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Ron Willbie, Animal Photography
Sally Anne Thompson, Animal Photography
Portuguese Water Dogs are high energy dogs with a lot of enthusiasm. They are outgoing, curious, friendly, and highly intelligent. There’s a lot of dog inside that moderately sized, curl-covered body. Porties love to play in water and will take all the exercise you can give them.
The Portuguese Water Dog used to be a fisherman’s best friend, helping to drive fish into nets, retrieve items that fell into the water, and swim messages from boat to boat.
When the First Family welcomed Bo, the Portuguese Water Dog, to the White House, they put the spotlight on this rare breed of water-loving canine. Fortunately, the Portie likes attention almost as much as he likes playing with children and swimming. An important consideration before diving in to ownership of a Portuguese Water Dog: If you don’t want a dog who prefers to be wet, this isn’t the dog for you. Caveats aside, this curly mop of good natured canine could be just the ticket for your family.
The breed was developed in Portugal, where the breed served as the fisherman’s equivalent of a farmer’s right-hand man. They retrieved nets, delivered messages, and pretty much did anything that was asked of them with enthusiasm and style. Few people need that kind of water-logged helper anymore, so the Portie’s smarts and enthusiasm have been put to other uses. One of the most notable: When San Francisco opened its new bayside ballpark for the Giants, a team of Porties went to work retrieving home run balls out of the water. The dogs, known as the Baseball Aquatic Retrieval Korps, or BARK, quickly became an attraction on their own.
But the Portie doesn’t need paid work; he’ll happily do most anything you want. The dogs do very well at obedience, agility, and other canine sports, as well as more people-based activities such as boating, hiking, and helping the kids chase a soccer ball. The problem won’t be finding things for your dog to do, but rather finding time and energy to keep your dog busy. Don’t bring a Portie into your family unless you have plenty of both to spare.
What about allergies? The jury’s still out. The Portie, like many dogs with coats like the Poodle, may be better tolerated by people with allergies, especially mild ones. Do understand, though, that there’s truly no such thing as a dog that will not cause any allergies. Expect to brush the dog thoroughly at least weekly and have him professionally clipped every other month.
The Portie is a wonderful family dog and typically great with children, although all child-pet interaction should be supervised by adults. Also, because the dog can be rambunctious and some fall under the “big dog” category, they may be too much for toddlers.
Give your Portie plenty of exercise and he’ll be happy in an apartment, a small suburban home, or a vast country estate. Just don’t expect him to handle being alone in the backyard. If you get a Portuguese Water Dog, make him a member of your family, not an outdoor dog.
The Portuguese Water Dog has been a coastal retriever in fishing-mad Portugal for centuries. Portuguese fishermen ranged far out from their homeland, all the way to the Grand Banks cod fishery off the coast of Newfoundland, and their water-loving dogs went with them. They were important members of the crew, helping to pull in nets and deliver items between boats. The Poodle and the PWD may have a common ancestor, and the PWD may have played a role in the development of the Irish Water Spaniel.
The breed’s importance in the fishing industry declined over the years, and the dogs became quite rare. The first members of the breed were brought to the United States in 1958, but it wasn’t until 1972 that the Portuguese Water Dog Club of America was formed. The American Kennel Club recognized the breed in 1984. Today the PWD ranks 55th among the breeds registered by the AKC, up from 60th in 2009. No doubt the breed’s popularity received a boost from the presence of Bo Obama in the White House.
There are two outstanding characteristics of the Portuguese Water Dog: energy and intelligence. The Portie is an agile breed that thrives on any activity that challenges him physically and mentally. In addition, the Portie is a friendly family dog that enjoys looking after his human pack. In fact, the Portie needs to be with a family. He doesn’t do well if left in a kennel or left alone at home for long periods of time. He thrives in the midst of an active family.
Vigorous exercise is a must for the Portie, such as daily romps, canine sports (agility and obedience), and swimming. The Portie has a special affinity for swimming due to his heritage as a working water dog, and swimming is a great way for him to burn off some energy.
The Portie is a good companion for children, but don’t be surprised if he outplays the kids. His natural exuberance may cause him to play a little too rough, so he must be taught early on to play nicely and keep his mouth to himself.
