Origin & History Of The Portuguese Water Dog

It seems that there are just about as many theories on the origin of the Portuguese Water Dog as there are variations in the coats and colors of the breed. While no one knows exactly how or when most breeds began, historical signposts point to the evolution of various dog types. Canine historians have claimed that the Portuguese Water Dog may be one of the world's original breeds.

One theory finds the water dog on the developmental road from the Central Asiatic steppes as early as 700 b.c.; to the Iberian Peninsula in the 8th Century; and on to the British coastline in the ships of the Spanish Armada in 1588. Another theory suggests that a long-coated water dog developed in pre-history with shellfish eaters in Spain and Portugal, and that the Irish Water Spaniel is a descendent of the ancient Portuguese Water Dogs. Yet, another theory purports that some of the dogs left the Asian steppes with the Goths. The Goths divided and those who went west were known as Ostrogoths and their dogs became the German pudel. The Goths traveling south were the Visigoths, their dogs became the Lion Dog. When the Visigoths invaded Spain and Portugal the dogs found their homeland. The Portuguese Water Dogs have been linked historically and developmentally, to the poodle, pulis, water spaniel, Newfoundland, barbet, and some varieties of retrievers. It does seem that PWDs in some ways have similarities to these breeds, and no doubt many historians consider most of these to have derived from a similar dog.

In any event, the Portuguese Water Dog did find its way, (pick your theory), to Portugal and became a valued member of the fisherman's crew. At one time the breed existed everywhere along Portugal's coast, where it was taught to herd fish into nets and to retrieve lost tackle or broken nets, and to act as a courier from ship to ship or ship to shore. The dogs were treasured as crew members of the fishermen and their reward at the end of the day was a share of the day's catch. Early in the twentieth century, fishing technology changed bringing more sophisticated methods. The Portuguese Water Dog was no longer needed as a crew member and the dog began to die out in his native land. He became an innocent victim of technology, change and lack of interest in the breed. Their numbers dwindled to a frightening few.

Fortunately, in the 1930s, Senhor Dr. Vasco Bensuade, a wealthy Portuguese fishing magnate and dog fancier, took it upon himself to save the breed. He gave the dogs visibility, reorganized the Portuguese dog clubs and exhibited the Portuguese Water Dogs in dog shows. The Portuguese Water Dog standard was written, and the breed was classified as a Working Dog by the Clube Portuguese de Caniculture. In 1954, a few PWDs were exported to England and eventually the Kennel Club of England recognized the breed as a Working Dog. Then, in 1958, interest in the breed began in the United States when a couple in New York received a pair of Portuguese Water Dogs from an English breeder. From this pair of PWDs interest in the breed began to grow and a small club was formed to plant the seeds for revival of the breed's diminishing numbers. As word about the breed spread, it attracted the attention of several serious fanciers who purchased Portuguese Water Dogs and continued to promote them. Mr. & Mrs. James Santos of New York and Mr. & Mrs. Herbert Miller of Connecticut were among those early breeders.

Interest in the breed continued to grow and on August 13, 1972, 16 people involved with the breed met at the Miller's home to form the Portuguese Water Dog Cub of America. Their immediate goal was to save the breed from extinction! A tremendous undertaking it was to be since there were only 12 known Portuguese Water Dogs in America.This small group of breeders continued their efforts to save the breed, and by 1980, there were 326 Portuguese Water Dogs in 32 states. On June 3, 1981, the Portuguese Water Dog was admitted to the Miscellaneous class by the American Kennel Club. Three months later the breed had its first obedience Champion. By September, 1982, total numbers of Portuguese Water Dogs in the United States had doubled to 650 in 41 states. Fifty of the owners were breeders and the rest were enthusiasts. With a firm base established, the Portuguese Water Dog began a new adventure. The rugged fisherman's dog became eligible to complete in show rings as a member of the Working Group.

Today, the Portuguese Water Dog resides in homes from coast to coast. They are constant winners in the Group rings at dog shows, and they are found actively participating in all venues of performance including obedience, agility and tracking. They can also be seen in large numbers participating in the water trials sponsored by Portuguese Water Dog clubs, performing tasks similar to those done with the fishermen, as they relive their heritage as working water dogs. At the end of the day, after all work is done, be it show ring, agility, water work, or whatever, you will find the Portuguese Water Dog at their very best, at home with their family.

It's been a long road for this rugged fisherman's dog, quite a remarkable journey, and thanks to that small group of 16 devoted people, it has been a great success.