The Portuguese Water Dog worked on fishing boats all along Portugal’s coasts. This well-balanced working dog was prized by the fishermen as a working companion and guard dog. He lived on the boats where he was taught to herd fish into nets, to retrieve lost tackle or broken nets, and to act as a courier from ship to ship or ship to shore. The advancement in technology to motorized boats and ship to shore radios have replaced many of the essential tasks the Portuguese Water Dog was asked to do.
These tasks required the dogs to be excellent swimmers and seafarers. Dogs were capable of diving underwater to retrieve fishing gear and to prevent the escape of fish from the nets. Constant swimming and working with the fishermen accounted for the remarkable muscular development of their hindquarters. As noted in the breed standard, this dog of exceptional intelligence and loyal companionship served its master well. Our standard states: “pasterns are long and strong” and “metatarsus long…” This structure helps the breed to be an efficient and productive mover in the water.
The first written description of the Portuguese Water dog is dated 1297, and concerns a monk’s report of a dying sailor who had been brought out of the sea by a dog that had a “black coat of rough hair, cut to the first rib and with a tuft on the tip of the tail.” Due to this description, many early writings referred to the breed as the “Lion Dog.” Even today, you will still find the breed in one of two acceptable clips; the Lion Clip or the Retriever Clip.
The Portuguese Water Dog is smart, energetic, loving, mouthy, and needs a lot of attention and training. In fact, channeling the stamina, intelligence, and exuberance of the dynamic PWD is highly rewarding (although a noteworthy challenge for any dog fancier). As with all Working breeds, having a place and responsibilities in the home makes for a happy PWD. Their favorite spot will always be by their master’s side.
You can find this breed competing in most all dog sports; agility, obedience, rally, scent, tracking, dock diving, fast track, fly ball, barn hunt, freestyle, carting, trick dog, parkour, weight pull, and herding. PWDs have been trained and certified as Search and Rescue Dogs. Many of you may recall “Dutch” and his owner/trainer who worked the World Trade Center aftermath. Dutch was cross-trained for live and cadaver search, making him an extremely valuable asset during those trying days.
The PWDCA has its own sanctioned water trials that mimic many of the jobs they were once prized for in Portugal. It is an amazing sight to see our dogs still performing what were once vital functions for the fisherman. We encourage anyone interested in our breed, or in judging, to attend a water trial to understand the importance of the proper structure needed to complete these important tasks. Dates and locations can be found at PWDCA.org.