The Portuguese water dog can be traced back to central Asia where they were raised to herd cattle as far back as 700 B.C. Settlers and invaders to the Iberian Peninsula brought these dogs with them. Some of these dogs were captured by the Berbers, who as they spread across North Africa to Morocco, took the dogs along too. In the 8th century, the decedents of these dogs arrived in Portugal with the Berbers. The Portuguese water dog was for many centuries used to help fishermen, herd fish into nets, retrieve lost tackle and broken nets, as well as acting as couriers between the ships and shore. They were so valued for their work that they were considered part of the crew and paid for their work with both fish and money. Some retired fishermen would even “rent” their dogs for extra money! In Portugal the name of these dogs is ‘Cao de Agua’ which means dog of water.
In the beginning of the 20th century as technology grew, the water dog became almost extinct. Fortunately, in the 1930s a wealthy shipping tycoon, Vasco Bensaude, took an interest in the breed when a friend told him about a water dog owned by a retired fisherman in a small nearby village. After seeing the dog, and watching him swim, dive, and take orders from his master, Vasco wanted him. Vasco bought the dog and named him Leao. Vasco traveled a lot, and wherever he went, he took Laeo with him, showing off all his tricks, such as diving and breaking ice with his teeth. He even performed for a large crowed in Lisbon in a big circus pool.
Eventually Vasco started a breeding program and produced many Portuguese Water Dogs. In fact, the standards for Portuguese Water Dogs were written based on Leao. A pair of the Portuguese water dogs were imported to the U.S. in 1958. Later, a Mr. & Mrs. Herbert Miller of Connecticut imported the first direct specimen, a bitch, from Portugal, descended from Vascos dogs. Sixteen people in 1972 met at the millers and started the Portuguese Water Dog Club of America. At that time only twelve dogs of this breed were known in America. But by 1982 the numbers had increased a great deal. By 1983 the breed was recognized by the AKC and was able to compete in the working dog class group in 1984.
Nowadays the Portuguese water dog is mainly a companion dog, although some are therapy and assistance dogs, as well as excelling at water, obedience and agility trials.
A famous Portuguese water dog is Bo, living in the White House with his family, President and Mrs. Obama and their girls.
Height: 20-23 in. Males 17-21 in. Females
Weight: 42-60 lbs Males 30-35 lbs Females
Lives 12-15 yrs