Portuguese Water Dog Overview

Dog Breed:
Portuguese Water Dog
Breed Group:
Working Group
Athletic, affectionate, intelligent, independent, and excitable.
17-23 inches
35-60 pounds
Life Span:
11-13 years
Coat Colors:
Black and brown, sometimes with patches of white
Area of Origin:
Best For:
Active families/homes with a love of outdoor pursuits/interest in grooming and training
Adult Food:
Best Dog Food for Portuguese Water Dogs
Puppy Food:
Best Puppy Food for Portuguese Water Dogs

Portuguese Water Dog Characteristics

Good for First-Time Owners
Good with Children
Easy to Train
Exercise Requirements
Ease of Grooming
Amount of Shedding
Amount of Drooling
Tendency to Bark

About The Portuguese Water Dog

  • Found fame as the breed of choice for the Obama family

  • Affectionately known as the Portie by their fans

  • A high energy dog who will thrive with regular training

The Portuguese Water Dog found fame when Bo arrived at the Oval House in 2009. Sunny, a second Portuguese Water Dog or Portie as they’re known by their fans, joined Bo and the Obama family in 2003. 

The Portie is a high energy, lively breed with a strong working heritage. They’re lots of fun for active families, and they love being at the center of everything going on. This does mean that they need a strong focus on training to ensure that they’re well-mannered when out and about.

Their coat does need regular grooming, and though some owners learn how to do this themselves, most employ the services of a professional dog groomer. An extra expense to consider if you’re thinking about this breed joining your family. 

Portuguese Water Dog Breed History

  • Likely ancestors include the Irish Water Spaniel, Poodles and the Kerry Blue Terrier.

  • Working dogs on fishing boats

  • First US litter born in 1968


There have been ‘water dogs’ along the Portuguese coast for over two thousand years. However, the first written mention was in 1927, when a monk reported that a drowning sailor was brought out of the sea by a dog which fitted the description of a Portuguese Water Dog. It’s thought that likely ancestors include the Irish Water Spaniels, Poodles and the Kerry Blue Terrier.

The Portuguese Water Dog was prized by fishermen both as a companion and guard dog. They lived on the fishing boats and earnt their living by herding fish into nets, retrieving lost items from the sea, and bringing in broken equipment. They also acted as messengers both between ships and from ship to shore.

Vasco Bensaude, a wealthy Portuguese businessman, bred the first litter of the modern breed in 1937, and it was from these dogs that the breed standard was written. It took another 30 years before the Portie arrived in America with the first US litter being born in 1968.

Portuguese Water Dog Size & Weight

  • Weight can be between 35 to 60 pounds

  • Females from 17 to 21 inches

  • Males from 20 to 23 inches


There are some big differences in size for this breed between the males and the females. When looking at their height, males can be between 20 and 23 inches, while females should be between 17 and 21 inches. On their weight, males are between 42 and 60 pounds whereas females are between 35 and 50 pounds. 

When selecting a pup, do consider the size of their parents because this might give you an indication of whether you will end up with a 35 or 60-pound dog! 

Portuguese Water Dog Personality & Temperament

  • Energetic, bouncy nature

  • Independent thinkers

  • A friendly and loyal breed which needs to be around people


Portuguese Water Dogs are known for their energetic nature, they’ll likely meet you face to face as they bounce up to say hello. But they are also an intelligent and amendable breed so they can learn to meet people more politely! 

Independent thinking was a required trait when the dogs were working in the sea, and that streak still exists in the modern dog. This means that focusing on training from a young age is essential. 

The Portie is also known as being friendly and loyal, so they’ll likely want to be involved in everything going on in the home. This does mean that they’re not going to appreciate being left alone for hours on end. If your lifestyle means being away from home for long periods, this may not be the breed for you. 

With their good nature, Portuguese Water Dogs can make an excellent family dog. Care will be needed with young children as the boisterous energy levels can cause tumbles. This also applies if you already have a dog in the family; the sheer size and energy of the Portie could be dangerous to a small dog such as a chihuahua.

Portuguese Water Dog Health & Grooming

  • Health testing is required of both parents of a litter

  • The coat can be curly or wavy and is low shedding

  • Regular grooming is needed to maintain the coat in good condition


This is generally a healthy breed, but there are tests that all responsible breeders should undertake on the dogs that they breed from.

  1. The parents of pups should have had their hips x-rayed to ensure there are no signs of dysplasia. 
  2. A current eye test certificate, showing that the parents are free from any sight problems.
  3. The completion of DNA testing to show that neither parents are affected by the following conditions:
  • PRA, an eye condition which can lead to blindness
  • GM1 mutation which can be fatal for young dogs
  • JDCM, a heart condition which can also be fatal in young dogs

The coat of a Portuguese Water Dog comes in two different types, curly and wavy. Then there are two different trimming styles commonly used, the lion clip and the retriever trim. 

The lion clip keeps all the coat at its natural length, apart from the muzzle and the dog’s rear end, which are clipped short. The last third of the tail is also kept its natural length. Aside from the clipping needed to maintain this style, the coat which is left longer will need to be combed several times each week. 

The retriever trim keeps all of the hair on the body at the same length. The muzzle tends to be trimmed shorter than the rest of the body, but the overall length depends on the owner’s preference. This trim needs the dog to be clipped or scissored every six to eight weeks and then brushed several times each week. 

Although there is no scientific evidence, breeders often state that the Portuguese Water Dogs’ coat is hypoallergenic because of its low level of shedding


Portuguese Water Dog Training

  • Highly intelligent breed

  • Training needs to be both fun and rewarding for best results

  • A natural retriever


The Portuguese Water Dog is a highly intelligent breed, and so will enjoy the challenge that comes from taking part in training. Keeping that independent streak in mind means that the best results will be achieved when learning is fun and interesting.

They are natural retrievers, loving to carry things around in their mouths. If they’re not provided with suitable items, then it’s likely that they’ll make their own choices from whatever might be lying around! Providing a toy box with a selection of items they can choose from will avoid any problems. 

Portuguese Water Dog puppies can have a tendency to nip, but this is part of the youngster learning what is okay and what isn’t. A good puppy class will be able to provide advice if this does become a problem. 

Although not known for going hunting, if this breed isn’t kept busy or trained to stay close by, they may well make up their own fun. Including some training within the walk or the occasional retrieve of a thrown toy will encourage them to stay with their family. 

Portuguese Water Dog Exercise Requirements

  • Highly intelligent breed

  • Training needs to be both fun and rewarding for best results

  • A natural retriever


With their thick waterproof coats and their webbed feet, a Portuguese Water Dog will be happy to go out for a walk no matter the weather. These are a high energy breed, and they’ll enjoy long treks throughout the year. 

Combining an opportunity to use their brains while also getting physical exercise is going to be the best option to tire them out. Dog sports such as agility, flyball, and scent work are all good contenders.

Portuguese Water Dog Diet & Feeding

  • Check with your veterinarian for feeding advice

  • Ensure the food is appropriate for your dog's life stage

  • When changing food, do so gradually to avoid stomach upsets


If you have questions about feeding your Portuguese Water Dog, do have a chat with your veterinarian who will be able to provide you with professional advice. 

As a general rule, young dogs stay on specially formulated puppy food until they are around 6 months. After this, they can then be gradually changed over on to an adolescent or adult feed.


You may also be interested in:

Portuguese Water Dog Rescue Groups


This is still a relatively rare breed in the USA, so while some dogs do appear in rescue, the numbers are quite low. The breed club, Portuguese Water Dog Club of America, has a rescue and relocation program, and more details of their work can be found here http://www.pwdcarescue.org/.


For more information on this breed take a look at the following websites 

Portuguese Water Dog Club of Northern California



The Portuguese Water Dog Health Foundation