Portuguese Water Dog – Facts, Photos & Nautical History

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March 4, 2009

Portuguese Water Dog Maritime History Aboard Ships

Today’s article from the San Francisco Chronicle, “Obamas could inspire a wave of water dogs” gives a clear description why history’s most famous maritime dogs are getting lots of attention these days. They write:

First lady Michelle Obama told People magazine that the family is looking to rescue a Portuguese water dog in April, though her press secretary said Thursday that the decision isn’t final. President Barack Obama had also mentioned a Labradoodle as an appealing choice.

“Obviously they have their favorites that the president and first lady have outlined before – with, of course, the Portuguese water dog being a top contender – but there hasn’t been a selection yet,” Katie McCormick Lelyveld said.

Michelle Obama also praised the dogs’ personality and size in the People magazine interview.

“Temperamentally they’re supposed to be pretty good,” Michelle Obama said. “From the size perspective, they’re sort of middle of the road – it’s not small, but it’s not a huge dog. And the folks that we know who own them have raved about them. So that’s where we’re leaning.” Article Link

Well, considering the buzz, we thought we would digg into the maritime history of this famous breed of dogs. The following is what we discovered:

Fun Portuguese Water Dog Facts

  1. Portuguese Water Dogs once existed all along Portugal’s coast, where they were taught to herd fish into fishermen’s nets, to retrieve lost tackle or broken nets, and to act as couriers from ship to ship, or ship to shore.
  2. They have webbed feet, one of the reasons they’re such good swimmers.
  3. Half the ships of the Spanish Armada had Portuguese water dogs to carry messages from ship to ship.
  4. In the native Portugal, the breed is known as  Cão de Água but elsewhere are called PWD or “Porties”for short.
  5. They’re an extremely energetic breed; the breed standard describes them as “very resistant to fatigue” and lists shyness as a “major fault.”
  6. Some believe that the breed may be traced as far back as 700 B.C. to the wild Central-Asian steppes  in terrain and waters that assured to nourish ruggedness.
  7. A Portuguese Water Dog is first described in 1297 in a monk’s account of a drowning sailor who was pulled from the sea by a dog with a “black coat, the hair long and rough, cut to the first rib and with a tail tuft”
  8. During their working days PWD’s were considered part of a ship’s crew and got a share of both the money and fish earned for the catch. After a fisherman retired, they would often have to rent out their dogs for the extra cash.
  9. PWD’s were the main feature of the Mystic Seaport Museam’s exhibition “Sea Tails” which recounted stories of four legged bravery at sea.
  10. Sen. Edward Kennedy’s two Porties, Sunny and Splash, are, arguably, the most famous dogs in Washington.

Portuguese Water Dog, A History – Video


Portuguese Water Dog Photos


Portuguese Water Dog Links

  1. Unofficial Presidential Dog Poll
  2. Facts & Links About Portuguese Water Dogs
  3. Dogster’s PWD Page
  4. Portuguese Water Dog Schwag


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