10 Things You Didn’t Know About the Portuguese Water Dog

Portuguese Water Dog

The Portuguese Water Dog is a small, energetic dog hailing from Portugal. The males weigh up to 60 pounds while the females can weight up to about 50 pounds. They typically live for 10-14 years. Many people with allergies seek these dogs as pets because their single-layered coat produces much less dander than other breeds. They are intelligent dogs who require a great deal of stimulation, most likely due to their ancestry as working dogs.

This history is interesting and centuries old. The Portuguese Water Dog was popular with fishermen, who would use the dogs to herd fish into nets and retrieve broken nets. Their excellent swimming ability and high intelligence made this dog an excellent companion on the water.

With such an interesting past, there are many facts about these dogs that are unknown to most people. Their history is one of adventure and struggle, but they have always remained excellent companions for humans.

10. They have webbed toes

The Portuguese Water Dog was not only popular among fishermen for its intelligence; it is an excellent swimmer. Naturally, webbed toes allow the dog to swim faster and more efficiently, so it is a dog well suited to the water. Further, these dogs are known as excellent divers as well.

Having webbed feet and a strong mind has allowed these dogs to be of great service in the water. This extends beyond herding fish; they also were used to assist fishermen who fell overboard. Many fishermen were probably very thankful that this water dog comes equipped with its own flippers.

9. They have many names

The dogs owe their name to the Portuguese, who called them “Cao de Agua,” meaning “dog of water.” This name is naturally a description of where these dogs are best suited. However, they are sometimes also called “Cao de Agua Algarvio,” which is a reference to the Algarve region in Portugal, where the dogs first came from. They also have separate names for wavy-haired and curly-haired varieties. A more playful nickname for the dogs in the English-speaking world is “porties.”

8. Portuguese Water Dogs were crew members on fishing ships

Portuguese fishermen loved these dogs for their swimming ability, intelligence, and energy. As such, they would bring the dogs aboard fishing ships. What is incredible is how far the dogs would travel to assist fishermen: they would accompany the ships even on trips from Portugal to Newfoundland.

Most people know that Portuguese Water Dogs are excellent swimmers, but many are not aware just how vital they were hundreds of years ago.

7. They are popular on Capitol Hill

Senator Ted Kennedy (brother of President John F. Kennedy) was an avid owner of Portuguese Water Dogs before his passing. He had three dogs of this breed: Sunny, Cappie, and Splash. Famously, he would bring these dogs to meetings all over Capitol Hill. They would frequent just about any place the senator needed to be, except the Senate. Once, they made an appearance in the Oval Office.

Bringing these dogs to attend such important meetings was hardly discouraged; after Kennedy’s passing, many politicians expressed sadness that they would not be seeing the dogs around Capitol Hill. They could lighten the mood of tense meetings and bring comfort to stressed lawmakers.

6. Baseball Aquatic Retrieval Korps

Portuguese Water Dogs have performed many important tasks in their storied history, but none are perhaps as exciting as their connection to baseball. The Pacific Bell Park is a stadium famous for its “Splash Hits.” This occurs when a batter hits a home-run that clears the stadium and lands in the San Francisco Bay. Retrieving these balls can be difficult, so a team of six Portuguese Water Dogs was employed to swim into the bay and bring back the balls.

It was an idea first introduced by comic Don Novello, and it was beneficial not just for fans who loved seeing the porties working in the baseball industry, but for dogs themselves. Naturally, the balls brought back were popular collectors’ items, so the money raised by selling them went to pet charities.

5. They served as couriers for the Spanish armada in 1500s

These dogs also served a role in a more historically important event: the sailing of the Spanish Armada. Sent to invade England in 1588, the Armada was a huge fleet of more than 100 ships. Communication between ships was difficult at that time, so the Spanish used Portuguese Water Dogs as couriers.

As strong swimmers with intelligent minds, these dogs were trained to deliver messages from ship to ship. This speaks not only to their utility, but also their reliability. This is a breed that has shouldered real responsibility in important events.

4. They were first depicted by a monk in 1297

This breed has performed remarkable feats in the past several hundred years. However, it has existed for so long that its true origins are unknown. There are theories pointing to China or Russia as a possible origin, but there is no consensus.

Interestingly, the first written report of a Portuguese Water Dog was in 1297. A monk wrote about a drowning fisherman being pulled out of the water by a dog that fits the description of a portie. While the exact origin of these dogs is unknown, they have certainly played an important role for many, many years.

3. They nearly faced extinction

All of these incredible feats and abilities would lead one to believe that the Portuguese Water Dog would be one of the most popular breeds in the world. However, as fishing technology in Portugal developed, the need for these dogs on the water decreased. This was a devastating blow to their population.

In fact, at one point, there were only an estimated 25 living Portuguese Water Dogs. Even in the 1970s, there were only 16 known owners of Portuguese Water Dogs, who came together to form a club that luckily helped enhance the popularity of the dog. There are thousands living today, and they are no longer in immediate danger of extinction.

2. Portuguese Water Dogs are part of the Obama family

Portuguese Water Dogs are connected to the highest office of the USA, as President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama own two of the dogs. Bo, the male, was gifted to the family by Senator Ted Kennedy in 2009. Sunny, the female, joined the family in 2013. This breed was selected in part because of Malia Obama’s allergies.

The dogs have huge popularity. Michelle has stated that she has to officially approve a monthly schedule of appearances for the dogs. On a more dangerous note, a man once travelled to Washington to kidnap one of the dogs.

While they may be known as excellent fishermen, these dogs make very popular world leaders as well.

1. The breed survived because of one dog

As mentioned above, this breed was nearly extinct in the early 1900s, after improvements in fishing technology meant the dogs were no longer of use to fishermen. However, the survival of the breed was ensured largely by one dog, Leao.

In the 1930s, a Portuguese businessman named Vasco Bensaude decided to increase the breed’s population. He acquired a stud dog named Leao, and bred him with many females that he purchased from other fishermen. It is estimated that half of the Portuguese Water Dogs in existence today can trace their lineage back to this one dog.


Portuguese Water Dogs have one of the most interesting histories of any breed. They are known for being excellent swimmers and highly intelligent. Many people are unaware, however, of the extent to which these dogs played a role in human history. From the Spanish Armada to Major League Baseball to the White House, these dogs have been present for some incredibly important historical moments.

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