The Portuguese Water Dog
A version of this article appeared in the February 2013 edition of SHOWSIGHT.
In its corporation document, the first stated purpose of the Portuguese Water Dog Club of America is “To recognize the Portuguese as a working water dog that possess the appearance, soundness, temperament, natural ability, and personality as described in the breed standard and to do all possible to advance and promote the perfection of these qualities in the responsible breeding of purebred Portuguese Water Dogs.”
People are attracted to the Portuguese Water Dog because of its utilitarian nature, non-shedding coat, moderate size, and overall appearance. It could be considered a Jack-of-all-Trades, but unlike the rest of the saying, it can master many. Its intelligence and demanding nature can be difficult for an owner unwilling or unable to devote enough time to exercising the mind and body of their Portuguese Water Dog. Being independent thinkers, Portuguese Water Dogs respond well to consistent and positive reinforcement and to an owner who is firm yet gentle and who takes the lead as head of the house. They are true working dogs, but at the same time are affectionate and playful companions, often exhibiting comic mischief in their antics. Maintaining the link to their historic duties, they are also often good watch dogs for their homes and alert to visitors, whether expected or unexpected.
The structure as defined by the AKC Breed Standard describes an athletic dog able to do a day’s work with the fishermen of Portugal. But this structure also allows the breed to do well in many areas of competition. In addition to Conformation titles, Portuguese Water Dogs have attained, and continue to attain, titles in the highest levels of Agility, Obedience, Rally-O, and Tracking competitions and, of course, water work as demonstrated in the water trials sponsored by the Portuguese Water Dog Club of America to showcase the breed’s historic purpose. Best of all, a large percentage of Conformation Champions also have advanced level Companion Event and PWDCA Water Trial titles to their credit. To attain accomplishments in all these areas of competition, the Portuguese Water Dog must be true to its Standard; a dog of balance and strength, intelligence and drive.
In understanding the written Standard, one needs to envision the words coming to life on land and, perhaps even more so, in the water. When evaluating the major characteristics and fine points of the Portuguese Water Dog, one should not only use their eyes to see the dog; more importantly, they should use their hands to feel the dog under their coat. An experienced groomer can hide faults while an inexperienced groomer may cause the appearance of a fault where one does not exist. A judge needs to determine the true structure of the dog, and that is by a hands-on examination. As the Portuguese Water Dog is a true working breed, it should be judged as such. After viewing a profile for overall appearance, one judging a PWD should approach the dog from the front to proceed with the evaluation.
During the hands-on examination, one should find an impressive head. In profile, the skull should be slightly longer than the muzzle. It should be broad and well domed, with a slight depression in the middle. The forehead is prominent, with a central furrow extending two thirds of the distance from the stop to the occiput, which is well defined. The stop should be well defined. The muzzle should be substantial and wider at the base than at the nose. The nose should be large. The teeth should meet in a scissors or level bite and should be large and strong; able to do strenuous retrieval tasks in and out of the water. The Portuguese Water Dog’s eyes are medium-sized, set well apart, roundish in appearance and neither prominent nor sunken, and set a bit obliquely, giving an attentive and, at times, penetrating expression.
When looking into the dog’s face, if the eyes give a “startled” impression, they are too round. Eyes that are too round cannot be set obliquely and are not as the Standard defines. The eyes should be black or various shades of brown, with darker eyes preferred. Feel the ear leather. Pursuant to the Standard, the ear leather should be thin and heart-shaped. The ears are placed on the skull set well above the line of the eyes and do not reach below the lower jaw. The ears lie close to the head, to help protect the ear canals from the water when swimming. These aspects of the head as described in the written Standard cannot be determined without hands-on examination.
When swimming, the dog uses its tail as a rudder; therefore, the tail should be powerful and thickly based. The tail tapers to its tip and is set slightly below the line of the back. It should be flexible, and reach no longer than to the hock. A hands-on examination should be used to confirm these characteristics of the tail. When the dog is alert, the tail should be held in a loose ring, the front of which should not reach forward of the loin. To present this impression when being stacked in the ring, the handler may touch the dog’s tail to encourage it to hold it as if alert.