Training should begin right away for the Portie puppy. Even at 8 weeks old, he is capable of learning good manners. Never wait until he is 6 months old to begin training. If possible, get him into puppy kindergarten class by the time he is 10 to 12 weeks old, and socialize, socialize, socialize. However, be aware that many puppy training classes require certain vaccines (like kennel cough) to be up to date, and many veterinarians recommend limited exposure to other dogs and public places until puppy vaccines (including rabies, distemper and parvovirus) have been completed. In lieu of formal training, you can begin training your puppy at home and socializing him among family and friends until puppy vaccines are completed.These experiences as a young dog will help him grow into a sensible adult dog.
Talk with a reputable, experienced Portuguese Water Dog breeder. Describe exactly what you’re looking for in a canine companion, and ask for assistance in selecting a puppy. Breeders see the puppies daily and can make uncannily accurate recommendations once they know something about your lifestyle and personality. Choose a puppy whose parents have nice personalities and who has been well socialized by the breeder from birth.
All dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run, don’t walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines.
Portuguese Water Dogs are at risk of hip dysplasia, a crippling disorder of the hip socket that can require costly surgery to treat and often leaves the dog stricken with arthritis later in life.
Additionally, the breed can be affected by a number of genetic eye abnormalities. One eye problem, microphthalmia, can be diagnosed with an eye exam, so have your puppy examined for this condition if his breeder hasn’t already done so. These results should also be reported to the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF).
Another eye disease that can affect PWDs, progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), has a genetic screening test available through Optigen, and the puppy’s parents should have been tested. Testing forms and additional information are found on the Portugese Water Dog Club of America (PWDCA) website.
A rare condition known as GM1 gangliosidosis, which causes a fatal buildup of toxins in the nerve cells of puppies, can occur in the Portuguese Water Dog. Through the determined efforts of the breed club, a DNA test was developed, and no affected puppies have been born for several years. Under no circumstances should you obtain a puppy from a breeder who cannot provide you with written documentation of his parents’ GM1 gangliosidosis status.
Other diseases that can affect the breed and for which the PWDCA recommends genetic screening include heart and thyroid problems, as well as a condition known as sebaceous adenitis, an inflammation of the sebaceous glands that leads to hair loss and skin disease. Your puppy’s breeder should be willing — in fact eager — to go over the health histories of his parents and their close relatives and discuss how prevalent health concerns are in his lines.
The Portuguese Water Dog Club of America is a member of the Canine Health Information Center, a health database. For a Portie to become CHIC-certified, a breeder must submit a hip evaluation from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA), an eye clearance from CERF, with annual eye exams recommended until the dog is 10 years old, a DNA test result for PRA from an approved laboratory, and OFA registry of a DNA test for GM1 gangliosidosis. Optional tests include OFA cardiac, thyroid, and sebaceous adenitis evaluations, and a University of Pennsylvania evaluation for juvenile dilated cardiomyopathy.
Breeders must agree to have all test results, positive or negative, published in the CHIC database. A dog need not receive good or even passing scores on the evaluations to obtain a CHIC number, so CHIC registration alone is not proof of soundness or absence of disease, but all test results are posted on the CHIC website and can be accessed by anyone who wants to check the health of a puppy’s parents.
Remember that after you’ve taken a new puppy into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the most common health problems: obesity. Keeping a Portie from getting portly is one of the easiest ways to extend his life. Make the most of your preventive abilities to help ensure a healthier dog for life.
With his handsome and abundant coat, the grooming requirements of the Portuguese Water Dog are above average. Regular grooming is essential to keep his coat in good condition, including brushing, bathing, haircut, nail trim, and ear cleaning. You can let the coat grow long or clip it short. Expect to groom (do it yourself or better yet, hire a professional groomer) your dog every six to eight weeks, especially if you wish to keep the coat trimmed short. Regular brushing several times a week with a pin or slicker brush is necessary if you let the coat grow out. Regular tooth brushing with a soft toothbrush and doggie toothpaste keep the teeth and gums healthy.
The rest is basic care. Trim the nails as needed, usually every week or two. Brush the teeth frequently with a vet-approved pet toothpaste for good overall health and fresh breath.
Whether you want to go with a breeder or get your dog from a shelter or rescue, here are some things to keep in mind.
Finding a good breeder is a great way to find the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy and will, without question, have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as possible. She is more interested in placing pups in the right homes than making big bucks.
