AKC information about the Breed

AKC MEET THE BREEDS®: Portuguese Water Dog

Known for centuries along Portugal’s coast and prized for its strength, spirit and soundness, the Portuguese Water Dog is a loyal worker and companion. Medium-sized and robust, the breed possesses a waterproof coat and the ability to swim all day. Its coat can be curly or wavy and is black, white, or brown, or combinations of black or brown with white.

A Look Back
Referred to as the Cao de Agua (dog of water) in its native Portugal, the Portuguese Water Dog was bred to accompany fisherman on their boats. An exceptional swimmer and diver, the breed retrieved broken nets, dove for fish, carried messages between boats and to shore, and guarded the boat for his master in foreign ports. The breed started disappearing in the early 20th century when technology made his daily job somewhat obsolete, but Dr. Vasco Bensaude, a wealthy Portuguese shipping magnate and dog fancier, saved the breed.

Right Breed for You?
An athletic, active breed, the Portuguese Water Dog requires daily vigorous exercise. He is very intelligent and responds well to obedience training. His profuse coat is hypoallergenic, but requires regular maintenance. It may be kept in the lion clip (the coat on the hindquarters and muzzle are clipped to the skin) or the retriever clip (the entire coat is clipped to one inch in length and follows the outline of the dog).

  • Working Group; AKC recognized in 1983.
  • Ideal size: 35 to 60 pounds and 17 to 23 tall inches at the shoulder.
  • Fisherman’s working companion; family pet.

© The American Kennel Club, Inc.

Portuguese Water Dog Breed Standard, Working Group

General Appearance

Known for centuries along Portugal’s coast, this seafaring breed was prized by fishermen for a spirited, yet obedient nature, and a robust, medium build that allowed for a full day’s work in and out of the water. The Portuguese Water Dog is a swimmer and diver of exceptional ability and stamina, who aided his master at sea by retrieving broken nets, herding schools of fish, and carrying messages between boats and to shore. He is a loyal companion and alert guard. This highly intelligent utilitarian breed is distinguished by two coat types, either curly or wavy; an impressive head of considerable breadth and well proportioned mass; a ruggedly built, well-knit body; and a powerful, thickly based tail, carried gallantly or used purposefully as a rudder. The Portuguese Water Dog provides an indelible impression of strength, spirit, and soundness.

Size, Proportion, Substance

Size–Height at the withers–Males, 20 to 23 inches. The ideal is 22 inches. Females, 17 to 21 inches. The ideal is 19 inches. Weight–For males, 42 to 60 pounds; for females, 35 to 50 pounds. Proportion–Off square; slightly longer than tall when measured from prosternum to rearmost point of the buttocks, and from withers to ground. Substance–Strong, substantial bone; well developed, neither refined nor coarse, and a solidly built, muscular body.


An essential characteristic; distinctively large, well proportioned and with exceptional breadth of topskull. Expression–Steady, penetrating, and attentive. Eyes– Medium in size; set well apart, and a bit obliquely. Roundish and neither prominent nor sunken. Black or various tones of brown in color. Darker eyes are preferred. Eye rims fully pigmented with black edges in black, black and white, or white dogs; brown edges in brown dogs. Haws are dark and not apparent. Ears–Set well above the line of the eye. Leather is heart shaped and thin. Except for a small opening at the back, ears are held nicely against the head. Tips should not reach below the lower jaw.

Skull–In profile, it is slightly longer than the muzzle, its curvature more accentuated at the back than in the front. When viewed head-on, the top of the skull is very broad and appears domed, with a slight depression in the middle. The forehead is prominent, and has a central furrow, extending two-thirds of the distance from stop to occiput. The occiput is well defined. Stop–Well defined. Muzzle–Substantial; wider at the base than at the nose. Jaws–Strong and neither over nor undershot. Nose–Broad, well flared nostrils. Fully pigmented; black in dogs with black, black and white, or white coats; various tones of brown in dogs with brown coats. Lips– Thick, especially in front; no flew. Lips and mucous membranes of the roof of the mouth, under tongue, and gums are quite black, or well ticked with black in dogs with black, black and white, or white coats; various tones of brown in dogs with brown coats. Bite–Scissors or level. Teeth–Not visible when the mouth is closed. Canines strongly developed.