One should find a dog of moderate size, with strong, substantial but not coarse, bone. Again, this is best determined by hands-on examination. In males, their height at the withers is expected to range from 20-23 inches, with the ideal considered to be 22 inches. Females are a bit smaller, their height to range between 17-21 inches, with the ideal considered 19 inches. PWDs should look and feel like the athletic dogs and swimmers they are or could be.
To be able to do the water tasks that had been expected of them by the historic fishermen of Portugal, the breed requires a strong, athletic body. The slightly off-square body with well-inclined, strongly muscled shoulders in balance with a rear of similar or equal angulation and muscle allow for a well-balanced dog with unimpeded movement. Grooming can disguise both correct and incorrect structure. The hands-on examination is the only way to know that what you see is what is really there.
A shoulder that is too straight will impede the dog in completing its water tasks, especially delivering retrieval items to hand and boarding the boat in deep water. To aid in swimming, the PWD’s feet are round and rather flat, with soft webbing between the toes. Their pasterns and hocks should be long and strong. A straight, short, strong neck balances the body and head, providing the strength needed to do its tasks. The neck should not be long and elegant, as such a neck, while it could give a “pretty” appearance, is incorrect. A long neck would not have the strength needed to pull fishing nets in rough waters or retrieve small or large equipment that fell overboard while swimming against the currents to return to the boat.
Likewise, a neck that is too short is also incorrect. A neck which is too short restricts the dog’s ability to breathe properly while swimming and performing its retrieval tasks. The Portuguese Water Dog’s chest must be broad and deep, reaching to the elbow, with well-sprung ribs to allow for large lung capacity. Their abdomen should be held up in a graceful line, exemplifying the dog’s athletic build. A long rib cage and short loin produce the level, firm topline and broad, strong back, which add to the athletic ability and appearance of the breed. The croup is well formed and only slightly inclined.
When evaluating the gait of the dog, observe the way it walks to position to extend into a trot. The dog should have short, lively steps while walking. The trot on the down and back and around the ring should be forward striding and well balanced.
Imagine an Olympic speed or distance swimmer depicted as a dog. That is the impression with which the proper Portuguese Water Dog should leave you.
The PWD coat may appear “glamorous” or “cute,” but to the contrary, it is utilitarian. It is a coat of healthy, thickly planted hair that grows continually, with no undercoat, mane or ruff, and requires regular bathing, clipping, combing, and brushing. It readily sheds water to dry quickly. The breed is shown in two clips, the lion clip and the retriever clip; neither of which should be given preference when being judged. In the lion clip, the muzzle and hind quarters of the dog, from the last rib back, are clipped very short, except that the hair at the end of the tail is left full length to form a flag or plume.
In the retriever clip, the entire coat is scissored or clipped to follow the outline of the dog, leaving a short blanket of coat no longer than one inch in length, giving the dog a natural appearance with a smooth, unbroken line, except the hair at the end of the tail is left full length to form a flag or plume. The coat varies from a wavy that can be quite straight with a slight sheen to a tight curly that may be somewhat lusterless.
Degrees of wavy and curly exist between the straight-wavy and the tight-curly. There should be no preference given to either the wavy or curly coat when being judged. The PWD coat may be black, various shades of brown, or white. It may also be combinations of black with white or brown with white. All are equally acceptable. The skin on dogs with black, white, or black and white coats is bluish in color. The nose, lips, and eye rims should have full pigmentation.
The Portuguese Water Dog should leave one with an impression of handsome strength and true working ability.
The use of the term “hands-on” examination has been repeated to distraction within this article. It has been repeated because it is so important in judging this breed. Many phrases contained herein have been paraphrased or taken directly from the written Standard.