The Portuguese Water Dog once existed all along Portugal's coast, where it was taught to herd fish into the nets, to retrieve lost tackle or broken nets, and to act as a courier from ship to ship, or ship to shore. Portuguese Water Dogs rode in bobbing trawlers as they worked their way from the warm Atlantic waters of Portugal to the frigid fishing waters off the coast of Iceland where the fleets caught saltwater codfish to bring home.
In Portugal, the breed is called Cao de Agua (pronounced Kown-d'Ahgwa). Cao means dog, de Agua means of water. In his native land, the dog is also known as the Portuguese Fishing Dog. Cao de Agua de Pelo Ondulado is the name given the longhaired variety, and Cao de Ague de Pelo Encaradolado is the name for the curly-coat variety.
A calm, intelligent breed of fine temperament, rugged and robust, with a profuse non-allergenic, non-shedding, waterproof coat and webbed feet, he is an ideal outdoor dog, capable of limitless work. He stands 20 to 23 inches (17 to 21 for bitches) and weighs between 42 and 60 pounds (35 and 50 for bitches) - a variation explained for by the fact that small dogs were more practical for small boats, and larger dogs for the larger boats.
He is shown in either of two clips - the lion clip, with the middle, hindquarters and muzzle clipped short and the rest of the coat left long, and in the working-retriever clip. Adherents of the lion clip say it shows off a good rear and displays the muscles better, while advocates of the working-retriever clip like the fact that it is easy to care for, and prepares the dog for all sorts of outdoor adventure.
Some belief exists that the breed traces as far back as 700 B.C. to the wild Central-Asian steppes, near the Chinese-Russian border, terrains and waters guaranteed to nourish ruggedness. The early people who lived here raised cattle, sheep, camels, or horses, dependent upon where they lived. They also raised dogs to herd them. Isolated from the rest of the world, these dogs developed into a definite type, very much like the heavier long-coated Portuguese Water Dog.
One theory of these long-perished times is that some of the rugged Asian herding dogs were captured by the fierce Berbers. The Berbers spread slowly across the face of North Africa to Morocco. Their descendants the Moors, arrived in Portugal in the 8th century, bringing the water dogs with them.
Another theory purports that some of the dogs left the Asian steppes with the Goths, a confederation of German tribes. Some (the Ostrogoths) went west and their dogs became the German pudel. Others (the Visigoths) went south to fight the Romans, and their dogs became the Lion Dog. In A.D. 400, the Visigoths invaded Spain and Portugal (then known only as Iberia) and the dogs found their homeland.
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 possibility also exists that some of the long-coated water dogs grew up with the ancient Iberians. In early times, Celtiberians migrated from lands which now belong to southwestern Germany. Swarming over the Pyrenees, circulating over the whole of western Europe, they established bases in Iberia, as well as in Ireland, Wales, and Brittany The Irish Water Spaniel is believed to be a descendant of the Portuguese Water Dog.
Interest first began in the United States in 1958 when Mr. and Mrs. Harrington of New York received a pair from England as part of a trade of rare breeds. Among those taking an early interest in the breed were Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Miller of Connecticut, who acquired the first direct import to this country from Portugal - a puppy bitch purchased from Senhora Branco, a former lady bullfighter who had inherited Dr. Bensuade's kennels in Portugal.
On August 13, 1972, sixteen people involved with the breed met at the Millers' home to form the Portuguese Water Dog Club of America. At the time there were only twelve known dogs of the breed in America, but the breeders worked dedicatedly and by September 1982 the number of dogs had grown to over 650, located in 41 states, and there were over 50 serious breeders. The Portuguese Water Dog was admitted to the AKC Miscellaneous class 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.