Neck, Topline, Body

Neck–Straight, short, round, and held high. Strongly muscled. No dewlap. Topline–Level and firm. Body–Chest is broad and deep, reaching down to the elbow. Ribs are long and well-sprung to provide optimum lung capacity. Abdomen well held up in a graceful line. Back is broad and well muscled. Loin is short and meets the croup smoothly. Croup is well formed and only slightly inclined with hip bones hardly apparent. Tail–Not docked; thick at the base and tapering; set on slightly below the line of the back; should not reach below the hock. When the dog is attentive the tail is held in a ring, the front of which should not reach forward of the loin. The tail is of great help when swimming and diving.


Shoulders are well inclined and very strongly muscled. Upper arms are strong. Forelegs are strong and straight with long, well muscled forearms. Carpus is heavy-boned, wider in front than at the side. Pasterns are long and strong. Dewclaws may be removed. Feet are round and rather flat. Toes neither knuckled up nor too long. Webbing between the toes is of soft skin, well covered with hair, and reaches the toe tips. Central pad is very thick, others normal. Nails held up slightly off the ground. Black, brown, white, and striped nails are allowed.


Powerful; well balanced with the front assembly. Legs, viewed from the rear, are parallel to each other, straight and very strongly muscled in upper and lower thighs. Buttocks are well developed. Tendons and hocks are strong. Metatarsus long, no dewclaws. Feet similar in all respects to forefeet.


A profuse, thickly planted coat of strong, healthy hair, covering the whole body evenly, except where the forearm meets the brisket and in the groin area, where it is thinner. No undercoat, mane or ruff. There are two varieties of coat:
Curly–Compact, cylindrical curls, somewhat lusterless. The hair on the ears is sometimes wavy.
Wavy–Falling gently in waves, not curls, and with a slight sheen.
No preference will be given to coat type, either curly or wavy.


Two clips are acceptable:
Lion Clip–As soon as the coat grows long, the middle part and hindquarters, as well as the muzzle, are clipped. The hair at the end of the tail is left at full length.
Retriever Clip–In order to give a natural appearance and a smooth unbroken line, 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. The hair at the end of the tail is left at full length.
No discrimination will be made against the correct presentation of a dog in either Lion Clip or Retriever Clip.


Black, white, and various tones of brown; also combinations of black or brown with white. A white coat does not imply albinism provided nose, mouth, and eyelids are black. In animals with black, white, or black and white coats, the skin is decidedly bluish.


Short, lively steps when walking. The trot is a forward striding, well balanced movement.


An animal of spirited disposition, self-willed, brave, and very resistant to fatigue. A dog of exceptional intelligence and a loyal companion, it obeys its master with facility and apparent pleasure. It is obedient with those who look after it or with those for whom it works.

Summary Statement

The Portuguese Water Dog is spirited yet obedient, robust, and of unexaggerated, functional conformation; sure, substantially boned and muscled, and able to do a full day’s work in and out of the water.


Any deviation from the described ideal is a fault. However, those inherent characteristics that are imperative for the maintenance of proper type, and therefore cannot be overlooked, are listed as Major Faults.

Major Faults

  1. Temperament–Shy, vicious, or unsound behavior.
  2. Head–Unimpressive; small in overall size; narrow in topskull; snipey in muzzle.
  3. Substance–Light or refined in bone; lacking in muscle.
  4. Coat–Sparse; naturally short, close-lying hair, partially or over all; wispy or wiry in texture; brittle; double-coated.
  5. Tail–Other than as described. Extremely low set. Heavy or droopy in action.
  6. Pigment–Any deviation from described pigmentation; other than black or various tones of brown eye color; pink or partial pigmentation in nose, lips, eyes, or eye rims.
  7. Bite–Overshot or undershot.

