One theory is that some of the rugged Asian herding dogs were captured by the Berbers, people who 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 proposes 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 poodle, called in German the poodle-hund or puddle-dog, that is, water-dog. Others, (the Visigoths), went south to fight the Romans, and their dogs became the Lion Dog, groomed in the traditional lion cut. In 413 CE, the Visigoths invaded Iberia (modern Spain and Portugal, then known as Hispania) and the dogs found their homeland before being settled in Aquitania north of the Pyrenees in 418 before extending their rule to most of Iberia after 470 CE.
A Portuguese Water Dog is first described in 1297 in a monk’s account of a drowning sailor who was pulled from the sea by a dog with a “black coat, the hair long and rough, cut to the first rib and with a tail tuft”.
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 PWD was a breed on the verge of extinction when, during the 1930s, Vasco Bensaude, a wealthy Portuguese shipping magnate, began to seek out fishermen’s dogs and use them in a breeding program to re-establish the breed. Bensaude’s kennel was named Algarbiorum, and his most famous dog was Leão (1931–1942), a very “type-y” (i.e., standard-conformant) fisherman’s stud dog, who was bred to so many females that about half of the pedigreed Portuguese Water Dogs in existence can trace their lineage back to him. Bensaude was aided by two Portuguese veterinarians, Dr. Francisco Pinto Soares and Dr. Manuel Fernandes Marques. His work was carried on by Conchita Cintron de Castelo Branco, to whom he gave his last 17 PWDs and all his archives.
Dr. António Cabral was the founder of the Avalade kennels in Portugal. Ch. Charlie de Avalade (Charlie), a brown-coated dog, and C. B. Baluarte de Avalade (Balu) were two of his many famous PWDs. He registered his first PWD in 1954, after Bensaude had pioneered the re-establishment of the breed in Portugal. Cabral worked with Carla Molinari, Deyanne Miller, Sonja Santos and others to establish PWDs in the US. The “Mark of Cabral” is a triangular shape of different color/textured hair, usually 2 to 3 inches (5 to 8 cm) from the base of the tail.
Deyanne Miller is the person most responsible for the rise of the PWD in America. In 1972, the Millers, along with 14 others, formed the Portuguese Water Dog Club of America, Inc. (PWDCA). She worked with dogs from both the Cintron and Cabral lineages to establish a stable genetic pool of PWDs in the US at her Farmion kennels. Another early US breeder of PWDs was the actor Raymond Burr.
The Portuguese Water Dog is robust, rectangular in outline and well muscled, especially on shoulders. His head is moderately large, well proportioned; back-skull is longer than the muzzle with a well-defined occiput. His forehead has a central furrow, two-thirds the length of his head. His coat is profuse, covering his whole body, fashionably clipped on similar lines to some Poodles. He comes in colours of Black and white, solid black, white, brown and white, and various shades of brown.
IMPORTANT. A Portuguese Water Dog with exaggerated features is the result of bad breeding. Credit; The Breed Club Connection.
Portuguese Water Dogs are generally healthy, but like all breeds, they’re prone to certain health conditions. Not all Porties will get any or all of these diseases, but it’s important to be aware of them if you’re considering this breed.
Hip Dysplasia is a heritable condition in which the thighbone doesn’t fit snugly into the hip-joint. Some dogs show pain and lameness on one or both rear legs, but you may not notice any signs of discomfort in a dog with hip dysplasia. As the dog ages, arthritis can develop. X-ray screening for hip dysplasia is done by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals or the University of Pennsylvania Hip Improvement Program (PennHIP). Hip dysplasia is hereditary, but it can be worsened by environmental factors, such as rapid growth from a high-calorie diet or injuries incurred from jumping or falling on slick floors.
Juvenile Dilated Cardiomyopathy is an inherited disease that causes sudden death in puppies between the ages of five weeks and seven months. At this time, there is no cure and no way to decide if a puppy will be affected with the disease. The only way for breeders to prevent producing affected puppies is to avoid breeding carriers of the gene.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) is a degenerative eye disorder that eventually causes blindness from the loss of photoreceptors at the back of the eye. PRA is detectable years before the dog shows any signs of blindness. Fortunately, dogs can use their other senses to compensate for blindness, and a blind dog can live a full and happy life. Just don’t make it a habit to move the furniture around. Reputable breeders have their dogs’ eyes certified annually by a veterinary ophthalmologist and do not breed dogs with this disease.
Storage Disease (GM1) is a recessive genetic disorder caused by a lack of an enzyme and allows the buildup of toxic substances in the nerve cells. It is fatal to puppies produced by two carriers. A DNA test has been developed to decide whether dogs are normal or carriers. This has dramatically reduced the incidence of both carriers and affected puppies.