Water Program

The Portuguese Water Dog, past and present, is a working breed. As a working crew member on Portuguese fishing vessels, tasks included retrieving overboard objects, carrying messages, swimming fishing floats into place, and guarding the boats, nets, and catch when in port. The successful completion of these tasks required teamwork between dog and owner. The PWDCA water trial program provides a context in which to record our present efforts to preserve the past and insure the future of this noble working water dog.

In order to preserve these qualities and maintain the future of the breed's natural instincts, the PWDCA designed a series of water work exercises, which reflect the historical working background of the Portuguese Water Dog. These exercises not only showcase the dog’s working abilities, but also enhance the working relationship between dog and owner. 


Junior Water Title (JWD)

This title level is where testing begins. It establishes a working relationship between dog and handler. Retrieving skills, as well as basic obedience skills, are tested at this level.

Apprentice Water Dog (AWD)

This title furthers the working relationship between dog and handler. In addition to adding time and distance to the retrieves, boat ride, and swim, dogs are expected to retrieve an item from underwater and must have more advanced basic obedience skills (such as “stay” and “come”) and be able to “hand” all of the retrieved items to the handler.

Working Water Dog (WWD)

In these exercises, the dog and handler primarily work off of a boat. The dog is expected to retrieve items from the boat, including a “blind” retrieve (this is where the article is placed in the water without the dog seeing it placed). While all of the exercises at this level include retrieving, it can be one of the most challenging levels because the dog must be taught to jump off of the boat and must work at a greater distance from it’s handler. An optional Working Water Dog Excellent (WWDX) title can be achieved by passing the Working exercises three times (under at least 2 different judges at two different sites).

Courier Water Dog (CWD)

This is an advanced titling level where the dog demonstrates many of the tasks that it’s ancestors might have been asked to do. Included are: carrying items from one boat to another, retrieving something that was left on shore and returning it to the boat, retrieving multiple items in a specific order, placing a fishing net, and placing an article by taking it away from the boat and leaving it in a location “designated” by the handler. Dogs are tested at this level more than once, and once the team has passed CWD three times (under at least two different judges at two different trial sites), the team is awarded the Courier Water Dog Excellent (CWDX) title.

Master Water Dog (MWD)

MWD is the highest titling level offered by the PWDCA. This level demonstrates a dog’s versatility and proficiency in performing advanced level tasks, which reflect the breed’s historical value as an accomplished courier and contributing crew member. Dogs at this level are expected to be able to discriminate between objects, consistently take direction at a distance, and combine tasks previously performed alone, requiring increased levels of stamina.

The most unique aspect of a PWDCA Water Trial is that there is not one winner. Instead, each dog/handler team is tested against the PWDCA rules for the level at which the dog is competing. At each level, the dog and handler are judged on a Pass/Fail basis. If the team passes every exercise for their level, they are awarded a certificate or title. This is harder than it sounds: natural conditions, such as wind, rain, sun glare, and currents, can make each task slightly different than it was for the preceding dog. On average, about 35% of our dogs pass at any given level at a trial. Because there is no head-to-head competition, handlers are supportive of the other teams which makes this is one of the most uplifting, supportive competitions that you can experience with your canine friend!

Please refer to the Water Trial Manual for complete descriptions of each exercise and for additional rules at water trials.

Summary of Exercises by Level

Junior Water Dog (JWD)
  1. Retrieve Dummy From Shore (30')
  2. Board Boat and Ride with Handler
  3. Call Dog from Shore to Boat
  4. Timed Swim with Handler (1 min)
Apprentice Water Dog (AWD)
  1. Underwater Retrieve
  2. Retrieve Dummy from Shore (60')
  3. Dummy Carry, Boat Ride, Recall
  4. Retrieve Floating Line from Shore
  5. Timed Swim with Handler (2 mins)
Working Water Dog (WWD)
  1. Gear Bag Retrieve
  2. Retrieve Dummy from Boat
  3. Retrieve Overboard Articles
  4. Retrieve Dummy between Two Boats
  5. Blind Retrieve of Floating Line from Boat
Working Water Dog Excellent (WWDX)

Dog and handler will qualify two more times at the Working Water Dog level at two different sites under two different judges.

Courier Water Dog (CWD)
  1. Courier Pouch Exchange
  2. Blind Retrieve of Floating Line: Boat to Shore
  3. Directed Double Retrieve from Boat
  4. Retrieve Fishing Net
  5. Buoy Ball Placement
Courier Water Dog Excellent (CWDX)

Dog and handler will qualify two more times at the Courier Water Dog level at two different sites under two different judges.

Master Water Dog (MWD)
  1. Double Directed Retrieve between Two Boats
  2. Shore Retrieve with Discrimination
  3. Net Retrieve with Distraction
  4. Three-way Equipment Exchange
  5. Overboard Blind Retrieve and Buoy Ball Placement

At the MWD level, dogs must pass five times at two different sites under two different judges before being awarded the title of MWD and there are variations of each exercise, determined by the package drawn on the day of the trial. Additional titles are awarded for each five qualifying legs (MWD2, MWD3, etc.)


First and foremost, download the 2024 Water Trial Manual. This will tell you the rules and regulations, the exercises for each level, the equipment needed – and just about everything you need to know about water work.
The best place to start is with your Local/Regional Club Contacts. Most of the clubs hold water trials each year. Some of the clubs also hold land-training clinics, seminars, water training and/or practices. At the very least, you’ll be connecting with people in your geographical area who can guide you along.

If you don't live in close proximity to a Local/Regional Club, there are several water work Facebook groups. They provide a community of water work enthusiasts from across the country, Canada, and even overseas, who discuss training tips and questions related to training for our water trial program. Courier Canines and PWD Water Training Tips and Questions are two great groups that are specifically for PWD water training enthusiasts.

Additionally, a club member has created a series of videos of each exercise by level. Please note that these videos are based on the 2017 rules and may or may not be representative of the current rules.


Important Links:

Contact the PWDCA Water Trial Committee