Good breeders will welcome your questions about temperament, health clearances, and what the dogs are like to live with, and come right back at you with questions of their own about what you’re looking for in a dog and what kind of life you can provide for him. A good breeder can tell you about the history of the breed, explain why one puppy is considered pet quality while another is not, and discuss what health problems affect the breed and the steps she takes take to avoid those problems. And remember that breeders who offer puppies at one price “with papers” and at a lower price “without papers” are unethical.
Look for more information about the Portuguese Water Dog and start your search for a good breeder at the website of the Portuguese Water Dog Club of America.Choose a breeder who has agreed to abide by the PWDCA’s code of ethics, which prohibits the sale of puppies to or through pet stores and calls for the breeder to obtain recommended health clearances on dogs before breeding them.
Avoid breeders who seem interested only in how quickly they can unload a puppy on you and whether your credit card will go through. You should also bear in mind that buying a puppy from a website that offers to ship your dog to you immediately can be a risky venture, as it leaves you no recourse if what you get isn’t exactly what you expected. Put at least as much effort into researching your puppy as you would into choosing a new car or expensive appliance. It will save you money in the long run.
Lots of reputable breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags include puppies always being available, multiple litters on the premises, having your choice of any puppy, and the ability to pay online with a credit card. Quickie online purchases are convenient, but they are almost never associated with reputable breeders.
Whether you’re planning to get your new best friend from a breeder, a pet store, or another source, don’t forget that old adage “let the buyer beware”. Disreputable breeders and facilities that deal with puppy mills can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100% guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick puppy, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals), and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization, or other reliable source for healthy puppies.
The cost of a Portuguese Water Dog puppy varies depending on the breeder’s locale, whether the pup is male or female, what titles his parents have, and whether he is best suited for the show ring or a pet home. The puppy you buy should have been raised in a clean home environment, from parents with health clearances and conformation (show) and, ideally, working titles to prove that they are good specimens of the breed. Puppies should be temperament tested, vetted, dewormed, and socialized to give them a healthy, confident start in life.
And before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult Portie might better suit your needs and lifestyle. Puppies are loads of fun, but they require a lot of time and effort before they grow up to become the dog of your dreams. An adult Portie may already have some training and will probably be less active, destructive, and demanding than a puppy.
With an adult, you know more about what you’re getting in terms of personality and health and you can find adults through breeders or shelters. If you are interested in acquiring an older dog through breeders, ask them about purchasing a retired show dog or if they know of an adult dog who needs a new home. If you want to adopt a dog, read the advice below on how to do that.
There are many great options available if you want to adopt a dog from an animal shelter or breed rescue organization. Here is how to get started.
1. Use the Web
Sites like Petfinder.com and Adopt-a-Pet.com can have you searching for a Portie in your area in no time flat. The site allows you to be very specific in your requests (housetraining status, for example) or very general (all the Portuguese Water Dogs available on Petfinder across the country). AnimalShelter can help you find animal rescue groups in your area. Also some local newspapers have “pets looking for homes” sections you can review.
Social media is another great way to find a dog. Post on your Facebook page that you are looking for a specific breed so that your entire community can be your eyes and ears.
2. Reach Out to Local Experts
Start talking with all the pet pros in your area about your desire for a Portie.That includes vets, dog walkers, and groomers. When someone has to make the tough decision to give up a dog, that person will often ask her own trusted network for recommendations.
3. Talk to Breed Rescue
Most people who love Portuguese Water Dogs love all Portuguese Water Dogs. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The Portuguese Water Dog Club of America can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other Portie rescues in your area.
The great thing about breed rescue groups is that they tend to be very upfront about any health conditions the dogs may have and are a valuable resource for advice. They also often offer fostering opportunities so, with training, you could bring a Portie home for a trial to see what the experience is like.
4. Key Questions to Ask
You now know the things to discuss with a breeder, but there are also questions you should discuss with shelter or rescue group staff or volunteers before you bring home a pup. These include:
What is his energy level?
How is he around other animals?
How does he respond to shelter workers,visitors, and children?
What is his personality like?
What is his age?
Is he housetrained?
Has he ever bitten or hurt anyone that they know of?
Are there any known health issues?
Wherever you acquire your Portuguese Water Dog, make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter, or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. Petfinder offers an Adopters Bill of Rights that helps you understand what you can consider normal and appropriate when you get a dog from a shelter. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.
Puppy or adult, a breeder purchase or a rescue, take your Portie to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.
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