Portuguese Water Dog History

The Portuguese Water Dog once existed all along Portugal’s coast, where it was taught to herd fish into the nets, to retrieve lost tackle or broken nets, and to act as a courier from ship to ship, or ship to shore. Portuguese Water Dogs rode in bobbing trawlers as they worked their way from the warm Atlantic waters of Portugal to the frigid fishing waters off the coast of Iceland where the fleets caught saltwater codfish to bring home.

In Portugal, the breed is called Cao de Agua (pronounced Kown-d’Ahgwa). Cao means dog, de Agua means of water. In his native land, the dog is also known as the Portuguese Fishing Dog. Cao de Agua de Pelo Ondulado is the name given the longhaired variety, and Cao de Ague de Pelo Encaradolado is the name for the curly-coat variety.

A calm, intelligent breed of fine temperament, rugged and robust, with a pro-fuse non-allergenic, non-shedding, waterproof coat and webbed feet, he is an ideal outdoor dog, capable of limitless work. He stands 20 to 23 inches (17 to 21 for bitches) and weighs between 42 and 60 pounds (35 and 50 for bitches) – a variation explained for by the fact that small dogs were more practical for small boats, and larger dogs for the larger boats.

He is shown in either of two clips – the lion clip, with the middle, hindquarters and muzzle clipped short and the rest of the coat left long, and in the working-retriever clip. Adherents of the lion clip say it shows off a good rear and displays the muscles better, while advocates of the working-retriever clip like the fact that it is easy to care for, and prepares the dog for all sorts of outdoor adventure.

Some belief exists that the breed traces as far back as 700 B.C. to the wild Central-Asian steppes, near the Chinese-Russian border, terrains and waters guaranteed to nourish ruggedness. The early people who lived here raised cattle, sheep, camels, or horses, dependent upon where they lived. They also raised dogs to herd them. Isolated from the rest of the world, these dogs developed into a definite type, very much like the heavier long-coated Portuguese Water Dog.

One theory of these long-perished times is that some of the rugged Asian herding dogs were captured by the fierce Berbers. The Berbers spread slowly across the face of North Africa to Morocco. Their descendants the Moors, arrived in Portugal in the 8th century, bringing the water dogs with them.

Another theory purports that some of the dogs left the Asian steppes with the Goths, a confederation of German tribes. Some (the Ostrogoths) went west and their dogs became the German pudel. Others (the Visigoths) went south to fight the Romans, and their dogs became the Lion Dog. In A.D. 400, the Visigoths invaded Spain and Portugal (then known only as Iberia) and the dogs found their homeland.

These theories explain how the Poodle and the Portuguese Water Dog may have developed from the same ancient genetic pool. At one time the Poodle was a longer-coated dog, as is one variety of the Portuguese Water Dog. The possibility also exists that some of the long-coated water dogs grew up with the ancient Iberians. In early times, Celtiberians migrated from lands which now belong to southwestern Germany. Swarming over the Pyrenees, circulating over the whole of western Europe, they established bases in Iberia, as well as in Ireland, Wales, and Brittany The Irish Water Spaniel is believed to be a descendant of the Portuguese Water Dog.

Interest first began in the United States in 1958 when Mr. and Mrs. Harrington of New York received a pair from England as part of a trade of rare breeds. Among those taking an early interest in the breed were Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Miller of Connecticut, who acquired the first direct import to this country from Portugal – a puppy bitch purchased from Senhora Branco, a former lady bullfighter who had inherited Dr. Bensuade’s kennels in Portugal.

On August 13, 1972, sixteen people involved with the breed met at the Millers’ home to form the Portuguese Water Dog Club of America. At the time there were only twelve known dogs of the breed in America, but the breeders worked dedicatedly and by September 1982 the number of dogs had grown to over 650, located in 41 states, and there were over 50 serious breeders.The Portuguese Water Dog was admitted to the Miscellaneous class on June 3, 1981. Three months later, the breed had its first Obedience champion, Spindrift Kedge. The Portuguese Water Dog was accepted for registration in AKC stud books effective August 1, 1983, and became eligible to compete in the show rings as a member of the Working Group, effective January 1, 1984.

What Augusto explainded to me that many people don’t take into consideration is that all the poor fisherman that owned PWD didn’t have them registered or accounted for because they were too poor to register their hard working dogs.