The existence of the Portuguese Water Dog along the Algarve on the coast of Portugal can be traced back to very remote times. A very ancient breed, the Portuguese Water Dog has definitely existed for many centuries and is quite possibly thousands of years old. Evidence exists which indicates that in pre-Christian times, the "water dog" was held to be nearly sacred, and 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. At the time of its creation, virtually no records were kept of dog breeding, or anything else for that matter. Additionally, the Portuguese Water Dog has traditionally been the companion of working fishermen, so records of it would be even less likely to have been kept.
The area which comprises modern day Portugal has had a long and
turbulent history; it along with the rest of the Iberian Peninsula has been invaded and settled by many different peoples throughout the centuries. Some of the most prominent invaders included the Celtiberians, the Carthaginians, the Romans, the Goths, and the Moors. It has been suggested that any of these people may have brought the ancestors of the Portuguese Water Dog to Portugal.
Celtiberians were the primary inhabitants of the Pre-Roman Iberian peninsula in the final centuries BC, it has been speculated that they developed the Portuguese Water Dog thousands of years ago. This theory is based primarily on the similarities between the Portuguese Water Dog and dogs bred by more recent Celtic peoples, especially the Irish Water Spaniel. However, these could be the result of dogs being bred for the same purpose and not actual ancestry.
The Goths conquered most of the Iberian Peninsula by 475 AD and it has been speculated that they possessed a curly-coated water dog which they brought with them on their travels. There are, however, several similar very old breeds of curly coated dogs like the Barbet, the Poodle, and the Portuguese Water Dog, all of which are native to countries that had a substantial Gothic presence. These theories explain how the Poodle and the Portuguese Water Dog may have developed from the same ancient genetic pool. At one time the Poodle was a longer-coated dog, as is one variety of the Portuguese Water Dog.
The first written description of the Portuguese Water Dog is dated to 1297, when a monk described how a drowning fisherman was saved by a dog with a, "black coat, the hair long and rough, cut to the first rib and with a tail tuft". Due to the historical trim still in use, many writings describe the breed as a "Lion Dog".
Portuguese fishermen bred characteristics into the Portuguese Water Dog that would help it perform its tasks. These dogs were capable of diving underwater to retrieve fishing gear, lost tackle or broken nets, to herd fish into nets and prevent their escape as well as act as a boat-to-boat or boat-to-shore couriers. The Portuguese Water Dog was a treasured and important member of a fishing crew throughout Portugal for many centuries and likely sailed all over the world. However, the breed never became established elsewhere, due to the fact that these dogs were valued members of the ship’s crews and did not want to leave them behind.
The first Portuguese Water Dog imported to the United States arrived in September 1968, by Deyanne and Herbert Miller. the Millers, along with 14 other people, founded the Portuguese Water Dog Club of America on August 13, 1972, in New Canaan Connecticut. At the time, only 12 Portuguese Water Dogs were known to have existed in the U.S., but with dedication and work, the number of dogs in America grew. The PWDCA worked to popularize the breed in America, but also to breed responsibly. In 1981, the Portuguese Water Dog was admitted to the American Kennel Club’s (AKC) Miscellaneous Class. Within three months, a Portuguese Water Dog had become and AKC
obedience champion. In 1983, the Portuguese Water Dog was granted full recognition by the AKC as a member of the Working Group. At the time of AKC registration, 182 Portuguese Water Dogs were registered.
By the end of the 1800’s, conventional fishing methods were quickly becoming modernized. Soon, Portuguese fishermen were trading in their water dogs for more advanced fishing equipment, and the breed began disappearing all along the coast. The breed was on the verge of extinction when, during the 1930s, Vasco Bensaude, a wealthy Portuguese businessman with an interest in dogs, was introduced to the Portuguese Water Dog by friends. He began to search for the few surviving animals and founded his own breeding kennel and breeding program to re-establish the breed. Bensaude eventually acquired a dog named "Leão" (1931-1942) who was the founding sire of the modern breed that roughly half of all modern Portuguese Water Dogs can trace their lineage back to him. Leão was considered to be the epitome of the Portuguese Water Dog type and was the model used in the creation of the original written breed standard. Of the Portuguese breeders to follow in Bensuade’s footsteps, the most renowned was Dr. Antonio Cabral, who founded the Avalade Kennels in the early 1950’s and produced many champion Portuguese Water Dogs.
The Portuguese Water Dog has continued to grow in popularity in the United States. More and more fanciers are attracted by the dog’s medium-size, intelligent and trainable nature, and supposedly hypoallergenic coat. By 1990, there were 601 registrations, and there were 919 by 1995. The breed continued to rise in popularity for the rest of the 1990’s and into the 2000’s. In 2010, the breed ranked 55th out of 167 total breeds in terms of AKC registrations, after ranking 80th just a decade earlier. The PWDCA hopes that the quality of the breed can be maintained as it becomes more popular.
Historical Information was compiled from the following websites: