Complete Guide To The Portugese Water Dog: Health, Grooming, Exercise and More

The Portuguese Water Dog is affectionate, friendly and loyal. A sailor’s delight, this curly-haired breed is renowned for his courage and charisma.

As a veterinarian with over 20 years of experience working with dogs, I think that if most people were aware of the Portuguese Water Dog as a breed the movement of “Doodles” wouldn’t be nearly as popular. Much of what people look for in a Doodle is already found in the Portuguese Water Dog.

How Big Is A Portuguese Water Dog?

Male20″ – 23″ at the shoulder42 – 60 lbs
Female17″ – 21″ at the shoulder35-50 lbs

What Does A Portuguese Water Dog Look Like?

Covered in thick, water-resistant fur, they boast a wide head with a square muzzle and heavy mid-length ears. A tuft of tousled hair on their foreheads covers their deep brown eyes.

Coats vary from tightly curled to gently waved with a matte finish — there’s little shine.

Colors include:

• Black
• Brown
• White
• Black and White
• Brown and White

Full-coated, they resemble the Spanish Water Dog and France’s Barbet. Dogs with the traditional lion-like clip are easier to identify.

What Is The Personality Of A Portuguese Water Dog?

Portuguese Water Dogs are clever and outgoing. Enthusiastic adventurers, they meet challenges head-on. Eager to please, they thrive on human partnerships — give them a mission, and they’ll give you their best. Ill-suited for the quiet life, they need active families who want a constant companion.

Despite their energy level, Portuguese Water Dogs can adapt to most living environments as long as they get enough activity — apartments are rarely smaller than their accommodations on boats. They rarely bark without provocation but can be overly exuberant when meeting new people, so socialization and early training are essential. Your efforts will be rewarded with a lifetime of fun and friendship.

How Much Exercise Does A Portuguese Water Dog Need?

Portuguese Water Dogs were bred to work hard. Historically, they spent hours a day in the water retrieving lost tackle and ferrying messages from ship to shore. They need a similar amount of exercise today plus meaningful, mentally stimulating activities with their families — they’re no couch potatoes.

Given a secure, fenced-in yard, Portuguese Water Dogs are less likely to entertain themselves than other breeds — they prefer dog-owner activities. Long walks and swims are everyday favorites, but they excel at canine athletics. You’ll bring out the best in this breed by joining him in agility, rally and dock diving competitions.

How Much Grooming Does A Portuguese Water Dog Need?

Grooming a Portuguese Water Dog is a commitment. Full-coated dogs need daily brushing to prevent mats. Metal combs are ideal for teasing out tangles where they hide behind the ears and hindquarters.

Most owners opt for professional grooming. Two popular cuts make quick work of brushing — the traditional “lion clip” with the face and hindquarters shaved or the more modern 1-inch, stem to stern “retriever clip.” With the right equipment, owners can trim them at home.

Portuguese Water Dogs have little odor, so bathing can be limited to trips to the groomer. A spa day every four to six weeks includes a bath, ear cleaning and nail trim. All that’s left for owners is a quick daily brushing to remove debris and catch small knots before they form mats.

Home groomers should include ear care in their routine, cleansing them monthly to prevent infections. Soft hair on the inside of the ear canal can be plucked with forceps or fingers if it retains excess wax. Dogs who primarily swim for exercise may not wear their nails down naturally, so a trim every few weeks with a clipper or grinding tool may be necessary.

What Kind of Dog Food Is Good For A Portuguese Water Dog?

Personally I believe that most foods are fine for most dogs. Some dogs may not do well on some foods. However, as a rule I don’t blanket-prohibit any dietary ingredient from any breed at this time.

Best Puppy Food For Portuguese Water Dogs:

Best Adult Food For Portuguese Water Dogs:

Please don’t listen to the folks at the pet store trying to convince you to buy a grain-free diet for your dog. There’s zero science behind that and vets are actually seeing diseases now related to feeding grain-free foods.

It’s very important they remain at their optimal weight throughout their life. Have your vet go over with you exactly where to feel to know when your dog is too big.

How Long Does A Portuguese Water Dog Live?

11-13 years based on information from the AKC

What Health Problems Can Portuguese Water Dogs Have?

The Portuguese Water Dog is a very healthy breed. While any dog can have conditions such as allergies, obesity, and dental disease, this breed isn’t more prone than any other.

Based on statistics from the Canine Health Information Center, the breed does have a small risk of hip dysplasia and hypothyroidism, but it ranks right in the middle of all dog breeds in terms of frequency.

Going with a quality breeder will help you start with the healthiest puppy possible. After that, much of health is related to genetic expression but you, as the owner, also have a very important part to play in keeping your dog as healthy as possible. That involves proper grooming and feeding as well as maintaining good dental health.

Where Can I Find Out More About The Portuguese Water Dog?

Portuguese Water Dog Club of America (PWDCA)

Regional PWDCA Clubs

AKC Breed Profile

Where Can I Find A Portuguese Water Dog?

The PWDCA wants you to understand first the commitment that is needed when owning one of these dogs. They ask that you start here before you proceed to the breeder listings.

Perhaps you’re looking for a Rescue? The PWDCA Rescue may be able to help you out!

Interesting Facts About Portuguese Water Dogs

Portuguese Water Dogs were regular seafarers, riding the fishing trawlers that dotted Portugal’s coast. Replaced by technology, they’re largely retired as working dogs but continue to impress as stalwart family pets. Here’s more about this unique and hardy breed.

• They’re Built for Water

Portuguese Water Dogs were born to swim. Their single, waterproof coats are insulating yet not heavy enough to impede their buoyancy in water. They propel themselves forward with ease using their webbed feet and thick, muscular tails.

The traditional lion clip was developed to make their job even easier. Removing fur from their rear hindquarters reduces their weight when wet and enhances their mobility.

Move Over, Pavarotti

Most dogs can sing a few notes, but few have the vocal range of the Portuguese Water Dog. With a multi-octave voice, they can string together a range of sounds to express a broad array of emotions.

They’re Almost Hypoallergenic

No dog is truly hypoallergenic — they all produce dander to some degree — but Portuguese Water Dogs rarely shed. Low-allergen, they have a good track record with most allergy sufferers, but not all.

The constant grooming they need increases owners’ exposure to the limited dander, precipitating symptoms in some people. Professional grooming can help, but it’s best to consult a doctor.

• They’re Politically Well-Connected

Former US Presidents from Thomas Jefferson to Richard Nixon were dog lovers, but only one had Portuguese Water Dogs — Barack Obama. Male dog Bo joined the first family in 2009, followed by a female, Sunny, in 2013. The dogs were a gift, and the choice of breed was to accommodate first daughter Malia Obama’s unfortunate allergies.