History of the Breed
The existence of the Portuguese Water Dog along the Algarve, on the coast of Portugal, can be traced back to very remote times. Evidence exists which indicates that in pre-Christian times the water dog was held to be nearly sacred; severe penalties came to those who killed a water dog. There are many theories surrounding the dog, but none dispute that this remarkable dog has an ancient ancestry. The first written description of the Portuguese Water Dog is dated to 1297 and concerns a monk's report of a dying sailor who had been brought out of the sea by a dog having a "black coat of rough hair, cut to the first rib and with a tuft on the tip of his tail." Due to the historical clip still in use, many writings describe the breed as a Lion Dog. It is said that the current day Poodle, Kerry Blue Terrier, and Irish Water Spaniel are possible ancestors of the Portuguese Water Dog.
In bygone times, this breed existed everywhere along the coast of Portugal where this well-balanced working dog was prized by fishermen as both a companion and guard dog. He lived on the working boats where he was taught to herd fish into nets, retrieve lost tackle or broken nets, and to act as a courier from ship to ship, or ship to shore.
Tasks required the dogs to be excellent swimmers and seafarers. Dogs were capable of diving underwater to retrieve fishing gear and to prevent the escape of fish from the nets. Constant swimming and working with the fishermen accounts for the remarkable muscular development of their hindquarters. As noted in the breed standard, this dog of exceptional intelligence and loyal companionship willingly served a master well.
In Portugal, the breed is called Cão de Água (pronounced Kown-d'Ahgwa). 'Cão' means 'dog', 'de Água' means 'of water'. In his native land, the dog is also known as the Portuguese Fishing Dog. Cão de Água de Pelo Ondulado is the name given the long-haired variety, and Cão de Água de Pelo Encaracolado is the name for the curly-coat variety.
In the 1930's, Vasco Bensaude, a wealthy Portuguese businessman with an interest in dogs, was introduced to the Portuguese Water Dog by friends. He was
told of a "magnificent working Cão de Água", and although there were only a few dogs still working on the boats of the fishermen, he eventually acquired a dog named "Leão". "Leão" (1931-1942) was the founding sire of the modern breed and of which the original written breed standard was based. The first litter was born on May 1, 1937, at the Algarbiorum Kennels.
It would not be for another 30 years that the Portuguese Water Dog would come to America. Deyanne and Herbert Miller are credited with the introduction of the breed to the United States. Their first imported Portuguese Water Dog, whelped July 12, 1968, was a descendant of Leão, Vasco Bensaude's dog. Named Renascenca do Al Gharb, she arrived in the United States on September 12, 1968. She was affectionately known as "Chenze" and was the foundation bitch of Farmion Kennels. "Chenze" lived until she was 15 years old.
Historic milestones for the Portuguese Water dog in the United States include:
- In 1972, sixteen dedicated owners and friends of the Portuguese Water Dog gathered in New Canaan, CT, to form the what now exists as the Portuguese
Water Dog Club of America. As of 2020, there are nearly 1,600 members of this national club.
- The Portuguese Water Dog was admitted to the Miscellaneous class of the American Kennel Club (AKC) on June 3, 1981. Three months later, the breed
had its first Obedience champion, Spindrift Kedge.
- The Portuguese Water Dog was accepted for registration in AKC stud books effective August 1, 1983, and became eligible to compete in the show rings as a member of the Working Group, effective January 1, 1984. At that time, 182 dogs were registered.
- The first ever PWD to win a Best in Show came to Ch. Charlie de Alvalade on June 30, 1984. He was a brown curly whelped on May 16, 1978 and imported to the United States from Portugal by Deyanne and Herbert Miller, Jr. He also was the first American Champion.
- With popularity and responsible breeding growing in the United States, AKC registered dogs totaled 601 in 1990, increased to 919 in 1995, and has continued to increase, with 1362 registered in 2008 and 1784 in 2019.