History of the Portuguese Water Dog

The Portuguese Water Dog was bred to work in and around the water, and has a long history of doing around the coast of its native land. According to the Portuguese Water Dog Club of America, the first written description of the PWD was in 1297 by a monk who witnessed a dog rescue a sailor from the sea off the coast of Portugal. The dog had a “black coat of rough hair, cut to the first rib and with a tuft on the tip of his tail.”

For centuries, the Cao de Aqua, or dog of water, has accompanied Portuguese fishermen, herding fish into nets, retrieving broken nets and dropped tackle, and carrying messages between ships as well as from ship and shore. Portuguese Water Dogs have a waterproof coat and webbed feet to help them swim and dive. It is probable that they share ancestry with Poodles, Irish Water Spaniels, and Kerry Blue Terriers.

The Portuguese Water Dog started disappearing in the early 1900s as modern technology made them obsolete. With only a few dogs still working on fishing boats, Portuguese shipping magnate Dr. Vasco Bensaude decided to work to save the breed. In 1937, he bred his first litter, which was the beginning of the modern-day PWD.

In the United States, the history of the Portuguese Water Dog runs like this:

  • 1958 — Mr. & Mrs. Harrington of New York and Mr. & Mrs. Herbert Miller of Connecticut import the first PWDs into the United States.

  • 1972 — Sixteen people, including the Millers, found the Portuguese Water Dog Club of America.

  • 1981 — The American Kennel Club admits the Portuguese Water Dog into miscellaneous class in June.

  • 1983 — The Portuguese Water dog is accepted for registration by the AKC, effective August 1.

  • 1984 — The PWD is eligible to compete in AKC conformation shows as a member of the working group, effective January 1.

In more recent times, the Portuguese Water Dog has shown its working ability in the waters of San Francisco Bay. From 1996 to 2002, B.A.R.K. (Baseball Aquatic Retrieval Korps), a group of PWDs and their handlers, retrieved baseballs hit out of the Giants’ stadium. B.A.R.K. was the brainchild of Don Novello, a.k.a. Farther Guido Sarducci. The retrieved balls were autographed and then donated to a no-kill shelter that auctioned them off to raise funds for their organization. Unfortunately, competition from boaters made the work too dangerous for the dogs and the program ended.

Today, Portuguese Water Dogs excel in the show ring and in performance events, as well as retaining their skills in the water. More importantly, they are also loving and loyal family companions.

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