary but this is usually not an out of control trait unless she is under-exercised, lonely and bored. Also, due to her desire to be around her human companions she will want to live indoors-- a large property or fenced yard is certainly a major plus! This breed gets along with other dogs and pets but a fenced yard is still required if you plan for your pet to spend time outdoors unsupervised.

So here's what you've all been waiting for... most potential owners wonder "Are Portuguese Water Dogs hypoallergenic?". This breed is, indeed, hypoallergenic (or as allergy free as any dog can be). They don't shed and will need plenty of brushing to remove the dead hairs.

Random Details

A couple fun facts about the breed:

  1. Matisse, a Portuguese Water Dog from Canada, has won the most titles in United States dog show history. He has 237 "Best in Show" accolades under his belt-- not a surprise due to the PWD's eager to please nature.

  2. The former First Family, the Obamas, have two Portuguese Water Dogs named Sunny and Bo.

  3. The earliest depiction of the breed was in 1297 by a monk who wrote of a dog with curly hair and a lion cut rescuing a drowning sailor-- who else could this be besides the Portuguese Water Dog?

  4. There are two specific Portuguese names for the two coat types: the curly haired type is referred to as the "Cao de Agua de Pelo Encaradolado" while the longer, wavy variant is the "Cao de Agua de Pelo Ondulado".

Portuguese Water Dog Health

Very detailed information is available regarding the potential health conditions of the Portuguese Water Dog. The Portuguese Water Dog Club of America does an excellent job detailing these conditions that include the following:

  • Hip Dysplasia is an improperly formed hip joint that results in pain and inflammation
  • Hair loss due to malformation of hair follicles
  • Eye Problems such as: Progressive Retinal Atrophy, Persistent Pupillary Membrane, entropion (inward eyelids), ectropion (outward eyelids), distichiasis (abnormally placed eyelashes) cataracts and abnormally small eyes.
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases including: Irritable Bowel, Colitis, Megaesophagus, Hemorrhagic Gastroenteritis and Lymphangiectasia
  • GM-1 Storage Disease is a metabolic disease that can lead to brain dysfunction including seizures and changes of temperament
  • Addison's Disease is a adrenal disorder that can eventually be fatal if left untreated. Symptoms include weight loss, vomiting, weakness and hair loss.
  • Juvenile Dilated Cardiomyopathy causes sudden death of the puppy due to heart defects