Portuguese Water Dog

Also known as the Portuguese Diving Dog, the Portuguese Fishing Dog, the Portuguese Curly Water Dog, the Pelo Encaracolado, the Cao de Agua, or simply the Portie, this ancient breed of fishermen’s dog was originally used to herd fish into nets and carry out other marine tasks.


Although this tough, curly-coated dog is closely related to the water dogs of Europe that specialize in retrieving waterfowl, it cannot be classified as a retriever because its main duties were so different. It acted as a marine aid to the fishermen of the Algarve on Portugal’s southern coast, taking to the water to herd the fish, move the nets and even catch the odd fish that managed to escape from the nets.

Apart from fish-herding, the Portuguese Water Dog also carried out various other, subsidiary duties. When a fleet of small fishing boats was out together, the dogs could be used to carry messages from one vessel to another. With their keen eyesight they also acted as lookouts, barking an alarm when they spotted a shoal of fish. If fog descended, they adopted yet another role, acting as barking "fog-horns" to warm other vessels and avoid collisions. Assisting them in this role was their unusual, "rising-and-falling" bark.

They carried out these duties for centuries and were so highly valued that anyone harming one of these dogs was in serious trouble. But then modern technology caught up with the breed and advanced fishing techniques rendered them more or less obsolete. By 1960 a survey revealed that they were on the verge of extinction, with only about 50 left alive. Fortunately, it was such an attractive dog that it was saved from disappearing by enthusiasts who valued it, not for its fish-herding abilities, but for its personality and its striking appearance. Finding yet more roles to add to its repertoire, the Portuguese Water Dog became a show dog and a companion dog. Examples were exported to the United States where it soon acquired enough admirers for the breed to gain recognition by the AKC in 1984.

After centuries of sitting patiently in small boats, this friendly, relaxed dog has developed a remarkable degree of self-control and is eminently trainable and adaptable. Its charming personality will no doubt keep it safe for the future.


Although this web-footed, excellent swimmer is agile and quick to react to its surroundings, it keeps calm, making it both a popular house pet and a working dog.

The Portuguese Water Dog is an old working breed and can have guard dog tendencies. If this is not wanted, it must be trained from the age of ten weeks to accept all comers in a friendly fashion and any guarding symptoms should be discouraged.

The Portuguese Water Dog can be and is often very friendly. It is wonderful with its family and takes well to children if it is brought up with them and if the children are taught how to treat the dog. It loves water and retrieving, and is a smart and willing worker in Obedience.


Strong and beautifully built, the Portuguese water dog has a wide head, a slightly lean muzzle, and black or brown eyes. For swimming ease, the thick curly or wavy coat needs to be either lion clipped (face clipped and body clipped from the last rib, leaving a mane on the forequarters) or working-retriever clipped (clipped all over except on the head and limbs), with long hair left on the tip of the tail. Coloring includes black, brown, and grayish white.

One unusual anatomical feature of this breed is the way it carries its tail. When the dog is alert, its tail rises up and curls over into what could be described as a "semi-spitz" position. It is not a tight curl, like that of the typical northern dogs, but it is certainly very different from the tail posture of other European water dogs, and sets this breed slightly apart from them.


Health problems of the inherited kind are progressive retinal atrophy, storage disease, puppies born without an essential enzyme which leads to early death, hip dysplasia and a type of skin condition that leads to early hair loss. All of these conditions except the last may be identified by blood test, X-ray or eye examinations. Puppies must be purchased from reliable sources — breeders who are concerned with the health and well-being of the breed and can give results of all health checks to prospective buyers of their stock.

Nails of the Portuguese water dog should be kept short, although the foot itself is somewhat large and spread with skin webbing between the toes to help it when in the water.

Care and Exercise

The ears of the Portuguese Water Dog need to be cleaned every week, especially after swimming, to prevent diseases. Exercise should consist of free exercise in a big space and swimming.

Puppies and Training

The four to eight puppies in each litter are delivered easily.

Gallery of Portuguese Water Dog